An Atheist Homeschooling Parent Comes Out

While I was gone, reader Leanna came out as an atheist!

Who’s Leanna? A homeschooling mother living in Kentucky. (So this cant be easy for her.)

… I could join one of several wonderful homeschooling co-ops that are available in the area, if I were willing to sign a statement of faith and either teach my children creationism, or teach them to lie and say they believed in it. Neither route is acceptable to me, as I am homeschooling with the goal of better education for my children, not with the goal of indoctrinating them.

It takes a lot of courage to go public in an environment like that, but Leanna’s teaching her children an important lesson: It’s important to stand up for what you believe in even when it’s not popular. You don’t have to be a jerk when you disagree, but confidence and a willing to defend yourself can go a long way.

*Applause* to her!

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

    Leanna, good for you!  And your kids. I wish you well.

  • http://www.facebook.com/genicedaniels Genice Daniels Wingert

    Teaching them to do what they know is right is one of the greatest lessons we can give to our children.

  • Fritzy

    Way to stand on your principles, Leanna.  Sorry you don’t have that support system available but know that there are people here who are behind you.

  • Jay Sweet

    Almost as risky as coming out as a homeschooler around atheists.  heh, I hope people are nice.  :)  Good for you for standing up for what you think anyway!

    • http://twitter.com/TheBlackBot Black Bot

      Is it really? I was homeschooled, but I became an atheist. Homeschooling is not as bad as many might think. (Although, my experience as a homeschool student might give me less aversion to homeschoolers.)

      • http://twitter.com/0xabad1dea Melissa E

        A lot of people confuse “home schooling” with “CREATIONIST home schooling” because the latter are a very vocal and dangerous subgroup. There’s also the element that atheism in the US is noticeably biased towards people who live in areas with better public schools and can probably afford to put their children in secular private schools if they really want to. These two things combined make homeschooling something that only the religious fringe would ever want to do in the minds of many atheists. This is of course not at all true, as the secular homeschoolers of the Kentuckies of the world can attest to!

    • Karen L

      Indeed.  I was at the Secular Student Alliance conference last month with my 18 y.o. son (who is thinking of starting a group at his college this fall, but didn’t want to attend the conference alone).  When homeschooling came up, it felt like I was confessing a crime…

       

      • GPC

        A lot of nonbelievers homeschool but there is still that perception out there that it is a Christian thing. If you actually look at statistics on this, religious and secular homeschoolers pretty much match their proportion in the overall population. But I have also saw a survey done on homeschooling and religion and it seemed like the nonreligious were overrepresented.

        Nonbelievers are often better educated than believers and are probably more likely as a result to be concerned about educational quality. That’s a big issue for me. I’m sure a lot of people in the Secular Student Alliance will be homeschooling parents themselves someday, when they realise how ineffective public schools are nowadays.

    • Meg

      Yeah … I notice that I expect most people to take issue with either one or the other (homeschooling or atheism), and a do a little happy dance if they respond with tolerance on both counts.

  • Parker

    This is the same problem we have here in Virginia!  The homeschooling networks are all a bunch of right-wing Christians who use faith-based curriculum.  It’s quite a turn-off to me.

  • Itsjustafairytale

    Way to go Leanna!

  • Meg

    Hey, Leanna! 

    As an “out” atheist homeschooler (with my partner and three kids), I hear you about feeling marginalized or outright ostracized by some elements of the homeschooling community. I think it’s great that you’re standing up and being what you are for your kids and everyone to see. 

    I’ll be following your blog …

    Meg

  • Anonymous

    My son is quite gifted and I’d LOVE to homeschool.  He currently goes to a Charter school (public school with special curriculum) which is housed at a church… and the majority of the families are fundie or evangelical or Mormon.  One of the families go to that church and lead a mom’s prayer group that meets in a non-school rented room for prayers once a week.  They do their best to cover all religious stuff, but it still bugs me that there is a huge cross in the lunch room (social hall).  A regular public school couldn’t meet his needs.  And I work at home, so I’d need a good homeschool group to partner with… and there are none that are secular.  We homeschooled for preschool and he entered kindergarten writing paragraphs, reading at a 3rd grade level, and doing multiplication.

    Anyway, kudos to Leanna for making this very difficult decision!  We need more moms out there who are willing to do this!

  • Grumble F Kitty

    I’m an atheist homeschooling mom in Missouri. We’re lucky to live in a liberal college town, with plenty of other secular homeschoolers. The homeschool group we joined is a secular, inclusive group. We have religious members, but religion usually isn’t why they are homeschooling, and it isn’t a primary focus for them. We have to be careful what we say, because we are spoiled, and forget that not everybody is atheist or agnostic!

  • guest

    Same conversation posted this morning about homeschooling and secular homeschooling groups on pioneerwoman!

