Discussion of experiences related to homeschooling and science education


(Bruce Holt) #1

Hi! I have been reading BioLogos materials frequently for several years, but this marks my initial contribution to the BioLogos Forum.

I would like to initiate a discussion centered on people’s experiences with science education within a homeschool environment. I know that Christy is an active homeschooler, and I have read several of her typically astute reflections within other discussions. I suspect there are several other homeschoolers reading these discussions, as well as many who were homeschooled themselves.

I hope to give a longer description of my own experiences as a homeschooling father, along with why I am seeking out conversation with others on this topic. But for now let me give a brief introduction.

My wife and I have been homeschooling our son, who is now in sixth grade, and the primary curriculum has been provided through our participation in Classical Conversations. I have been very pleased with CC overall, but I have also been concerned about what I perceived as anti-evolutionary messages in some of their content since I first picked up on it a few years ago. Now that my son is preparing to enter Middle School years (the Challenge program if we stick with CC), I am more keen to understand how they will approach the study of science and particularly issues related to biological evolution. I am generally in accord with the BioLogos perspective, and I am resolved that my son receive a robust education in science that is not unduly influenced by YEC propaganda. Unfortunately, I suspect that both of these attitudes are out of step with the preponderance of people in CC, so I am realizing that maintaining that resolve may require some vigilance and extra work on my part. Hence, I am pursuing the resources and conversations that will prepare me and encourage me for what may sometimes seem like a lonely road, and seeking out some conversation partners on this forum is a step in that pursuit.

Of course, I also hope that I may have something to contribute that would encourage others who are walking this road.

I also want to ask if there is any way that this particular forum can stay open to new contributions. My understanding (perhaps incorrect) is that forums are closed after several days without a new reply. Though I read BioLogos content pretty frequently, I don’t often have the time to compose thoughtful messages as promptly. Also, since I’m not primarily looking for responses to a specific question or issue, but rather for reflections on experiences within the wild world of homeschooling, I expect that plenty of new discussion-worthy thoughts will arise over time, and it would be nice to be able to maintain them within the same forum topic.

Thanks for reading this. If there is interest in pursuing this topic, I’ll write some more about my experiences and reflections.

Bruce


Introductions Thread (Come say hi.)
Introductions Thread (Come say hi.)
(Mervin Bitikofer) #2

Hi, Bruce; I hope your topic stays on and fruitful for you over time. I’m not a moderator and can’t speak for them, but I’m sure that discretion must be part of how they operate. I notice that some topics, including one of mine, are far more than three days old and yet still remain accessible.

I’m also not a homeschooling parent (and have no direct experience with the specific CC curriculum you mention), but I am a science teacher at a Christian school that maintains significant relationships with the local homeschooling crowd through sports, selected classes, etc. And I have used YEC texts (BJU or Abeka) before so I do know a thing or two about using materials that won’t be 100% reflective of your own outlook (which is an impossibly high bar for any published materials to meet anyway.) I have said in the past and maintain still that if you are a decent teacher willing to critically use and even go beyond whatever resources you have, then no deficiency of curricula can ruin your kid’s education. And if you are a lousy teacher (meaning your heart isn’t in it … and you just tell Johnny, “Don’t bother me; here’s the book – go see what you can learn”, then there is no curriculum so brilliantly written that it can rescue that situation and make it a good class (though there do exist students brilliant or self-motivated enough that they can probably still survive or even thrive despite such an environment --but not because of the teacher in that case obviously.)

All this is a long way of saying: don’t sweat because a curriculum doesn’t line up with what you see as good science. That just brings in welcome opportunities for teachable moments, and practice for students to learn that official print doesn’t always equal truth. And I would also add that I don’t mean this as a generic endorsement of just any or all curricula. Some are better than others. So it is good that you are evaluating and asking questions. A carpenter does want high quality tools. But in the end it will still be the carpenter (not the tools) that will build the house. That’s my two cents.


(Brad Kramer) #3

Hi @cartophile (Bruce), welcome to the Forum! :smile: I’m glad you’re here. I don’t see any reason to close this thread quickly, so I’ll leave it open as long as people are contributing. The moderators have batted around opening up a new area of the Forum specifically for educators/homeschoolers, and if enough people contribute on this thread, it will be very helpful for us in gauging interest in this idea. I’m not a homeschooler nor an educator of any sort at the moment, so I’ll bow out and let others contribute.


(Christy Hemphill) #4

Hi, Bruce. Welcome!

