Monday, April 13, 2009

A Convention of Pharisees

That was my answer a month ago when asked what kind of Christian homeschool convention doesn’t allow Sonlight to attend because SL isn’t Christian enough.  I went on to write more, and I’m editing it a bit, but basically, this is what I wrote then:
I don't want anyone to take what I say as absolute truth, as I have not researched this as thoroughly as I ought.  These are my thoughts and observations, and while I’ll try to be fair, I’m certainly not without bias.  
I have been watching my state "Christian" homeschooling group over the past decade.  There have been some aspects that have made me a bit uncomfortable from the very beginning.  But not uncomfortable enough to stop attending conventions or anything.
The last three or so years, it has been worse. Certain individuals are pretty vocal about the "right" way to do all kinds of things, and I find myself disagreeing more and more often.  All kinds of issues.  Individuals within the organization have made it very clear that they believe "Christian" and "Classical" do not belong together.  Teaching Latin, or reading mythology is absolutely inappropriate.  We should only read Christian authors... (I've often wanted to ask for their permission to read the Old Testament, as that clearly could not have been written by Christians... sorry... some of the sarcasm is spilling out...)
From the very first convention we attended (1999), the one thing that made both dh and I *very* uncomfortable was the idea expressed by a number of convention speakers that anyone who didn't believe in a young earth creation wasn't really a Christian.  (And I am a young earth creationist, by the way, though I haven't always been one... You can’t believe in something you’ve never been exposed to and all.)
The convention, now a "Christian Family Conference" instead of a homeschooling one, has been veering a lot more into how to raise a family, how to raise entrepreneurial boys and obedient girls, and a lot of worldview stuff.  I'm not saying I haven't enjoyed some of this (the worldview presentations in particular) or that the messages on their own weren't good.  
It isn't so much whether or not I agree with any of the above positions.  It is more that they are moving towards preaching that there is one "Christian" way to see, well, virtually everything.  If you are a Christian, then you must...   (fill in the blank on any of the above issues, or create your own)
Two years ago (2007), the Sonlight booth (which has always been a fairly large booth) was significantly smaller.  Like by half.  I joked a bit about them cutting costs by getting a smaller booth, and ended up finding out that they had put in for the same size they had always had, and didn't find out they weren't getting it until they showed up to set up, and they were not told why.  And they were told in no uncertain terms to not display a couple of the science books as this was a *Christian* conference and the titles were totally inappropriate. (I did not get the impression they were mentioning this to most people... but I've hung out at the SL booth nearly every year since 1999... spending a lot of time getting up to speed on what I'm doing next year, and I know the person I talked to "knows" me.)
Last year (2008), I decided that I was not going to attend. I had a lot of reasons for that, but I was still vacillating a bit.  Then I got the notification from Sonlight that they had been informed that their application to be a vendor had not been approved.  That settled it for me.  One of the reasons I wanted to go was to get my hands on a couple of Instructor Guides so I could make some decisions, and not being able to do so put me firmly on the not going side.  (Getting a good look at the materials one year meant I could make a decision to purchase Apologia’s Astronomy book to replace the miserable offering Sonlight had in Science 1, for instance, with something more God-honoring and appropriate for my family.  That book is no longer in Science 1, by the way.)  I was really annoyed, as from what I was hearing, Sonlight was given no reasons other than a need for a change.  
Well, I've been checking the website for the vendor list to see who is going to be there this year, and the list has shrunk a lot.  Sonlight will not be there.  Nor will Usborne.  Nor will Memoria Press.  Nor is Noeo Science, nor is RealScience4Kids. Nor is Bolchazy-Carducci (they produce Artes Latinae, among other things).  Nor is KreativeSimplicity, nor is Heart of Dakota.  Or Learnables, or PowerGlide.  Tapestry of Grace.  Scripture Memory Fellowship.  Joyce Herzog.  Speed Stacks.  Writing Strands.  Drive-Thru History/Focus on the Family.  Bright Ideas Press.  Geomatters.  Winter Promise.  That's who I noticed on first glance.  I really need to pull out one of my old convention programs and do a side by side comparison, as I know I didn't catch everyone who used to attend regularly but won't be there this year.
Now, I'm not saying that the convention blocked all of the above companies.  I have no idea.  I’ve heard that many companies are pulling back and not attending as many conventions this year (Tapestry of Grace, for one).  But I find it astonishing that every company that promotes any type of classical eduction is not in attendance (Memoria Press, Tapestry of Grace, Bright Ideas Press).  There is nobody left who advocates a literature approach (Sonlight, Winter Promise).  There is nobody left who uses Usborne books for science (Sonlight, Noeo, Winter Promise... hmmm, My Father's World uses some Usborne still, and they are going, and they have the kids reading Homer... I think they have messed up and missed one sinful vendor... oh, sorry, I was going to drop the sarcasm...).  And organizations like Focus on the Family, who have not made a clear young-earth creation stance, are all off the list too.  RS4K states clearly that their materials don't address origins.  Let's see -- Geomatters includes mythology in GTG.  Heart of Dakota endorses "questionable" books in their literature stuff.  I have no idea what sins KreativeSimplicity, Learnable, Powerglide (oh, wait, they have a Latin program), SMF, Joyce Herzog, Speed Stacks or Writing Strands have committed... Considering how often the radio program spouts off about the evils of teaching Latin, I’m surprised to see Latin in the Christian Trivium is allowed (they were not on the list a month ago when I first wrote this).
And in their radio program a couple of months ago (well, the radio show belongs to the executive director, not the organization itself), he explicitly says that so much of what is out there is not Christian, and that the state group is going through and no longer allowing all of these non-Christian companies to promote their products through the state convention.  
'A lotta, lot of curriculum packages... will bring you plenty of secular materials.  Christian Home Educators of Colorado will not.  We actually have abandoned the pluralistic way of looking at things, the humanistic way of looking at things, the naturalistic, materialistic way of looking at things, and we know that's the predominant worldview and we know that people have been taught in those worldviews, but we're actually taking a hard right away from these worldviews, and saying it's time to give our children a distinctively Christian education.  And so we've gone out and tried to find Christians who are really trying hard to establish a Christian way of looking at things, a Christian worldview curriculum.  We're drawing them into our conference...."  *see below
and on and on about how these non-Christian education choices are destroying the world.  They don't name Sonlight, or anyone else on the above list of people not in the vendor hall this year... but I have to assume that Sonlight is one of these non-Christian education choices.  I am *totally* in favor of drawing in people who are trying to establish a Christian worldview curriculum.  But it is a huge place.  Do they have to shove out anyone who provides a Christian education that isn't exactly like their ideal?
