Homeschooling Promotes Intolerance? Think Again!

Two people in a heated argument about religion (click for credit)

Two people in a heated argument about religion (click for credit)

One of the many uninformed criticisms of homeschooling is that it promotes intolerance. The Encyclopedia of Distributed Learning, for example, summarizes how the National Education Association sees it:1

Critics, among them the National Education Association, argue that…because they are not exposed to the broad range of socioeconomic and ethnic groups found in conventional classrooms, home schooled children may become bigoted and intolerant.

Until now, I had never seen any studies on the issue, but my personal experiences with homeschoolers don’t give any credence to this idea. In my personal experience, homeschooled children are significantly more tolerant than those who come from public and private school.

Of course, my personal experience is not a good gauge for the homeschooling movement as a whole. I tend to interact with homeschooled students who first reach out to me, through email, Facebook, or homeschooling conventions. Since they are reaching out to me, they are part of a self-selected group of homeschooled students who many not represent the norm. As a result, I read with interest a recent article in the Journal of School Choice: International Research and Reform. In it, the author discusses what studies exist regarding private schooling, homeschooling, and intolerance. He then he reports his own findings on the subject.

Let’s start with the author’s discussion of what previous research has been done on the issue. Most of the research is related to private schools, and the author contends that the literature shows that privately-schooled students are at least as tolerant as publicly-schooled students. That was only marginally interesting to me, because it doesn’t really relate to homeschooling, which is the focus of my work.

He tries to discuss some research related to homeschooled students, but it mostly centers around how involved they are in civic activities. In my opinion, that tells us nothing about the level of intolerance in homeschooling, since intolerance can lead to a high civic involvement. After all, as militant evolutionists have already demonstrated, if you don’t want alternate views to be discussed, one way to get that accomplished is through legislators or the legal system. Thus, I didn’t think that part of the article was very useful.

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Maybe the Sun Doesn’t Affect Radioactive Decay Rates

variable_decay

In previous articles (see here, here, and here), I discussed some very interesting results that were coming from different labs. These results indicated that the half-lives of some radioactive isotopes vary with the seasons. They seemed to imply that the sun was somehow affecting the rate of radioactive decay here on earth. This made the results controversial, because there is nothing in known physics that could cause such an effect.

One criticism of the studies was that weather could be the real issue. Even though labs are climate-controlled, no such control is perfect. Humidity, pressure, and (to a lesser extent) temperature can all vary in a nuclear physics lab, so perhaps the variations seen were the result of how the changing weather was affecting the detectors. However, the authors used several techniques to take changing weather into account, and all those techniques indicated that it couldn’t explain the variations they saw. The authors were (and probably still are) convinced that they were seeing something real. I was as well. In fact, one of my posts was entitled, “There Seems To Be No Question About It: The Sun Affects Some Radioactive Half-Lives.”

Well, it looks like there is some question about it. Two scientists from Germany decided to measure the rate of radioactive decay of the same isotope (Chlorine-36) that was used in some of the previously-mentioned studies. However, they decided to use a different experimental technique. The studies that showed variation in the rate of radioactive decay used a Geiger-Muller detector (often called a “Geiger counter”) to measure the radioactive decay. The two scientists who authored this study used a superior system, based on liquid scintillation detectors. The authors contend (and I agree) that the response of such detectors is much easier to control than the response of Geiger-Muller detectors, so their results are more reliable. They also used a particular technique, called triple-to-double coincidence ratio, that reduces “noise” caused by background radiation. When doing detailed measurements of radioactive decay, this is one of the standard techniques employed.

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The Texas Homeschool Convention

My publisher's booth at the Texas Homeschool Convention.

My publisher’s booth at the Texas Homeschool Convention.

Last weekend, I spoke at the Texas Homeschool Convention. I already wrote about meeting Holocaust survivor Inge Auerbacher and hearing her talk at the convention, but now I want to discuss some other things that happened there.

It was a bit early for a homeschool convention (most of them run from mid March to late June), and it was the first time this convention had ever been held. As a result, I had no idea what to expect. I was incredibly surprised by the large attendance, and like the other Great Homeschool Conventions, this one ran quite smoothly. Overall, I was very pleased. I gave a total of five talks: Creation versus Evolution: Religion versus Science or Religion versus Religion?, The Creatures and Biological Structures Evolutionists Don’t Talk About, What I Learned by Homeschooling, College and Faith: What’s The Real Story?, and Reasonable Faith: The Scientific Case for Christianity. I had lots of good questions after the talks, one of which I will discuss below. However, before I discuss that question, I want to report about a few encounters I had at the convention that were particularly meaningful.

