Posts Tagged ‘education’

Cultivating good theology

March 10th, 2010 | 13 Comments

Daniel Kirk at Storied Theology has a great post up in which he’s critical of an article in the current Christianity Today theme this month by J. I. Packer and Gary A. Parrett in praise of catechism.

Now I must say, since we’re attending a Presbyterian church now (I’m actually serious), my kids have recently been learning the children’s version of the Westminster Shorter Catechism for Sunday School. While I’ll certainly need to start shaking loose some of the stuff I have problems with in the WCF before it hardens permanently in their minds, it’s both a good exercise for their brains and a way of learning historical Protestant theology. What I’m just saying is that although I certainly have a problem with overly and artificially systematized theology, I’m not really necessarily anti-catechism.

But I also must say, the following remarks from Daniel Kirk are spot on:

I could not disagree more with the claims being asserted [in the article by Packer and Parrett]: that the real thing we need is theology, and all those stories in the Bible (you know, the actual Bible God, in God’s wisdom, decided to give to the church) are second-rate tools the learning of which makes us less competent Christians.

This is the classic inversion of sola scriptura: no longer do we really want you to do what the Reformers did (read your Bible), we want you instead to read and memorize what they said after they had read their Bibles.

Wow. That last sentence was a home run, with bases loaded. What do you think the Hebrews did before they had a Calvin or a Beza?  Do we really want to take the ancient Jewish commentaries as seriously as we’re to take, e.g., the Westminster Confession of Faith? Why the heck would the Bible come loaded with stories of people encountering God, often coming away with differing ideas about what they learned about Him, and very little that even resembles systematic theology? Couldn’t God have provided an inspired, inerrant commentary or hermeneutic key if He really wanted to?

Certainly we should teach our kids our beliefs about what the authors of the Bible believed; it can even take the form of a catechism. But whatever we do, we don’t want to give them the impression that we are teaching them unquestionable Approved and Authorized Theology®. We should be instructing and encouraging them that good theology isn’t learned by rote, but painstakingly cultivated.

Creationism, education, and the state

March 7th, 2010 | 17 Comments

All right, here’s a rant for you.

There’s a news story circulating about the well-known fact that homeschooling texts are ignoring or even (the audacity!) criticizing mainstream science in favor of creationism. The usual suspects have emerged to show their disgust of the benighted institution of homeschooling. There’s a poll up at MSNBC asking the question, “Is it OK for home-school textbooks to dismiss the theory of evolution?” Wait, what does “OK” mean here? Are they asking, “Do you think it’s good that home-school textbooks do this?” or “Is it healthy for society that they do this?” The ambiguity in the question itself implies that what they really want to know is, “Should the authorities allow parents to teach their kids this stuff?” The mantra among most secularists that I’ve heard on this issue is that homeschooling should be, preferably, illegal or, at very least, strictly regulated for content by the state. Thus, the following rant.

You’ll not find a stauncher advocate of teaching mainstream science in homeschool curricula than me, nor anyone who is more disturbed that homeschooling is usually used as a shelter from science education. But parents indubitably have more of a right to teach their children creationism than the state has to teach its belief systems. And don’t try to tell me that public education is not teaching belief systems: no one has the absolute truth, so whether it’s parent-approved, community-approved, or state-approved, there are beliefs and value judgments about what the truth is, some of them surely quite accurate, that are being taught. Claiming a monopoly on truth enforceable against other people’s children is nothing short of intellectual fascism, the rule of the thought police instituted by those who think better than the ignorant masses. But until the state assumes the role of deciding whether or not people can produce their own offspring and raise them from birth and as long as no ideologies are being taught that directly advocate violence or other tangible abuse, education must also be left in the hands of the parents. At least homeschoolers aren’t using taxpayer dollars to teach their agendas.

Homeschool critics often compare teaching creationism to teaching 2+2=5; I happen to think they’re not so far off. But this doesn’t mean the state has a right to stick its Cyrano de Bergerac into things. Most of the homeschooled, like me, will eventually learn better (and more’s the pity for them if their faith is tied to creationism), but even if they don’t, life will somehow go on. It really will.

