Monday, December 3, 2012

December Excerpt: Homeschooling, Creationism, and Citizenship by Gina McGalliard

Homeschooling, Creationism, and Citizenship 
Gina McGalliard

Education has become the hottest of topics in our public discourse. There is much talk about dropout rates, failing schools, the quality of teachers, and how falling standards in American education will eventually affect our ability to compete in the global marketplace. But absent from the debate is a phenomenon that has grown rapidly over the last few decades: homeschooling. In 2007, The US Department of Education estimated the number of homeschoolers at approximately 1.5 million – a larger population than charter school students, and marking an almost half-million increase from 2003.

Unlikely Roots

Although homeschooling has exploded in popularity in recent decades, prior to the enactment of compulsory attendance laws in the nineteenth century, it was common for children to be taught at home. Today most homeschooling parents are conservative Christians who say religion is a primary reason for not enrolling their children in public school: a survey by the US Department of Education found that 83 percent cited providing religious or moral instruction as a major factor in their decision to homeschool, although other reasons were given, such as wanting to provide strong academics and keeping their children away from negative peer influences.

Oddly, the birth of the modern homeschool movement began with the countercultural left in the sixties. Educator John Holt was an advocate of “unschooling,” which he described as child-directed learning without the use of any specific curriculum. Although unschooling adherents were usually hippie types, a friend of Holt was Dr. Raymond Moore, a religious proponent of homeschooling. An interview on the Phil Donahue Show in the seventies by Moore alongside Dr. James Dobson piqued interest in homeschooling among evangelical Christians. Christian homeschoolers were much more politically active and numerous than their leftist counterparts, and with the help of the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), founded in 1983 by two homeschooling fathers, restrictions on homeschooling in many states were loosened.

However, homeschoolers are by no means a monolithic group. There is a strong minority of secular homeschoolers who have their own curricula, conventions, and organizations. Religious homeschoolers include students who attend secular public and private universities after graduation, those who attend religious colleges, and on the furthest end of orthodoxy you have followers of Christian Reconstructionist or Quiverfull philosophies, who often eschew college entirely.

Today, homeschooling regulations vary widely from state to state. On its website, HSLDA divides states into four categories: states not requiring parents to give any notice to authorities of their decision to homeschool, low regulation states that require parents to notify but have no further oversight, moderately regulated states that mandate parents submit test scores or other evaluations of student progress, and high-regulation states with additional requirements, such as curriculum approval or home visits by officials. The total number of states that have either no notification requirement or are labeled low-regulation is 24, while the number of high and moderate-regulation states is 26. However, in all cases, homeschooling allows parents the most control over their children’s education, more so than any other educational option, by allowing parents to choose which curricular materials their children will study.

The Homeschool Marketplace

As their numbers increased, an abundance of materials specifically targeting homeschoolers was published, particularly for the Christian majority. Curricula advertised as having a Christian perspective – often called “worldview” in homeschool lingo – are plentiful, such as Alpha Omega, Bob Jones University Press, A Beka, Apologia, My Father’s World, Veritas Press, Bright Ideas Press, and Christian Liberty Press. Although not as numerous as their religious counterparts, secular homeschoolers also have plenty of options, such as Calvert, Saxon, and Pandia Press, and some elect to use publishers often used in public schools, such as McGraw Hill.

So what does a Christian perspective mean? “A Biblical perspective of education would depend upon the Bible as its main textbook,” says Ellen Dana of the Moore Institute, founded by Dr. Raymond Moore. “That does not mean that the Bible is the only textbook you would see, it means that the concepts of the Word of God would be drawn into all the subjects that you’re teaching.” For instance, Alpha Omega offers a penmanship course that teaches students handwriting by writing out Bible verses. Many publishers also offer Bible studies along with subjects such as math, English, and history.

A brief survey of more conservative curricula reveals some differences in what would be taught in public schools, most notably in science and history. The importance of Christianity is emphasized in many texts. For instance, the second paragraph on the first page of Heritage Studies 5, published by Bob Jones University Press, reads, “The geographer who is not a Christian can discover the wonders of the world, but he will miss the wonderful testimony of God in nature. He will probably also draw some incorrect conclusions. If he accepts evolution as a fact, his estimation of time will be off by millions of years.”

In New World History and Geography: In Christian Perspective, a social studies textbook published by A Beka, stories of missionaries and the spreading of Christianity is woven heavily throughout the text. “Indians\ were made in the image of God, and after Adam’s fall they inherited fallen human natures. All are in need of Christ as their Savior. Some of the best friends of the Indians have been missionaries. . . . They knew that there is a God Who made the world and all that is in it, but they did not know what He is like. They thought there was one Great Spirit who ruled over many other gods or spirits. Their ignorance of God’s nature led them to the evils of idolatry.”

History is also told from a conservative political slant, and President Kennedy’s New Frontier program is described in negative terms: “Under President Kennedy, government welfare programs were expanded to gain more votes and expand the influence of liberal politicians. Because it is human nature to try to get something for nothing, Americans saw the government borrow more and more money to try to take care of people with needs.” The Clinton administration gets a worse review: “In many ways, Bill Clinton set the tone for America – one that denied principals of honesty and integrity. Many Americans throughout the 1990s turned to alcohol, drugs, and material goods to make them ‘happy.’ The crime rate increased in suburban and rural areas – where many Americans raised their families. Gambling was made legal in more areas of the country, and immoral behavior became even more popular.”

The issue of evolution continues to be an important issue for many evangelicals, and many homeschool science textbooks are written from a creationist viewpoint, such as Exploring Creation with Biology, published by Apologia, and the fourteen volume Wonders of Creation set and Dinosaurs by Design from the publishing house Master Books. Answers in Genesis is another company dedicated to creationist themed products – for smaller children there is the The Days of Creation Art Book, and for older ones a complete curriculum titled God’s Design for Science. The company also offers a DVD questioning the validity of global warming titled Global Warming: A Scientific and Biblical Exposé of Climate Change.

In Biology: God’s Living Creation, also published by A Beka, credit is regularly given to God rather than evolutionary adaptations for scientific phenomena. Skin color differences are explained in this manner:

Why did God just not instruct people to stay out of the sun? 
After all, Europeans went to Africa as missionaries and did not die 
from exposure to the sun. The answer to this question shows even more 
provision for man by his Creator. . . . There is a great balance between 
the need to be in the sunshine and the danger of getting too much 
ultraviolet radiation. God’s purpose in skin color 
becomes especially evident when all of this is known.

Advances in science are also attributed to God, as opposed to accomplishments of individual scientists. “Since the fall, man has struggled to conquer disease, one of the curses brought upon us by sin; however, only in the past two centuries has God allowed man to make great strides toward curing and preventing disease.” A few pages later, the concept of disease caused by sin continues: “The Bible clearly teaches that disease and death entered the world as a consequence of Adam’s sin. There is no clearer demonstration of this fact than the existence of venereal disease, which are almost always contracted through illicit sexual relations.” The book also contains chapters devoted to debunking evolution.

You can read the rest of the article by picking up the December issue available now. Visit the Empirical website for more information about subscriptions, single issues, and submissions.

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