Guest post by Jennifer Guise Rahner
Evolution has been defined as the gradual development of something, especially from a simple to a more complex form. Evolution, in the biological sense, is just one of the matters that separate secular from religious homeschoolers. When my family decided to homeschool last year, evolution quickly became a hot topic in our household.
As our frustrations grew with the public school education of my seventh grade step-daughter, we considered many alternatives, including private school, before committing to homechooling. I’m an expert “googler” and I spent hours upon hours researching before we made the leap. When our dissatisfaction reached the tipping point, and we both felt confident we could do a better job schooling her at home, we decided not to send her back just after the Thanksgiving holiday.
Up until this point I was researching homeschooling methods, pros and cons, deschooling and the like. Once we took the leap, I shifted to delve into curriculum options and local homeschool groups. I was not prepared for what I found.
First, let me tell you just a little about me. I grew up in the Northeast and at one time or another lived in the suburbs of every major metropolitan area between New York and Washington, DC. I attended 13 public schools in as many years and grew up well aware of the differences in educational requirements in different areas. I also developed an open mind but a primarily agnostic view, especially with the rise of the political religious right.
Then I was moved to the area where I now reside with my then-job. I thought I would return to the Northeast again after a few years – in fact, thought it was a career stepping stone to bigger and better things back at home office – but as often happens, things didn’t quite turn out as I’d planned.
Out of the Northeast and in the “Bible Belt”, I started to meet and interact with many more Christians. I finally saw examples of faith that were counter to everything I saw in the media. I saw people motivated by their convictions to help others in need. My primary example was meeting the man I love – this tall, handsome born and bred South Carolinian who is smart and witty and kind and devoted to his faith. But, unless you bring up that subject with him, he’ll never tell you that or try to ram it down your throat.
I changed, slowly, but honestly it felt more like coming home than changing. I had always craved a name for my belief in that elusive larger something, but was so turned off by the close-mindedness of populist conservative Christians. Getting to know just a few people showed me that you can believe in a Christian faith and be open-minded to all of the possibilities in the world.
Which leads me back to my search for curriculum and community; I had honestly never heard of “God’s Design for Science” and hadn’t a clue what a “Christian worldview” meant. But suddenly, all of my searches for materials to homeschool my step-daughter seemed to lead somewhere we really didn’t want to go.
My family believes that God created the universe and the earth and everything else, but we don’t believe that he did so in seven, 24 hours days. The Bible and scientific fact don’t need to be interpreted as contradictory. The moral guidance of a Christian faith is taught in our home and church but doesn’t necessarily add value to an Algebra lesson. The local homeschool group requiring the signing of a statement of faith before participating in any activity is certainly succeeding in assuring uniformity of the participants, but does nothing to further the inclusive messages of Jesus that has spoken to my heart.
If you’re here following N.A.S.H., I probably don’t need to tell you that while there are secular resources out there – vendors, freebies, virtual and physical groups of people who want to educate their children with a wide worldview and let them grow and learn and make their own decisions about matters of faith, like I did – they are not easy to find. The most recent data shows that the primary reason for choosing to homeschool is not a desire to provide religious (64%) or moral (77%) instruction but a concern about the environment of other schooling options (91%), according to the National Center for Education Statistics. As this concern grows, so too do the number of families who want to find a central source for secular information.
That is why I’m volunteering my time and energy to the creation of N.A.S.H. I don’t know where this will lead, but working with all of these passionate people to try to build this huge thing from the ground up through our own perseverance is exhilarating. I’m hopeful that one day I’ll be able to point to a vibrant organization that supports homeschoolers who chart their own path, independent of religious beliefs, and say, “I helped to start that.” I really, really believe we’re going to do it.
I’m happy to take on the future role to develop local chapters of N.A.S.H. so that there are secular and local homeschool groups all over the country. There will be no exclusionary statement of faith to be signed before joining. We’ll welcome all who want to learn from each other.
I wouldn’t trade my journey to my religious convictions for anything on this earth, and I want more than anything for our daughter to know all about the world outside our front door and find her faith as she grows. Perhaps she’ll find her way back to the Christian teachings of her youth, or perhaps she’ll find another path that speaks to her heart. Either way, she’ll also know Algebra and Science and World Religions and Art and everything and anything she wants to know on any topic so she can make a place for herself in this world, evolving into a curious, open-minded, loving, and interested adult.
Jennifer Guise Rahner is the Chapter Development Manager for the National Alliance of Secular Homeschoolers. In addition to homeschooling her 13 year old stepdaughter, she works full time as a Software Support Specialist and is in the midst of starting a small business handcrafting tutus. Originally from New York she’s now happily settled in western South Carolina with her hunky husband and aforementioned step-daughter in a home their two orange tabby cats allow them to inhabit with them. When not educating, working or volunteering, she likes reading, mountain biking, trapeze, whitewater rafting, and TV shows that feature food.