I am not super familiar with CC and the only people I know who used it, used it to supplement other programs at home. I think they also bowed out after elementary age when it got more intense. Please correct any of my conceptions that are off. Students meet in a group in a co-op setting a certain number of times a week and tutors give instruction in CC content using CC materials and you are expected to supplement this at home with your own instruction and materials. How closely you follow the CC model and how much of their proprietary resources you use at home is up to the discretion of each parent, right? I have also heard that the relative conservative/Christian flavor of the group varies from co-op to co-op with some representing more of a continuum than others.

Do you know which texts they will be using for science in upcoming years? There are some publishers that would give me more pause than others. I know Apologia is a very popular textbook company for many providers, and though I have friends who swear it prepared their kids so well for pre-med and they are acing organic chem because of the solid foundation Apologia science gave them, it is blatantly YEC and anti-evolution. If you want to take the AP Bio exam, for example, you would need to use (or at least supplement with) a different text in order to pass.

It has been my impression that all Christian homeschool curriculum providers are either blatantly anti-evolution (often pro-YEC, though not always) or they avoid it altogether (faith-neutral, they often call it.) Some of the providers that rely heavily on secular books (DK, Usborne, National Geographic, Kingfisher, Magic School Bus, etc.) will present evolutionary content, though the teachers’ guides will often instruct you how to mitigate it or skip it. Because of the huge market potential with homeschoolers, Usborne has agreed to publish special versions of some of their encyclopedias for Sonlight and My Father’s World with evolutionary or prehistory content removed or references to millions of years changed to “long, long ago.” So that is something to be aware of.

As far as having my kids participate in groups where YEC or anti-evolution stuff is presented, so far we have just told our kids it is what some Christians believe and they are just trying to trust the Bible the way they understand it and honor God, so we shouldn’t think poorly of them or try to argue with them. But in our family, we trust scientists and think the Bible means something different in Genesis. In one situation, I told a teacher that it wasn’t what we taught at home and asked if they would please make sure that my kids were not made to feel like their faith was suspect, and I asked them to point out in class that Christians don’t all agree on this topic. The teacher was very accommodating.

It would be helpful if you could post a list of the resources and textbooks that will be part of the upcoming years and then people who are familiar with them might be able to give you some good feedback.

@Professormom also homeschools (or at least used to). Maybe she has some thoughts? :telephone_receiver:

Please do! It would be way more interesting to me than some of the other threads I have had to read lately. :sleeping:


(Christy Hemphill) #5

@AMWolfe, @redhed, @staceyinaus, @cstump, @Mazrocon, @mahalarethlake
(Just tagging a few more people who might have thoughts on the homeschool experience or science resources.)


(Stacey) #6

Hi Christy,
I don’t homeschool, but I have considered it & the idea is still on the table. Glad I was tagged here, I look forward to getting a better understanding of what it would look like :slightly_smiling_face:


(Bruce Holt) #7

Thank you, Mervin, Brad, and Christy for your replies and warm welcomes.

I think it may be helpful to give an overview of my background to provide some perspective to my thoughts on this topic, so please indulge me in a brief biographical detour.

I was raised in a fairly stable family in the DC suburbs of Maryland. We were very involved in a local Baptist church, but it was not of a strong fundamentalist nature (they went with the moderates during the brouhaha of the late 80s, for those who followed that episode). My formative years as a serious follower of Jesus were shaped strongly by my involvement with Young Life and, during college years at Clemson, the Navigators.

Through my teens and twenties, I never recall being influenced by what I have called YEC propaganda. I spent many a night in a college dorm discussing the Bible and theology through the wee hours of the morning, but issues of human origins just didn’t come up much. I would hear occasional discussions on Christian radio programs criticizing evolution, and, if pressed, I probably would have identified a vague skepticism towards it. Twenty-some years later, I’ll say that I was really rejecting philosophical naturalism—or what BioLogos calls Evolutionism. But, again, the whole topic just wasn’t a salient one for me during my first decade or two as a Christian.

