Some Concerns about Home-Schooling

Is it an excuse to teach religion instead of science?

I’ve always been concerned about the quality of education kids get these days. Underpaid teachers, peer pressure that rewards bad behavior, high drop-out rates. As I reported back in November 2008, kids are graduating the local high school without knowing how to tell time on an analog clock. It’s impossible to have an intelligent conversation with most teens; they seem absolutely clueless about anything that isn’t on television or the Internet — and I’m not talking about PBS or Wikipedia here. They can’t spell because they have spelling checkers that do that for them. They can’t do math without a calculator. While I’m obviously not talking about all young people here — there would be absolutely no hope for America’s future if the problem affected every kid — it’s certainly more than half of the ones I come in contact with.

And “No Child Left Behind” just made the situation worse. It forced teachers and schools to teach just so kids would pass exams. Teaching by rote rather than ensuring that kids understand what they’re being taught is not doing the next generation any good.

These days, concerned parents are taking an active role in their kids’ education. While I personally believe that working together at the end of the day on homework and even just discussing what was learned in school each day is enough, many parents are going the extra step: they’re home-schooling their kids.

I’ll admit that I don’t know much about home-schooling. I don’t have kids; I decided early in life not to take that path. I don’t regret it. I sometimes wonder how my kids would have turned out — whether they’d be smart or lazy or interesting or dull. I’d like to think that they’d know how to tell time by the age of 18 and aspire to something more substantial than stocking shelves at the local supermarket.

I do know that if my kids weren’t getting the education they needed at school and I couldn’t help them by being part of their nightly homework routine, I’d likely consider home-schooling. After all, if you want something done right, sometimes you have to do it yourself.

My neighbor home-schools her kids. She has four of them ranging in age from about 5 to 12. She and her husband are either Evangelical or Born-Again Christians. I don’t know which and I don’t care. The last thing I want to do is have a discussion about religion with people who scratched religious slogans into the wet concrete of their driveway.

And this brings up my concerns about home-schooling. While browsing the news with the Associated Press (AP) mobile application on my BlackBerry (while waiting for a notary public at the bank), I stumbled upon an article titled, “Top home-school texts dismiss Darwin, evolution.” It reported:

“The majority of home-schoolers self-identify as evangelical Christians,” said Ian Slatter, a spokesman for the Home School Legal Defense Association. “Most home-schoolers will definitely have a sort of creationist component to their home-school program.”

It went on to say that, “Two of the best-selling biology textbooks stack the deck against evolution,” according to educators who reviewed the books.

And this is the root of my concerns. I believe that science textbooks and science lessons should be about science. Evolution is a widely accepted component of the science of biology. The alternative — creationism or its disguised alter-ego, “intelligent design” — is not. There is a wealth of scientific evidence to back up evolution; there is no evidence to back up creationism.

Clearly, the failure to teach accepted science as that — accepted science — is a serious shortcoming in the home-schooling textbooks that shoot down evolution. The children being taught that evolution is “only a theory” are being given an inadequate education — one that could put them at a serious disadvantage if they go on to college or attempt to pursue careers in science or medicine.

One of the books doesn’t hide its intent:

“Those who do not believe that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God will find many points in this book puzzling,” says the introduction to “Biology: Third Edition” from Bob Jones University Press. “This book was not written for them.”

The textbook delivers a religious ultimatum to young readers and parents, warning in its “History of Life” chapter that a “Christian worldview … is the only correct view of reality; anyone who rejects it will not only fail to reach heaven but also fail to see the world as it truly is.”

The Christian worldview is the only correct view of reality? In whose world? I don’t think the millions of Jews, Muslims, or Hindus in the world would agree with that statement. I know the atheists wouldn’t. Does that mean that Christian children should be taught a different version of reality than the rest of the world? To what benefit? Certainly not the benefit of the children.

And what of the home-schooling parents that don’t want religion to be part of their children’s curriculum? The AP article discusses their struggle to find appropriate science textbooks.

Evolution Book(Might I suggest starting with Daniel Loxton’s excellent book, Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be? It’s not a textbook, but it’s a great introduction to evolution for kids and parents.)

So here’s my question: if a school board has to approve textbooks that are used in public school classrooms and home-schooled students have to take and pass standardized exams, who is approving the textbooks used in home-school “classrooms”?