Another quote, talking specifically about science:  "As you flip through those textbooks, you need to ask yourself, 'Is there any naturalistic, godless form of evolution here, talking about billions and billions of years, where God is not even *mentioned* in the book?'  If God's not mentioned in the books, I think, for the most part, you oughtta just throw the books away.  Generally speaking.  Especially for younger children." *see below
I hate to say it, but I have thrown out plenty of Christian twaddle that is just not worth the time or the space.  And yes, we own a number of science books that do not even mention God.  My kids know full well that the majority view in this world is that the earth is billions of years old, and we all rose up out of the goo.  They are learning to respectfully discuss these worldview differences.  They are learning to respectfully discuss these differences because we are reading these godless science books.  If I sheltered my children from every mention of evolution, every assumptive statement about millions of years, they would *not* have the first clue as to how to respond when they do run into these things in 'the real world' -- because no matter how much you shelter your kids, those assumptions are ev.ery.where.  And yes, even my five year old will shout out, “He’s using assumptive language!” when we encounter it... thanks to Sonlight, and thanks to Focus on the Family (Adventures in Odyssey’s Truth Chronicles specifically) neither of which can I even look at in the vendor hall.
Now, I have no problem with parents deciding that they can't use things like the Usborne books for their kids.  I do have a problem with "Christian Home Education" being defined so narrowly though, so that just by virtue of the fact that I'm teaching my kids Latin, or talking about evolution, that proves that I have fallen prey to a postmodern worldview and I'm lost.
And I really have a problem with sweeping generalizations about what God thinks is a good course of study, being followed by statements about how all these alleged Christian homeschoolers start teaching their kids Latin and they get proud.  Uhhh, excuse me?  *My* pride is showing?  I’m the ‘pseudo-intellectual’?  I’m not the one constantly throwing out words NOBODY uses in real conversation, such as ‘metaphysic.’  I'm not the one claiming to speak for God about the evils of reading an Aesop fable (or pick your favorite pagan author) and how that is the first step towards atheism. 
I'm not saying you have to teach Latin, though I think being able to read early church writings, and hymns, in their original languages is a laudable goal.  (Of course, since first writing this, I am discovering that these people have issues with the church fathers too, so they probably don’t want kids to read Augustine, Benedict or Aquinas at all, much less in Latin.)  But to slam my family as prideful because I have chosen to teach Latin?  One other reason we are teaching Latin is as a baby step to learning Greek.  Koine Greek.  So we can read the New Testament for ourselves, as written.  Is that acceptable, or are we still too pagan?
Let me make something clear.  I do not think Sonlight is the perfect homeschool curriculum.  I do think some of the charges that are made about it are legit.  SL's science program uses more pro-evolution material than I would like.  I do wish SL science gave me a bit more to go on as far as challenging the evolutionary worldview.  However, as much as I would like additional notes and helps in the IG (which, it appears, they have provided this year, and I’d shell out the $69 to go to convention so I could decide whether or not to repurchase all the Sonlight Science I own... but, oh, wait, yeah, the conference doesn’t trust me enough to make good decisions, so I can’t), I appreciate that SL considers me intelligent enough to be able to discuss things with my kids as we read them, and they don't feel they need to spoonfeed me a 'Biblical metaphysic' (whatever that means).  
As “Geek” on the SL forums stated, (quoted with permission) “If you want it all laid out for you and how to teach God's presence in everything, there are other curricula that do that. If you want to teach God's presence in everything from your family's experience, from your own heart's abundance, then SL is a good fit.”  (italics in original)
I know there are lots of people... good, Christian parents... who teach their kids providential history.  Personally, I think some of that is really crazy, and it is not a view I wish to be teaching.  But I don't question the salvation of parents who use these materials, or of the people who write and publish them.  And I think it is good to have Abeka or Bob Jones textbooks available.  I can't imagine truly using either program (we do have an Abeka reader around), but again, I know plenty of people who use these materials, and if a textbook approach is what you want, I'm glad they are available for you.  Isn't it a good thing that wonderful, caring, Christian parents have lots of alternatives available?  
One of my favorite parts of going to convention is the chance to look at materials I wouldn't consider using for whatever reason.  And having the opportunity to have my assumptions challenged, by vendors, workshop speakers, other parents... I resent the paternalistic and controlling pattern our state homeschool group is showing.  They seem to be saying, “We will decide what "the" Christian way is, and we won't let you even see anyone else's ideas as to what Christian education should look like.”  
I'm not happy.  I want to go.  Andrew Pudewa is presenting eight workshops, and it would be worth the price just to attend all of those...  And Diana Waring is speaking, and I love seeing her.  I have always wanted to see Sally Clarkson speak in a conference setting.  And there are the vendors who will be there, booths I'd like to hang out for awhile in... Apologia, IEW, YWAM, Rainbow Resource, RightStart, VideoText...  Summit Ministries (I desperately want to visit the Summit booth... next year would be a perfect year for Connor to do their middle school program... but I want to see it... he’ll only be a seventh grader, and I just don’t know from samples I’ve seen online.  I need to just call them and find out if there is somewhere I could stop by sometime to have a look.)
But since I don't drink their Kool-Aid, and I teach my kids Latin, and mythology, and we have talked about various long-earth creation theories respectfully, and I don't necessarily shy away from books that were written by non-Christians, and we do read books that treat evolution and billions of years as fact... well, they have made it clear that I don't fit their mold.  And I just can't give them my money anymore...
* Kevin Swanson, as transcribed by me, from the February 4 Generations show, which you can listen to yourself here. Any errors in the above are solely my fault, and are unintentional.
You might be interested in some other reading too... Here is a link to John Holzmann’s first blog entry about the issue, Are you being treated like a child?  I’ll leave it up to you to search his blog if you want to see the other half-dozen or so posts on this -- and similar -- issues.
Or Kevin Swanson’s... unfortunately, I can’t link just to the blog post he wrote January 22, which clearly was in response to the one of John’s listed  above, where he bemoans the “base calumnies” being leveled against him (at least he wrote an entire post without using the word metaphysic.  Didn’t think he could do that.)  Not that I think he’d ever read this post of mine, but if he does want to accuse me of being calumnious, I would really appreciate knowing specifics as to what is false and misleading.  Because I would love to correct it if I am, in fact, slandering anyone.

