Additional Resources

• Margaret Downey's essay "Teaching Children to Stand on Principle" in Parenting Beyond Belief.

• Scouting For All (www.scoutingforall.org), an organization committed to reforming the Boy Scouts of America into a nondiscriminatory organization.

Q: My daughter is interested in Girl Scouts. Does Girl Scouting have the same discriminatory policies?

A: No, it doesn't. Despite the presence of "God" in the Girl Scout Promise, the Girl Scouts organization (which is entirely independent of the Boy Scouts) has gone out of its way to spell out nondiscriminatory policies. The results have not been perfect—there have been local reports of discriminatory acts contrary to the organization's principles—but that's to be expected in a group of this size.

The attitude of Girl Scouts USA regarding religious belief is summed up in a landslide 1993 vote by which the organization adopted a measure to permit its members to substitute another word or phrase for "God" in the Girl Scout Promise. A 2003 statement titled "What We Stand For" included this outstandingly clear passage:

The Girl Scout organization does not endorse or promote any particular philosophy or religious belief. Our movement is secular and is founded on American democratic principles, one of which is freedom of religion.11

A 1991 policy letter also clarified the policy on sexual orientation:

As a private organization, Girl Scouts of the USA respects the values and beliefs of each of its members and does not intrude into personal matters. Therefore, there are no membership policies on sexual preference."12

Q: Are there alternatives to the traditional scouting organizations?

A: Partly as a result of the discriminatory policies of BSA and other concerns with traditional Scouting (including reinforcement of gender roles, the emphasis on obedience, and other issues), several alternatives have recently developed, including:

• Earth Scouts (www.earthscouts.org): "Earth Scouts is an inclusive, coeducational scouting program... [emphasizing] sustainability,equity and nonviolence."13

• Spiral Scouts (www.spiralscouts.org): "SpiralScouts thrives on ... religious tolerance and interfaith cooperation, personal responsibility, and ecological education and conservation, in order to help our children learn to grow into . . . citizens of the world."14 The Spiral Scouts grew out of a pagan religious tradition, and some of the terms they use like "circles" and "hearths" for their troops reflect that tradition, but their activities are meant to be for kids from any tradition. Their website provides more information and a way to find a circle near you.

Q: I want my kids to be part of a freethinking community, but I don't want them labeled as atheists before they've had a chance to think through their ideas for themselves. How can I expose them to a freethought community without them being labeled or indoctrinated?

A: You've got exactly the right idea. There's a consensus emerging among freethinkers that children need to come to their own conclusions about their religious (or nonreligious) beliefs, and concern about labeling and indoctrination is taken very seriously. Freethinkers by definition have come to their beliefs due to their own thinking, reading, and reflection, and most understand that their kids are entitled to no less. Many freethinkers had negative experiences with religious indoctrination in childhood and understand that the best way to turn a child off to an idea—any idea—is to force-feed it to her.

One of the core missions of The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (www.richarddawkinsfoundation.org) is raising awareness about the problem of labeling children based on the religious (or nonreligious) beliefs of their parents. Camp Quest also avoids labeling children and instead seeks to create a place where children can explore their developing worldviews free of the negative stereotypes and controversy that may be leveled at their families back home due to their parents' beliefs.

Even though the vast majority of freethinkers are on the same page regarding this issue, not everyone is. Check out the children's freethought activities that your child is involved in just as vigorously as any other activity. Talk to the activity leaders about any concerns you have.

While most freethinkers won't try to label a child based on the parents' beliefs, your child may be facing such labeling from others in the community. Talk with your child about this, and help her to have ready responses, such as, "Why do you think I believe that just because my parents do? Do you always believe the same thing as your parents?" Remind your child that she is free to change her mind about her beliefs as often as she wishes, and that you recognize she has her own beliefs even if sometimes other adults may forget that. When other adults label your child based on your beliefs, gently correct them: "Well, that's what I believe, but if you want to know what my son believes, you'll have to ask him."

A nonreligious mom in Ohio answers questions about homeschooling for the nonreligious.

Q: Why did you decide to homeschool?

A: My daughter, Allison, was in second grade and having a hard time. She wasn't clicking with her teacher or her school. She was also being bullied about her nontheism. Two girls cornered her in the bathroom and told her she was going to hell because she doesn't believe in God. Many other similar incidents happened. I talked to her teacher and the principal. Since the students were doing this of their own accord, the school wouldn't interfere. They said that if they put a stop to it, they would be violating those students' right to free speech. Rather than face a lengthy battle, I decided to pull her out to homeschool.

Q: Aren't all homeschoolers religious fundamentalists?

About three in four homeschoolers in the United States are evangelical Christians, but there are also a lot of nontheist homeschoolers. We're just a bit harder to find! We are becoming more vocal, though. Our main way of connecting is through email groups [see the Resources section]. We support each other and help find secular school materials.

Q: So there are secular homeschool curricula?

A: Yes—we just have to be really careful what we buy. Most religious publishers are proud of their theism and make it clear that their materials are not secular. But some are sneaky. When I first began homeschooling, I thought I could use their books and just ignore the religious sentences, but I quickly realized their whole worldview is different from mine. Many homeschool supply companies are openly Christian but do sell some secular materials. If I see a warning that a book is by a secular publisher and may be offensive, that's the book I buy!

Q: Where do you find secular resources?

A: If you do an Internet search of secular homeschool resources, you'll find lots of links. Some people research and review materials and post lists. I recently ordered textbooks used in public schools. I've found them all secular. They're expensive, though. You can also find slightly older editions on eBay at a large discount. I also order books from Great Britain and have been very pleased with them.

Q: What about socialization?

A: This is the most common question homeschoolers hear. Socialization can be particularly tough for nontheists. I've been to many gatherings where people assume I'm religious. I had a choice: Proclaim my Humanism, possibly alienating my daughter and myself from the group, or I could keep quiet and scream later. When Allison was younger, I chose to bite my tongue. We were new to homeschooling, and she needed all the playmates she could find.

Now I'm more open. Also, since Allison is older, she's more forthright herself with her friends. Luckily, a wonderful woman in town started a secular homeschooling group. We're the Mid Ohio Secular Homeschoolers. We finally have a place to fit in and be completely ourselves! We sometimes discuss secular materials, but mostly we get together just for support and friendship. Allison feels so free now that she can openly discuss her nontheism. The kids encourage each other to stand up for freethought. They also help each other deal with harassment about their lifestyles.

Q: What are the pros and cons of homeschooling?

A: For us, the biggest benefit of homeschooling has been the lifestyle. We are free to go where we please, and we find learning experiences everywhere. Learning doesn't just take place in four walls of a schoolroom! We are trying to raise Allison as a citizen of the world, and we are able to do that through homeschooling. We travel as much as possible, paying lower off-season prices. We choose our own materials and style of learning. Also, my daughter is no longer bullied for being a Humanist.

The main "con" of homeschooling is that we have to actively seek out social experiences. Allison loves being around kids, and sometimes she misses being around classmates all day. Occasionally, we get on each others' nerves since we're together most of the time. We work it out through open communication. We feel learning to get along and talk things out is an important life skill for kids. Also, we have to deal with the stereotype of homeschoolers being religious. We like to open people's minds and let them know all kinds of people homeschool.

Don't let being a nontheist stop you from homeschooling. We can support each other and make our voices heard. As the number of nontheist homeschoolers grows, publishers will see the need in the market and publish more materials for us.

Deciding to homeschool can be a scary decision. I was really nervous at first, but now I'm absolutely sure it's the right decision for our family.

—Amy Page, Mid Ohio Secular Homeschoolers, [email protected]

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