Home schooling – lessons from the first year


I am a bit apprehensive about posting this message, as I run a great risk of ticking off a lot of people by disagreeing with their world view. This one is especially dangerous, as I sit somewhere in the middle when it comes to my thoughts and beliefs on science. Rather than pontificate to the point of a disclaimer, I might as well get on with it.

Why We Home school

I am not sure how many people know this, but my wife and I are home schooling our children. This is a bit of an unfair statement, as others have stepped in to help us home school while we go through Miranda’s treatments (Miranda was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare childhood cancer, on September 6, 2007 – read more here).

Overall, many home school parents made the decision to home school based on schools teaching their children a world view other than their own. This is primarily based on the fact that schools are secular and the parents are religious. As an aside, I believe schools should be secular, as I do not believe we should use schooling to indoctrinate people to any one religious viewpoint; on the other hand, I believe schools should be more forthcoming with the facts (and "facts") of science, as there are many sketchy "facts" being presented as facts. More on that later.

While this [religious versus secular] has a bit of influence to us, our decision was based on two primary criteria:

  1. We felt the school was no longer teaching our children after they were learning above their grade level. There were two reasons for this:
    1. The classrooms are segregated, so it is hard for teachers to get materials from a higher grade.
    2. Teachers are being forced to bring all children to a minimum level to pass them, requiring a greater focus on those who are "not getting it", often to the detriment of those that are. I could rant on the pluses and minuses of "No Child Left Behind", but will leave that for another day.
  2. The average child was sent to school loaded down with candy and other garbage food. This was a problem for two reasons:
    1. My children were often trading and sneaking sweets, which we both feel are detrimental to their health. Please understand, we are not nazis about this, but feel that candy should, at most, be a special treat rather than a daily food.
    2. Rebecca has an allergy to peanuts and we noticed their were times foods that could contain peanuts were handed out (generally by children). This is not a stab at the teachers, as it is extremely hard to avoid peanuts (and other dangerous allergens) these days as they are found in foods you would never suspect.

When Rebecca left school (end of first grade), she was reading on a beginning third grade level, a year to a year and a half ahead of where she should have been. As of December, she was reading on a fifth grade level, nearly three years ahead of grade. To us, this is good evidence, albeit anecdotal, that our decision was correct. We see similar gains with Emily.

First signs of disagreement with prevailing thought

Over the past year, Rebecca has gained a huge fascination with space and I often find her [permanently] borrowing my Astronomy magazines. A few months ago, there was a cover story about the Big Bang. She said, "you know, there are some people who actually believed this happened." Yes, and I am one of them.

The evidence for a 13.7 billion year old universe that began as a fiery speck which "exploded" outward to "create" space and matter is overwhelming. I have yet to see a convincing argument that debunks the science of the Big Bang. When I say this, I mean that I have not seen a convincing argument of a young Universe, but I also mean I have not seen a convincing argument for a static Universe either. Both extremes are grasping at straws when one examines their arguments. And, each have a "religious dogma" motivating them to continue to argue their point.

Today, I got the MTHEA (Middle Tennessee Home Education Association) newsletter, Jonathan’s Arrow. At this year’s fair, Dr. Tommy Mitchell is going to speak in four sessions. For those not wanting to follow the link, Dr. Mitchell works for Answers in Genesis, Ken Ham’s group, who are the creator of the Creation Museum. He is teaching six sessions (you can skip over the italicized text if you do not want to read the entire crux of the talks):

Why Genesis Matters
This workshop explains why a literal acceptance of the book of Genesis from the pastor to the
pew is foundational for the modern church to fulfill its missions of winning souls and raising up
strong Christians.

Why Can’t A Day Mean A Day
This workshop exposes the danger of inserting millions of years into the Bible. Millions of years
require millions of compromises on the part of the Christian and the church, watering down the
Gospel message and hindering the ability to provide answers to those seeking the truth they can
trust.

Noah’s Ark and the Global Flood
This workshop answers the questions raised by the skeptical world and the skeptical Christian
whose views have been often shaped by unrealistic cartoons. Denial of the worldwide flood and
the real ark has overthrown the faith of many. The global flood, well-supported by science, is as
vital a symbol of God’s judgment as the ark of Noah is a symbol of His mercy in Christ.

Jurassic Park: A Dinosaur Tale
This workshop uses video clips from the movie “Jurassic Park” to show how the world
indoctrinates us with evolutionary theories and suppositions. This presentation shows how
dinosaurs really fit into history while debunking many of the popular fallacies about these
creatures.

