The Search for Secular Curriculum

I’ve been considering starting a blog about homeschooling for a while, if for no other reason than to provide a productive outlet for the insane amount of research I’ve been doing on the matter lately. (If you can turn your obsessive research into blog posts, then it appears rational and justified and not like a sign of COVID-quarantine-induced mental health decline resulting from an unfulfilled need for a sense of control at all!)

In case you haven’t noticed, there are a lot of people looking into homeschooling right now due to fear of sending their children back to plague-infested schools or general skepticism of their school’s ability to implement distance learning effectively or in a way that doesn’t leave their children whining and melting out of their chairs while their brains slowly decay.

I am planning on homeschooling my youngest (9 years old) this year not for COVID reasons, but because school hasn’t been fitting right for a while for other reasons. Last year she tried online school, which she didn’t really enjoy and for which we supplemented a LOT, so we’ve kind of been doing a disorganized homeschool method for a while already. For this year, however, oh have I been planning and preparing!

My many excursions in internet-land have included joining various facebook groups in the hopes of finding additional ideas and resources with regards to homeschooling. In fact, a particularly negative experience in one such group recently was the impetus for finally starting this blog. (So if parts of this post read like a rant, that’s because it is. However, I hope that some of it is also informative.)

As such, not only is this blog about secular homeschooling in general, but the main topic of this first post is: All of my thoughts on what secular homeschooling means and how to be open minded and well informed as you seek appropriate curriculum for your child.

Here are my thoughts and opinions about secular instruction:

  • I am a rather staunch atheist, firmly believe in secular instruction, and have no intention of projecting any religious doctrine upon my children. That said, I don’t shield them from religion either.
  • I have let my inlaws take my children to church with them. My children did not burst into flames, nor did the holy water burn them. They also were not converted. They have, however, gotten to see what happens in a church and what people do there.
  • Homeschooling has been around for a long time and many people have historically chosen to homeschool for religious reasons. As a result there are a lot of non-secular materials on the market (this includes materials classified as “neutral” such as biology books that simply omit discussion of evolution or creation altogether). Because of this, as a secular homeschooler, it can be difficult to wade through materials and find good ones that work for you.
  • It isn’t just the non-religious that might be seeking secular curriculum. People with all sorts of beliefs may be seeking such curriculum for their own reasons.
  • Having a place to go where you can find secular resources, or a clear indication of the content of non-secular materials, would be very helpful for homeschoolers like myself.
  • Because non-secular homeschooling has been around for so long, it has produced many materials that may still be of value for secular educators. These materials may either need to be supplemented, modified, or presented in a larger context of explaining belief systems to our children. There is a need for thorough vetting of such sources from a secular perspective.
  • Choosing to entirely ignore, ban, and deny conversation about the use of non-secular or neutral materials in a secular homeschool setting amounts to willful ignorance of the type religious people are often accused of. 
  • It is important to have a place where you can find homeschool materials that will work for you and are consistent with your beliefs and values. This means a place where all types of resources can be discussed and reviewed, but where this discussion is honest and very clear about the material’s content, to include not just religious content, but the qualifications and other ideologies of the authors who wrote it.
  • If you are seeking secular homeschool material (or material that can be adapted to secular purposes), it can quickly become frustrating if 90% of everything you come across is non-secular, neutral, or claims to be secular when it isn’t.
  • It is possible for people to hold religious beliefs and still have expertise in certain fields that are of value to learners. (In fact many of science’s greatest discoveries were made by people who were devoutly religious.)
  • It is possible to engage with people who hold religious beliefs and respectfully disagree with them like adults. In fact, it’s even possible to agree with them about some things.
  • It is important for children to understand that many different people hold many different beliefs, but that this does not make them “other” or inhuman or worthy of being shunned or ignored. This can mean, however, that you need to take certain things they say or do with a grain of salt or skepticism.
  • That said, there are times when you may need to separate yourself or your family from people engaging in religious practices or ideologies that you feel are damaging to you or society at large. It’s even perfectly valid to actively speak out against such ideologies when they are problematic.
  • It is understandable that some non-religious people may feel very strongly about even the smallest hint of religious content due to past trauma, living in an unsupportive community, or any other variety of reasons. 
  • If you choose to form a group around the idea of zero tolerance for even the mere mention of anything that might remotely be construed as religious regardless of the context, you can at the very least not be an asshole about it and clearly state your extreme bias somewhere visible. Most people are going to assume you aren’t totalitarian when you use words like “secular” in your title because those of us who are secular often associate that word with a certain amount of integrity and ability to think rationally. Consider changing your group name to: “Zero-tolerance Anti-religious Homeschoolers” and maybe instead of using the motto “our differences are our strength” something more along the lines of “dissent is not allowed; if you even mention the curriculum Real Science 4 Kids, even if it’s to say “Is Real Science 4 Kids secular?” or something similarly non-threatening, we will delete you; and may fire be upon you if you admit to having let your kid read a Life of Fred book” would provide prospective members a more accurate picture of what to expect. 

