The word diversity is so loaded these days. To some, it could mean diversity of faith, of gender, of race/culture, geographical boundaries, social class or function. I am pretty sure this is not an exhaustive list.
To avoid the weight of this nuanced word, I often limit my public discussion of diversity to cultural diversity. I mean, who could argue in this day and age with my right to be seen and heard as a black, African/British woman?
In my experience, this is not the case when it comes to creating space for my religious or moral worldview. Often it seems all other beliefs and worldviews can be accommodated without malice except for the Christian worldview. My suspicion is that many people perceive the Christian worldview as a historical western ideology which has been superseded by the enlightenment and post modernity. As such, Christian ideas and sensibilities are seen as antiquated and open to public ridicule and bashing in the way that alternative faith beliefs wouldn’t be.
‘What has this got to do with home education, Alberta?’ I hear you ask. Everything! No other area of my life has required me to show up fully present in my beliefs about human nature, how we learn, how we thrive, our purpose, how we raise our children or relate with others, etc, as with home education. I grew up a tonne the moment I became a home educator.
I remember my rude awakening into the tight rope of navigating the home-ed world as a Christian educator, in the very first week of our home-ed journey. Having a very extroverted only child, my priority above the academics , as everyone had drummed into my head was socialisation. Once I realised Facebook was the connection hub for home-edders, I quickly rescinded my 18 months self-ban to get in on every group activity taking place in West London.
On our first park group meet up, we learnt about a wonderful group that met weekly in the idyllic settings of a magnificent Georgian manor house not too far from us. We sported our best outdoor clothing, which was not suitable, and set out for our country manor house adventure. The setting was as breath-taking as we’d been told. There were farm animals, swans paddling in a tranquil lake, beautifully coloured trees, birds chirping in the air and squirrels scurrying around. It was what Charlotte Mason would call a lonely place, where children could run wild, scream at the top of their voices and just be themselves without the threat of affecting anyone.
The community we entered was friendly and as is typical of London, culturally diverse. I immediately felt at ease as I proceeded towards the one person I met before in the group. Two mums and their children were creating a science and nature activity that my son was familiar with, but I wasn’t. After the polite introductions, I asked what they were creating. As soon as the mum who I’d just met started explaining, my son jumped in and started explaining with gusto. To me this was bad manners and a habit we had been working on. Filled with embarrassment and maybe wanting to show that this was not a behaviour I condoned, I immediately reprimanded my son and asked him to let the lady speak. What followed was a deafening silence and thunderous awkwardness. The mum who was leading the activity quietly left the table. The other mum I’d met before proceeded to ask my son to continue with his explanation. It didn’t take a crystal ball to decipher that I had broken a code. Needless to say, the mum who had left the table never spoke to me for the rest of the afternoon. To her credit however, she asked her son who was very popular in the group to rescue my son from his “controlling mum” by inviting him to play. Put it this way, I spent the rest of the afternoon feeling ashamed and questioning my parenting values.
As the afternoon went on, I watched on in silent trepidation, as parents chatted away absentmindedly as their children of mixed ages, some as young as 2/3 years, who wore flip-flops and shorts in November, climbed tall trees, played in dens, foraged and even wandered away from their purview for hours without a single check in. This untrained new home- ed mama was shook! As I warmed my way into conversations, I noticed my curiosity about which curricula and structures parents were using was met with discomfort, vague responses followed by a lecture on why I needed to focus on de-schooling my child for a period of time before contemplating any kind of curriculum. These parents, I hasten to add were nothing like the home-ed podcast parents I’d be listening to.
It soon dawned on me that whilst I may fit in as a single black mum within an urban, multicultural home schooling community, I was in fact, in a foreign land and needed to come up to speed, like really quickly.
