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Why religion & homeschooling are almost always a bad mix

Yes. I’m going there.

There’s just too much at stake for these things to go unsaid.

My tone here is a bit more serious than most of my posts. That’s because I’m trying very hard to be pointed without being offensive.  Please bear with me if I don’t quite succeed at that.

First, I want to be clear: This website was intended to be more of a business blog for home educators, than a homeschooling blog for entrepreneurs. Of course, I am passionately confident in home education’s superiority to any alternative, so I advocate for home education whenever possible. Still, there are some bitter flavors of home education that I do not cannot advocate.

My typical stance on pretty much any ideological disagreement is “live and let live.” Every single person on the planet is entitled to live their life the way they choose*.

But, it is for that exact reason, that I’m writing this post now. Because “every single person” includes our children.

Didn’t you say “almost always?” Yep. If you stick with this post to the end, I’ll show you a couple areas where I think the religious folks have things right.

So, let’s just jump right in then, shall we?

Indoctrination is the opposite of education

Indoctrination is defined as teaching someone to accept doctrines uncritically.

Indoctrination is the opposite of education. Indoctrinated people are expected to never question and to never critically assess what they’ve been taught.

My own Three Pillars of Life Schooling are nurturing curiosity, encouraging critical thinking  and developing self-directedness. These three things form the foundation for the type of learning we want for our children. (More on that later.)

Any kind of indoctrination (religious, governmental, political, etc) stands in direct opposition to all three pillars.

Our role as educating parents is to encourage our kids to explore their interests, to facilitate that process whenever we can and to get out of the way as they wander down the winding road that will take them to a life they have chosen for themselves.

Adults who walk a path they’ve been indoctrinated to follow (whether religiously, politically or otherwise) are not exercising choice or free will. They were never presented with alternatives, and they were not trusted to make the decision for themselves.  This puts them at a huge disadvantage in today’s world where open-mindedness and creativity are the predictors for success.

Which brings me to my second point…

Ignorance of other cultures & belief systems

Over the years, I have met countless wonderful, well-meaning, ignorant people. The only world they know about is their own and they make some of the wildest assumptions about the beliefs and practices of others. Ignorance is the foundation of far too many atrocities. Why would we want our children to continue that cycle?  Yet, there are some who are raising ignorant children by design.

Some Christian families don’t teach their children about other belief systems. When they do, the information is often false. I’ve heard people say things like “Catholics aren’t Christians” and that “Pagans worship Satan”…or that any non-believer worships Satan. This is unforgivable misinformation, at best. But, it isn’t just Christians who pass on misinformation. We often don’t think to teach our kids to consider what life is like in other countries, at another socio-economic level or in different skin.  When we do, it isn’t always in a positive context.

Ignorance breeds hate. Or at best misunderstanding and confusion. I know non-believing children who were raised by non-believing parents who never taught them bible stories. Even if you don’t believe these stories are gospel, they are still a huge part of our culture.  Now, when my friend hears a reference to the Tower of Babel or the loaves and fishes, he’s utterly lost.  Just as much as calling something a Sisyphean task would be lost on someone who never learned the Greek myths.

We do our children a huge disservice when we don’t prepare them to understand the culture of their own world.

Which brings me to my third point…

Science is awe-inspiring and cannot be ignored

I’m a bit more passionate and a lot less understanding on this point, so I will try to be brief.  Facts are facts, and beliefs are beliefs.

The temperature outside right now is -2°F.  That’s a fact. I believe anyone who claims to enjoy living in Alaska during the winter is either lying or completely insane. I’m willing to debate that belief, because it’s possible that I don’t have all the information…but I’m confident in my assertion.  I will not debate the temperature. Because, well, what’s the point? It’s a fact.

Gravity. Centrifugal force. Evolution. The theory of relativity. These are all facts that inform us about our world. Science is always testing and tweaking and improving our knowledge of these and countless other awe-inspiring facts.

Faith, by definition, does not allow for testing, tweaking and improvement. Beliefs are completely separate from facts and should be taught as such.

Science doesn’t exist to challenge beliefs.  Science exists to help us understand. Frankly, the more science I know, the more in awe I am of…well…everything.

