Before I’m judged for using “teach religion” in the title I want to make something very clear. I’m a secular homeschooler. But that does not mean I am not open-minded. I am an inclusive homeschooler. What I mean is that I am willing to consider any type of resource, curriculum, advice, co-ops, and so on if I believe it might be the best available. I’m also unwilling to teach a narrow worldview or shield my children from religion — just as some religious homeschoolers attempt to shield their children from the secular world.
Religion heavily influences society
There is no getting around it, religion permeates our society. This is an election year, so we really get the full dose. We may have a separation of church and state, but that doesn’t mean that religion isn’t fully involved.
Although ‘statistically’ the number may be dwindling, most people in the United States hold a religious belief. Even if some of these polling sites are biased, the number is large.
I’m sure some secular homeschoolers believe that ‘religious education’ is completely unnecessary as an aspect of their homeschool. Maybe it can just be handled under the ‘parenting’ category. I disagree. I think that is a little unrealistic considering the weight and influence that religion had on the past. History will always be infused with religion. And, from a literal and somewhat philosophical standpoint, everything that we learn is history. Everything we know is from the past. Religion influenced science, literature, politics, and wars. It was the leading proponent of education.
Most secular families that I know have religious family members. I exalt respect as one of the highest virtues. Personally, I would never, ever want to shame a member of my family.
Religion is all around us
Religion is on our money. Religion is in the Pledge of Allegiance. People exclaim “bless you,” after a sneeze. You can find it on mottos, in schools, pop songs, bumper stickers, and so on. “God” is literally part of our cultural language.
I think we should be reserved in our approach to addressing such issues. Personally, I would never want to raise angry children that push back on all things religion. But that is a risk I see when we want to quickly explain or dismiss such matters.
Most readers probably agree with me at this point. I don’t think I’ve said anything too terribly controversial. Nevertheless, I don’t think that many of the secular homeschoolers I have met devoted enough curriculum ‘time’ to religion. Of course, we do not want curriculum that is filled with Bible verses. We don’t want information distorted to favor one religious worldview. And, worst of all, the possibility for complete misinformation. But I think we should be spending plenty of time making sure that our children truly understand religion. There is a reason that religion and culture is a very common ‘introductory’ class that many colleges suggest for freshmen students.
You have a very rare opportunity
I won’t discuss my reasons for homeschooling in depth. But, one reason that I homeschool is the humanist aspect. (So much value is lost in public schools. So many opportunities, wasted. The structure and method are so confining and do so little justice to our rich history.) And your ‘rare’ opportunity is the ability to teach religion without religious interference.
Maybe I should have started this post with the question, “what is religious education?” I believe that if someone is religiously educated they received ‘training’ or ‘introduction’ to all religions. People in the United States so quickly assume that ‘religious education’ means Christian textbooks. It could not be farther from the truth.
Religion (generally) gets in the way of religious education
You have the rare opportunity to really teach religion. When a religious person teaches religion, they teach religion from their angle. Religion starts with their religion and moves forward. In religious education, children are always either taught one belief system, or they aren’t really learning anything. Beneficial, rich, and wholesome religious education includes many religious, cultural, and historical perspectives.
You have the unique opportunity to teach these things without the emotional ties. You can celebrate all the religious holidays. They can all be learning experiences. There is so much to learn from religion.
Think of all the field trips
Think of all the wonderful field trip opportunities you have! Every major religion near you will likely be open to giving you a tour. When you teach religion to your children you will be able to identify some people (in public) as being religiously affiliated based on their clothes and symbols. You’ll be able to appreciate religious landmarks. The list goes on and on.
Respect their fun learning experience
Events with religious ties can be fun! Bible stories can be fun! Some of the most beautiful artwork is religious. There is no need to be a ‘downer’ when your child has the opportunity to enjoy a religiously themed event, or to appreciate a masterpiece, or to listen to a new tale.
