Home schooling without God? Humanists find a way

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KellyAnne Kitchin and her son, Daniel, go over a lesson while oldest son Christopher, 12, reads in the background. The family's living room also serves as the main classroom. RNS photo by Rick Foster

KellyAnne Kitchin and her son, Daniel, go over a lesson while oldest son Christopher, 12, reads in the background. The family's living room also serves as the main classroom. RNS photo by Rick Foster

(RNS) When KellyAnne Kitchin began home schooling her three sons three years ago, she had difficulty finding  curriculum programs that fit her atheist and humanist beliefs.

KellyAnne Kitchin with her husband Daniel Kitchin III in their home. RNS photo by Rick Foster

KellyAnne Kitchin with her husband, Daniel Kitchin III, in their home. RNS photo by Rick Foster

So Kitchin, 33, cobbled together what she could. She left out one geography textbook’s description of the earth as God’s creation and another’s disdain for Darwin, and substituted her own point of view  — that no supernatural powers guide human beings, who alone have the power to improve the world.

She also found many online forums for home-schoolers were unwelcoming. Some had statements  faith members needed to agree to. On others she was made to feel unwelcome because of her lack of beliefs.

So Kitchin has formed an online group of like-minded home-schoolers from across the country. She hopes to create a lending library of resources that humanist, atheist and other nonbelieving home-schoolers can use with confidence.

“I found out there were a lot of people who were in the same boat I was in and did not know how to come out and have a community,” said Kitchin, of Winchester, Va. “I am hoping we come up with a big place and have some resources and some support.”

KellyAnne Kitchin and her son, Daniel, go over a lesson while oldest son Christopher, 12, reads in the background. The family's living room also serves as the main classroom. RNS photo by Rick Foster

KellyAnne Kitchin and her son, Daniel, go over a lesson while oldest son Christopher, 12, reads in the background. The family’s living room also serves as the main classroom. RNS photo by Rick Foster

While two-thirds of home schooling families are Christian evangelicals, the number of secular home-schoolers is significant —25 percent, according to the Home School Legal Defense Association.

What’s more, the number home-schooled children is rising — from 850,000 in 1999 to 1.5 million in 2007, according to The National Center for Education Statistics. Some national home-school organizations put the number higher, at more than 2 million.

And while no one tracks how many identify as atheists or humanists, this latter group may be reaching a kind of critical mass where they are able to organize in communities, both virtual and physical.

Unlike Christians, who cite religious reasons for home schooling, secular parents say they are motivated out of frustration with the poor quality of their local public schools.

“With schools now there is so much pressure to perform,” said Ute Mitchell, a humanist in Portland, Ore., who  began home schooling her three children seven years ago.. “They are teaching to the tests, there is the bullying and drugs and the guns. It is kind of endless. Home schooling seemed like a no-brainer to us.”

In 2002, Mitchell helped found Village Home, a community of Portland-area home-schoolers that has grown to 450 families and holds some classes in a local church building. Some member families are humanist, while others are Christian and Jewish, Mitchell said. All are committed to a secular education.

Some of the books that inform the Kitchin family's humanist approach to education and life in general. RNS photo by Rick Foster

Some of the books that inform the Kitchin family’s humanist approach to education and life in general. RNS photo by Rick Foster

Amy Wilson, who home-schools her son and daughter, is on the board of the Organization of Virginia Home Schoolers, an inclusive community of home-schoolers with members who are Christian, Muslim, Jewish and atheist, like her. She said that kind of diversity has been a plus.

“I am less judgmental about religion because in home schooling I have met so many religious people who are accepting of me,” Wilson said.

Many nonbelieving home-schoolers do not avoid religion altogether but teach its history and philosophies.

“It is not that we don’t want out children exposed to that, we do,” Kitchin said. “We just come at it from a different angle. We say it is mythology, we use critical thinking and analyze those religions.”

Still, finding curricula and materials has sometimes been a challenge, Kitchin said. Most American publishers, aware of the large Christian home-school market — up to $650 annually, according to some estimates — tailor their materials accordingly. In their science books, evolution is a bad word.

KellyAnne Kitchin talks with her son Christopher, 12, about the next semester she is preparing for their homeschool. At right, her husband Daniel Kitchin III, a professional truck driver, sips his coffee and listens in. The family's dining room serves as a central office for them. RNS photo by Rick Foster

KellyAnne Kitchin talks with her son Christopher, 12, about the next semester she is preparing for their home school. At right, her husband, Daniel Kitchin III, a professional truck driver, sips his coffee and listens in. The family’s dining room serves as a central office for them. RNS photo by Rick Foster

Kitchin has purchased texts from as far away as Germany, England and France. With three sons, ages 5, 8 and 12, with different interests and different levels of learning, all those textbooks can be pricey.

“That is the biggest challenge — finding something that is affordable, current and not religious,” Kitchin said.

So Kitchen has teamed up with Jennifer Gauthier, a humanist home-schooler in Oklahoma,to establish a kind of lending library and support network for nontheistic home-schoolers.

