Last Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, I spoke at the 2012 Southeast Homeschool Convention in Greenville, South Carolina. It was the first of the Great Homeschool Conventions, and I enjoyed myself immensely. I got to “catch up” with several of my colleagues who also work with home-educating families, but most importantly, I got to speak with homeschooling students and parents. The very first time I spoke at a homeschooling convention, I noticed a distinct difference between homeschooled students and their publicly- and privately-schooled peers. While most publicly- and privately-schooled students actively avoid interaction with adults (especially adults who are teachers), most homeschooled students actively seek out such interaction.
I will never forget an experience at that first homeschooling convention. I was sitting in my booth, and a teen came up to me and said, “You’re a scientist, right?” I told him, “Yes. I am a nuclear chemist.” His eyes brightened up, and he said, “Great! I need to ask you something.” He then sat down and asked me a very detailed question about the nature of light. While he had some misconceptions about the subject (don’t we all?), I was pretty impressed with his knowledge. More importantly, however, I was impressed with how he sought me out and was perfectly comfortable discussing science with me for what ended up being well over half an hour. In addition, he was very careful to avoid monopolizing my time. If someone else came to my booth, he would indicate to me that I should pay attention to this new person, and he would wait until I was free again.
Since then, I have come to expect such interactions at homeschooling conventions. This one was no exception. I ended up having a long talk with a teen who really wanted to understand how gravity can affect the passage of time. He had read about the strong evidence indicating that time passes more slowly in the presence of strong gravitational fields and more quickly in the presence of weak gravitational fields, but he wanted to understand why it actually happens. Of course, without the appropriate mathematics, it is rather hard to understand, but I explained it to him as best I could. He seemed to get it in the end, and he was very appreciative of my time.
I talked with homeschooling parents as well. One set of parents came by my booth and told me that their daughter was pursuing a PhD in biology. They said she credits my books with sparking her interest in science and preparing her to excel at university. Obviously, that made my day! I asked them what her PhD thesis would be about, and as near as I can tell, she is working on the phenomenon of horizontal gene transfer between organisms from different biological kingdoms. It sounds like fascinating work, and if my experience with homeschool graduates is any indication, she will probably be incredibly successful at it.
I gave a total of six talks at the convention, but the one that seemed to generate the most interest was the first one, “Building a Biblical Worldview.” In that talk, I try to stress that a Biblical worldview is not about having a set of “approved” beliefs. Instead, it is about studying the Bible diligently so that you can know it well enough to apply it in all areas of your life. To illustrate the importance of this fact, I opened the talk by discussing four different men of God: C. S. Lewis, Alvin Plantinga, Henry Morris, and J.P. Moreland.
Each of these four men either have done or are doing remarkable things for God, yet they have quite different views on a variety of topics that many Christians consider important. Two of them are theistic evolutionists, one is a young-earth creationist, and one is an old-earth creationist. Two are Calvinists, while the other two are Arminianists. One of them believes the Bible is not inerrant, the other three believe that it is. All four of them belong to different denominations, ranging from very traditional to essentially charismatic. To me, however, it is clear that all four of them have (or had) a Biblical worldview. In the end, then, a Biblical worldview is not dependent on having a specific set of beliefs. Instead, it is dependent on using the Bible as a lens through which you see the world. The very act of doing that might cause you to believe differently from another Christian on a variety of issues, and that’s not only okay, it is expected.
I had several people come up to me after the talk and express their appreciation for my approach. They agreed that in many churches and homeschools, there is too much emphasis on making sure that children believe the “right” things and not enough emphasis on teaching them how to use Scripture to think critically about the important issues that Christians must face. The former does not produce children who own their beliefs. The latter does. I am glad that many who attended this homeschool convention are committed to the latter!
Upon coming home, I noticed an excellent article about homeschooling conventions written by Samuel Blumenfeld. In it, he notes that homeschooling conventions are growing, which is no surprise to anyone who speaks at them or attends them. He also likens them to another American revolution, saying:
…this is a second American Revolution, not being fought on the battlefield but in homes, on the Internet, and in conventions. It is the most important cultural and spiritual phenomenon in America today. It defends the principles of freedom enunciated by the Founding Fathers and is educating Americans on the practice of freedom by celebrating family life and the right of parents to pass on to their children — the future generation — the knowledge, wisdom, and values that made America the greatest, richest, and freest nation on earth.
I couldn’t agree more.