I started to pay more attention to this issue and see a shift in my thinking in the early- to mid-2000s. At that time I was part of a non-denominational church that was very progressive and innovative (the church was a major influence in what became known as the Emerging Church). I recall that they had a science and faith book discussion group, and I’m pretty sure one of the authors they covered was John Polkinghorne. I never attended the group, but I was aware of it, and it may have been the first time I knew of Christians engaging science within a Christian worldview. I also recall following the Dover trial a bit and being intrigued by Intelligent Design—or at least the little I understood of it at a glance, which (in my mind) boiled down to a way to acknowledge evolution over time while rejecting philosophical naturalism. Around this time I also recall a conversation with one of my best friends—one of the most well-read and learned people I know, but not a practicing Christian—that betrayed skepticism towards “macro-evolution” on my part. My friend was aghast. “Bruce, you’re scaring me” is the quote I remember. But I wasn’t entrenched in any thinking, and when my friend later passed along a brief profile of Francis Collins that he had found in the Washington Post, it stirred my interest in the topic and my desire to learn more.

I think I learned of BioLogos pretty soon after it was established. Over the last five to ten years I’ve read a good bit on the relationship between science and Christian faith, including articles in BioLogos and Christianity Today, as well as books such as The Language of Science and Faith, Saving Darwin, and The Rocks Don’t Lie. Among the most helpful was an interview with Alvin Plantinga about his book Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism that helped me understand that the “naturalistic spin” that gets appended to evolution by many of its popularizers is really just that—an appendage—and not intrinsic to the scientific theory itself. I don’t recall a watershed moment when I decided, “Yes, I believe the Theory of Evolution is true”; for me it was a gradual realization that the overwhelming preponderance of scientists, including many devout Christians whom I trusted, believed the evidence.

In many ways, it was my involvement with homeschooling that compelled me to consider the evidence for evolution more seriously and figure out what I believe, odd as that may sound to many. But I’ll save that story for a separate post.


#8

Cartophile, I can totally relate to your frustration! I was strictly raised on a YEC diet, and though CC wasn’t around when I was homeschooled it is now being used for my younger siblings.
I don’t know how much CC addresses the young earth perspective, but it certainly doesn’t embrace evolution. I have also used the Beka curriculum and my dad subscribed to Answers in Genesis (and still does). Both of my parents became Christians in college in the late '70s, when YEC was picking up steam, and I strongly suspect that their mentors had something to do with it. Most of my eleven siblings currently accept the YEC position, and as you can imagine, my changing views have not exactly been met with open arms.
It encourages me to know that your child will not have to go through the frustrating experience that I had. Thanks for sharing with us and keep up the good work!


(Dennis Venema) #9

I’d be curious to hear from homeschoolers what curriculum they like best, and why - regardless of the perspective it takes on origins. What makes for a good homeschool curriculum?

For a few years in elementary school I attended a Christian school that used the A.C.E. program, which is YEC I believe. Certainly it was antievolution.


(Catie) #10

Well, I’m a newish homeschooling mom–my oldest is in 2nd grade. I wasn’t educated too highly myself (but I know I can still educate my children!) so take what I say with a grain of salt… :slight_smile:

We homeschool using the Charlotte Mason method. Mason was an educator that lived in the late 1800’s which was, as you all know, shortly after Darwin’s theory of evolution came out. Mason was a wholehearted Christian but she believed in evolution. Now, our family does not believe in evolution the way she did (I don’t think?). I tend to agree with the ideas presented in “The Lost World of Genesis One”. :slight_smile:

All this to say that I agree with @Mervin_Bitikofer - “That just brings in welcome opportunities for teachable moments, and practice for students to learn that official print doesn’t always equal truth.” I don’t think you’ll ever find a curriculum that teaches exactly what you believe across the board. You have to just use what you have and use it as a springboard for good conversations. That’s probably not the best (or most educated) answer, so I’ll also leave you with a link to the Ambleside Online forum. There was a great topic over there about Young Earth vs. Old Earth. You do have to be a member to read it.

Even if you’re not a Charlotte Mason homeschooler, the AO Forums can be a great place for discussion about these kinds of things as well as homeschooling! There are a lot of very educated people over there. (Myself not included. HA!)

I’m very interested to see what others say in this thread! :slight_smile:


#11

I’ve heard of ACE, which stands for Accelerated Christian Education. My friend’s sister used to teach in one of their schools. This was quite a while ago, but as I recall, the teachers were paid peanuts, and the unfortunate children had to sit in individual cubicles. And It was very much anti-evolution.