I cannot relate to parents who’ve decided to homeschool for the sole purpose of keeping their kids from ever being exposed to facts that might conflict with their religious point of view. If your faith is so shakeable that, to keep it, you have to pretend rationality, reason and entire volumes of science & history don’t exist…is that faith at all?

So much for trying not to be offensive.

Maybe this will help. We’re now to the part of the story where I tell you what I think religion can teach our children.

The power of community

Humans need to commune with other humans. Church groups have the community thing down. Of course, you don’t have to go to church to get community, but we can learn a lot from their examples.

Family gatherings, trading knowledge, sharing heartache and celebrating life victories are all things that we need a community to do.  Many non-believers (or non church-goers) get this from their circle of friends, homeschooling groups, humanist groups, roller derby teams, neighborhoods, where ever.  Inter-generational connection is just the kind of socialization our children actually need.  Not that manufactured, only-hanging-around-people-your-own-age, nothing-like-reality, BS, bully infested, ridicule ridden, hell-on-earth, middle school version of socialization.

The strength of conviction

There’s a critical life lesson here.  A religious person has so much strength of conviction that he will stay on his path no matter what obstacles, facts and rationalizations are thrown in his way. Sure, I think his conviction is irrational, but that’s beside the point.   The point is if your son decides he’s going to travel the world before he’s 30 (without a dime to his name), or your daughter decides she’s going to be elected president before she’s 40; then strength of conviction is key.

There will be naysayers and doubters. There will be roadblocks and impossible odds.  But if we can teach them to be confident and steadfast in their convictions, they will keep moving forward.  Maybe your son will only see 50% of the planet and maybe your daughter will become a Senator instead. But, they’ll no doubt go further with that strength than they would have without it.

Now, a request

If you agree with most of what I’ve written, Yay! A kindred spirit! I’m so glad you’re here. Please stick around via the RSS feed or the newsletter.  Oh, and please leave a comment or share/retweet this to other kindred spirits.

If you disagree & would enjoy a friendly discussion on this topic, Great! Please share your thoughts in the comments. I hope, even if we don’t see eye to eye on this, that I’ll be able to help you grow your business & find the lifestyle you want. Feel free to share/retweet this to other people who might feel the same way.

If this post angers you to the core & makes you want to give me a piece of your mind, please retweet my link to like-minded friends and chat about it with them…elsewhere.

My purpose for writing this post isn’t to start a flame war. Nothing of the kind. I would love other non-believers to know that they aren’t alone in their thoughts and feelings. And I want my faithful friends to know that I respect your conviction and, despite our disagreement in this area, I know there are 1000s of other ways for us to care for and support each other.

10 Responses to Why religion & homeschooling are almost always a bad mix

  1. Nicki Savantes December 13, 2010 at 9:54 pm #

    Thanks for this gutsy post
    I agree with most of what you say, wholeheartedly even, but I have a “but” about the science.
    True, kids need science, adults do too. But science doesn’t hold all the answers. We’ve been doing “science” for a couple of hundred years now, and most of the early science is now being ridiculed as dreadfully unscientific or just plain wrong. Yet those scientists were as convinced as their modern day colleagues that they had it right. A lot of our current understanding is incomplete, and as we uncover more, our science will take drastic new turns, and perhaps in fifty years, what we now call unshakable facts might be laughed at as nothing more than ignorant attempts of wannabees.
    Yes, I believe in science (I quote an awful lot of scientific studies in my recent article about the dangers of television to your kids, but there’s a lot of controversy within science itself, they’re just scratching the surface about a whole lot of things, like quantum mechanics, black holes, resonating fields etc. So yes, let’ have science, but let’s also realise we’re just learning the alphabet so to speak, we’re not by any account “proficient readers” yet, let alone people who can philosophise about teh content of their “books”…

    • Laura White-Ritchie December 13, 2010 at 10:14 pm #

      Thanks Nicki!
      No need to worry about the “but” because I wholeheartedly agree. We are just babies in our knowledge right now. But the wonderful thing about science is that it isn’t dogmatic. Meaning, scientists are encouraged to disprove the basic laws. It’s exactly that kind of scrutiny that keeps our understanding growing…exponentially.