And then I recall this, a piece of “Hate Mail” that was sent to Bobby Henderson of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. You can find it here, but to save effort for the folks too lazy to click, I’ll repeat it here in all its glory, as an example of home-schooling gone terribly wrong:

wow you people are crazy i pray to my LORD jesus christ that you people wake up God created man in his own image and im sorry but if you look like noodles with meatballs growin out your BUTT you need to go back to SPACE or get back in the pan where you’ll be somebodys dinner!

people will believe anything!!

i am verryyy happy i was well homeschooled becuase i would be in jail for punching a teacher in the face when she tried to tell me about this so called spagetti monsterr!

i hate to be the breaker of bad news but when you look around when u die u wont be with your master meatball you’ll be burning in the pits of HELL and i am a REAL christian and that hurts to know that so many people are gonna be in hell! over a random guy that started a joke and has nothing better to do besides make up some god for fun then see how many people are loving this idea.

God bless you wacked out meatball loving freaks!


(I recommend Bobby’s site if you’re interested in seeing where reason and faith collide.)

Christy is right about one thing: People will believe anything. But is it right to teach it to their kids?

Non-Believers Giving Aid

A religion-free way to help disaster victims.

Like thousands (I assume) of Americans, when I first heard of the tragedy in Haiti, I felt a need to help. The obvious solution was to give money to a charity that would be providing aid directly to the Haitian people. But the question was, which charity?

In the first day of the situation, choices weren’t readily apparent. I went with the good old standby: the American Red Cross. Because I wanted my aid to go directly to Haiti and not be used for anyother purpose, I wrote a check, marked it “Haiti Aid”, and mailed it to American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013. According to the Web site’s Donate Now! page, this was the best way to ensure donations went to the cause I wanted to help.

A few days passed. Pat Robertson made his asinine comments about the Haitian people having a pact with the devil and then had the nerve to start collecting money to help them. It made me sick. I wish there was a hell just so these self-serving, religious fanatics could rot there.

I wanted to give more to help the Haitian victims, but I certainly wasn’t about to donate to any charity that was in any way related to any religious organization. The Clinton Foundation was one very good option. So was the International Red Cross. And Doctors without Borders.

But another one came to light this morning: Non-Believers Giving Aid. This organization is sponsored by Richard Dawkins and serves two distinct purposes:

  • To send 100% of donated funds directly to two non-religious charities giving aid in Haiti: Doctors without Borders and International Red Cross.
  • To provide an easy conduit for the non-religious to help those in desperate need, while simultaneously disproving that you need God to be good.

As the Non-Believers Giving Aid home page declares:

Preachers and televangelists, mullahs and imams, often seem almost to gloat over natural disasters – presenting them as payback for human transgressions, or for ‘making a pact with the devil’. Earthquakes and tsunamis are caused not by ‘sin’ but by tectonic plate movements, and tectonic plates, like everything else in the physical world, are supremely indifferent to human affairs and sadly indifferent to human suffering. Those of us who understand this reality are sometimes accused of being indifferent to that suffering ourselves. Of course the very opposite is the truth: we do not hide behind the notion that earthly suffering will be rewarded in a heavenly paradise, nor do we expect a heavenly reward for our generosity: the understanding that this is the only life any of us have makes the need to alleviate suffering even more urgent.

Thus, I sent my second contribution for Haiti Earthquake Victims to Non-Believers Giving Aid, with an equal split between the two non-religious charities they support.

I’m pleased to hear that so far over $180,000 has been raised by this organization — an average of over $35 per donor.

Have you given a charitable contribution to help the people of Haiti? Tell us about it in a comment on this post. If you haven’t done so yet, please do consider it. An amount as small as $5 can really help make a difference.

Just please — don’t send it to Pat Robertson.

Einstein on God

Contrary to what many people think, he was not a believer.

A friend of mine who apparently lurked in the background during “The Bible in the Refrigerator” and “Angry, Nasty Christians” debacle, sent me a link to a letter written by Albert Einstein and reproduced, with translation, on Letters of Note. The letter was written to the author of Choose Life: The Biblical Call to Revolt in 1954, and says, in part (translated into English):

Still, without Brouwer’s suggestion I would never have gotten myself to engage intensively with your book because it is written in a language inaccessible to me. The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weakness, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still purely primitive, legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this….

You can read the entire text of the letter — a and see a scan of the actual handwritten document — here.

Oddly, when I tried to bookmark it on Delicious, I discovered that I’d already bookmarked it back in October, after being directed to it by @MrTeller on Twitter.

I didn’t blog it then because I didn’t think it particularly relevant. But since the attack of the Bible-thumping RVers, I’ve decided to be more forthcoming with links to the works of great thinkers who share my religious beliefs (or lack thereof).

Thanks to my shy friend who sent me the link this morning. I’d forgotten all about it.

A word of warning to commenters here: I will not tolerate any abusive comments. If you have something to say, say it politely, in the spirit of intelligent debate. Any comment that I consider abusive will never appear, so don’t waste your time with the usual “burn in hell” crap that so many of you think is the best way to worship your god.