John Holzmann has just written a much more detailed version of the story of how Sonlight Curriculum came to be banned from exhibiting at the Christian Home Educators of Colorado (CHEC) annual convention. His account includes the correspondence he exchanged with the CHEC officials who were responsible for the decision, which is very helpful. I recommend you read this post.
In particular, a passage from one of the letters from CHEC started me wondering whether in some circles the idea of a Christian worldview is being given a new and dangerous twist. This is from a letter from Kevin Swanson, executive director of CHEC, explaining why the board is having some difficulty deciding whether Sonlight Curriculum is sufficiently Christian:
Your philosophy statement in the catalogue is excellent. I couldnt’ (sic) have written a better one myself. Education is not neutral. Either it will be taught in the fear of God or it will not be taught in the fear of God.
Yet, as I read through the Biology 1 syllabus and workbook that you sent down… I’m not seeing a God-centered metaphysic weaving through it. (I’m certainly willing to be corrected on this perception, John.) What I see is a verse at the front of it, that seems sort of like a post-it note at the beginning. I see a short summary of Russell Humphrey’s view on the age of the earth.
But as far as the content of it… We read Rachel Carson’s book… and I’m wondering whether Rachel fears God. Does Rachel maintain the right metaphysic throughout, and if not, does the student ever notice it? Is God missing? Why does Rachel want to preserve the earth? Why do we want to preserve/take dominion over the earth?
At the end of each book, does the student understand both the creation and the providence of God, and is he/she pressed to worship God? In fact, I only found 1 or 2 references to God in the entire syllabus, which seemed strange when the books appear to be written by those of a materialistic/naturalistic mindset.
Now, I know that nobody does any of this perfectly. I can see that Wile tries to include references to "Creation" throughout his books. You see references like "God has designed each living organism’s. . . " or "Symbiosis is an incredible testament to God’s forethought in designing his creation…"
I know that you like to use books written by materialists/naturalists for their engaging content. But I wonder how you intend to weave the fear of God and a God-centered metaphysic back into the course? If you could just share a little bit on how you intended to do that in the Intro to Biology course, I think that would be helpful for me. [Emphasis added.]
I take the emphasized statement to mean not only that to qualify as Christian, a curriculum must have the fear of God woven into it as well as a God-centered metaphysic, but that this must be done to a certain degree above which it becomes acceptably Christian.
There are certainly curricula out there which could easily meet this standard. But I think there are also curricula which fail to meet this standard and are also quite acceptable for a Christian to learn from. Easy examples include books on economics or mathematics or appliance repair, which occasionally include explicitly Christian content but usually do not. A harder example might be a book on the history and theology of Buddhism, which could easily describe the beliefs involved while taking no position on their truth or falsity; a particular Christian parent might choose not to expose a particular Christian child to such a book, but it is hard to make a case that such a book poses a danger to even the average faithful Christian.
I have no problem with a group which intends to offer or support or approve of material only if it is explicitly Christian, as an aid to Christians who want such material but can’t find it in the secular arena, in distinction to a group which caters to Christians by offering explicitly Christian material in addition to material that is not explicitly so. But I object to a group which, intentionally or not, intends to be the first kind while purporting to be the second. I think this has happened to CHEC, and it would be good for them to clearly announce that their group now supports only those Christian homeschoolers who subscribe to a particular philosophy of Christian education.
Swanson’s closing paragraph also bothered me, but it also suggests what might be an opportunity to lessen the tensions that are developing.
Thanks John. I hope you don’t find this too burdensome. I’m trying to assess what is a Christian vs. a secular curriculum, and to tell you the truth I haven’t really spent a whole lot of time thinking about it (esp. in the implementation phase.) It’s one thing to philosophize, it’s a lot harder to implement!
I think it’s unwise to be in the midst of implementing a philosophy that one hasn’t spent a whole lot of time thinking about, especially when the resulting business decisions can do great damage to a Christian brother. But the good news, perhaps, is that these decisions aren’t proceeding from a settled philosophy—and perhaps there is still time and room for Christians of good will and different points of view to start articulating their own views of what makes an education Christian, so that the philosophy ultimately adopted by groups like CHEC might strike a wise balance among the many, many different concerns that are involved.