The first happened when I was at my publisher’s booth (pictured above). I typically hang out there between talks so I can answer questions about my courses and talk informally with the convention’s attendees. Early in the convention, a mother came by the booth and told me about her son. In early high school, he planned to go to college and get a degree in law or political science so that he could get involved in politics. However, he took my chemistry course in 10th grade, and soon after that, he changed his mind. He is now a chemistry major at university, and he plans to continue on to get his PhD! He credits my chemistry course for sparking his love of chemistry and helping him do so well at university.

Now, of course, I love stories like this. However, that was just the beginning. Later on, a high school student came to talk with me. He said that he was planning on studying Russian at university, but after taking my chemistry course, he has decided to major in chemistry! I thought it was pretty amazing to hear two such “conversion” stories at one convention, but then I heard yet another. A high school student came to me and told me that she really didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life, but after studying two of my courses, she has decided to major in some scientific field when she goes to university!

This isn’t the first time I have heard “conversion” stories like these, but hearing them at this convention was particularly meaningful, because I had recently finished Bill Nye’s awful book, Undeniable. In that book, he claims that students who are taught creationism will “never feel the joy of discovery that science brings.” In my review of the book, I said that this is demonstrably false, as I know several students who have said that using my creationist science courses caused them to study science at university. Some of them have graduated and are now doing scientific research. However, Nye’s ignorant statement was still fresh in my mind at the convention, and these three different personal encounters at the convention confirmed how incredibly wrong it is.

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Inge Auerbacher at the Texas Homeschool Convention

Inge Auerbacher and me at the Texas Homeschool Convention

Inge Auerbacher and me at the Texas Homeschool Convention

In a recent post, I wrote about the Texas Homeschool Convention. I thought it would be a memorable one, because I was going to be able to meet and listen to an incredible person who I was able to interview late last year – Inge Auerbacher. Well, it was a memorable convention, for more than one reason! I will write about the other reasons in a subsequent post, because meeting and listening to Inge was a truly singular experience.

I ended up arriving late to her talk, because I had to give a talk that overlapped with hers a bit. As a result, I had to attend a follow-up version of the same talk to get her entire story. I was thrilled to see the huge turnout she had. I am glad that the homeschoolers who were in attendance understood and took advantage of the amazing opportunity they had been given. I was even more thrilled to see what happened at the end – a standing ovation. I have been to a lot of homeschool conferences over the years, and I have seen a lot of “rockstars” in the homeschooling community give a lot of talks. I don’t remember ever seeing an audience give a standing ovation at the end. I am so glad they did that for Inge, because she deserved it.

She spoke in a familiar tone, as if she was our mother telling us an important story that we needed to remember. The story, of course, was how she survived the horrors of the Holocaust. To help us visualize what happened to her, she showed both pictures and illustrations. The pictures came from multiple sources, and the illustrations had been made for her by an artist. The mix of real-life photos of Jewish people being taken to prison camps and artistic representations of her personal experiences was very effective. Towards the end, she showed pictures of when she returned to the site of the concentration camp many years later. It was chilling.

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My Review of Exploring Creation with Chemistry, Third Edition

An Erlenmeyer flask is a typical piece of glassware used in chemistry experiments.  (click for credit)

An Erlenmeyer flask is a typical piece of glassware used in chemistry experiments. (click for credit)

In August of last year, I wrote about my initial reactions to the new edition of Exploring Creation with Chemistry. At that time, only three modules (out of 16) were available, and based on them, I thought the new edition would not be an improvement over the other two editions. Now that I have had a chance to review the entire course, I can say without hesitation that this book is a giant step backward compared to the other two editions. I cannot recommend this book to any student. It is just too flawed.

Now please understand that I reviewed the entire book and wrote the first draft of my review almost a month ago. When I got done, however, I became concerned that I was being overly harsh and nitpicky. As a result, I sent my review to two chemistry PhDs to read. One of them is a university professor, and the other is an industrial chemist who has used both the first and second editions of Exploring Creation with Chemistry in homeschool co-op courses that he facilitated. The university professor decided to give the review to two of his students, both of whom used the second edition of Exploring Creation with Chemistry in their high school education. Both of them are excelling in their university-level chemistry courses.

Based on the comments of those four individuals, I changed the review. I removed the things they thought were not real issues, and I changed the overall tone as well. In the PDF document linked below, you will find a three-page general review that outlines the problems I have with the new edition, and then a detailed list of the 77 major problems I found in the book, 11 odd things that didn’t make sense, and the 65 typographical errors that I found:

My Complete Review of Exploring Creation with Chemistry, Third Edition

Homeschoolers: Here’s Your Chance to Experience Living History!

Holocaust survivor Inge  Auerbacher holding the star that she wore in the Terezin concentration camp as a child.

Holocaust survivor Inge Auerbacher holding the star that she wore in the Terezin concentration camp as a child.

NOTE: Diana Waring was a partner in this project. She has posted an excellent blog article about it as well.