  • A Little Caustic Agnostic

    Best of luck to you Leanna!  I think the “problem” with homeschooling is the religious stereotype.  Where I am from the only people you SEE or hear about are the super religious born agains that are basically keeping thier children home to 1. be preached to and avoid outside non religious based influences and 2. provide childcare to younger siblings 3. self teach…. sometimes.  It’s nice to hear of people choosing homeschooling to provide their child(ren) with a quality education!

    • Abby Williams

      Having been “self schooled”, grown up in a fundie household with parents who attempted to hide me away from society, I do honestly frown on HS as a whole. I do realize though, that my outlook has been tainted by the bitterness which is a result of my schooling… Mark my words, I am not bitter about the religion- I am bitter about having been HS.
       I have always been atheist, as a child I simply lacked the word to describe how I felt about the religion I was being raised in (and all religion, for that matter). Having intimate knowledge of how fundies use HS as an effective tool with which to brainwash their children, I have to simply state that I feel HS should have enough red tape attached that it would be prohibitive for those who use it for the purpose of religious abuse.
      All of ^^^ that said… I applaud those who choose to HS so that they can provide their children with the academic edge they’ll need once they have to face reality on their own. I tip my hat to you.

      Further thought… of the couple hundred HS children I grew up with, at least 1/3 of them with whom I still have contact have “come out”. Just this past week, one of the people I hold most dear came out to me- Nothing pleases me more than seeing those who have suffered the life of a RWC HS child finally deprogrammed. Finally able to cash their reality check.

      L~ Your children will grow to someday understand just how fortunate they were to have been born into your family.

  • Karen

    Leanna, WAY TO GO!
    I am an atheist homeschooler in Missouri and, here, it is quite common to find atheist homeschoolers.    It is also easy to find right-wing Christian atheists.
    The group we are involved with is HIGHLY liberal-thinkers, critical thinkers, and open-minded thinking.  It’s wonderfully refreshing and highly conducive to growth and learning!
    Feel free to move on up to Missouri, Leanna!
    In the meantime, welcome to being “out”!
    Peace, Karen

    • Kenneth Dunlap

      You live in a very confused area if it is easy to find “right-wing christian atheists”…

      • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

        It is less confused than “right-wing Christian Muslim atheists”

        or perhaps just a type-o

    • Kenneth Dunlap

      You live in a very confused area if it is easy to find “right-wing christian atheists”…

    • Karen

      Yep, quick-typing type typo.
      LOL

  • http://lovejoyfeminism.blogspot.com Libby Anne

    Having been homeschooled myself, I know how hard that must have been!

  • lkmccormick

    Thank you all so much, and thank you Hemant for sharing my story! It’s wonderful to have such positive responses to my coming out and not to see a single “I’ll pray for you.” -Leanna

    • Tiffany Y

      Leanna, this is so awesome! You’re a celebrity now. ;-)

  • Annie

    Way to go Leanna!  It’s exciting to see more and more atheist homeschoolers… heck!  It’s exciting to see more and more atheists. ;-)  Best of luck to you.  I hope this will be a smooth transition in your life.

  • JimG

    I would like to see some research done on just how homeschooling beliefs, numbers and material availability break down. I know a number of secular homeschoolers, but all the commonly-available materials I’ve seen offered are strongly religious. For these discussions, it would be great to have some reliable sense of proportion.

    • GPC

      Secular curricula are becoming more common. Calvert, k12.com and time4learning are all secular. There are others as well. I think there are far more than people realise. I homeschool through a charter school, which by law must be secular.

  • http://www.laughinginpurgatory.com/ Andrew Hall

    Raising two kids is tough. I imagine homeschooling my  kids would be similar to running a daily marathon.

  • Bodkin Nick

    good luck i know how ky is. I live just outside of lex and get harrased all the time for being a atheist.

  • Anonymous

    Last time I saw a survey (which I can’t find right now, sorry), a third of them responded that religion was their motivation.  The only home schoolers I’ve ever known did it were religious though.

    • GPC

      I’ve seen religion being a motivation as high as 80% and as low as 20%. I really think it’s who you survey. I homeschool in California and here it is mainly a school quality issue. But I can see religion being a big factor in Alabama. Interestingly enough, there are atheists who homeschool due to concerns about prosyletizing in the public schools. This is considered to be homeschooling for religious reasons in surveys. So, it is incorrect to assume that everyone bringing up religion as a reason for homeschooling is religious.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/FDGYHBEWVNGUG763L5X4TON3JQ Nazani14

    How old are the kids?  I have a few books I could contribute.

  • Benjamin Schreck

    Is public education in the United States
    really that bad? While I can see myself doing okay teaching some subjects, math
    and natural sciences for example. I would totally fail at other subjects.
    While my English is bearable I defiantly could not teach the required second
    foreign Language. I really cannot imagine Homeschooling working, at least not
    grades 9-13.

    • lkmccormick

      Yes, Kentucky public schools really are that bad. I feel pretty confident homeschooling my kids! My main goal is teaching them to be life-long learners. If I learn along with them in some high school subjects, that’ll be okay.  Plus there are quite a few distance and online courses available once the kids are in the upper grades if their abilities and interests take them beyond my scope.

