I have a T-shirt I designed but don't wear much any more. It says, "Yes I Homeschool And No I'm Not A Right-Wing Religious Nut."
I don't wear it much any more partly because I'm 44 and just don't plaster words across my chest as often as I used to. Partly it's because even I know that them's fightin' words, and I don't always feel like having that kind of argument when I only ran out to buy some bananas. (It's especially unnerving when I forget what shirt I put on this morning and have no idea why someone's snapping at me until they point accusingly at my bosom.)
But mostly it's because I don't like the message as much as I used to. Yes, I'm still a secular homeschooler; and yes, I'm aware that this is a minority position. But there's something degrading about the idea of begging the mainstream population for forgiveness: "It's okay! I'm not like those homeschoolers!" And there's something misleading about saying that it's unusual to be a secular American homeschooling parent, when the larger truth is, it's unusual to be a secular American parent, period.
Most of us have a rough idea of the statistics. The majority of Americans are Christians -- 78.4%, according to the latest Pew report. About 16% of the rest are "unaffiliated." Which sounded like good news to me, the big fat scary atheist. But in fact only a tiny minority of the unaffiliated identify as either atheist or agnostic -- 1.6% and 2.4%, respectively. The rest are happy to consider themselves as "nothing in particular," and those whatever-dude types are about evenly divided between secular-whatever and religious-whatever.
This still makes people like me a minority within a minority. But that's not the end of the story. Because the homeschooling community is a direct reflection of the mainstream community. It's only hard to meet other atheist homeschoolers in places where it's also hard to find any atheists at all.
I've been homeschooling my fourteen-year-old son from day one. I belong to many homeschooling support groups, both in-person and virtual. I edited Secular Homeschooling Magazine for its whole little life, after selling several articles to Home Education Magazine. I continue to get email from homeschoolers all over the place. Behold, for I know whereof I speak.
The idea that the homeschooling community is a religious body is as incorrect as the wistful assumption that public schools are entirely secular.
Because I live in a cool and groovy seaside city in a lefty-loopy state, my local homeschooling support group is predominantly cool and groovy. We have enough atheists that I can afford to be picky about which ones I prefer to hang out with. (This one lady drives me nuts. If you're reading this, you're not her.) We have Jews who run the gamut of observance. (That's one nice thing about being Jewish -- you have a community as long as you want one. You can decide that you're not so into the G-d part and still party with the Jews as a Jew. Good luck pulling a stunt like that with the Southern Baptists.) We have cool Catholics and casual Protestants. And we have a couple of fundies, who behave themselves because they're outnumbered.
I have plenty of friends who send their kids to public school. Their playground demographic is the same as ours.
On the other hand, if you're a secular homeschooler in the Bible Belt, you may have to do some serious searching to find another of the "unaffiliated." You may have to have painful conversations with your kids about why that nice family you met won't play with you anymore because they found out you don't go to church. You may decide that you don't feel like ruining your kids' social life by coming out as an atheist.
But that's not because you're homeschooling. That's because you live in a place where the phrase "Nice to meet you!" is pronounced "What church do y'all go to?"
I know a mom in the Deep South who only decided to homeschool because she couldn't stand all the religion at her son's public school. We're talking Moses in math class, here.
Closer to home, it's still not safe to assume that public schools are bastions of secularism. My sister-in-law is a sign language interpreter in a public high school. She brings me stories all the time of teachers who proselytize in class. Who's going to complain? Who wants to risk being the next Jessica Ahlquist?
Homeschoolers are neither more nor less likely to be Christian conservatives than are their mainstream counterparts. Or, to put it more simply: Most American homeschoolers are Christians, but only because most Americans are Christians.
I've said it before and I'll say it again. If you're concerned about the state of science education in America, don't allow yourself to be distracted by stories about those wacky homeschoolers. Take a good hard look at our public schools. See what's really going on there. The bill that just passed in Tennessee isn't a fluke, and Tennessee isn't the only state to worry about.
Meanwhile, I'll be over here doing my best to spread the word. You'll know me anywhere -- I'm the one in the plain T-shirt, adorned with a lovely Flying Spaghetti Monster pendant.