(Catie) #12

I was homeschooled with ACE in high school. SHUDDER. shaking it off


(Bruce Holt) #13

I’ll start to address my experiences with Classical Conversations (CC) here. Let me begin by emphasizing that overall I have been very pleased with the program and my family’s experience with it. We have become friends with some wonderfully kind and generous families in the five years we have been part of CC, and my son, in addition to making enduring friendships, has learned a ton. When I attempt to compare what my son has learned with what I knew at the same age, I’m always impressed and proud of him (and I was a pretty stellar student through my elementary years). That’s not all because of CC. But I think overall the program is excellent and most kids in it are learning plenty and being well-prepared for life.

CC implements a model based on the classical trivium, which identifies three main stages of learning: the grammar stage, the dialectic stage, and the rhetoric stage. The Foundations program in CC (1st – 6th grade) takes kids through the grammar stage, which is heavily focused of memorization, since the belief is that kids’ minds are specially wired for that at this age. My son is just finishing Foundations, and, indeed, I am astonished at how much information he can retain when he focuses on memory work. (My wife’s exasperation at how he can forget a simple household task she asked him to do three minutes previously is another story, that I expect many parents will chuckle and nod at.)

While anyone could buy CC materials and implement the program at home, everyone I’ve known that’s used it has been part of a CC community. These meet once a week to review the memory work in classes of five to ten, as well as to do oral presentations and art, music, and science activities. Parents are expected to reinforce the memory work at home throughout the week. I don’t doubt that some have used the materials as just a supplement, but I don’t personally know any who have done so, and my sense is that CC very much markets its program as a complete curriculum that is best done within a community. I will add that some subjects (math for sure) require way more than just CC content.

Much of the memory work is organized into question-response tidbits: Tell me about the Boston Tea Party. What is the formula for the area of a triangle? What is a participle? What is each continent’s highest mountain? Each prompt will have a response that students are expected to memorize verbatim, often with the assistance of catchy tunes the response is set to. The content isn’t flawless; in particular I’ve found the geography content to be oddly organized and sometimes simply wrong, and the maps CC provides can be sorely lacking. (Attentive readers may have surmised that I’m a connoisseur of maps, but apart from my admitted cartographic snobbery, CC’s maps really are substandard.) Still, overall I’m pleased with the content.

Science is not my academic forte, but my concern regarding the topic of this forum was first raised during our second year of CC (I think), when I saw that one of the science prompts and replies read, What is the Theory of Evolution? The Theory of Evolution states that life began as a chance combination of non-living things. By this point I was well on my way to a “BioLogos-friendly” mindset (described above), and I immediately thought, “That’s just factually inaccurate. That’s not what the Theory of Evolution says at all.” Since my son was required to state the response verbatim as part of the “Memory Master” proofing process that culminates the year, I told him to memorize it that way, but also that I wanted him to understand that the sentence was wrong and that evolution has to do with how life has developed, not how it began. Otherwise, I didn’t make too much of a deal about it.

Around this time I also started to realize that many in the community were pretty staunch advocates of YEC ideology. This may seem shocking to many on this forum, especially given the number who have come from strong YEC backgrounds, but until a few years ago I truly didn’t know that large numbers of Americans took seriously the idea of a literal six-day creation a few thousand years ago. Seriously, I had been a Christian for over two decades, with my college years spent in the heart of the Bible Belt, but I really didn’t get this. But through things picked up in conversations over the years, a magazine my wife brought home one day that a friend had given her, continued exposure to CC resources, and plenty of reading about science and faith issues, I figured out that not only are there plenty who believe this, but I was educating my son in a milieu in which this was the predominant thinking. To be clear, it was the young earth dimension of the thinking that caught me off guard. I was certainly aware of widespread antagonism towards evolution within the Christian community, but inasmuch as I shared it or discussed it over the years, it would have been of the old earth or intelligent design variety. When I first got a sense of what is actually portrayed at the Creation Museum, I was dumbfounded.

I’m going to wrap up for today. I rarely have time write at this length, but the past two days have been unusual. I’m sorry if my posts are unduly long and personal. It just seems since I haven’t contributed to discussions previously, it may be helpful for readers to know some of my background. I’m really glad to see that others seem interested in this topic as well. And I’ll have more to add later.

Cheers,
Bruce


(Chris Stump) #14

Welcome, Bruce, from another BioLogos staff member :grinning: and I’m so pleased to see this thread developing! I spend much of my time thinking about the needs of Christian education when it comes to interacting with science, so I’m especially fascinated to hear nuggets from your personal experience and from the other folks who’ve shared. I’m curious to hear more thoughts on how science itself is portrayed in curricula people have used. In some of the Christian materials I’ve spent time going through, I’ve seen some concerning misrepresentations of what science involves and an underlying distrust of scientists (in elementary materials) that is probably meant to lay the groundwork for discounting bigger scientific claims that will come in middle and high school.


