Thursday, September 22, 2005

Seeing GhostsMy dearly beloved husband and I have gotten ourselves into another on-line argument, this time on Mark Shea's blog (here and here). This one actually has a homeschooling angle.

I've often had cause to reflect how conversations about belief are more acceptable in a homeschooling context than they ever would be in schools, public or private. At home, I can say to my children--as parents, religious and areligious, would say a few decades ago without hesitation or qualification--no, there's no such thing as ghosts. No, Virginia, there are no witches. They're just in storybooks. No, there's really no such thing as magic (since you ask), but isn't it fun to pretend there is?

If I said that as a public school teacher, I'd have the ACLU after me, together with half the practicing Christians I know. I'd be a skeptic, materialist bigot. But as a homeschooler, I can say that, and I can be free from worry that my children will say such things among other homeschoolers, because in my experience homeschoolers are a tolerant lot. We have to be.

Not everyone is so sanguine about the tolerant nature of the movement. Uber-anti-homeschooler Rob Reich (see his intelligent if abhorrent views here and here--really, read them) links to this notorious NYT Magazine article, featuring what the reporter clearly found a bizarre and horrifying conversation between her and the little Christian homeschooled girl:

Is President Clinton a Christian?" Molly asked in her singsong voice.
"I think he would say so, yes."
"No. He's not. He lies. Do you have a barrette?"
The sun was beating down. A boy skateboarded by in a black T-shirt reading, "Jesus: The Force Without a Dark Side."
"I know who is always against us," Molly continued.
"Satan." Brush. Brush.
"Really? What does he do?"
"Makes us lie." Brush. Brush. "Makes us sin."
Brush. Brush. "Makes us turn our back on God. What's Play-Doh?"

Well, okay. Pretty cringeworthy. But I've heard little homeschooled kids say not dissimilar things, and it's really not all that unnerving in real life. I've heard a young homeschooled man hold forth to a group of parents about the obviousness of atheism, and the clear stupidity of religious faith. We all smiled to ourselves (most of us were believers) and gently suggested to him that there might be other points of view. But we weren't horrified or offended, because we knew his parents were atheists, and he had, innocently enough, assumed his parents' views and conversations were shared more universally. I've heard homeschooled kids ask bewildered playmates to accept Jesus into their hearts; a little neo-pagan has explained to me excitedly about her family's Samhain observance and inform me, gravely, that hers was the most ancient of faiths. But nobody takes offense. Why does the reporter find this more frightening and dangerous than a little child who still believes wholeheartedly in Santa Claus?

Contrary to Rob Reich's argument that homeschooling is bad because it denies children access to alternative viewpoints, in fact homeschooling may be one of the last ways of preserving true multiculturalism. A culture survives only when it has a context and community support, and can express itself fully. Reich would have children removed from that context, put in a community that provides no such support, and forbidden to express themselves fully. His method of assuring diversity would kill off true cultural diversity within a generation. My daughter has met children who believe that, as a Catholic, she is mistaken or deceived; but it was a public-school friend who asked her in all innocence, "What's a Catholic?" After five years of living Reich's ideal, avoiding "ethical servility" and "encounter[ing] some of the diversity of beliefs and conviction that are part and parcel of our democracy," she had never even heard of the world's largest Christian church.

We homeschoolers are self-selected to be weird, countercultural, and strongly opinionated. My blog title is a tautology. Our kids learn from their cultural context, which is, at least in their very early years, their eccentric and opinionated families. We are the reservoirs of diversity; we are the on-the-ground practitioners and teachers of tolerance. Even those homeschoolers who teach their children that other beliefs are bad and wrong are not exceptions. And my experience is that these kids don't grow up to be fanatics and bigots, as Reich and the writer of the article clearly fear: I've met enough people who grew up homeschooled in tight religious enclaves to be sure of that.

Someday, my children may reject the Catholic faith, or become convinced ghost-hunters, or move to Kazakhstan to live as persecuted hobbits. But they will have moved from a firm place to a firm place; I haven't left them to drift convictionless through the world, half-understanding, vaguely interested, and living the true intolerance of the ignorant and undistinguishing.


Blogger sophia said...

Excellent points! As a homeschool mom, I used to tell people that I refused to join any homeschool co-ops or groups because those other homeschool moms are so darn opinionated. After going to public school, Texas State University and the University of Texas, you would think that I would be better able to navigate through disagreements. I think we were taught not to discuss anything that might possibly hurt feelings or ruffle feathers in any way in school. Thereby, never being able to discuss the really important things in life.

4:58 PM  
Anonymous George said...

As homeschooling parents Suzanne and I have steered clear of exclusive affiliation with any group, whether it be adherents of Waldorf, the multicultural(and often shocking)gumbo that is AAH, or the often high-handed proclamations masquerading as in line with Catholic dogma that surface occasionally in HFH. It is good to have a discerning mind- perhaps the best thing we can give our kids!

7:19 AM  
Blogger LYL said...

Great post, Sharon!! I'll visit here often.

Wonderful observation, Sophia, about the inability of us schooled people to cope with disagreements.


12:08 AM  

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