Having been a personal fan of The Inappropriate Homeschooler since LittleMan was a preschooler, back when I was still on the fence about homeschooling, I am really super excited about today’s interview. I just couldn’t pass up the chance to pick Mari Beth’s brain and share her awesomeness with my readers!
For those who are unfamiliar, Mari Beth Buckroth writes The Inappropriate Homeschooler, a blog that shares both humor and wisdom through the journey that is homeschooling. She is also the brilliant mind behind the growing National Alliance for Secular Homeschoolers (N.A.S.H.).
Suzy: When you first realized that you didn’t quite fit the stereotypical mold of what makes a homeschooler, was it a slow discovery over time or did you have an “aha” moment?
Mari B: Oddly enough it was both those things. I was fortunate enough to meet a couple of ladies who homeschooled and while they were both religious, they weren’t overtly so and I thought that perhaps since homeschooling was already an ‘out-of-the-box’ way of schooling that the homeschooling community would be welcoming of all types of homeschoolers. I was, of course, still me and that includes my rather ‘inappropriate’ sense of humor and commentary. I came to gradually be aware of how I was not as welcomed as I thought over a period of a year or so. The more I was me, my authentic self, which includes a belief system that traditional Christianity discounts as ‘real faith’, my teaching of actual science, and my embracing of those with different orientations, the more uncomfortable I became. I don’t fit in with a lot of ‘groups’ as is and so some of this I accepted as a ‘normal’, if you will, part of life but I realized it was difficult to find curriculum recommendations because almost everything they used was religious based and their faith was incorporated to all events, etc. For a while I tried to keep my head down – as best as I am capable, at least – but eventually it all came to a head and I left the homeschooling group and co-op, to everyone’s great relief I’m sure. Once I stumbled into a small, secular group that had just started in my area I had my ‘aha’ moment. Being with this group was so freeing for me. There were no more eggshells to walk upon nor did I have to bite my tongue until it bled. Here, in this group, I am myself – secular homeschooler, inappropriate homeschooler – authentic.
Suzy: How did you come up with the term, “inappropriate homeschooler?”
Mari B: It started as a joke. Once I joined the local secular homeschooling group and got to know the members and they me, whenever I would make a comment that was blunt, sarcastic, or a little over the top this group would laugh and I’d say, “Oh, I’m sorry was that inappropriate?” It’s a fairly common theme in my life – being inappropriate. I’m usually either living, thinking, or speaking in such a manner that many regard as wrong or inappropriate. I don’t believe in playing games. I am who I am and with me it is ‘what you see (or hear) is what you get’. So, I’m not for everyone in that regard. I poked fun at myself by saying, “I’m sorry, was that inappropriate?” When the suggestions was made one day, after I had told a story, that I should start a blog, I thought, “Pfft, what the heck would I write about in a blog?”. I toyed with the idea and finally put pen to paper, so to speak, and The Inappropriate Homeschooler felt right to me – and it covered a lot of ground. I was a secular homeschooler living in the deep south, Bible-belt country, who had some liberal tendencies, non-judgmental attitudes, acceptance of people regardless of race, orientation, etc., a lot of opinions, and a big mouth. I’m not the ‘domestic’ type nor am I the baking, craft-making, sewing, living on the farm, grow my own garden type. Most of the blogs I found related to homeschooling either were from those fabulous types of women or those who made their own curriculum and resources to share with the world. What did I have? Inappropriate commentary, snarky humor, and my ability to ‘be real’ about myself, my child, and our homeschooling journey. I wasn’t anything like the other homeschoolers I was reading about on blogs, it was ‘inappropriate’ of me to be homeschooling — I don’t fit the traditional mold.
Suzy: Your vision for N.A.S.H. is exactly what secular homeschoolers have been crying out for, but what made you decide to actually do it? How did you go from having an idea to having a plan?
Mari B: Insanity. I’m sorry, was that inappropriate?
The vision for N.A.S.H. was initially no more than my irritation with both the portrayal of homeschoolers in the media and society, and the lack of secular resources and support. I wondered where the media presence, resources, and national organization was for secular homeschoolers. Those all existed for Christian, in particular, homeschoolers; why couldn’t I find the secular counterpart? I couldn’t find them because they didn’t really exist. There would be an article here or there that mentioned a rise in secular homeschooling or there was a resource here or a secular curriculum provider there, an online support group here and there, but there wasn’t a structured, organized, agency or organization that existed solely to provide secular homeschoolers with resources, support, motivation, local secular chapters, unbiased reporting of policy, laws, and news for homeschooling or education or a ‘voice’ in the homeschooling community.