Maybe one day everyone will accept mainstream science and reject creationism. No doubt by that time some subgroup or other will reject some other commonly accepted truth for some reason; it’s only human to do so (so evolution tells us). But I refuse to accept that our ruling intelligentsia should manage society like some intellectual Gestapo by the bully force of the government. Maybe we should just do our best for those over whom we have influence. Maybe we should trust that the truly better ideas will win the day. And maybe, in the meantime, we should learn to exercise a little patience with those who don’t understand as much as we think we do now.

Nah…that sounds a little too Christian.

Explaining Genesis to our children

February 25th, 2010 | 20 Comments

I haven’t yet had the talk RJS asks about with my inquisitive, but trusting, science nerd second-grader, but I think she’s become aware of the science/creationism conflict, particularly as regards the age of the earth. She reads all secular books about science and we talk about science as though there were no such thing as creationism, but she is taught an adamant and somewhat polemical version of YEC at church. It won’t be long before I’ll have to address these issues, but I’ve been preparing for it for years now and don’t dread it anymore. Here is how I’ve imagined it going down.

Well, the ancient Israelites didn’t really know how the world came about. They weren’t scientists and didn’t try very hard to be; they were more interested in how to live life obediently to God. This was a good thing for them, and something we can learn from them nowadays.

So more than talking about how the world began, they wanted to understand why the world began. They created stories very much like other people in ancient times about the beginning of the world, like the Greek and Norse myths we read together.* These stories about the beginning of the world didn’t actually happen that way, but they helped them understand that it was our God who created the world and all that’s in it, not those cruel, weak, and often wicked gods that other people worshipped. It taught them that God is in control of the world and the world isn’t in control of God. The Garden of Eden story explained that things go wrong in life because people do things that are wrong, that we will be happy and enjoy fellowship with God if we follow His guidance, and that our lives will be sad if we rely too much on whatever we think is right or wrong.

*In my opinion, this is an important prior step.

I’m not making any claims that this will work universally, but it will no doubt assuage some of the confusion among most young children. If the child is very much younger and asks, “Is this story true?” the answer would have to be, “It teaches us something true,” followed by a simplified version of what I said before; this wouldn’t answer their question, but rather begin to open their minds to the inadequacy of the question as framed.

Another conversation, or a later stage of the one above, will include a subtle acknowledgement that the Israelites weren’t always right, without implying that we should have expected them to be. If I don’t ever make unwarranted claims about the Bible’s nature and authority – or for the authority of any source of information, for that matter – this won’t ever cause the conflict it did for those of us who were taught inerrancy and only later came to find out differently. Disappointment resulting from false expectations and a haughty disposition toward the virtue of doubt have much more potential to displace one’s faith than a conscious recognition of the epistemological limits of any human endeavor, from science to history to theology.

But for some kids, like my daughter, my words above will probably be enough for now.

Homeschooling and agendas

January 23rd, 2009 | 36 Comments

There is no bigger proponent of home education than yours truly. I myself was homeschooled from the fifth grade through graduation. Although a somewhat shy, awkward kid, I somehow turned out completely “socialized” (whatever the crap that means), was accepted to both an undergraduate and multiple graduate programs, and am well on my way to a PhD in an obscure academic field. Most reasons homeschooling is criticized are, in my opinion, absolutely groundless.

One particular critique is generally unfounded and misleading: Christians are sheltering their children from the real world, to the effect that those children will be swept away once they get out from under their parents’ protection. One should ask, “Isn’t sheltering (a.k.a protecting) my child part of my role as a loving parent?” Indeed. I want to shelter my child from playing in the street — doesn’t make me a bad parent. In fact, quite the opposite: it makes me a good parent. Where I would be letting my children down is if I were afraid to tell them the reason I wouldn’t let them play in the road, choosing only to scare them out of any desire to play in the street by saying things like, “The road is evil!” or “The cars are out to get you!” To be sure, for children of younger ages, warnings unaccompanied by a cogent rationale will be sufficient; but when they get older, it will be behoove them on many levels to know exactly why the road is a dangerous place to play, if for no other reason than such lessons might be adapted anywhere and result in children’s ability to plan for their own safety in analogous situations. The right kind of “sheltering” explains to the child what s/he is being sheltered from, why, and what to do about it once the protection is lifted. I am grateful that this is how my parents instructed me. My parents taught me to learn, think, analyze, and evaluate new information on my own. This is the kind of homeschooling I can get behind.