Yeah, this took a little turn just now…

That said, SEA (Secular, Eclectic, Academic) Homeschoolers – the offending group in question – CAN be used as a resource to find secular materials, just be warned. During my brief time in their facebook group I watched numerous innocuous posts disappear without statement as though some sort of secret police were hunting down the infidels. When I asked for an explanation, I was ejected from the group. 

When admins frequently and selectively delete comments and replies in a social forum without announcement, this is a form of dishonest content manipulation. Conversation threads and comments are removed before you can see them so that you are never exposed to different ideas. It’s one thing if those threads were offensive or damaging in some way, but we’re talking about statements like “I actually used curriculum X, though it is nonsecular” in response to a direct question. Even when such statements were a small part of a larger, well-thought-out response to something, the whole post would just disappear. 

So it isn’t even that they don’t list anything remotely non-secular and don’t want people recommending anything non-secular in their space – that seems perfectly valid – but they act as though merely speaking the names of the non-secular beasts in any way that acknowledges their existence is some sort of affront to humanity that requires your silent assasination. 

I suppose that’s their choice, but sheesh!  

Anyway, I personally think it makes more sense for a secular homeschooling site to not just focus exclusively on discussion of the strictest most secular materials, but to allow for an examination of other materials from a secular education standpoint, especially considering the sheer quantity of such curricula in existence.

Imagine, if you will, a world in which a much better math program exists than any that SEA mentions on their site or facebook page but they dare not speak of it due to the fact that the author dedicated the book to god. (I don’t capitalize god. That’s how I atheate.) Such a dedication might be a deal-breaker for some, and that’s perfectly fine, but I imagine that many secular educators would like to know about it so they can make that decision for themselves. And wouldn’t it be great to get a review of such resources from a secular perspective so you have a very clear idea of what it contains?

SEA has criticised another site, on their use of “secular” in their name because they allow for discussion of nonsecular materials and sometimes sell ad space to non-secular publishers. While this is worth considering, note that you are much more likely to find a balanced discussion about material on the latter site. Like, you could ask “Is Real Science 4 Kids secular?” and someone would give you a detailed answer instead of secretly deleting your comment and banning you. You may, however, encounter unmarked non-secular material here and there, both on their site and in newsletters, apparently, so beware.

You may also consider checking out Cathy Duffy Reviews which has TONS of reviews on different homeschool materials, though A LOT of it is non-secular. HOWEVER, on every review they give they have a little “Instant Key” on the right-hand side of the page that, among other things, explicitly indicates the religious perspective or lack thereof. That said, it also appears that their is-this-religious? filter is skewed by the website author’s own views, but it does give you useful information to start from for those who aren’t afraid of catching god-cooties. (Note: They list Real Science 4 Kids as secular when it actually isn’t entirely.)

That’s all I have for now, as I am new to this homeschool journey myself. In my next post I’ll give you the breakdown of what curriculum I’m using this year and the exact nature of any potential non-secularness of one piece of it. If anyone has any secular curriculum they recommend, or non-secular or neutral curriculum they feel is valuable even in a secular education context, please drop me a note and I’ll try to do a write up about it. 

In the future I plan to add pages to this website that include lists of strictly secular materials, lists of neutral materials (with notes and suggestions for supplementation) and lists of non-secular material that may be useful if modified (with notes and suggestions for how to do this.) I want you to be able to find the right curriculum for providing your children a secular education without feeling like you’re caught off guard by religious content, or being kept in the dark about the existence of potentially useful resources.