Tuesday, 9 March 2010

An insight into home-schooling

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Last week, I reported on the forthcoming grand opening of the New Life Academy in Hull, a fundamentalist Christian private school which will use the Accelerated Christian Education curriculum (something the school's website cheekily claims is "OFSTED approved", even though OFSTED doesn't "approve" curricula).

In that post, I quoted a passage from an ACE science textbook, which pertained to the existence, or not, of the Loch Ness Monster:
"Could a fish have developed into a dinosaur? As astonishing as it may seem, many evolutionists theorize that fish evolved into amphibians and amphibians into reptiles. This gradual change from fish to reptiles has no scientific basis. No transitional fossils have been or ever will be discovered because God created each type of fish, amphibian, and reptile as separate, unique animals. Any similarities that exist among them are due to the fact that one Master Craftsmen fashioned them all."
Informative stuff, I'm sure you'll agree. I was reminded of this this morning when I read this San Francisco Chronicle article, from the Associated Press, about the textbooks used by home-schooling parents in the US. Home-schooling is extremely popular with fundamentalist American parents, who see it as a useful way of avoiding exposing their children to corrupting influences, such as science. But as the article points out, not all parents who home-school do so for religious reasons, and some of those have been shocked to find that the bestselling home school science textbooks tend to have an anti-scientific bias. For instance, we learn that in Biology: Third Edition, from Bob Jones University Press (a quick Google shows Bob Jones is a fundamentalist college in South Carolina), the introduction states the following:
"Those who do not believe that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God will find many points in this book puzzling. This book was not written for them."
And then later in the book, young biologists are told that "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."

When the majority of the 1.5 million Americans who receive home-schooling doing so because of their parents' religious views, that's a lot of children deprived of a proper science education. I'd be interested to know if there's a similar situation here in the UK.


Nick said...

Generally I think home schooling is a very bad idea. You correctly point out that the majority of home schooled children are home schooled so that they can be indoctrinated in their parent's religious worldview. This deprives the children of having experiences outside those their parents would choose for them.

This view is based, I think, on the idea that children are in some sense the property of the parents, rather than autonomous beings who will make their own way in life.

One of the most important ways out of a narrow, sectarian existence is the realisation that other people follow different ways, and that those people are not deviants, monsters or obviously doomed to Hell/cursed by God. This allows those children who desire it to try and break away (often at great cost to their familial relationships - just read some of the heartbreaking stories about Orthodox Jewish or Muslim apostates).

A similar thing is happening in regular school whereby Muslim children are being withdrawn from music and dance classes because of "cultural sensitivity". We need to get rid of this pernicious collectivist view and focus on the individual - who knows that the next Mozart may be a child of Muslim parents who may be denied the opportunity to even understand that they have a talent for music.


ian said...

In the american case, isn't position regarding evolution the same view as a large proportion of the american state school system?

Surely anyone taught this way is going to fail their biology GCSEs, amongst others, and slowly but surely corner themselves into an evolutionary dead end, thereby proving the point they attempted to deny.

David Waldock said...

There is the same problem in the UK, and has been for at least fifteen years (although I think the proportion of religious homeschoolers in the UK is lower than in the US).

Rob said...

Speaking from experience, whatever you find in their textbooks is only the tip of the iceberg.

In the 9th and 10th grade, I was home-schooled using video courses from A Beka which featured recorded classroom sessions from Pensacola Christian Academy.

One of the oddest lessons- and the one that still stands out vividly to me- was when we were taught in science class that after the Tower of Babel humanity was split by language groups along extended family lines. Each family group went their own way. This led to the physical differences we see between races. Apparently, everyone (except white people?) looks the way they do because of inbreeding.

When I look back, I still remember thinking "Ah, so that's why. An explanation!" The desire to have explanations (and proof) eventually led me towards actual science and away from fundamentalism.

But lest you think it's confined to home-schooling, I also attended a private Christian school where we were occasionally addressed during an assembly by some quack who told us that dinosaurs were still around (e.g. Nessie), fossils weren't more than a few thousand years old, and that the thickness of moon dust and the strength of the magnetosphere both indicated a young earth. Basically, if you looks through the Index of Creationist Claims you're looking at a large part of my childhood science curriculum.

muslimanarchist said...

Speaking as someone with a long standing interest in education otherwise (as it is generally known in the UK), and with some experience of the same (but with a child with SEN), just to put the record straight. Children who are educated otherwise are as diverse as UK society. Interestingly, they also achieve among the highest results in pre-HE public exams.

In the UK at the moment, parents are ultimately responsible for their children's education. The idea that parents are somehow more likely to "programme" their kids compared to a mono-curricular education system is nonsense - who should we fear more, loving parents or a warmongering State?

Nick needs to read some John Stuart Mill and address his only educational needs before opinionating so confidently on issues he clearly knows absolutely nothing about. His argument is that liberty is best served by educational diversity. The UK education system today serves neoliberalism, not liberty.