      I respect it all the more because no scientific premise is treated sacred or untouchable (except maybe a small portion of the current politically-charged environmental pseudo-science, but that’s a conversation for a whole other blog). All the more reason to nurture curiosity, encourage critical thinking and develop self-directedness!

      Thanks again for your comments. I’m so happy to have you here!

  2. Joe December 16, 2010 at 9:11 am #

    Hi Laura,
    You define indoctrination as”Indoctrination is defined as teaching someone to accept doctrines uncritically”. But the child must start with belief in something and later be a critical thinker about whatever she believes and has been taught. We do indoctrinate a child into a certain language. Linguist tell us that languages help us to see the world in a particular way. By teaching a child a particular language indoctrination is automatically going to happen which may be a good reason for the child to learn multiple languages.Example:

    I don’t see how any child will not be indoctrinated into the worldview of their parents. This post represents a secular worldview and I am guessing that is what your child is being indoctrinated into. The best thing is to train a child to live an examine life, as Socrates recommends, then when the child grows up she will choose to reasonable claim the worldview she has or reject that worldview for another one. This is what happens all the time though sadly most students are not given the proper reasoning skills to make the critical decision and thus make a rash emotional decision.According to your definition everyone indoctrinates their child into a particular worldview.

    • Laura White-Ritchie December 16, 2010 at 7:00 pm #

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments Joe!

      I agree, kids will develop a baseline understanding of the world from our example. I don’t know that I’d call it a belief, but that’s just me. And I 1000% agree that we should be teaching our kids to be…and giving them room to be… critical thinkers. All the while, knowing they may not become adults that see the world the same way we do.

      I love the link about how language gives us a much deeper understanding of the culture! That’s such a beautiful reason to encourage our kids to broaden their horizons. If they aren’t innately interested in learning languages, we can encourage them by exposing them to foreign films, literature, food and art…which also gives insight to the deeper values of a culture.

      Thinking of language skills as indoctrination isn’t something that occurred to me before, but it is an interesting definition of the word that I will be exploring.

      This post was focused more on intentional indoctrination. My definition comes from Princeton’s Wordnet. Sure, there will be tons of things as parents that we’ll model for our kids without intending to indoctrinate them. The foods we eat, the holiday traditions, our daily routines…these are all things they’ll learn from us. But, as they grow, they’ll use their open-mindedness & creativity to adapt these systems to fit their own lives.

      At least, that’s what I hope my kids will do.

      Thanks again for your comments! I’m so glad you stopped by to hang out.

  3. John Desaulniers, Jr. December 16, 2010 at 7:56 pm #

    Thank you, Laura, for risking yourself in posting.

    I fall into the “mostly disagree” category, though not for the details of your arguments, but for the premise. Your details and anecdotes are realistic and ought to be addressed with homeschool families.

    Where I disagree is that your premise that education is not indoctrination. My perspective is that every form of education carries with it a bias, and therefore an indoctrination. I’ll use a couple different examples.

    As a white male, I see the world as a white male. I cannot see it as a black male (or female), though I may appreciate some of the struggles the ancestors of my black friends experienced. But my black friends will see the world through their lenses – some which are more accurate than mine, some less. And therefore, their education, both formal and informal, will be affected by that bias.

    Religion is a bias, as is the lack of religion. Culture is a bias. Chronology is a bias (how those who grew up before WWI or WWII saw the world vs. how those who grew up in the 60s, 80s, today are all different). Thus, whenever we educate, we will do so with a bias. It’s how we see the world, how we interpret our world.

    From my perspective, religion will always have a place in education, both home and institutional. I hold that all people are religious – what you believe about the existence of God and your responsibility to the being so designated is your religion. It will affect and even inculcate a person’s education. Your suggestion that “facts” which conflict with a person’s “religion” is, in my opinion, a religious statement. That’s not a criticism, that’s an observation. So in premise, we disagree.

    However, I applaud the question you ask and agree with it: “If your faith is so shakeable that, to keep it, you have to pretend rationality, reason and entire volumes of science & history don’t exist…is that faith at all?” Well said; well challenged.

