Posted by jlwile on June 1, 2011
I saw this story on The GeoChristian some time ago, but then I got distracted (probably by something shiny) and forgot to post about it. However, I had occasion to remember it because I got an E-MAIL from a homeschooled student regarding his first year at college. I hope to turn that E-MAIL into a separate blog post. For right now, however, I want to concentrate on the story that was originally posted at The GeoChristian.
The story is based on the most recent results of the ETS Proficiency Profile. It is a test given on 261 college campuses nationwide, and it supposedly measures the abilities of students when it comes to critical thinking, writing, reading, the humanities, the social sciences, the natural sciences, and mathematics. Colleges and universities participate in the test strictly on a volunteer basis. The elite schools don’t see themselves as benefiting from the test, so Harvard, Yale, etc., do not participate. Other less rigorous schools are concerned about what the results might be, so they don’t participate, either. Nevertheless, there are enough colleges and universities participating that it allows for some reasonable gauge of the academic prowess of students on any participating campus.
I haven’t seriously looked at ETS Proficiency Profile results for quite some time, having left my university faculty position in 1996. Nevertheless, my recollection is that in general, an institution whose students have the highest overall score on the test rarely captures first place in every subcategory. Thus, a college’s students might score well enough in math, the natural sciences, and critical thinking to get first overall, but other colleges will take first prize when it comes to their students’ abilities in writing, the humanities, or the social sciences.
This year’s results, however, were a clean sweep. One college received the highest score in all categories. That college was Patrick Henry College.
The college was rather happy with the results, so the provost posted a report about it. Obviously, he has every right to be proud. When your students can outperform the students from 260 other colleges and universities in the U.S., you are probably doing something right. The GeoChristian wondered how this is possible, especially in the natural sciences category. After all, Patrick Henry College is a young-earth creationist college. It specifically states in its catalog that all biology and Bible courses at the college will be taught from the standpoint that the creation of the universe occurred in six 24-hour days. The GeoChristian is under the severely mistaken impression that the young-earth creationist position is not consistent with the scientific data. How, then, could these students possibly do well on the natural sciences section of the ETS Proficiency Profile?
The GeoChristian offers several possible explanations, but in my view, they are all off the mark. There are two main reasons the students at Patrick Henry College do so well compared to their peers, and I will list them in order of importance:
1. The majority of the students are homeschool graduates.
2. A young-earth creationist education is, by far, the best science education a student can have.
As to the first point, there is simply no question that on average, homeschooled students are academically superior to their peers. Indeed, I got involved in the homeschooling movement specifically because while I was on the faculty at Ball State University, my very best students were the homeschool graduates. When I searched the academic literature to see if my experience was representative of the norm, I found that it was. Thus, any college that has a lot of homeschool graduates will definitely score well on any measure of academic prowess.
I have written about the second point before. A young-earth creationist science education not only helps students learn science better, but it also helps them develop strong critical thinking skills, which aid in every other area of academic inquiry. One reason, of course, is that the young-earth creationist position is the most scientifically-reasonable position to take when looking at the earth. As I have discussed before, it doesn’t require any scientifically-irresponsible extrapolation, and it allows you to look at all the data, not just the data that support the “scientific consensus.” As a result, the student gets a much better view of what nature actually looks like.
More importantly, since young-earth creationism goes so strongly against the scientific mainstream, it requires the student to critically analyze scientific positions in a way that most students never get a chance to do. For example, while most students (even at the college level) think that the geological column as presented in textbooks (with its full complement of layers and fossils) is an actual physical reality, a young-earth creationist education forces the student to understand what the geological column really is: a theoretical construct based on multiple assumptions. As a result, even if the young-earth creationist position is incorrect (I don’t think it is, but even if it is), a student educated in that framework will actually know more about the details of the scientific consensus than other students who are taught within the framework of the consensus.
It is not surprising to me, then, that a group of homeschool graduates who have been taught from a young-earth creationist perspective scored so well on the natural science and critical thinking sections of the ETS Proficiency Profile. In fact, I would be surprised if they had not.