Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Something that's nagging at me...

I've written before about the importance of being careful to make room for all types of people within the unschooling community, so it should come as no surprise that it makes me very uncomfortable when I see unschoolers making rude remarks or jokes about particular groups. Now, on the whole, I've found unschoolers to be one of the most tolerant, kind, accepting groups of people there are. In my experience it's pretty rare to see an unschooler behave in a way that is blatantly racist or homophobic, and furthermore, unschoolers in general tend to be accepting of a wide variety of personalities and interests.

However.

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:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
Though I don't really identify with any specific denomination, or even any specific religion, I do consider myself a person of faith. I believe in God and I pray. And when I see unschoolers - some of whom I admire - being cruelly dismissive of religion, it hurts me. It makes it harder for me to take that person's advice, it makes me feel like I shouldn't approach them at conferences, and in general it makes me mentally bookmark that person as Not My Friend.

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.

14 comments:

Ray the Poet said...

Thank you so much for speaking up! As a new Christian unschooler who's experienced exactly what you're talking about many times over, I'm very grateful that you're willing to stick up for people of any belief! If more unschoolers truly embraced the truth-seeking, free-thinking ideals they claim to have I think they'd find that Christians aren't all crazy, close-minded, or "schooled" just because they've experienced God in a unique way. Thanks so much!

Idzie said...

Ouch, I must admit reading this hurt a bit, but you're right. I definitely didn't mean for it to come across as if I had a problem with all Christians. I know a few Christian unschoolers, and they are just as awesome as all the unschoolers of different/no faiths! But words do have to be chosen carefully, and mine weren't this time! Thank you for pointing it out to me, and this was just a great post all-round.

Bonnie said...

@Ray: I'm really glad my words have helped you to feel more accepted! The whole thing really puzzles me, because I feel that Christianity and unschooling go together quite well. Unschooling definitely requires faith and trust no matter what your religion, and faith in God can make that much easier.

@Idzie: This was in no way a response to you! It really wasn't a comment about anyone in particular, it was just a general sort of trend I'd observed. No hurt intended! I just want to get people thinking about this because it gets easy for people to assume everyone in the movement is liberal/radical/outside the mainstream, when that's not necessarily the case.

Idzie said...

@Bonnie: No prob, perhaps I thought it was directed at me in part (I didn't believe in whole, but from references it seemed that my latest post may have triggered it!) because I know I make comments like that without realizing how it could come across at times... Anyway, I really think this is an important post! I always eagerly head over to your blog whenever there's something new, because I know it'll be good! :-)

scatty said...

Hi, Bonnie, having had experience as an unschooler in Germany who has been working closely with Christian homeschoolers there, due to the legal situation, I agree 100% with what you say. I've come to see that we have more in common than not and there is a lot of openness and acceptance of different beliefs. It saddens me to read the comments about Christians, not only from some unschoolers, but from my fellow atheists, some of whom believe that merely bringing up a child in a loving family with a strong Christian faith is a form of child abuse.

By the way, what do you mean with your reference to Europe? I think I have an idea, but I'd just like you to elaborate on it, if you would? Thanks, Rina

Bonnie said...

@scatty: First off it's wonderful hearing from an unschooler in Germany! I'm really fascinated by the way people are working to do what's best for their kids despite the legal situation. The Europe thing was just my lame attempt at a joke, about how so many countries in Europe used to be huge empires that split into smaller countries over time.

Ronnie said...

I suppose I am guilty of what you speak. While your post will cause me to exercise more care in my wording in future posts, I want to explain why criticisms of an admittedly overgeneralized "Christians" appear on my blog.

What I speak up against is the followers of Christianity (or any faith) who behave in discriminatory, controlling, invasive, or other ways that are harmful and directly contrary to the respectful lifestyle that should be of utmost importance to an unschooling parent. I am opposed to these things based on beliefs I hold as deeply and passionately as those held by the most devout person of faith! And the fact that so many people of a fundamentalist stripe use their god to intimidate, control, and even terrorize their kids has led me to make the occasional unfortunate generalization.

But you see, the fundamentalists tend to be very loud, and too often their voices are the only ones heard. More rational religious folk are, by their very natures and to their huge credit, less likely to jump up and down and scream condemnations. This makes them decidedly less interesting to the (US?) media, and this overbalancing of reporting to the fundamentalist side means "Christian" effectively comes to mean "fundamentalist Christian" to left-leaning people like me.

