Thursday, October 7, 2010

Secular Thursday

Recently, I was in the check-out line at a local grocery store when the presence of my obviously school-age kids sparked questions by the lady in front of us. She asked me with which church are we affiliated, so I said, "Actually, we're secular homeschoolers." The conversation that followed was extremely confusing - both to her and to me - as we obviously were had different definitions of the word "secular" and specifically as it applies to homeschooling, apparently education in general, and parenting philosophy.

She believes - and believes quite strongly - that secular = religious (don't laugh, I've had this happen several times, the most awkward being at a meeting for secular homeschoolers - those poor women that thought it was an evangelical-based meeting).   She was so adamant in voicing her opinion that I felt compelled to explain what secular homeschooling is and is not. In doing so, it was clear that she felt I was inflicting harm upon myself and my children (her kids are in public school, so I'm not sure how that works - aren't public schools secular?!). After this, I quickly gave up trying to explain/defend myself and wished her a good day.

First, the definition of secular. The list is quite long, but I am satisfied that the first three entries are sufficient to demonstrate the meaning.


 secular (adjective):
  1. of or pertaining to worldly things or to things that are not regarded as religious, spiritual, or sacred; temporal: e.g., secular interests
  2. not pertaining to or connected with religion ( opposed to sacred): e.g., secular music
  3. (of education, a school, etc.) concerned with nonreligious subjects.  
Okay, this seems pretty clear to me. But maybe it's not enough. Maybe we need to come up with a list of what secular homeschooling does not mean...
  1. secular homeschooling equals unschooling ... eh, there are secular unschoolers, but there are also secular everything-else homeschoolers
  2. secular homeschooling equals atheist, nonspiritual, anti-religious - it means with respect to education, the parents keep things secular (see #3 above); I know many secular homeschoolers that are spiritual people - Christian, pagan, humanist, Jewish... the list goes on. I also know atheist secular homeschoolers, but secular definitely equals atheist. 
  3. secular homeschooling equals liberal, leftist political views ... I promise, I know and know of conservative secular homeschoolers. Granted, I don't know many, but that's probably more of a reflection on me (as I attend a UU fellowship and we UUs are known for conservative politics) than on secular homeschoolers in general.
  4. secular homeschoolers equals loose parenting with no rules and wild children ... seriously, the woman at the store asked me how on God's earth do I keep my children respectful without God. There probably are secular homeschool parents with no rules for their kids, but that doesn't necessarily mean that (a) their kids are any more wild than mine are with rules and (b) that all secular parents suscribe to a free-range philosophy. I'm willing to bet that the parenting philosophies of secular homeschool parents is as varied (if not more varied) than that of parents in general.
I am sure this list could go on and on, but I have to get breakfast on the table before my wild children overtake my house. Maybe I'll add to this post as things come to mind. But the bottom line is, what all secular homeschoolers have in common is that we are in fact schooling (or unschooling as the case may be) in a secular fashion. But everything outside of schooling? That's like a box of chocolates... (see overused Forrest Gump movie quotes)


  1. I really dislike curriculum that's slaved to a religious view.

    Long division (to give just one example) needs to be studied free of the distraction of artificial religious affiliations. Even if I were a Christian, I don't think it would be honoring Jesus or God the Father to try to make division into some sort of extension of the religious experience.

    I'm saying this as someone who tries to incorporate her religious practice into daily life, but there are clear limits to that. Sometimes monks can make washing dishes or hoeing turnips a religious devotion, but most of us need to focus to honor our Gods. The Divine deserves more respect at my house than to be diluted by long division, and the long division deserves respect too.

    And so we are secular homeschoolers, even though we are religious people. But we're pagans, which counts as "secular" to a lot of Christians anyhow!

  2. My secular homeschooled kids don't cause any havoc in my household because they're too busy sacrificing other youngsters to Baal and Moloch.

  3. Well said...maybe you should of just sent to her dictionary whenshe got home lol!

  4. When people make the leap that homeschooling=church membership, *and* think it's their beeswax to ask a stranger about their religious practices....I take it as a sign that this is not a person to use "big words" with ;) I just smile and say, "We don't go to church".

  5. oh, goodness. this made me giggle almost uncontrollably. :D not trying to be mean to the vocabulary-challenged!

    my younger son didn't like being grilled by strangers about why he wasn't in school, so i told him to say "my private school isn't in session today."

    him: but what if they ask me what school i go to?!

    me: tell them "hogwarts".


  6. Great Post! I belong to a local secular homeschooling group and there are many devout families, there are some pagans and some like me who are agnostic/atheist. We all though chose to homeschool our children for secular reasons and many use secular materials. I am used to having people stick their noses into my life because I have an accent, and a hard to place one at that. It's amazing how many people feel they can ask extremely personal questions simply because I pronounce words a bit differently than others. Tomato tomahto.... whatever. I like Lori's approach and will tell my kids about it LOL.

    And now I shall go perform an interpretative dance and sacrifice a chicken.

  7. Thanks so much for all the great comments!!! I love hearing from other people about their experiences.

    BTW - My girls would love to tell people they go to Hogwarts. =D