by Michelle Pippin
Homeschooling. It’s a natural option for military families. It makes education portable, and means our kids don’t have to spend a year adjusting to new standards at every new duty station. Military families move, and we move a lot. My own family has moved four times in the last ten years, including once overseas. That’s a lot of adjustment time. Homeschooling eliminates most of that. But what’s it really like to be a military homeschooler? Or, more specifically, what’s it like to be a secular homeschooler in the military community? It’s wonderful, and it’s frustrating at the same time. It takes patience and perseverance, but it’s absolutely worth the effort.
One of my favorite reasons to homeschool is that it lets me expose my children to the world in a natural learning environment. We do lots of reading, sure. But we also do lots of exploring. We might learn about the Civil War, but visiting battle grounds and memorials and cemeteries does a lot more to solidify learning than any textbook ever could. The added bonus is that during the school day, places like these are quiet (note: most U.S. public school field trips happen on Tuesdays and Fridays in my experience, so schedule yours outside those prime times, or call ahead to ask when schools are scheduled for tours).
At our last duty station, we were in Germany for 22 months. During our short stay, we were able to visit locations in France, Czech Republic, Poland, Italy, Austria, and Belgium, in addition to exploring all of Germany. Following a public school calendar would never have allowed for all of that travel. My kids learned more in those 22 months than in all of their years prior, and more than most of their peers ever will. Now, I am aware that this was a unique experience, but for military families, this can be a reality. Taking full advantage of travel opportunities is my favorite benefit of being a military homeschooler.
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, this military homeschooling thing. There are drawbacks. Namely, friends. School is a built-in friend maker. You’re stuck in a desk in a classroom next to a few neighbors. Forming bonds is natural. When you’re a homeschooler in a new town, you have to go outside of your comfort zone to find new friends and form bonds. If we happen to be stationed at a large post, this is much easier than at a remote location. Our last two duty stations have been fairly remote, making the forging of friendships difficult and frustrating.
This process is further compounded when you identify as secular. It’s been my experience that the great majority of military homeschoolers are extremely devout Christians, and exclusionary at that. Homeschool groups often require statements of faith for membership. It’s easy to find a Classical Conversations group (a religious homeschooling program common among military communities) but it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t want to talk about church. If you “come out” as a non-religious homeschooler, you face shunning at an incredibly deep level. I once had the leader of a homeschool group in Germany tell me that if my child got lonely enough, she’d go to church, because that was the only way their kids (“their” meaning the entire group’s collective kids) were going to spend any time with them. After that, I wasn’t really ever welcome in the group again, and it was the only group available at that duty station. Isolation for secular homeschoolers is a very real problem in the military community.
We should be united by the common bonds of military life and homeschooling, and instead, we’re segregated by belief. It’s a shame.
Perseverance. It’s a military way of life, and it carries over to homeschooling. To those considering homeschooling as an option, I say go for it! Explore the world. Take your education with you. And don’t let exclusive, judgmental homeschoolers stand in your way. Speak up about secular homeschooling. It’s the only way to break down walls and maybe the only way you’re going to find like-minded friends. I’ve been the quiet one in the corner nodding and smiling when people talk about church and Apologia, never letting on that I didn’t feel the same. It’s stifling and it’s fraudulent. Be yourself. Be out there. You don’t want the angry folks in your corner. And who knows? You just might find a new friend or two who feel the same as you, but were afraid to speak up and stand out. I always have, everywhere we’ve been.
Michelle homeschools her sixth grade daughter. She and her family currently call Fairbanks, Alaska home…until the Army decides it’s time to move again.