Through an online fundraising campaign, they received donations of both cash and materials for their library. On their wish list: secular Latin, science and math resources.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to help a lot of people come fall,” Kitchin said.


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  • Mark Moore

    We homeschooled our kids and it worked out fine. There are secular teaching materials to be had.

  • Trinity Nay

    Why doesn’t this article link to the group she formed? That seems like it would be pertinent information.

  • Links to the groups mentioned.

    http://www.humanisthomeschoolershelp.com – the lending library
    http://www.thethinkers.board.net – the online community

    Hope this helps!

  • Jenn Gauthier

    Actually, that should be Jenn Gauthier, not Jenn Scott. Just wanted to let you know. 😉

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  • We’re an atheist family who have homeschooled all along & our kids are now 18 & 15. We know many secular homeschoolers.

  • Beau Tfal

    Homeschooling is growing at about 100K students per year. It makes sense that some of these will be agnostic or atheists.

  • SS in the Blue Ridge

    actually, there are a lot of secular materials out there. This article leaves out a lot of background info. VAHomeschoolers.org, which is religiously inclusive (meaning, we do not CARE what your religion, politics, medical choices, dietary preferences, type of pet, or choice of backpacks is–homeschooling in Virginia is the only agenda, and it’s a very active statewide group) has been around for 30 years. There is a secular coop 20 miles from Kelly-Ann. There is a secular homeschooling yahoo group with 600 plus members and 25-50 posts a day. I also don’t know that everyone who homeschools that isn’t Christian chose homeschooling because of being dissatisfied with the schools. Some of us had other reasons! I’m not saying we don’t need more visibility–but there IS a bunch of resources out here even in (gasp) rural Virginia, and I hate to see this article just downplay the work and offerings of so many other people as though they don’t even exist.

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  • Kate

    It should be noted that atheists and humanists are not the only ones interested in secular materials. You can be Christian or otherwise believe in God and still want non religious curricula that is based on science, not faith. And not every Christian home schools for religious reasons. This article makes some good points but is also guilty of stereotyping.

  • Andrea

    The link should be http://www.thethinkersboard.net 🙂

  • Andrea

    Ack, nevermind. That one doesn’t work either.

  • Mel

    Second link isn’t working…

  • Mel

    Sorry, looks like someone beat me to that.

  • I offer a secular math supplement.http://arithmeticvillage.com/index.html As a former teacher and current homeschool mother, I think it is rather good. Unfortunately, early after its release, I was asked point blank if I was a christian. My beliefs have evolved from my catholic upbringing, so I wrote a very long, honest, personal post addressing the issue. It would have been unethical for me to present myself as an active christian. The effect on my business was devastating…http://kimberlymoore.wordpress.com/?s=the+question

  • vic

    All that an athiest home school parent needs to do is use the same textbooks that the public schools are using. They would have all the anti-God material they want.

  • Hmm. Odd.
    Try going through http://www.thethinkers.net and clicking on Forum. 🙂

  • Anna

    Hear, hear! My husband and I are certainly religious, but that wasn’t a consideration when we chose to homeschool. We would have taught our kids about our faith regardless of what form of schooling they received, and the curricula that we’ve chosen for the kids, for the most part, has been secular. We go out of our way to teach the children science that covers all theories of the birth of the universe and evolution, so that they can understand how everything ties together.

    I’m glad the secular homeschooling movement is growing. The mainstream media is increasingly linking homeschooling to fundamentalist and fringe Christian groups, which is not only misleading to the general public, who usually take their cues from what they see on the big news outlets, but damaging to the homeschooling movement in general, since the current political climate seems to be coming down hard on anything deemed overtly religious. If homeschooling can lose the “right-wing” tag, we’ll all be better off.

  • Gato

    She should join the army.

    “There are no atheists in foxholes.”

  • Megan

    Oh yes there are. And plenty of them.

  • Megan

    Not looking for anti-god. A- and anti- are not the same.

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  • shimself

    If you have not shared your story with Hemant Mehta (www.friendlyatheist.com), please do. He is a high school math teacher.

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  • gilhcan

    Home schooling is madness. The public has an interest in the satisfactory education of its people so they can be intelligent voters and hopefully lead to a genuine democracy that we have not yet had.

    We have state requirements that must be fulfilled before anyone can obtain a license to teach–except for those who manage home schools. And those in home schools miss the vital factor of socializing with others in our communities that itself is an important part of learning democracy.

    These omissions in home schooling make it undemocratic and cause those who have gone through the process to be unprepared, even unfit, to partake in genuine democracy. There are enough reasons to show why we have never been a true democracy, we should not add home schooling to that list.

    Abraham Lincoln is claimed to have mostly educated himself by dim light in the dark of night. He then became a leader in a civil war. We need to emerge into the light with better learning and a better chance for actual democracy. Or is the United States too big to succeed?

  • Mergath

    As someone who majored in Lit and Anthropology in college, I had to take quite a few general classes with Education majors. And believe me, being trained as a teacher in this country is not the same thing as being a decent teacher. I took classes on literature and philosophy. They took classes on how to put together a good bulletin board (seriously). Spending so much time around them was what originally sparked my interest in homeschooling.

