I frequently receive the following question, or some form thereof. I thought it might be time to answer it here.
I am wondering about the Christian content, or lack thereof, in your science guides and the books they accompany. Could you share a bit about your philosophy in this area and how that philosophy plays out in your science guides?
I guess the first thing you need to know is that I am a Christian. I proclaim those words with tears in my eyes because I know that it was only my Lord’s love for me that made my salvation possible, with exactly zero effort or warranting on my part.**
The next thing you need to know is that while I am amazingly grateful for Christian authors and publishers that focus on the field of science, having “Christian” stamped on the cover does not tell me what I need to know about a book.
What I need to know is this:
Is it a living book? It is our children’s due to be provided material that is living. No sawdust should be provided, no matter who published it. What good is it to offer a Christian text that does not cooperate with the divine Spirit? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose? Charlotte Mason said it plainly,
“The mind is capable of dealing with only one kind of food; it lives, grows and is nourished upon ideas only; mere information is to it as a meal of sawdust to the body; there are no organs for the assimilation of the one more than of the other.” (Mason, A Philosophy of Education, p. 105)
A textbook is a textbook is a textbook. And textbooks don’t inspire. Even if they are written by a young earth Christian publisher or a Christian publisher who doesn’t adhere to a “literalistic model of the earth.” Even if they claim to have one author, or they claim to keep the textbook small and manageable. (I’ll have to write another blog about when a textbook is not really a textbook. I’ll give you a hint at my answer: a textbook is always a textbook.)
Is it inspiring? This world we live in — with its butterflies and stem cells, its laws and slime, its hydrocarbons and wildflowers — is GOD’s world! If we studied the Bible in a way that left our children uninspired, would we not consider what we were doing wrong? How can we then propose to study the world God made without caring if our children are inspired. That doesn’t mean they must all become scientists, but as Miss. Mason said, “Where science does not teach a child to wonder and admire it has perhaps no educative value.” (Mason, A Philosophy of Education, p. 224)
Does the author mock Christianity in any way? There is absolutely NO need for that. There have been books I’ve come across that were antagonistic towards Christian beliefs. I have one in mind that I had high hopes for, but there is no question on this. I will never use a book like that. It’s one thing for the author to be blind, but it’s another for them to be hostile.
Is the author pushing an agenda? There was a time in history, say the early to mid-1900s when the authors of good living science books didn’t push an agenda. They simply told about the plants or animals, or the laws of physics and chemistry without any added commentary. Even in the few chapters that recounted the formation of the universe, they just plainly said what they thought and moved on. It’s pleasant to read these books because a student can learn about the world God created without any social input from the author.
But lest you think this is only a fault of non-believers, remember that not all Christians think alike either. I don’t want anyone to push their agenda onto my children, Christian or not. I prefer that the input my children receive in their early years come only from their dad and me.
Or are they simply telling a version of events? Earth science books are often seen as the most questionable because they usually include a rendition of how the world was created. It can actually be funny because each book tells a different tale. Before reading all of these science books I thought there were only two main schools of thought, but I was very wrong. I should note that I am most comfortable skipping those chapters in a child’s early years, but as they enter form 3 (gr. 7-8) I think there is value in our students learning just how much confusion there really is on these ideas. We are all speculating, believers and unbelievers alike.
Another interesting thing I’ve found is that many science authors, despite the fact that they seem likely to be unbelievers, can’t wholly reject the idea that there is a Creator. Recently I was reading a section of The Planets with a class of adult students. The author commented on the way the moon so perfectly fits in front of the sun during an eclipse:
“Is it an accident that the Solar System’s lone inhabited planet possesses the only satellite precisely sized to create the spectacle of a total solar eclipse? Or is this startling manifestation of the Sun’s hidden splendor part of a divine design?” (Sobel, The Planets, p. 27)
The students, a group of parents, recognized how awe inspiring the short reading was, even though the author started the chapter by stating that light in the Sun may journey for a million years before breaking out and finding it’s way to earth.
I have never been more in awe of God’s creation as I was while reading that book. This is the most important thing in my opinion. Great authors tell with the most beautiful and inspiring language about the world God made, causing us to marvel at His handiwork despite the fact that the one pointing to the splendor (the author) may not even know Whom he is pointing to. It’s like beautiful art made by a self-proclaimed atheist, or beautiful poetry written by someone who doesn’t know the Creator of all things beautiful. In the end, every knee will bow.
If we carefully avoid those who unknowingly point to His revelation but speculate incorrectly about what it all means or how it all came to be, we might cause our kids to miss the revelation altogether.
Is the book either separating the intellectual and spiritual life of children or artificially cramming them together? Charlotte Mason’s 20 principle says,
“We allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and ‘spiritual’ life of children, but teach them that the Divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits, and is their Continual Helper in all the interests, duties and joys of life.” (Mason, Towards A Philosophy of Education, p. xxix)
When we respond from a spirit of fear, fear that our child will not form a personal relationship with his Lord, fear that he will be misled or brainwashed by unbelievers, we can often make choices that overshoot that sweet spot, where we work in cooperation with the Holy Spirit to educate our children.
I recently read the first page of a Christian textbook, which began by explaining that there are different kinds of knowledge: one kind of knowledge is truth, revealed to us by God, and another kind of knowledge is scientific law and theory. While this sounds reasonable enough, it’s not acceptable. All truth is God’s truth and “scientific laws” are God’s laws. Of course, sometimes we only think we have a scientific law figured out, but, in fact, we have it wrong. This doesn’t make God’s laws any less His. Let a child read just one science biography, and he will have an idea of how often scientist have gotten things wrong. At the same time, let him read current events about a new “proven scientific fact, ” and he will understand that discernment is in order.
Charlotte Mason says that the attitude of parents and teachers “towards the great idea, great lesson, set for his age to grasp, is a vital part of the parents‘ preparation.” (Mason, School Education, p. 159) She speaks in depth about the great idea of her time, which was evolution, and how men responded to it. Either they were 1) triumphant that moral difficulties may be over, essentially eliminating the need for religion; or 2) they looked for a middle ground, a reconciliation between science and religion; or 3) they reputed evolution and nailed their colors to religion. (p.156) But Charlotte Mason clarified that we must, “first of all settle it with ourselves that science and religion cannot, to the believer in God, by any possibility be antagonistic.” (p.156)
These are the things I consider, then. Is it a textbook or in anyway mocking Christianity or pushing an agenda from either side? Then it’s out. Is it inspiring and thought provoking? Then I will consider it. Which means you can count on the following from me:
- I do not always use books written by Christians. I do hope that some of our children become beautiful writers and that a few of those become beautiful science writers though. That would be wonderful.
- I do reference Bible verses in my guides, once in a while. However, I try very hard never to tell students what to think. I just want them TO think, and then you can have robust discussions with them. In one guide, I pointed out that the section the student just read might have been uncomfortable to read. I simply reminded them that people don’t have all the answers, but our God is Master and Creator of this universe, and we can rest in that security.
- A public charter school uses my curriculum, but for them, I remove any Bible verses I include in the regular copy. I have every hope and expectation that the children there will be exposed to God’s power and beauty without my spelling it out in so many words. “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:19-20)
- It doesn’t matter whether I believe in a literalistic model of Creation or not. Either way, I won’t push my opinions onto your children. That is overstepping.
I hope this gives you an idea of where I’m coming from. You may not agree, and that is fine. There are other options available. But I would warn that if you intend to follow a Charlotte Mason education, textbooks of any kind are a deal-breaker.