Do the subjects their rightful justice
You might have been raised in a secular house. Or, you might have a religious background. If you are not educated in a spectrum of religions it would be a shame if your ‘lack of experience’ was a buzzkill. When you get the opportunity to tell/teach your children the story of Siddhartha, don’t half-ass it because you don’t believe it, or don’t understand it. When your child encounters the creation tale or another biblical story, greet it with enthusiasm. Some atheists claim that religion is no different than Santa Claus.
Some atheists claim that religion is no different than Santa Claus. For a multitude of reasons, I would disagree. Nevertheless, would you kill a child’s joy of believing in Santa or the Tooth Fairy just because you didn’t have faith in it?
Faith is never the problem
Something to keep in mind — faith itself is never the problem. Faith is an outward or inward projection of a belief. We all have beliefs and we all have faith. If we may dive much deeper into the philosophical trenches for a moment, we cannot function without faith. We cannot prove in the strong sense of the word. We lack control over most aspects of our lives. Don’t let your seemingly autonomous life convince you otherwise. On faith and layers of empirical experience you expect that when you go to sleep tonight that the sun will greet you in the morning. You embrace each day with faith that your partner will stay faithful to you. You place a great deal of faith into our currency. If someone questions you, you understand that our little slips of paper aren’t actually ‘backed’ by anything. And, even if they were, we still use that paper symbol in faith that it will continue to hold its value.
Faith is never the issue.
Your children will eventually have friends that are religious. Those religious friends can do amazing things for this world — for your life and your child’s life. Just because they have faith in a higher power does not undermine their positive actions in this world.
Religion is as unique as our DNA
I do not, for a moment, believe that religion is categorized into groups or denominations. No two people interpret literature the same way. No two people interpret the Bible the same way. No two people have identical emotional reactions to the latest blockbuster. And no two people have the same emotional pulls from a religious service. No two people can imagine the same crucifixion of Christ just like no two people can wrap their consciousness around nirvana.
Just because we know The Name Of their religion does not mean we know their beliefs
As secular educators, we have a choice. We can dismiss religion into its categories and denominations. Or we can treat religion for what it is. We cannot see the heart until we know someone.
If you are an atheist, you will explain your beliefs to your children. You will explain to them why you oppose the belief in God. It is completely within your power to convey this in specific or general terms. I would offer a plea — be as specific as you can about what it is that you oppose. And for the sake of your child’s education, be as neutral about other issues as you can.
The vast majority of atheists oppose the actions that are the result of blind faith. Most do not oppose the existence of faith itself. In the formative years of your child’s development, these are fine lines.
Teach ‘local,’ American religion well (the first time)
I believe one of the biggest mistakes a secular homeschooler can make is flippantly dismissing religion. Especially the ‘local’ religion. Ultimately, children will have questions. If you want your children to ask you these questions, I think that it is important to have first built a foundation of trust.
I think that a solid understanding of religion can also help our children relate to their peers and colleagues. It is difficult to understand human actions and reasonings if we can’t put ourselves in their shoes. I know so many conservative evangelicals. Luckily, I understand them. I know their “why” and I’m not surprised by their actions.
In conclusion, I want to reiterate that I am not trying to tell you how to raise your child. There is undoubtedly a large dose of implicit parenting and judgment that accompanies this post about teaching religion in secular homeschools. I want to drop one of my favorite lectures here, Let’s teach religion — all religion — in schools – by Dan Dennett. This post wasn’t directly influenced by his talk, but as I read over the final paragraphs I believe it is more than fitting.
In the next few weeks, I am going to start a series on teaching American Christianity to your kids. This is not the rich and full religious education that I have been advocating in this post. What I will be writing about in the next days and weeks is for high school students, potentially middle school. I’ll reference books, but not textbooks or curriculums. This isn’t a ‘brand’ or anything of that sort. This is my ‘hand-made’ curriculum / lesson plans for teaching the big picture of American Christianity.