I've also seen an awful lot of negative attitudes towards religious people, particularly Christians. I find this troubling for a few reasons, the primary one being that I am against discrimination in any form. But another reason is that a large percentage of the general homeschooling population are Christians, and despite all the stereotypes that say Christians are rigid school-at-home Gestapo moms, many of them are actually relaxed homeschoolers. Many are interested in unschooling, and some are already doing it. And every time a group of unschoolers are seen bashing them - at conferences, on email lists, even on well-known blogs - we're sending a clear message: You are not welcome here. Don't come to our conferences. Don't talk to us. And by doing so, we're going to unintentionally accomplish one of two things:
- We will splinter the unschooling community into little factions which do not talk to each other and do not agree on what the word unschooling even means. I know this happens to many groups (Christianity being one of the most notable; see also: Europe), but there are so few unschoolers already. We're such a tiny minority. We need to support and connect with each other, and we can't do that if we're standing on opposite sides of a room glaring at each other.
- We will look like a bunch of closed-minded jerks and turn these people, plus others who find our behavior rude on principle, off of unschooling altogether. I shouldn't need to point out that the people who ultimately suffer in this situation are the kids.
For those who think I may be overreacting: Try and imagine that you're a brand spanking new unschooler. You've never been to a conference, and you're scared to sign up because you won't know anyone there. You've only just dipped a toe into the email lists and picked up some writings by Holt and Gatto. Your Calvert workbooks have barely had time to collect dust, and you're not even sure if this whole lifestyle is for you yet. Now imagine that you're surfing the net for unschooling blogs, forums, anything you can get your hands on, and you see a few casually dismissive jokes about your religion. Or your race, gender, economic status, whatever. Kind of a punch in the gut, yeah? But you figure it's just that one person who feels that way. It can't be everyone, right? This is such a peaceful philosophy...
But then you see it again. Not everywhere, of course, but two or three places in close succession is usually enough to make your stomach knot up. You realize the unschooling movement is tiny, and that if you go to a conference you will see these people, and you'll be faced with the choice of either hiding who you are (if that's an option) and quietly taking insults, or possibly spending much of the conference defending yourself and your children. Worse, your children may have to spend much of the conference defending themselves.
Doesn't sound like such a good time now, does it?
I'm not saying people shouldn't be themselves on their own blogs. Of course everyone has the right to free speech. But having a right to say whatever you want does not mean everything you might want to say is a good idea, or that it won't hurt anyone, or that it won't make you look like an ass when you're actually a completely awesome nice amazing person 99% of the time. By all means, express your own religious beliefs or lack thereof with as much vigor and enthusiasm as you would like. Express your dismay at how your local mostly-Christian homeschooling group has snubbed you. But choose your words carefully, if not for the sake of kindness, then for the sake of kids who might miss out on fully enjoying the unschooling life because their family didn't feel welcome in the community.
*It should go without saying that everything above applies to any other possible kind of discrimination as well. I just wanted to call this one out in particular because it seems to be accepted as okay by many people, and I don't agree.