There seems to be a trend this past year or two that gives me hope that it might get harder to lump Christians together that way. Prominent Christians such as Frank Schaeffer and Jimmy Carter have begun to speak out against the dangerous and discriminatory practices they see from the far right. I can't speak for everybody on the left, but I can tell you that I feel deeply relieved when I hear these men talk! Christ taught tolerance and love and equality. It is so wonderful to have people standing up and objecting to those who would have you believe otherwise.

Bonnie said...

Ronnie, I know exactly the sort of people you're talking about, believe me! I'm liberal-leaning and live in the Bible belt, so I've seen all kinds of hateful crap from people who are, unfortunately, using religion to justify it. It gets ugly. I just want people to be cautious about painting all Christians with the same brush, in the same way that I'd immediately jump in and correct anyone who said that Islam encourages people to kill. Both, at their cores, are religions of peace. I agree with you so much about Jimmy Carter (have not read Schaeffer yet, but I want to). He gives me a lot of hope.

One thing that helps is to remember that one of the most basic teachings of Christianity is humility. If you encounter someone who seems arrogant or derisive, you can bet they are a very poor representative of the faith.

Ray the Poet said...

I hear the hurt & frustration behind many of your comments about extremist Christians, and I feel moved to apologize on behalf of my faith. I am so sorry for my brothers & sisters in Christ who represent Him so horribly, damaging & discriminating wherever they go. This surely isn't the spirit of true Christianity and I feel so embarrassed by the media's portrayal of a peaceful, unconditionally loving faith like mine! A faith that ultimately led me to agree with Mr. Holt that the business of "people-shaping" is unfortunate & misguided- so it is with compulsory schooling, and so it is with religion! I guess I should surrender to the fact that every group has its stereotypes & caricatures, and that many Christians have earned theirs! Thanks all around for owning up to times when you've been less than fully accepting- it really means a lot! I too am striving to be ever more open-minded & loving towards those of other faiths (or none at all)!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for bringing this up. There are times, and a previous post here mentioned, that the voices of a few radical types tend to drown out the others. By speaking up, you (the people posting here) are making it easier to hear the "quiet" voices--those of reason, tolerance and caring that (I hope!) form the majority of people of any or all beliefs.

Despite going to a religious school, I never encountered the right-wing fundamentalism (the ones who condemn others and use religion as an excuse to persecute others) until a few years ago, when we started out homeschooling journey. My own kids have been told by other hs kids that they were going to hell because they believe in evolution. It scares me. And in my fear, I have probably been guilty of overgeneralizing as well, even though I really should know better.

Thank you again for opening up the subject and helping to build bridges that should never have been broken!

Gypsy Mama Manna said...

Just moving from any type of judgment about what or how someone else does things can leave you in a better place. I hope that my unschooling or how I know God doesn't interfere with my frienships and connections with other unschoolers, homeschoolers and even institutional schoolers. Although it isn't easy I am trying to connect through our sameness and not our differences. To create a better world through our children my hope would be that we can be inclusive of anyone that shares that goal.

Valerie said...

Christian unschoolers exist. I am one and I know many. We come from many walks of faith and self-education but we believe in both. I've never been to a homeschooling or unschooling conference--never felt the pull. But I've seen what you describe on many lists. Thank you for speaking up.

Anonymous said...

If Christians are feeling judged by the general public I think each Christian should think about what their belief systems regarding: abortion, sex before marriage, marriage itself, creationism vs. evolution (some religions date the commence of humanity going back only thousands of years)..., homosexuality, even thoughts of heaven and hell....

What do we believe and how do these belief systems affect others?...

I have witnessed homosexual slurs, sexism, racism, insecure, ignorant comments made in our homeschooling community all in the name of Christianity.

It's not about the religions; it is about particular belief systems and how they exclude others....

If the belief systems are not ones spreading messages of love and forgiveness, we should all take some time to reflect,'read between the lines', and really understand why we believe in things we do...

~Molly~ said...

Wow! I'm a Christian unschooler smack dab in the middle of the Bible belt! I know of NO other unschoolers in my area, period, so I haven't experienced the negative attitudes from those who aren't Christians. But I HAVE had way more than my share of very nasty negativity from the Christian homeschooling community here, 99% school-at-homers. Mainly because I run a local group that is open to all types of homeschoolers and all religious and/or political beliefs. At times it has been a nightmare.

My long-time, online unschooling friends have been nothing but tolerant! I can't imagine them being any other way so I'm hoping what you've encountered is just a fluke.