After Their Kind
This workshop illustrates the harmony of the Bible with real science and the real world we live
in. Particular emphasis is given to an explanation of the created kinds and development of variety
in the animal world as well as the application of this information to the origin of differences in
people groups.

Are You Intimidated?
The workshop equips the Christian to be able to take a stand when confronted by things that
contradict the truth in Scripture. The well-equipped Christian should not be shamed into silently
surrendering the truth.

The "Evidence"

As an objective person, I have to accept that the evidence of a 13.7 billion year old Universe, a 4.65 billion year old earth is not 100%. There is a minute chance that the evidence is misinterpreted and the Universe, and all that is within it, are only thousands of years old, as "dictated" by a literal reading of Genesis 1 (Why can’t a day mean a day?). There is also a minute chance, if I take all of my savings and put it into lottery tickets, that I will be rich tomorrow. I would argue that there is a better chance gambling on Lotto than a young Universe, but that comes from my examination of the evidence.

First, scripturally, it states God is not the author of confusion. To me, it would be very confusing if the Universe was so young yet had so many signs pointing to an old age. I accept that this could be misinterpretation of the evidence, but much of the evidence came after the predictions. For example, George Smoot predicted that we would find "wrinkles" in the Cosmic Background Radiation if Inflation (a part of the Big Bang) occurred. This was an important "proof" that the theory was sound. So much so, that adherents to the static Universe view crowed when joint Japanese/US observations detected uniformity in the background radiation. It turned out that their method (sending rockets into the stratosphere) was flawed, as it was picking up "noise" from the atmosphere; a few years later (early 90s) the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) project found the "wrinkles". The results were further refined with the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP).

As for an old earth, we have dating methods. Objectively, I accept the fact that the assumption that no daughter elements existed early on is not 100% certain, but it is not dating alone that leads to this assumption (the "circular reasoning" counter argument). When we add the evidence from science other than geology, it is a very sound assumption. Too bad I cannot write a post long enough to cover all of the evidence. 🙂

Once again, taken objectively, one must note that both secular science and creation science are using the same types of assumptions to prove their points. For secular science, the assumption that there were no daughter elements and that radioactive decay occurs at a steady rate through time; for creation science, it is the assumption of atmospheric conditions being steady and starting with a condition of no "daughter" elements. As an aside, creation science’s criticism of steady rates appears to be valid on a certain level, as we are now seeing that conditions we once thought to be static (like the rate of expansion of the Universe) are not static at all, but I best leave that topic for later.

Evolution

The age of earth is an issue, but the real problem with creation science is the topic of evolution. Before tackling this sticky wicket, I want to state a few things. First, even if there is evolution, I do not believe it destroys the story in the bible. The bible, if taken holistically, presents a story of God creating spiritual man, man’s unwillingness/inability to live up to God’s righteousness and God’s plan for salvation. It details the balancing act between justice and fairness, on one side, and grace and mercy, on the other. Even if man were evolved from lower species (I will get there, just hold on), the spiritual breath of God could be the creation spoken about in Genesis 2. Second, even if the earth is billions of years old, it does not necessitate that all creatures evolved from a common ancestor without any intervention.

Evolution is fact! I agree with this statement, but not necessarily with the allusions and dogma that surround the statement. I see ample evidence that species have adapted. We have the breeding of dogs (and other domestic animals) to accentuate certain characteristics. We have the observable fact that man is taller today. We know that many conditions, both positive and negative, are genetically inherited. Based on these evidences, we can safely say that adaptation over time occurs and the strong are the ones that survive.

From this, we see the assumption that enough changes could create new species. And, depending on how you define species, there is evidence this assumption is true. If you look at Darwin’s finch observations, and consider each finch a different species, then you have evidence that the statement "evolution ‘creates’ new species" is correct. The problem is the word species has been so watered down that many believe that accepting that birds have evolved into birds means that reptiles HAVE evolved into birds, and so on. The evidence here is tenuous at best.

To learn, we all deal with analogies at some point in time. For those who believe that evolution explains all life, the metaphor for their analogy is based on similarities. Taking "Lamarckian" reasoning to the gene, they explain that the similarities in chimp and human DNA "prove" that we have a common ancestor.

I, as a computer programmer, see a different analogy here. I am currently writing a web site, a windows service and a desktop application (leading to a bit of schizoid behavior?). If I examine the entire code base, including the bits that make up the platform, my three applications have 90%+ identical code. If I further look for patterns in the code, I find the same patterns sprinkled throughout the other 90%. If I applied a "Lamarckian" analogy, I would have to state that the later code evolved from the earlier. The problem here is the only evolution present is the fact that my thought processes "evolved". Each of the pieces of code I have written, along with the code written to create the frameworks and platforms I code for, were purposefully designed. If I examine the code again, with a different analogy, I can plainly see the work of creation, not evolution.