(Phil) #15

That is interesting Bruce, and sort of parallels my own experience. I think that it really was not pushed as an issue in Christianity until the Morris and then Ham came along. I grew up on a farm in west Texas, father was a deacon in the local Southern Baptist Church, but it was just accepted that the earth was ancient, though the idea of special creation was pretty standard teaching. West Texas baptists tend to be moderate rather than fundamentalist, to a large extent however. However, we now have a pretty vocal YEC crowd now in central Texas, though I really think they are still the "Vocal Minority."
Regarding the topic of homeschooling, my daughter homeschools and is concerned with the curriculum issues in science. Thanks for the topic, for which I will provide her a link.


(Dennis Venema) #16

Yes, we had cubicles with dividers, talking with classmates was forbidden except at recess, we needed permission for everything, and we worked on our workbooks independently.

I have good memories of the school and my friends, but in hindsight the curriculum / style is appalling.


#17

Was it hard adjusting to a normal school? Or did you feel like a bird let out of a cage?


(Christy Hemphill) #18

@Celloman
If you could give your high school self a book or educational experience, what would it be? What could your parents have done differently to prepare you better for college and beyond?

My kids are MKs. They are going to go to college pretty sheltered in some ways. Most of their American/European/Canadian ex-pat peers are from families that are a good deal more conservative socially and theologically than we are. They go to a “summer camp” (in February) run by Cedarville College students. The churches we work most closely with are more conservative than our sending church in the States. I wish I could picture what my kid’s intellectual and faith struggles will be like, but I can’t really. So I always appreciate advice from young adults on how to potentially mitigate the less desirable effects homeschooling and growing up in a conservative faith community has on kids.


(Christy Hemphill) #19

Me too. I had read a lot of BioLogos white papers on OT exegesis and inerrancy. But when I saw how influential YEC is in the homeschooling world and I realized I was going to have to homeschool indefinitely, I started to pay attention to the science side more. I didn’t know what I thought, but I knew I didn’t agree with AIG.


(kendra) #20

Bruce,
Thanks for beginning the discussion about homeschooling and education. I totally get where you are coming from and am at the same point as you are as my son will be entering 6th grade next year. I have homeschooled for 5 years and I have a 5th, 3rd and 1st grader. I have primarily used Sonlight, though I have supplemented with different writing/grammar/phonics programs. Sonlight seems nondescript in its particular approach, but I would say it pulls from some classical disciplines and Charlotte Mason. It is definitely not “paces” and it’s intent is to create a love for learning in kids and a curiosity about life and the world we live in. Some days that actually happens :grinning:

Sonlight presents at the beginning of their science unit a rather long description of the varying views on the age of the earth/evolution debate and acknowledges the controversy. It even represents theistic evolution. Long story short, they say that they defer to the parents to have the conversations about the age of the earth and biological evolution. They use Usbourne, DK, Real Science for Kids, etc. for their science curriculum through 6th grade. After that it is Apologia, which is YEC. I will be looking for a new science curriculum for the upcoming school year! There really isn’t any specific curriculum for K-6 in regards to teaching evolution. This is particularly frustrating, as I am a strong believer in creating foundations/layers of understanding in my kids and then building upon it each year. I am trying to do this, in regards to evolution, as much as my English/History degree will allow me! And it does seem to be that the “go to” middle school/high school texts for biological evolution come from a secular perspective. This certainly isn’t bad, it just requires conversations about world views almost as much of as YEC curriculum would require. Mervin is right in that these are teachable moments and I would also add give us opportunities to have discussions with our kids that are precious and amazing!

For this reason, I have been in conversation with Chris Stump, the Content Development Coordinator for Biologos, and she has been very helpful. The education resources page has lists of curricula and supplemental websites, etc. and if you haven’t looked at it, it is well worth doing. There is a real need within the homeschooling community for support and resources for parents who agree with evolutionary creationism and I am thankful to Biologos for their support! I would LOVE to see people come together and create a science curriculum specifically designed from this approach. However, I realize this is a big undertaking and the market might be limited. There seems to be a limited number of “us” out there! I know, through my own experiences at homeschool conferences and within my own homeschooling community that I am the anomaly.

I would love to hear from homeschooling parents about what science curriculum you are using. What resources/websites do you find helpful?