By the way, the government -- in keeping with its steady erosion of civil liberties -- are about to change the law, so that parents educating their kids otherwise will be subjected to highly intrusive inspections. As most EO parents know, Local Authorities can be appalling in their dealings with EO families (in ref to SEN kids, they regularly lie to parents about the law). This is the State Nick trusts to set children's minds free.

Yeah, right...

Rob said...

I think a lot of us (me, at least) are sensitive to concerns about government putting too much regulation on any area- business, education, wherever. There should be room for innovation and different perspectives.

At the same time, as a society we do have a collective interest in how well children are educated. In order to sustain and improve our standard of living we need educated citizens who can think critically more than we need citizens who can regurgitate knowledge learned by rote from a science or religious text.

In the US at least, there is a strong correlation between economically depressed areas and highly religious areas. The children getting the worst science education are the ones who need the most improvement already. From my experience living the the southern US, it is far more likely for legislators to limit good science education than to force it on those who prefer religious "interpretations" of science.

All that articles like this do is shine a light on the phenomenon- "An insight into home-schooling". If government regulation of science education isn't a viable route, I think criticism of the curriculum online is valuable for giving balance and context to the claims made by ACE and other fundamentalist publishers.

Anonymous said...

I am currently doing an evening class for a Higher (Scottish A level sort of equivalent). One of the students in the class is doing her Highers at school ( a non-faith school) and tells me in her Biology class they must spend some time considering "alternative" theories and so a text book with mad creationist ideas. Luckily for her, her teacher is suitably critical of the text book but in the wrong hands....so it's not just homeschooling which is of concern.

Eiskrystal said...

When you are taking science from an anti-science text book, you have failed your child.

Another question of course is whether parents are qualified to teach their chldren. Even with books, you may still need expensive bits of science equipment and a fundamental understanding of the sciences.

Same with languages, how does the parent who doesn't speak french, know that the child is getting it right?

Anonymous said...

You might enjoy some of the comments from religious homeschoolers here: http://homeliving.blogspot.com/2010/03/personal-reasons-to-homeschool.html

They seem to think the opposite from Nick. That is, they say that children in school get only what the school decides to offer, and that homeschooling parents offer a wider range of experiences. They also think that, yes, their children do belong to them (but that's as opposed to belonging to the state).

Anonymous said...

Eiskrystal, the respond from one religious homeschooler at that link I just posted is:

Anytime I start to feel internal pressure over whether I am teaching my children well enough, according to "standards", I stop and remind myself that anything I do will be better than giving a child over to a school, to figure out the world system by himself.

Anonymous said...

My husband and I (both atheists) home educate one of our daughters. I have no idea of figures, but I strongly suspect the situation over here is vastly different. So please don't assume that the majority of home educators in the UK are religious fundamentalists. (It is certainly not my experience of the HE community).

Also, one cannot always rely ... See moreon schools to provide a proper science education. My eldest daughter went through the state school system and even there we encountered evolution denial in the class room. In infant school when studying dinosaurs etc. a book was recommended which tried to tie the big bang, dinosaurs etc. together with creationism. This was a state school, although, admittedly a church one (with very good results – the reason we sent her there). In mainstream middle school she was asked to present a simple little project on the universe. She ended with a bit of a cliché about us all being made of 'star dust'. After she'd presented the project her BIOLOGY teacher saw fit to clarify that the big bang and evolution was “just a point of view” and went on to describe creationism...

My daughter is intending to start studying for her biology and physics IGCSE next year. She'll be 12.

Anonymous said...

Sorry if I'm bashing a drum that has already been well hammered but I'd like to say that I homeschool my two children (I'm an expat living in Canada) and am a resolute anti-theist.

The school system, as it stands, seems to be run by morons for the purpose of turning out more morons.

My children, aged 7 and 9, are studying university level physics in between hanging out with friends, going to acting classes and bugging me for a Wii. They both read the classics (Warning: Heidi has a lot of god in it.. I hadn't remembered that from my own youth) and love learning at their own pace. Imagine a world where love of knowledge isn't stigmatized or derided AND you don't need permission to urinate!

There really is no need for my kids to remain mired in ignorance just because the state would prefer it that way.

I really wish that people could get out of the habit of assuming that all homeschoolers are religious nutjobs. Sure, they are out there but they are everywhere aren't they?

Hel said...

It seems the reasons for home schooling vary depending on the country - as the article says, in the US it is sometimes to do with religious fundamentalism - but people i've come across in the UK have had reasons such as bright children being bullied or not being "stretched" enough by school, or special needs children who need teaching or facilities not available at their local schools. I'm afraid i don't have any statistics or studies to back this up, but just from my own experience, it seems there is a big difference in the situation between USA and UK.