The only collective voice out there is from the religious homeschoolers or their organizations. While I respect their right to homeschool their children as they feel appropriate, their way of homeschooling – their curricula especially – is not the way secular homeschoolers homeschool. This was a great source of irritation and frustration for me, not being able to join my voice with other secular homeschoolers’ voices where collectively our needs would be addressed – including creating a demand for quality secular homeschooling materials – and in a way that we could make a difference, putting our own mark on homeschooling, so to speak.
I began to blog about this and share my frustration with other secular homeschoolers in online homeschooling groups and I found that I was not alone in my frustration with the lack of such an organization for secular homeschoolers. I created the name, National Alliance of Secular Homeschoolers (N.A.S.H.) and tossed ideas around with various folks for about a year. During that year I created a support group, on facebook, for ‘Inappropriate Homeschoolers’. This is an exclusive group for secular homeschoolers who feel they don’t fit in with the homeschooling community at large due to their secularism, faith, parenting style, etc. They identify with being ‘inappropriate’ in the same way I do. It was in that group, a group of outsiders if you will, that the work really began on N.A.S.H.
The Inappropriate Homeschooler was going to hold a conference for Inappropriate Homeschoolers and since all of the volunteers for the N.A.S.H. team were from that pool of homeschoolers we decided to go ahead and turn it into a N.A.S.H. conference where we could provide some homeschool-value workshops for adults, activities for kids, a few vendors that have secular curricula, and above all hold N.A.S.H. planning sessions and conduct the 1st Board Meeting of N.A.S.H. That’s what is happening in Atlanta, GA Sept 4-7 2014.
We have a team of almost 20 volunteers who are actively working side by side, an alliance, to build an organization that will serve the secular homeschooling community, especially in ways that it has yet to be served.
Suzy: As secular homeschoolers, we face certain obstacles that Christian homeschoolers may not realize. Things like finding evolution-based science programs or even finding a social group that doesn’t harass us to attend their church. What would you say to a Christian homeschooler to help them understand the secular perspective?
Mari B: First, let me say this. I know a lot of Christians and other faithed people, some are a part of N.A.S.H., that are secular homeschoolers. Having a faith doesn’t preclude one from being a secular homeschooler. Using religious-based academics, in particular Creation-based or ‘neutral’ science, is the only thing that precludes one from being a secular homeschooler. Even the most faithful can be homeschooling for ‘non-religious’ reasons and using secular academics to do so. In fact, recent statistics demonstrate that homeschooling for religious or moral instruction is no longer the number one reason people are electing to homeschool. Secular homeschooling is on the rise! But to those who are homeschooling for religious reasons, I would simply say, “Just as you are raising and teaching your child in the manner you truly believe is best please understand and respect that I am raising and teaching my child in the manner that I truly believe is best. We are both doing what we feel is right and that is what we have in common.”
*Suzy removes foot from mouth after realizing that her wording was poor on the previous question, but does not edit it out of the post because Mari B’s answer rings all too true.*
Suzy: Many secular homeschoolers hide their true beliefs and sign statements of faith to join Christian groups simply because they can’t find any other way of receiving the homeschool support that they need. What advice would you offer to a new secular homeschooler in such a situation?
Mari B: I don’t feel right telling another person how to live their life. If they can, in good conscience, sign a statement of faith and join a religious based homeschooling group and be comfortable and happy there then that is what they should do. Hell, I did it. It’s a process, a journey, in some ways ‘coming into your own’ as a homeschooler, first, and then coming out as a secular homeschooler second. It took me almost two years of homeschooling (among the religious) to feel like I had my feet planted firmly enough on homeschooling ground to branch out and seek secular support and companions on my journey.
That, though, is a large part of why N.A.S.H. needs to exist. An alliance that secular homeschoolers can turn to for guidance, support, and resources as they start their homeschooling journey. It is my dream that the day will come where there is a N.A.S.H. chapter in every state – minimum! It is my sincere desire to have N.A.S.H. be a prominent organization for homeschooling that any and all secular homeschoolers can utilize so that they no longer live with the worry of ‘coming out’ as a secular homeschooler. Depending on where you live, coming out as a secular homeschooler can be as scary and difficult as any other ‘coming out’. You know that you don’t have the same level of resources and support that religious homeschoolers have and you know that you’ll be looked down upon by homeschooling groups who have statements of faith, etc. Not all secular homeschoolers experience that, but trust me – there are A LOT of us who do.