Incidentally, as the afternoon came to a close, we were invited by the mum we knew to join the same mum who’d walked off on me and her children to feed the ducks and swans by the lake at the entrance of the grounds. The mum in charge kindly gave all the kids a portion of bird food to feed the birds. It became apparent that this was the last ritual of the day, which all the kids looked forward to. As they started feeding the water birds, some pigeons swarmed in. Knowing that scaring the pigeons away is one of my then 8-year-old’s favourite past time, I tensed up, prepared to flash him that look that most black parents only know too well. Having been shamed earlier and seeing how free all the kids were allowed to behave all afternoon, I told my uptight self to chill. So, like a moth to flame, my boy went for the kill and startled the birds in full might. As you can imagine, this frightened the ducks, swans and every living creature within the vicinity. What happened next was not what I expected. The self-righteous mum, thinking my son was about to kick or hurt the birds, lost her cool and lashed out, “Hey, don’t do that!” She boomed at my suddenly frightened child. “We don’t hurt animals around here.” The double standards, the outrage for yelling at my son, my displeasure at my own child’s lack of self-control and my disappointment at myself for letting the fear of others judgement determine how I manage my child; compounded into me yanking my son right out of the situation and straight out of the park. This I am sure was not a good look for my parenting either. Needless to say, my relationship with said double-standards mum remained fraught from that moment on.
That evening after I had decompressed the events of the afternoon, I decided it was time to put aside my own values-aligned home-ed education aside and learn everything I could about unschooling and deschooling, both new terms I had picked up that afternoon.
The next few days, I spent much of my free time buried in John Holt’s How Children Learn and Peter Gray’s Freedom to Learn. Both books were incredibly insightful in helping me unpack the values behind my recent outdoor experience. Most importantly, both books helped me deconstruct my long-held colonial views and complexes about the school system. I also felt empowered to press into my innate desire to give my son space to follow his passions without my constant input. The divergence came especially with John Holt, from his theories on human nature and our collective origin as humans which informed his premise of how children learn. I would feel uneasy to let my child or his interests alone determine the entire course of his education.
Personally, Charlotte Mason’s idea that children are born, unique and whole persons, sits better with me. This then means that my job as a parent is to nurture my child in line with their unique personhood, within a rich and diverse learning environment towards his God given purpose. As I and most right-thinking parents don’t know what our children’s purposes are, guiding him/her towards a rich, spiritual and intellectual feast of an education which they digest according to their unique abilities or (as led by God’s spirit), is the best we can do to prepare our children for their unknow future.
In so far as a child’s uniqueness and interest is central in the shaping of their education, the unschooling and Charlotte Mason educators (and even Montessori) are alike. However, the divergence lies in who drives the course of the child’s education. For the Unschoolers, the child does whilst for faith-based educators like Charlotte Mason, God, the creator of the child does and parent acts as facilitator and guide.
The problem I still find within my urban multi-cultural home-schooling communities is this; whilst I am always prepared to accept everyone’s choice in parenting or educating their children as they deem fit, the case is different for Christians. With Christian educators you might as well call ourselves Victorian/mainstream educators. Everyone seems to have an opinion on whether we have a right to set boundaries/limits on our children based on our own values. Incidentally, I have yet to encounter this same audacious encroachment of one’s freedom of conscience on Muslim home schoolers. (I am sure it happens).
On days when I can muster the energy, I take on the ideological challenge and risk being seen as Hitler’s sidekick. Most days when my focus is on keeping my eyes on my energetic child, I often redirect the conversation to the fact that I am an African parent, which necessitates that I don’t have to adhere to the sensibilities of post-modern western ideologies. The truth is, this is a cop out and an unfair pandering to the simplistic stereotyping of African parents.
Quite frankly, I’m fed-up of the duplicity of pantheists/secular home educators, who in all fairness are the bastions of inclusion and diversity within communities, except when it comes to Christians. Shouldn’t diversity with its multiple layers make room for Christian views too? It’s not surprising that most faith educators tend to find their own little tribe to be at ease with. Surely this route has its own limitations too if we are to prepare our children to be open-minded, inclusive and responsible citizens.
Is this situation a unique phenomenon for urban home-edders or is it just a London thing?
I am genuinely intrigued to find out what your experience has been around parenting or home educating by faith or any minority spiritual/cultural values within community. Let’s talk.