This sort of homeschool methodology is quite popular, but there is either one particular glaring failure to consistently carry it out, or it is not being done properly at least. I have in mind one particular field of study: I know firsthand that one of the primary reasons Christians have for homeschooling their kids is a concern over mainstream science. In other words, parents are afraid that their children will be taught something other than young earth creationism. Now granted, not all homeschoolers are even Christians, so this is not the case across the board. But among Christians who homeschool, this concern is reflected in all the major Christian homeschool curricula. When my wife and I were researching curricula for our children, I only came across one provider whose materials allowed for the possibility of an old earth. The exception was the Sonlight Curriculum, a curriculum development and supply company that counsels parents to look at both young earth and old earth creationist material. From what we saw, all of the material was still thoroughly “creationist” (what is often termed “special creationism”) and therefore critical of evolutionary theory and approving of Intelligent Design, except where incidental mention is made in secular books they offer (such as the excellent Usborne series).

Inasmuch as the “teach to learn” approach is not the case in home and all other types of education, we have an interest in promoting its return. Unfortunately, the abundance of Christians who are homeschooling in order to promote creationism at the expense of mainstream science plays into the critique of homeschooling as “sheltering” children to those children’s detriment. Kids are being taught to live in denial of science as practiced by actual scientists in their fields of study doing actual research. This selective ignorance happens often enough, but as a case in point, I wanted to point out the following recent incident, which is illustrative of an endemic problem within the homeschooling movement.

The Christian Home Educators of Colorado (CHEC) just last year prohibited Sonlight from displaying their materials at a homeschool convention. When he pressed CHEC for an answer why, Sunlight’s co-owner John Holzmann was informed that it was because his company was negligent in protecting families from non-YEC origins positions. Unfortunately, the relative fair-mindedness Sonlight displays on this aspect of the origins question cannot go unpunished among certain groups within the homeschooling community. I like Holzmann’s response:

CHEC, apparently, can’t trust Christian homeschoolers in Colorado to do their own research, read what “the other side” is saying, and/or come to their own conclusions in these matters. CHEC feels the need to protect homeschool families from themselves . . . and from companies like Sonlight that don’t teach origins in quite the way CHEC prefers.

What really bothers me: CHEC’s behavior, in essence, answers my paper–Young-Earth and Old-Earth Creationists: Can We Even Talk to One Another?–in the negative: “No. We can’t. And, to the extent it is up to us, we won’t.”

The moral of the story, implies Holzmann, is that key leadership within the homeschooling movement is in many places too agenda-driven to serve the needs of parents who feel it their prerogative and even responsibility to determine which aspects of important issues their children should be aware of. He issues this warning:

If you’re involved in homeschooling, especially Christian homeschooling, I wonder if your state convention sponsors may be keeping you from hearing the “other side” in debates that concern you?

HT: SpunkyHomeschool

Florida science standards dethrone God! Details at 11

March 10th, 2008 | 32 Comments

Talk about a love/hate relationship…

I highly commend Gary Demar of American Vision for a number of reasons. Chiefly, he is on the front lines in arguing against the immobilizing effect premillennial eschatology has on the Church; I love that his postmillennialist approach emphasizes the advancement of the Kingdom of God over every facet of culture and society.

Unfortunately, another of his preoccupations is the “Darwinism Hate Train” of which he is the blindfolded engineer.

On a recent installment of American Vision’s weekly Gary Demar Show entitled “A state-sponsored religion?”, he gave us another doozie. He was sounding the alarm, criticizing the Florida state school board’s proposed revision of its educational standards. Specifically, he argued that the revised science standards come down too solidly on “a scientific question [on] which there is great deal of debate within the scientific community, not only coming from what we might call scientific creationists, six-day creationists, intelligent design advocates, but scientists in general who may still believe in evolution to a certain extent but still have a problem with some of the basic building blocks of evolutionary theory and want the topic discussed, think it ought to be discussed and in reality the science standards framer’s committee is in the process…[of] re-writing those standards to force compliance to a particular dogmatic worldview without question. It’s really something that’s unthinkable within the realm of science for anybody at any period of time to say, ‘This scientific theory is now established fact and there’s no way to debate that.’” He reiterated at another point that any public school curriculum that focused only on evolutionary theory was guilty of “cutting off debate” in the classroom.

Does anyone else see a problem with this thinking? Demar is apparently of the opinion that a high school classroom is a necessary forum for debating and challenging scientific theory — even one of the most universally accepted scientific theories. Say what?

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