An Introduction to What It Means to be a Secular Homeschooler
You decided to homeschool, and now you find that there is a whole new homeschool vocabulary to learn! Traditional homeschooling? Accidental homeschooling? Roadschooling? Worldschooling? Deschooling? Unschooling? One of the most fundamental choices you have as a homeschooler is whether you will be a secular homeschooler or a non-secular or faith-based homeschooler. Let’s examine this choice a little more closely….
What is Secular Education?
A secular education is a neutral form of education that does not incorporate the teachings of a particular religious belief or philosophy. A secular education does not necessarily avoid the topic of religion, but it presents all religions in an historical and cultural context. Basically, a secular education provides a faith-neutral view of the world while acknowledging that different faiths exist in it.
What is a secular school? Well, typically all public schools and colleges are considered secular schools. You will generally not find public schools and colleges doing prayers or celebrating religious holidays. You may, on the other hand, find public schools that offer instruction on different religious holidays and traditions, ask students to share their own holiday traditions, or purposely represent a diversity of religious backgrounds in decorations or activities. You may also find colleges that offer multi-denominational places of worship so that all faiths are welcome.
Separation of church and state, the basis for the secular nature of public education, has a long history in the United States. The expression has been traced back to a letter from 1802 written by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut and later printed in a Massachusette’s newspaper. Over 150 years later, in 1962, the US Supreme Court banned prayer in public schools as a violation of the First Amendment to the US Constitution. The secular nature of the United States is similar to that of some countries (i.e., Australia, India, Korea) while other countries (i.e., Egypt, Costa Rica, Thailand) identify an official religion. Still, even within these categories, some practices blur the lines between secular and non secular. The same can be said of secular and non-secular homeschooling.
What is Secular Homeschooling?
In many cases, parents choose homeschooling based on the desire to have religion as a foundation for all learning within their families. They want every part of life to be centered on religion, and homeschooling is one way to reach that goal. If that is not you, and you are choosing to homeschool for another reason (e.g., to reach your child’s academic potential, develop your child’s emotional wellbeing, or avoid bullying or safety concerns in traditional school settings), then you may be a secular homeschooler.
What does “secular homeschool” mean? Basically, you are homeschooling for non-religious reasons. As a secular homeschooler, you are keeping religion separate from the other more traditional school subjects, regardless of whether you follow a religion or not. In other words, you do not have to be an atheist or agnostic in order to be a secular homeschooler. Even if you are religious yourself, you may choose not to teach religion in order to let your child choose a religious path later. You may be a family of mixed faiths wanting to respect two or more religions in the household, or you may want to emphasize respect of all religions by not focusing on one within academics. Whatever the case, as a secular homeschooler, you simply are choosing to “do school” in a non-religious way.
What are the differences between Secular and Non-Secular (or Faith-Based) Homeschooling?
If you choose to have a secular homeschool, certain components of your homeschool experience will be different than if you decide to include your religion. Here are some of the key differences between the two:
Daily Routine: If you have a non-religious homeschool, you may choose not to include daily faith-based activities during homeschooling. For example, some faith-based homeschoolers include daily readings or copying from religious texts, prayers or meditations, or other religious activities during the school day. As a secular homeschooler, even if you are religious, you may choose to limit faith-based activities to family time outside of “school” hours.
Subjects Taught: Deciding to have a secular homeschool may determine which courses you teach. Some faith-based families will teach religion as one of the daily or weekly courses within their homeschools. Even if you are religious, you may choose to limit religious instruction to afterschool hours or weekends either within the family or through your religious organization.
Curriculum: When you have a non-religious homeschool, your curriculum will also be non-religious. Searching for a homeschool curriculum, you will quickly discover that there are a lot of faith-based curriculum options out there. The good news is that secular homeschool curriculums are becoming more and more available. The truth is that you have to do your research because everyone’s understanding of what a secular curriculum is may not be the same. Be sure to read through a curriculum’s description before purchasing it, but also check the “about us” section of the website and look into the history of how and why the curriculum was created. Otherwise, you may not realize until you begin using it at home that the secular homeschool curriculum you thought you purchased is not really secular at all.
What is the difference between a secular and faith-based curriculum? A faith-based curriculum will examine events like the origin of the universe through a religious lens. It may also weave religious teachings throughout content, including, for example, religious quotes and references in readings and other instructional materials. A secular homeschool curriculum will not have any religious teachings or themes other than to teach the history and cultures of the various world religions and philosophies. A secular homeschool curriculum will also address scientific content like the Big Bang Theory, reproduction, and evolution–content that may either not be addressed or be addressed through a non-scientific lens in some faith-based curriculums. Some curriculum providers offer secular and non-secular versions of the same content.
Social Networks: Your choice to have a secular homeschool will also determine the social networks available to you. Many homeschoolers choose to join local or online homeschool support groups to get help with meeting state homeschooling laws, to get advice on homeschooling from veteran homeschoolers, to provide socialization opportunities for their children, or even to share instruction with other families. What you will discover is that support groups are either secular or faith-based, with some inviting both kinds of homeschoolers. Be aware that some support groups will request a statement of faith before allowing members to join. This may be true even if they are not outwardly a faith-based network. Be sure to do your research if you are looking for a purely secular support group.
Remember that being a homeschooler has opened a world of choices for you. Whether you decide to have a faith-based or secular homeschool is one of those choices. Even if you do consider yourself religious or spiritual, secular homeschooling may still be an option. Choosing secular homeschooling simply separates schooling from your family’s religious and spiritual practices.
Let’s keep the conversation going. Post your questions and ideas about secular homeschooling in the comments section below….