Monday, March 8, 2010

Homeschooling Textbook Problems

Apparently, many homeschooling textbooks don't do justice to evolution. Since my wife and I home school our children, this story actually interests me. Nothing can bring out the religious hysterics more than talking about evolution. Probably 80% of the population (including 99% of those who don't believe it) have any real concept of what evolution is.

Most of people's understanding is relegated to "humans evolved from monkeys." This is absolute and complete poppy-cock. From a taxonometric standpoint, humans are part of the superfamily hominoidea, or apes. Monkeys on the other hand, include all primates except lemurs, tarsiers, and bushbabies. So, monkeys are not apes, and apes are not monkeys. The correct simplified way of describing evolution is to say "humans evolved from apes."

Apparently though, there are some textbook suppliers that don't believe evolution and like to try to pretend it doesn't exist. I'm OK with that. There is nothing wrong with people teaching their kids any manner of bravo-sierra, we do it all the time in public school systems, why is it considered a problem at home? But really, this article was about non-creationist parents being frustrated about the lack of good teaching materials that don't have a Bible bent. I can sympathize for them, but I am not going to cry a river or whine about it.

The push for home schooling started in the 1980s (there was home schooling before, but in the 1980s is when people started to become vocal for it). It was mainly centered around the conservative Christian demographic who did not want their kids partaking in evolution, sex education, and not having a prayer to start the day (alright that is a gross exaggeration - maybe). Since then, it appears that the demographic has shifted and soon evangelical Christians will no longer be the majority. The Home School Legal Defense Association estimates that roughly half of home school families are evangelical Christian, which is down from the two thirds it was in 2000.

With roughly 1.5 million home schooled children this year, I had to do a quick idiot check. Half of 1.5 million is 750,000. According to this source, 26.3% of the US identifies itself as evangelical Christian. There are roughly 55 million children in grades K-12. So, to begin with 14.5 million school children are evangelical Christians. Which means roughly 5% of them are home schooled. I can buy that number.

So, since the home school movement started with evangelical Christians, they have a big jump on providing teaching materials. Wouldn't you know, they happen to put in their dogma. In fact the article mentions that the only scientifically sound biology text that one could find is from the Calvert School. That was nice to see since we use their curriculum in our family. Granted, our kids are all elementary age so we haven't delved into science too heavily.

Which brings me to my next point. Why is this a problem at all? Evolution (and all of the intricacies/complexities of it) is probably not going to be taught in any coherent text until high school. I remember learning about it from National Geographic as a kid, but it wasn't until high school that any kind of in depth review of it was done, and even then it was still rather superficial. Frankly, the vast majority of what I know about evolution, I have learned on my own (everyone should read Darwin!).

In any case, when my children get to be about high school age, what do I plan on doing for textbooks? Why go down to the local community college and pick up the text for Biology 101 or Chemistry 101 or Physics 101 or Calculus 101 or ... do you get the picture. College textbooks (particularly the intro ones) are perfect for high school students (in some cases that is what they use anyway). There is no need to try to create our own "non-religious" home school publishing empire, just use the "non-religious" publishing empires that are already in place.

Which brings me back to the original article I cited. Apparently, the number of people home schooling for religious reasons is rising. What are my reasons? In a nutshell, the public school system is a complete waste of time. We get all of our schooling done in about 2 hours a day and the kids have maybe another 2 hours of work on their own to do. Are they maladjusted? I don't think so, but then again, I am rather biased. Furthermore, I have complete control over what they learn and when they learn it. If my six year old wants to figure out how babies are made by reading the medical book, go right ahead (just don't bring it up during Sunday School, adults tend to blush at that kind of thing).

Before I end, let me bring up one final point about the ridiculousness of the "religious" biology texts. I will admit, I haven't ever read one. I have the Bible (the King James Version and the Chinese version). The original article quotes from Bob Jones University "Biology: Third Edition." Those who do not believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God will find many points in this book puzzling ... OK, that is probably an understatement. Where do I stand. I believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, however I laugh at the concept of inerrancy. My question to them is "Which one? Which version of the Bible is the inerrant one?" They certainly can't all be inerrant.