    And not all homeschoolers are anti-regulation. I’m actually in favor of more stringent regs than my state requires currently. My kid is five, reads at a fourth grade level, does first grade math, and has studied more science than most adults I know. I have no problem with yearly standardized testing because I know my child is extremely well educated. I’m proud of her hard work, and mine.

    She also spends far more time out among the community than most kids her age, and can speak clearly and well to people of all ages. In my opinion, that prepares her quite well to “partake in genuine democracy.” Better than would sitting in a homogeneous classroom of same-age peers listening to the same person talk for eight hours a day.

    I don’t think either public school or homeschooling is better. Different options work well for different families. But rejecting homeschooling out of hand as somehow “undemocratic” is ridiculous.

  • Charles Stevens

    I was an atheist in a foxhole, as were many of my friends.
    Why would you purposefully try to disparage the warfighters?
    Why do you hate our freedom and want the terrorists to win?

  • Tim

    Atheist means not believing in a god. It is rather difficult to be anti- something if you don’t even believe it exists. Maybe it is easier to explain through unicorns… I am not anti-unicorn, I just don’t believe in their existence.

  • Ryan

    Good for her. I don’t think God has any place in elementary to middle school education. Maybe when they get older they should start to learn that there are people who believe in such things as God and Jesus.

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  • For those looking for secular homeschooling resources- we are putting courses for grades 6-12 in math and English Language Arts on our websites. All materials are free and included and they are built around the Common Core State Standards.

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    What a bunch of BULL!! First of all, if these teachers are so qualified, why are our kids getting dumber and dumber by the decade? The answer is all the bureaucracy and political BS.

    Second, as far as missing socialization goes, PLEASE!! You don’t know much about homeschooling parents. How many times have I been home with the day off, only to have my house bum-rushed by little girls who were part of my daughter’s homeschool group, especially when my wife was teaching them to sew? And, hauling my kids to other co-op groups and field trips (we also have a son, who’s now in Pre-K) has burned so much gas and cash that it brings me to tears. BTW, my wife is a former college professor with a degree in nursing (even though she was homeschooling before her postgraduate years). So, I’ll go out on a limb and say she’s qualified to teach my kids.

    Third, there’s one more reason for homeschooling about which people may have forgotten: The regional public schools suck and so do the private schools in your price range. My family was in this scenario. My wife actually introduce me to the homeschool concept, because we couldn’t afford to send our kids to the white church school and the black church school (which my older kids attended for year) was subpar……and that’s gracious per my wife’s terms.

    Yes, I happen to be an evangelical Christian; but I’m anything but rich. So, I’ve learned to be resourceful/cheap, in order to fund my kids’ homeschooling ventures doing things, such as:

    – Buying used books.
    – Using ancient media such as VHS and AUDIO cassettes to create a media center. It really helps in subject like math, science, history, and even Spanish (if you ditch your VCR, you can get one at Goodwill for $5; same goes for a cassette player).
    – Driving a beater car that’s paid off; I put nearly 250,000 on my wife’s jalopy which we kept for 10 years after we paid it off.
    – Having a wife who can cook, especially when it comes to baking.

    NOBODY should be forced to sacrifice their kids to abominable public schools, whether you’re religious or not. And since secular private schools cost up to THREE TIMES as much as religious ones do (I know non-religious parents who sent their kids to Christian schools, because they were the best in the area), homeschooling is about the only option for parents who are po….ahem….of modest means.

  • Rachel Adams

    Our children are social. We have co-ops, field trips, outing, hands on in the field science trips, real math used in real life situations you know a JOB. You don’t get that in public school.

    Public school education has come far away from learning to read, write and do math now it’s about taking tests. You know tests like the FCAT, CAT and more. A child has no idea what college is about due to learning to take a test. That’s were our “public” education has gotten to skilled at taking tests that have no actual bearing at all in obtaining a job or furthering their education to obtain a degree.

    As for the statement of homeschool being madness, it’s been proven time and time again that homeschooler’s are better equipped to take on skills and demands that are needed in careers that they choose, as well as when it comes to taking the state standardized testing homeschools far exceed their “public” educated peers by 15-25%.

    Also homeschooling gives us the parent to option to expand on educational interest that our child has instead of trying to keep those 14-30 kids to one teacher on the same page. We as parents didn’t just say oh I think I’m going to home school my child. We researched our options, state laws and requirements to home school OUR children to give them more opportunities than are available to some schools that are funded by the tax payers money.

    Also with the lack of funding going to special education classes and with the recent rise in abuse at “public” schools to these children home schooling is usually a better option and a safer environment.

    Instead of being closed mined, open your mind and see the bigger picture. We as parents are doing what WE know is right for OUR children. We can provide more educational needs than our tax payer counterparts can, we know our children have a say in THEIR education. After all isn’t that what is school is suppose to be about, meeting the educational needs of our children to help better the world around them and the world in a whole?

  • Kristen

    Hi Anna, we are in almost exactly the same boat as you, bravo for writing this!

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