    Those of us who have faith (mine would be considered fundamental, historic Protestant Christian orthodoxy – yikes! too many labels) should be willing to expose that faith to scrutiny, question, other perspectives, etc. We should long for truth, and if our faith is truth as we claim when in our places of worship and among our fellow believers, then it should stand the test of outside evaluation.

    So in a sense, you acted in faith by presenting your claim to such scrutiny. While our starting points, our biases, are different, we share the same commitment to have our worldview evaluated by others. You have my congratulations and admiration for your willingness to converse with the world about your views.

  4. Laura White-Ritchie December 16, 2010 at 9:00 pm #

    I love this discussion! What I like best is that, even though we disagree on more than a few points, we each see the others’ point of view.

    I honestly don’t see bias and indoctrination as the same thing. Bias is an unavoidable by-product of the fact that we all live within our own heads. For all I know, we may not see the same color when we both look at red. But we’ve learned the color red through shared experiences. Whatever it is I label red, may look entirely different to the thing you label red. But, we both call it red. So, we agree. Kind of.

    I don’t consider lack of faith “religion” at all. As a non-believer, I have no dogma or doctrine. Sure, I have ethics and values that I live by. But they aren’t commandments or teachings. They are my own, I cultivated them myself after years and years of hard labor and I cherish them.

    Faith? Yes, I have faith that people are inherently communal and want to feel a sense of belonging. Even though it is scary to expose yourself to scrutiny, I had faith that there were people out there who needed to hear that someone else shares thoughts and feelings. And that there were people out there like you who, even though you don’t necessarily share these thoughts, you welcome the discussion.

    I had a fairly mellow mostly-Methodist upbringing and ( had about ten years of exposure to life inside evangelical fundamentalist Christianity. The absolutes there caused me to question the generalities I learned as a child. Since then its been a personal passion to explore recurring memes, psychology behind faith and tenants of various religions. This research has, no doubt, colored my worldview. We all use different lenses to see the world. I want to encourage my kids to craft their own lens, but until they do they can borrow lenses from me, my husband, our extended families, our friends and our community.

    Sorry for the scattered reply. I wanted to address a few of your fine points, but I’m sure they’re all jumbled up. 🙂

    Thank you again for the lively debate. You too have my congratulations and admiration!

  5. Richard Collins December 19, 2010 at 1:43 pm #

    You write:
    But science doesn’t hold all the answers. We’ve been doing “science” for a couple of hundred years now, and most of the early science is now being ridiculed as dreadfully unscientific or just plain wrong.

    You are missing a crucial understanding of the scientific method Nickie. The method rewards scientists who can disprove the status quo knowledge. Scientists have deliberately built in ways of doing experiments that take account of human reasoning foibles. Double blind experiments are one example of methodology developed to guard against human error. Everything that we currently know is subject to rigorous challenge. Scientific study is open ended and will always be that way. New knowledge leads to new questions.

  6. Richard Collins December 19, 2010 at 2:06 pm #

    Here is an article by a leading proponent of homeschools. There is a definite dark side to this movement that many people are blithely unaware of.although this blog article by Laura White touches on the surface of the issue. Here is the link:

    It is not hard to draw a line from Mary’s article to the noisy street and town hall protests of tea baggers that we were recently treated to. The far right election gains in the latest mid-term elections should give every one pause. How did so many ignorant people get so powerful?

    .For several decades, a fifth column of young people has been raised sequestered in their homes by despotic parents who taught them revisionist history and lies about evolution and cosmology. Like their parents, they hate their government and hate the democratic process. Their future looks pretty grim.

  7. Kate January 3, 2011 at 8:01 pm #

    We’re planning to home-school our niece because of her medical condition (autism). Though rest of the family is religious, my stance is always agnostic/skeptical and i want kids to see the world in skeptical view than being biased to religion or science. I think we have a lot of interesting things that science offered us which we screw up by adding single-religion into it. At the end, those who are planning to homeschool their kids should definitely think in terms of skeptical perspective than biased to their religious views, IMHO.

  8. Melissa (Meximeli) January 28, 2011 at 2:55 pm #

    Hi Laura,

    It’s Meximeli from TS. I only just found this. And I just wanted to say I really enjoyed reading it. Very well written.

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