Suzy: If someone wanted to start a local secular (or inclusive) homeschool group, what advice would you offer them?
Mari B: Contact N.A.S.H. at: firstname.lastname@example.org and let us put you on our list as a Chapter Coordinator. Developing local chapters is high on our list of priorities and we need folks who are willing to be ‘boots on the ground’ for this endeavor!
Suzy: Who has been the greatest homeschool support for you?
Mari B: Well, you asked ‘who’ not ‘what’ so, I have a few great friends who homeschool that I turn to most often for support on my journey. Outside of that, I have to say that my greatest support has come to me through the Inappropriate Homeschoolers support group on facebook. This group of 500+ folks are some of the most wonderful, caring, honest, supportive folks you could ask to know or have. They are an endless source of support and encouragement for me personally, and for my work in making N.A.S.H. a reality.
Suzy: Can you share with us your greatest homeschool moment, something that made you proud or made you smile?
Mari B: Perhaps it’s ironic, but my greatest homeschool moments have yet to come about during ‘schooling’, rather they’ve come during life. That fact alone has helped me embrace the idea that homeschooling is a lifestyle, not just a way to ‘do school’. My daughter, who I fondly refer to as Punky in my blog, is a wonderful young lady. She possesses a sense of who she is without concern for what others think, she demonstrates a maturity for living that amazes me, and she is fearless – if she wants to do it she doesn’t let anything get in her way. She is happier than most of her public schooled contemporaries and so my greatest moment with homeschooling is seeing the benefits of homeschooling that have little to nothing to do with academics and everything to do with the person she is growing to be.
Suzy: Can you share with us a homeschool moment that maybe wasn’t so great, something to let us know that everyone has a bad day sometimes?
Mari B: If we are talking ‘academics’, there’s a bad moment or two or three or four or five every day! Homeschooling is like marriage, in my opinion. It requires dedicated commitment, continuous adjustments, open and honest communication, respect, and patience. So, we all have days where we don’t feel as ‘committed’ or we don’t have the capacity for the level of patience that day is requiring. Then, there’s the child’s side of it all. More than a million things can cause a child to be ‘blocked’ to learning on a particular day. I see it as my job to know when to push and when to step back, when to offer guidance and when to let her figure it out for herself, when to set deadlines and when to be open-ended, when to stick with it or walk away for a bit.
We are entering our 6th year of homeschooling and I can honestly say that I now reject the notion that we can teach a child anything. All we can do is set the parameters in place so that they are encouraged, supported, and guided in their learning. Will she have gaps in her education? I’m sure she will. All students, no matter how they are schooled, have gaps. If she comes up against something she doesn’t know I see it as my responsibility to make sure she knows how to learn what she needs to know, not to make sure that she’s learned everything before she leaves our home.
The bad days are less now that I’ve worked that out and finally found a routine that works for us. However, bad days happen to us all, we shouldn’t expect anything less in our homeschooling journey. It’s not always because we are having a bad day either, sometimes it’s the child who is having a bad day. Who knows why! Not enough sleep, uninterested, hungry, over-stimulated, or struggling are all valid reasons for a bad day to a child. Remembering that there really is nothing wrong with walking away and coming back to it later can help on a bad day. Punky and I have struggled what feels like forever over certain areas of a subject and I swear when SHE was finally ready to learn it, it just ‘clicked’. Every child ‘clicks’ on different subjects at a different time.
I say see a ‘bad day’ as an opportunity to do something new and different! Tell your child to put ‘school’ away and play games, take a walk, make art, cook together, watch a movie, go to the museum! There are hundreds of ways to turn a bad day around – even if it’s just by taking a nap.
Suzy: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
Mari B: I can’t think of anything else, I pretty much spilled my guts and your readers are probably bored of me by now. Thank you for this opportunity to interview with you!
If anyone is interested in learning more about N.A.S.H. they can go to:
Thank you, Mari Beth for your time and your words.
To hear more about N.A.S.H., check out the National Alliance for Secular Homeschoolers website and please do consider donating to their start up costs. This group could mean great things for secular homeschoolers everywhere but we’ve got to chip in (time and/or money) to help get them off the ground!by