    • Andrea37

      I think there are several issues with regards to the current state of the education system. For one, class sizes are too large. This makes it more of a day care than school when teachers are stretched too thin. Teacher’s wages are much too low for what they are expected to contribute to society. School schedules need to be revamped to reflect the shifts in our economy. We are not  an agricultural society anymore so I think school days can be more evenly distributed across the year, with less time off in summer (except where agriculture is predominant still. And finally I think our curricula should not be centered around particular achievement tests. There will always be those that don’t test well, even though they grasp the material. Teaching critical thinking skills needs more emphasis, too. There are different learning styles and kids should not be treated with a one size fits all approach to learning. 
      When I homeschooled my son it was literally a full time job. There was a lot of preparation and organization involved. I will say that there are a whole lot of resources out there. I used textbooks as well as the internet, field trips, etc. My son did end up going back to public school but it was his decision- he missed the social aspect and I think that is also part of one’s education as well.

    • GPC

      Yes, education in America is really that bad. A University of Virginia concluded that only 23 percent of 1st grade classrooms were “high overall quality.” The rest were considered to be mediocre or below. According to the National Academy of Sciences “Fewer than 15% of US high-school graduates have sufficient mathematics and science credentials to even begin pursuing an engineering degree.” In Science “By the 12th grade, the fraction of underachievers had grown to 46%. In mathematics, the same test revealed that fewer than one-fourth of high-school seniors perform at or above their grade level.” Add to that, many teachers actually teach out of their field “69% of US fifth- through eighth-grade students are being taught mathematics by teachers who do not possess a degree or certificate in mathematics. Fully 93% of students in those grades are being taught physical sciences by teachers with no degree or certificate in the physical sciences. Even in high school, the corresponding likelihoods are 31% for mathematics, 61% for chemistry, and 67% for physics.”

      Read all of the details at http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12021.

      Most Asian students leave school with about 4 more years worth of education than their American counterparts. Europeans are usually 2 to 3 years ahead as well.

      Our schools are so bad that it is actually quite easy to do better. I talked to a former public school teacher who now works with homeschoolers through an online public school. She said all the homeschool kids are way ahead of the kids in the mostly middle class public school she taught in.

  • Andrea37

    I’m an atheist and I homeschooled my son for a few years when he was in junior high school. He has ADD and the public school system, even though they provided assistance through special education, did not meet his needs. Just like they don’t meet the needs of regular students. Our education system is based on ideals that haven’t evolved with our ever changing society. I think the number of homeschooled kids is rapidly growing as a result to include a more secular population. It is sad to find out there are homeschooling groups that are so exclusive that they require a signed statement of belief. And to be encouraged to have the children lie about a belief in creationism sounds so “unchristian” of them.

  • Tina

    Job well done Leanna! I’m an atheist homeschooling mother in Colorado, though I’m lucky to have a secular homeschool group in my area. Keep up the good work.

  • http://silveroutlinedwindow.wordpress.com/ Shannon

    Leanna! Me too – but you already know that because you commented on my blog about coming out http://silveroutlinedwindow.wordpress.com/2011/08/04/im-coming-out/ August has been a good month for us ;)

    Congrats, have fun – so happy to have others out there to build a support system :)

  • Viscaria

    Well done! Your children are lucky to have you.

  • Jonni

    Even here in Australia, which is not very churchy, my reasons for homeschooling are usually assumed to be religious. And yes, most of the groups, as well as the curriculums are religion based. I’m very lucky to have found a great bunch of homeschool families who are not only secular but lovely open-minded people. So nice to not be judged!

  • http://politicsandpucks.blogspot.com Mike Brownstein

    Leanna as someone who went to ICHE and experienced the crazy first hand, I’d like to say that I understand a little bit. Indoctrination /= education. BTW congrats! :-D

  • Renshia

    Good for you Leanna.

    I wish I would have liked my kids enough to want to spend that much time with them.

  • J.V.H.

    As a homeschooled atheist myself, I just want to say that I’ve found Leanna’s story very inspiring, and I’d like to congratulate her! All the homeschooled aquaintences I have made except one family have been fundementalist Christian (at least as far as I know), and when I’m with them I constantly feel like I have to walk on eggshells to not reveal my lack of faith. I wish I had the same courage to be open about my atheism! I can only hope that, should I have children and decide to homeschool them, atheism will have become enough of an accepted lifestyle that I can be myself without fear.

  • LV

    Well done Leanna.  I very much respect your position on invisible pseudo-omnipotent beings and the way you handled yourself in this situation.  It’s tough when surrounded by not like minded people, so kudos to you!

  • Lakei

    I know I’m getting to this late, but I just wanted to congratulate you as well! I lived in Kentucky for several years (through middle and high school and then my undergraduate university), and I know first-hand how difficult it can be to come out in an area like Kentucky. And I completely support the idea of homeschooling. Even though it can be difficult without a group to help support you, your methods of teaching are probably keeping your children miles above other KY kids education-wise.


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