Delivered August 8, 2004
at Accotink Unitarian Universalist Church, Burke, VA
Take a moment to think on a time, maybe not too long ago, when you were excited about learning something that interests you—perhaps a new hobby or a craft, a class here at AUUC, or even when you were reading a book you couldn’t put down. How did that feel, that unbridled enthusiasm, that thirst for knowledge and the joy of pursuing it?
Chances are you felt that way not because someone told you “it’s time to learn this, now,” but because at that moment, in that time and place, that knowledge resonated with some inner part of you that was ready to receive and absorb. And chances are, you came away feeling enriched, empowered, and energized.
Such wholehearted, unbridled education doesn’t often happen in an orchestrated setting, for no one—not even the learner—can predict when the soul’s ear will hear the call to learn.
Now imagine for a moment that you grew up always free to respond to your heart’s yearning for truth and knowledge, whenever you felt the spark of desire to learn. Imagine, too, that your educational experience affirmed your inherent worth and dignity, and helped you feel accepted for your unique personhood, as it fostered your acceptance of others. And what if all of your learning was guided by your conscience, and took place in a diverse, creative, collaborative, community setting where you had a say? How would your life be different now? How would you be different?
The scenario you just pictured is borne out in real lives, across the county. What you imagined is UU homeschooling.
Oh, yes, you know the stereotype of homeschoolers: ultra-conservative sorts, somber with religiosity, “sheltering” their children from the evils of “secular humanism” and, perhaps, beating and/or starving the children between Bible verse memorizations. But homeschooling’s diversity is reflected in the make up of our own statewide organization, The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers. VaHomeschoolers’members hail from varied backgrounds, observe a wide variety of faiths, and utilize a broad spectrum of homeschool methods. Each has the opportunity to participate in the democratic process through an annual member survey and by voting in the board elections.
Although Unitarian Universalism supports and encourages diversity, many UU congregations have difficulty accepting homeschoolers among their members. Perhaps because of the assumption that we are “anti-school.” But choosing to take on the responsibility of educating our own children does not make us anti-school any more than one’s choosing not to visit a park makes a person against public parks. We realize that supporting the education of all children benefits the entire community and we can support public education even when homeschooling.
Home educators have a remarkable community, which offers tremendous support for those who dare step outside the entrenched social norm of institutional education. For instance, there are over 450 families on just one of several national UU homeschool e-mail lists. And our new AUUC homeschool group provides localized, face-to-face, real life support. Although we have met only a few times, this group is already creating a fellowship for liberal homeschoolers in the area.
The educational goals I had for my daughters were deeper than academic success. Although I was raised Unitarian Universalist, it was only after about 9 years of homeschooling that I was able to identify my homeschooling as a UU journey. Indeed, until I began to write this homily in 2004, I hadn’t paused to isolate the UU from the rest of our lives. But once I started thinking in that mode, I realized that UU principles were part of the essence of my family’s educational path and life, inextricable from the fabric of our days, as natural, desirable and necessary to our lives as water.
Homeschooling helped my family grow together, as we became increasingly respectful of ourselves and others, developed our compassion, found and spoke our truths, worked toward acceptance, developed conscience, participated in the larger community, and sharpened our environmental awareness and sense of social responsibility.
Homeschooling firmly anchored my family’s rhythms in the “shared meals, unstructured activities, intergenerational gatherings, [and] just hanging out” that, as David Whitford wrote in UU World, are essential to family life. Thanks to our educational choice, we have the luxury of much time together, and the ability to create what Steven Covey calls “a beautiful family culture.”
Many home educated children have grown up to fashion for themselves a handmade life, including or instead of college, creating their own definitions of success. One researcher wrote that homeschooled children have “the chance to think about who they would like to be and to work at becoming that person,” and that “they had found ways to resist” cultural pressures and “follow another, self-selected path.”
Most of today’s homeschoolers have experienced public school education firsthand, and their dissatisfaction with it probably plays a role in their choosing another experience for their children. But for many of us, homeschooling is also an extension of a parenting style that includes enjoying our children and wanting to be a major part of their educational experience. We love learning with them. Home education has also offered me an opportunity to re-educate myself, to follow my own path in the search for truth and meaning.
Often, we meet parents who are supportive of the idea of homeschooling, but who believe they could “never have the patience.” But I see how homeschooling has given me the opportunity to become a better mother. Parenting my children in this intensive way gives me extra incentive to develop my patience muscle, learn to use my “pause button,” and to lead the family forward in functionality—to be more loving, kind, forgiving, compassionate, peaceful and just. Rather than passively accepting the status quo, we are proactively using what we learn to form our own beliefs, define our own culture, and formulate our own ideas. Homeschooling has made our lives more meaningful.
By strongly connecting me to my children, homeschooling links me more vigorously to the larger world, inviting me to help make it a better place for my daughters. It encourages me to actively live my spiritual beliefs.
Brain research shows that human beings learn best through hands-on activities and one-to-one interaction. Homeschooling allows a great deal of both, every day. Children of UU homeschoolers are living in the real world, with connections to many kinds of people, involvement in the community, and practical, real-life experience. To my daughters, learning is a natural process and an inner urge. They are the driving force of their education, determining virtually everything they learn, including religion. My daughters’ UU RE is as inextricable from the rest of their education as the rest of their education is inextricable from life. UU principles are not just learned; they are experienced through hands-on encounters that are relative to their lives.
Collaboration is frequent among homeschoolers. We often pool resources, work cooperatively, and find creative solutions. We must construct whatever it is that fills our children’s needs: theatre troupes, French clubs, science fairs, sports teams, etc., and we model the innovative and cooperative spirit.
These group endeavors also provide true socialization, which I define as the ability to get along with people of differing ages and backgrounds. Homeschooled children are socialized not by other unsocialized people, but by their parents, who have the benefit of experience and a more advanced socialization. For over a decade, my children have closely watched how my friends and I support and nurture each other, how—homeschoolers and non-homeschoolers alike—we have handled our disagreements and misunderstandings, and the work that long-term friendships call for.
Being that we have to lobby our own cause, homeschoolers are also often politically active, and we include our children’s contributions, making them generally much more aware and involved citizens than their public- or private school counterparts. Last fall, my kids and I spent some time helping with three local political campaigns, and, being that the girls always accompany me in the booth on Election Day, they are well aware of the importance of voting.
Unitarian Universalist homeschooling is part of our commitment to living the tradition of a liberal democratic faith. We trust our inner voices, and the guiding spirit within our children. We affirm our children’s right to make decisions about their lives and education. We strongly believe that raising loving, peaceful, ethical people contributes to a just and loving culture. I smile when I picture the positive effect as increasing numbers of our homeschooled UU children grow up and draw upon their inner riches as they give generously to their communities—and to the world.
© 2004, Shay Seaborne. All rights reserved.