Comments posted on my original blog:

Amy B --
Great post Debra!  Thank you so much for sharing!!! This is a reminder to me that I should be active at the local and state level to do my part in putting great people into leadership.  Thanks for the stir.

--Monday, April 13, 2009 - 11:22 AM

Janet F --
You go girl!! I agree with you, and am saddened to see Christian groups get so legalistic and exclusive. There are definitely "right" ways to do things, but when statements are made about how God wants us to teach our children and not use classical methods, well, I find it hard to locate that in the Bible. We are to train up our children in the way they should go, and when they are grown, they will not depart from it. I don't see that training up our children involves using specific curriculum, and avoiding others.

The ONE Christian way is to believe in the Lord Jesus, acknowledge that we are sinners saved by grace, not by WORKS - which seems where this group is headed.

I am sad for you, I wish you had a different opportunity to hear these wonderful speakers and see the curriculum you want to look at. I am also saddened for this group that seems to be making their own pathway - and missing the point.

It is an excellent post, and reminds me of the reasons I'm homeschooling. To teach my children our beliefs, values, and to train them in the knowledge of the Lord, to know and understand the Word, and to be discerning individuals. It's hard to discern if you never have an opposing viewpoint to discuss. My children understand that the earth is young, that the Bible is ABSOLUTE truth, and that there are lots of weird people out there, just waiting to tackle them with their non-Biblical views. I'm teaching my kids to go to scripture, to defend against those who would further crucify our Lord.

And yes, we still use Sonlight. We don't have the good new science books (although I am TERRIBLY tempted), but we found books to complement what we used that explain creation. Just because they don't exclusively teach young-earth creationism doesn't mean that I can't use these books to educate my children. In fact, I think they are better than some because I can explain what my children will see as they grow older, what they are up against, and why we believe what we do.

Blinders on children.  I know of other groups that have done the same thing.  God never told us to sequester ourselves and stick our heads in the sand. We are IN the world, not OF the world. As such, we need to learn how to communicate the truth of the gospel to those who are OF the world.

God bless you always!

--Monday, April 13, 2009 - 12:28 PM

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