Secular Thursday: On Programs & Co-Ops

Let's talk about homeschool programs. Various called co-ops, "schools," enrichment programs, and other monikers, they're the groups where your child learns something in a class taught by someone other than their usual teacher. We currently participate in three different ones, and honestly? None of them are ideal. If one was, we'd be attending just one!

One day a week, EG and FB attend Master's Academy of Fine Arts. It's organized. I can drop them off, and I don't even have to get out of the car to drop them off or pick them up. (This is big; it means PC can stay asleep in her carseat.) It's focused on - surprise, surprise - fine arts. The kids learn about art, music, and drama, as well as develop skills in those areas. There are parties around holidays. It's like the fun part of public or private school! What's the problem? It's religious. Very religious. We have to have debriefings some weeks. The content is religious, anyway. The people there, while supposedly fundamentalist, are some of the nicest people I have met in the homeschooling world. After being exposed to others at homeschool band (see below), I have started to think of them almost as moderate. It's all relative.

Another day, we go to a local secular co-op. I love the co-op model. I even like having the opportunity to teach a class or two. It's not organized. I can drop EG off and leave, but I have to go inside to sign a piece of paper both upon arrival and departure. This week, that meant twice that I woke up PC to walk through the rain and sign a piece of paper. It's not focused; there's no guarantee of what classes will be offered except for what I myself might decide to offer. Did I mention that it's not organized?

Finally, we attend the local homeschool music program, for band. It's not organized. It's full of quiverfull types, down to the matching clothes and fifteen passenger vans. It's nominally religious, but this mainly comes through in the email list, so far. What EG is learning is basic band material, nothing more or less. That's not the case in the chorus (which EG dropped after one week), and maybe it's not true in the higher levels, either, but so far, the music at least is not too religious for our tastes.

As you can see, I have issues with all of these in some way. My ideal program would be, above all, organized, in case you hadn't guessed. But what else would I want in the perfect program?

There would be a standard course on drawing for grades 1-4, based on Drawing with Children, one for grades 5-8, based on Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, and one for grades 9-12, based on Basic Drawing Techniques and Basic Figure Drawing Techniques. Additionally, there would be a standard course for each level group on singing as part of a group. This course would also include the basics of musical theory.

There would be "elective" art classes offered in the hour before the core events - painting, sculpture, and mixed media - divided by level groups. For the logic and rhetoric stage students, there might be more specialization – photography, perhaps, or visual design/architectural drawing. Rather than offering further classes in music, there would be a choral group for each level group. Older logic stage and rhetoric stage students might choose to put together smaller, more specialized choral groups. Instrumental instruction would not be offered, but ideally parents would share their "finds" of instructors with each other. In time, a band could perhaps be formed.

The remainder of the program would be focused towards preparation for academic competitions. Grade level appropriate math clubs would be available for students in fourth grade and up. Speech and debate would be a major focus: a basic public speaking class for the youngest, focused mainly on memorization and recitation; a preparatory level class for fourth and fifth grade age level students; competition in speech competitions via National Junior Forensics League for sixth through eighth grade age level students; and competition in debate (with speech events remaining available) through National Forensics Level for rhetoric stage students. Additional competitive groups might eventually include Model UN, Odyssey of the Mind, and Science Olympiad. Students would also be encouraged to form less structured study groups for the individual science Olympiads, foreign language exams, and other national academic competitions.

Programs would begin at 12 noon and continue throughout the afternoon. As much as possible, concurrent classes would involve different age level students, so that a given individual student could participate in all offered activities, or at least maximize their involvement.

I also wouldn't label it secular. If pressed for a label, I'd call it inclusive. No, there would not be any specific religious content, but neither would there be specific atheistic content. Nonsectarian. Yes, we secular homeschoolers have a tendency to feel that we must cluster together, show the rest of the homeschooling world that we do, in fact, exist. Yes, many Christian groups feel that they are a persecuted minority. In our attempts to define our spaces, however, I think we eliminate excellent opportunities.

No on has to discuss Darwin to master the art of drawing. Jesus doesn't have to be present in math competitions, just pi. The quest to find the like-minded for biology courses and the worldview through which history is presented is important; it's also important for the parents to find likeminded colleagues. There are few enough homeschoolers with a focus on academic excellence, though, that I feel perhaps we ought to band together. Regardless of religion.

Realistically, I don't see a program like this succeeding in my community, even if it were to start. There are too many well-established programs in my area; people don't want to leave the familiar, nor do they want to overbook their children. I'll continue to cobble together a program, relying on one program for one set of skills, another for likeminded friends. And secretly, I'll imagine a world where the people at band, at co-op, and Master's Academy could all get along. We'd have to make sure not to bring up religion, science, or politics... but we're homeschoolers. Surely we can come up with something about which to talk!


Smrt Mama said...

This sounds like the co-op of my dreams, too! *sigh*

Wendy Hawksley said...

If there was a co-op like this in my area (teeny, tiny overseas military base), I would participate in a heartbeat. But the folks here are predominantly Christian, even a few practicing the Quiverfull ideology, so I take what I can get, to some extent, as far as homeschooling connections here.

I'm looking forward to our next hoped-for base, which has a homeschooling group specifically with the word "inclusive" in their name.

Carol Topp, CPA said...

That was a great post. Thanks for the stories of each of your homeschool co-op/programs. I wish more homeschool parents had your down-to-earth realistic expectations. It would make them complain less and make life easier on the group leaders. You hit it on the head: No co-op is perfect or will meet all your needs.

I like to joke that joining a homeschool co-op is a lot like getting married. It's great, but everyone should go into it with their eyes wide open.

I hope someday that you find a "perfect" co-op or at least one where you fit better and offers many of the things you wish.

Carol Topp, CPA
Author of Homeschool Co-ops: How to Start Them, Run Them and Not Burn Out

This website was designed by Sam Rushing

"A little rebellion every now and then is a good thing." - Thomas Jefferson