Tomorrow is the start of the SEA Homeschooling conference. I’m excited. I’m a little worried (migraines.) I’m also a wee bit apprehensive.
SEA is dedicated to supporting secular homeschooling. We are people of faith who are also secular homeschoolers. So we don’t really fit in with either group: the secular crowd, or the religious crowd. Of course, we’re not the only secular homeschoolers who are also people of faith. SEA has a fair amount of members who prefer secular for a variety of reasons. We just aren’t the norm. It’s a situation that I’m becoming accustomed to!
Ever since starting this homeschool journey we’ve known that we’ve wanted to homeschool secularly. I’ve written a little about this, but never officially spelled out why. After all, religion (or the lack thereof) is such a sensitive, potentially offensive topic. Still, it warrants discussing why we’re doing something that seems so much in conflict.
First though, it’s probably a good idea to define secular. I’m going to borrow SEA founder Blair Lee’s definition, because many so-called secular curriculums use a different definition:
“Secular science curricula and programs should present the accepted facts, principles, models, and theories explaining how the natural and physical world works as recommended by a majority of practicing experts in that area of science. Science curricula and programs should not exclude or misrepresent scientific facts, principles, models, or theories that are considered core ideas in the field.”
Practically speaking, that means science curriculums should include evolution and climate change, while history curriculums shouldn’t use Bible stories as fact (I’m looking at you, Story of the World!) Secular doesn’t mean sanitizing and erasing religion from history, but looking at it from an academic viewpoint and presenting all sides of the issue.
While you might think that secular materials would be the standard, that isn’t the case. It’s actually very difficult to find secular homeschool materials. Most of the publishers will market their products as secular, but those products are generally neutral (omitting potentially conflicting information such as evolution.) For more on why that isn’t truly secular, read Lee’s informative post about neutral science. I find her viewpoint particularly interesting because she’s a scientist.
Why is this so important to us?
Two main reasons:
1. Planning for the future
Our kids may decide they want to be scientist. They may decide they want to be astronauts, geologists, biologists, or any number of fields that require a science background. What happens if you send a student into that field without proper training? Without being familiar with the current, established scientific theory and research? You hamstring them, you hobble them, and you may actually cause them to fail.
I have personal experience with this. As a homeschool graduate, I struggled in some of my college classes because they contained material that I hadn’t learned. Sure, I knew the basics of evolution. But even that was primarily what I had picked up from my own extensive reading. I was never taught the current scientific theories, and our curriculums didn’t include evolution or global warming (the old term for climate change.) I knew Bible stories better than I knew most history.
If I had wanted to go into a science field I would have struggled a lot more. A lot more catch-up would have been required. As it was, I managed to pass tests on geological periods, basic evolution facts, and climate change because I tackled that problem with the same grim determination that I put towards my drawing classes (I suck at drawing!)
2. Religious training is for church, not education
I realize that this is a potentially controversial statement, so I would like to point out that this is our opinion. There are plenty of people who chose to homeschool because they want the opportunity to teach their beliefs. I respect that. We believe that is our job as parents. Not educators.
Personally, I find a lot of the faith-based curriculum to be pedantic and annoying. Things like “J is for Jesus” alphabet practice annoys the heck out of me. It’s like a hammer, bludgeoning beliefs into the kid’s head. Plus, a lot of programs that I used as a child like Abeka, were very much “school at home” with the accompanying busy work and piles of worksheets. That simply doesn’t work for us.
We also have encountered some issues with factual errors in faith-based curriculum. No curriculum is immune to errors, but we want a rigorous curriculum or learning experience for our kids. In fairness, public school curriculums are often missing information that I want to teach as well. There is no perfect curriculum!
How do we resolve the conflicts?
We approach things from the viewpoint that science explains the world around us. Science is always asking questions, learning new things, and figuring out mysteries. Science cannot fully explain everything, because science cannot always reproduce or study everything.
So for us, our faith steps in where science cannot go.
We don’t see a conflict between evolution and intelligent design – because for us, evolution is the way that science can explain the process. We know things evolved, but science can’t always explain the steps. Science can’t always explain how – but it can show that it happened. Is it still evolution if we believe in a supreme being that pushed the evolutionary process along?
Most secular people would say no. Most people of faith would say we shouldn’t accept or teach evolution at all.
It’s critical to point out that science isn’t set in stone. It’s always changing, adapting to new discoveries, or even doing a complete flip as we discover more. If we ignore how much we don’t know about our world, we hamper science’s attempts to discover.
There’s so much out there that science can’t explain, and if we ignore it, we close ourself off to wonderful possibilities. Personally, I think the next step in human evolution is using our brains to manipulate the world around us. Science can’t even explain (yet!) exactly how our brains work – how’s that for wonderful and amazing?
I hope that this helps clarify why we make the choices that we have. I also hope that I didn’t manage to offend anyone!
Coming to the conference too? Let me know about it! Hope to see you there 🙂