To make things clear, inerrant means free of error or infallible. So, let's just take a simple look at something like the ages of the patriachs (Adam, Noah, Methusaleh, etc.). There are three major versions of the Pentateuch (first five books of Moses): Masoretic, Septuagint, and Samaritan. Most western civilizations are familiar with the Masoretic as most of our Bible translations come from that. The Orthodox Christians of Russia and Eastern Europe would disagree. And the Samaritans of Israel would further disagree. Even on something as simple as the ages of the patriarchs there is not agreement among them. Remember, to be inerrant means that there are no mistakes. Sure, the numbers are close (mostly), but inerrant means that they are infallible. Can anyone who believes the Bible is inerrant explain why the Masoretic text is the correct one and the other two are not? Can you do this without mental gymnastics? If you can't do this, then why would you even hope to get something like "Biology: Third Edition" correct?

So, now that I have offended a good portion of Bible inerrantists, I'll wrap this up. Biology (or any science) is not something to be explained by people who can't do simple math. Don't buy textbooks from them. On the other hand, there is a wealth of resources out there for home schoolers if they just open their eyes, it might not all be labeled "For Homeschoolers," but that is the beauty of it. Disneyland can be used to study physics, the grocery store can be used to study math, and whip out the old baseball cards and you have endless lessons in statistics that the kids will enjoy (or just use the cereal boxes at breakfast).

1 comment:

  1. I'm with you on the "inerrancy" of the bible.

    I believe the claims to inerrancy are nothing more than human attempts to consolidate power. "MY bible is the inerrant one...all those other guys are wrong".

    It's almost funny how the established Christian Church, for centuries, did many of the very things that Jesus tried to fix in the Jewish religion with the New Covenant: They tried to corner the market on salvation. You can't be truly saved unless you confess to a priest and receive absolution. We'll leave the texts and preach the sermons in a dead language to restrict access to only the few elite, whom you have to go through for salvation. If we don't like your behavior, we'll excommunicate you and you'll be banished to hell forever. Etc. Etc. Etc.

    Jesus said the only way to the Father was by HIM, not by Father Seamus, or Cardinal Law, or the Pope.

    But I digress. I can understand some people's resistance to organized religion. I truly believe that pretty much all of the problems with religions of all kinds are not evidence that God doesn't exist, but just that we are incapable of fully understanding Him, that despite our best efforts, we...and the leadership of any given religion...are prone to human weaknesses and failures and, as a result, no organized religion is perfect or can claim perfect understanding of God.

    I'm a Christian because I was raised a Christian. I have no illusions about what religion I'd be had I been I raised in Saudi Arabia or Tibet. I follow Christianity because that's what I was raised in. But does that mean that I am convinced that Christianity is the One True Faith? That practitioners of other religions are all lost souls? Nope. I'm human and am subject to the same human frailties as everyone else. As such, there is no way I can be so certain about anything. And the fact is, as divinely inspired as they may have been, ALL versions of the bible were written by humans...subject to the same frailties and faults as I.

    As far as the evolution thing: I can only speak for myself when I say that I'm not opposed to them teaching it. What I'm opposed to is when they teach the hypothetical parts as if they were proven scientific theory.

    Micro-evolution is a given. We can see it in action through crop engineering, mixed breeding of animal species, etc.

    Macro-evolution is not so certain. The hypothesis that lower order life forms evolved into higher order life forms...that entire species can evolve into completely different species...there are still significant gaps in the knowledge and evidence to support that part of evolutionary theory.

    As long as evolution is taught in terms of "this is what we THINK happens", I'm OK with it. As soon as unwarranted certainty is introduced into any "educational" subject, I'm a bit less sanguine about it. I'm no more prone to believing in the inerrancy of human scientific knowledge than I am the inerrancy of human spiritual knowledge.

    By the one who doesn't subscribe to the inerrancy of human produced religious texts (and my personal belief that the Bible is full of analogies and simplifications to explain things that were simply beyond the ken of people in the ages that the texts were written): if it were proven tomorrow that evolutionary theory is absolutely, 100% correct from start to finish and we positively evolved from apes, and ultimately from some microbe that formed in the primordial ooze, it would not shake my belief in God one iota.

    There was a saying in the small, rural (virtually 100% Christian) public school I attended as a child: The Bible tells us that God created the heavens and the earth...Science tells us how.

    This was, of course, during the era before "Freedom OF Religion" morphed into "Freedom FROM Religion".