If I apply the same computer programming analogy to DNA, I see a progression that works. The earlier code, that of the simplest life forms, is very simple. Much like the code of a "beginning" programmer, there is little or no error correction present and 100% of the code is exercised during the day to day operation of the program. As I move up the ladder, I see more and more complex operations. By the time I get to humans, we have a small amount of directly functional code with a large set of code generating code, some templates, pieces of code that dynamically run in the cells and even pieces of framework which only run in exceptional conditions.

Is my analogy flawed? Certainly. But all analogies are flawed, including the analogy of similarity proving a common ancestor. Yet many hinge their entire belief system on their analogy and refuse to examine any other way of looking at the evidence.

Back to the traditional school versus home school argument. In traditional school today, many of the "facts" presented about evolution are shaky, at best. There is also great resistance to teaching criticisms of evolution due to a slippery slope argument that letting in any criticism will lead to teaching that the earth is only 12,000 years old. While their certainly is a danger that allowing contrary thinking will lead to stupid thinking, there is the counter danger that not allowing valid criticism into the classroom leads to faulty beliefs and reasoning.

By not allowing valid criticism of evolution into the classroom and teaching known falsehoods as fact, evolution becomes a dogma. In addition, evolutionary teaching becomes more of a philosophy than a science. And, if we are teaching philosophy in our science classrooms, the argument that one should be taught creation in the classroom is also valid. Theology is a philosophy. If science is no longer science, why can’t competing philosophies be taught?

Please note I am not arguing that Genesis should be taught in biology classes. While I see nothing wrong with religious classes as electives, I do not subscribe to the belief that creation thought is a science. My belief is that creation is a supernatural event that cannot easily be "proven" through experimentation, as it falls outside of the realm of our view, locked, as we are, inside four dimensional time and space. As science deals with observation within the four dimensions, one can never use science as firm evidence of God or that there is no God.

I am arguing, however, that if we continue to parade philosophy in our science classrooms, we should allow philosophical dissent. I think the best way to do this is allow valid criticism of evolution and highlight the underlying unproven assumptions behind the science. I have read that this will only serve to confuse children, who are not ready to learn that science is based on levels of certainty and not absolute proof, but I say hogwash, as lying is the alternative in many, if not most, cases.

Now, to the home school side. Whether or not evolution is pure bunk (one extreme), I feel it is detrimental not to teach your children about evolution. First, it robs your children of an opportunity to a career in science as they enter college unprepared to pass most science classes. Second, they will encounter evolutionary thinking at some point in time and come into a crisis of belief. This will most likely be at a juncture where they are most susceptible to flip in a dangerous direction and the fact they are unprepared can cause a severe conflict in their belief structure. Third, one cannot argue against something they have no clue about. If you, like I, have noticed there are some "unproven", perhaps faulty, assumptions, then exposing them is better than putting a bag over your child’s head.

Summary

I am sold that home schooling works. Despite a great number of parents teaching creation in lieu of, instead of in addition to, evolution, home schooled children are doing better than the average school child. Some of this can be attributed to the demographics of the home schooled child, but not necessarily all. And, overall, we have been shown that home schooling opens up doors for children who are excelling that are often not present in the traditional school.

Even though I disagree with the young earth teachings, I find that most of the children schooled with this thought are normal and well adjusted. Thus, while I find the evidence pointing to an old earth and Universe, I cannot concur with those who state that a belief in creation, or the teaching of creation, is causing permanent damage to either these children … or society.

As I write, I am reminded that I am often attacked for my defense of Christianity or criticisms of evolution. But, I find I am also chastised by some Christians who find my belief in an old Universe to border on heresy (the "inserting billions of years into the bible" argument). Thus, I find myself "attacked" from both sides.

When I objectively examine Christianity, I find the Conservative viewpoint to better fit the evidence, but this does not mean that Genesis need to be literal. When I objectively examine evolution, I find that many of the core assumptions might be flawed, but this does not mean I should not continually read its findings. As Jesus stated "I am THE truth", I feel it is both an honor and a duty to continue to search for the truth, no matter where it takes me. So much so that if one can conclusively prove that God does not exist, I must drop my belief. Thus far, every "proof" I have seen rely on faulty logic and reasoning, but this is not surprising as science was never meant to be a philosophy.

Peace and Grace,
Greg

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