I have been speaking at homeschooling conventions since the early 1990s. I always enjoy them, because I love to meet homeschoolers, answer their questions, learn what they are doing, and reconnect with others who are on the “convention circuit.” Every now and then, however, a homeschooling convention stands out as really special – one I will never forget. I suspect that this month’s Great Homeschool convention in Forth Worth, Texas will be one of those special conventions. Why? Because I get to meet a star…a REAL star.

No, I am not talking about a movie star or a sports hero. I am talking about Inge Auerbacher, author of I Am a Star: Child of the Holocaust. I read that book years ago, and recently I had the great privilege of actually interviewing her on the phone, along with Diana Waring. Inge is an amazing person, and she has a lot to teach us all.

She was the last Jewish child born in Kippenheim, Germany. At the age of three, she experienced Kristallnacht. Despite the fact that her father was a disabled World War 1 veteran and a recipient of the Iron Cross, he was sent to the Dachau concentration camp. However, he wrote a letter to the Gestapo about his war hero status, and as a “favor,” they sent him and his family to the Terezin concentration camp together.

In fact, this was a great favor. Terezin was better than concentration camps like Dachau and Auschwitz. For one thing, the families stayed together. When Diana and I spoke with Inge, we asked how she was able to have hope in the midst of a concentration camp. She said that she thought as long as she had her parents, they would take care of her. Because families stayed together, there were many children in Terezin, and they played games, had dreams, and talked about what would happen when they finally got out of the camp. Most of those who got out of the camp did so by dying or by being sent somewhere else to die.

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Dawkins Demonstrated to be Wrong….Again

This is the center panel from a stain-glassed window entitled, 'Education.'  Found in Yale University's Linsly-Chittenden Hall, it shows religion and science working together to educate people.

This is the center panel from a stain-glassed window entitled, ‘Education.’ Found in Yale University’s Linsly-Chittenden Hall, it shows religion and science working together to educate people.
(click for credit)

In 1989, Dr. Richard Dawkins wrote the following in a book review for the New York Times:

It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).

He has since added to that remark, writing:

By far the largest of the four categories is ‘ignorant’

Like much of what Dr. Dawkins writes, however, the actual evidence says something completely different.

Consider, for example, a new study that has been published in the journal American Sociological Review. The authors, Dr. Timothy O’Brien and Dr. Shiri Noy, examined people’s views on religion and science, correlating them with their actual knowledge of science. They found lots of interesting things, but I want to focus on just two of them.

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UndeNYEably Uninformed

This is the cover of Nye's error-filled book.

This is the cover of Nye’s error-filled book.

Bill Nye calls himself “The Science Guy,” but he sometimes acts in ways that can only be described as anti-science. For example, in a video he stated that creationism shouldn’t be taught to children. This, of course, is blatantly anti-science, because scientific progress is built on the competition of ideas. If you say that an idea shouldn’t be considered because you don’t like it, you are working against science, not for it. In addition, he narrated a video about global warming that contained a faked experiment! Faking experiments is definitely not pro-science! Nevertheless, Nye obviously loves science, which leads me to wonder why he sometimes acts against it.

After reading Nye’s book, Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation, I think I understand. He simply doesn’t inform himself on scientific issues. As a result, he really doesn’t understand science and doesn’t understand why some of his actions are so anti-science. Consider, for example, what he writes about kids who are taught creationism:

Not only that, these kids will never feel the joy of discovery that science brings. (p.10)

This, of course, is demonstrably false. Had Nye bothered to inform himself about kids who are taught creationism, he would find that they often do better in science than their peers who were not taught creationism. In addition, he would have learned that many kids who were taught creationism are now studying science at the university level or are already professional scientists. I have several students, for example, who say that the reason they decided to become scientists was because of my creationist textbooks (see here and here, for example)!

Of course, the fact that Nye is utterly uninformed about creationism leads to all sorts of problems with his book, which I have detailed in the PDF document at the end of this review. What really surprised me, however, is that his book shows that he hasn’t really informed himself about the science related to evolution, either. As a result, much of what he says in the book is utterly false.

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Science and History Synchronized…Sort of

This painting by the Italian Renaissance artist Raphael is called The School of Athens.  Plato and Aristotle are at the center.

This painting by the Italian Renaissance artist Raphael is called The School of Athens.
Plato and Aristotle are at the center.

I have been writing an elementary science series that introduces science topics in roughly chronological order. Currently, two of the books are available, and the third is being printed as I type these words. The fourth is finished and is currently being reviewed by two science PhDs and one historian. I have just one more to write.

Now that I am near the end of the series, my publisher came up with a great idea. Since there are some excellent history courses that homeschoolers use at the elementary level, he suggested that I write a guide which synchronizes my elementary courses to them. That way, if a homeschooling family wants to, they can learn science and history side-by-side. I thought, “How hard can that be?” After all, my science is presented chronologically, and many of these history programs are presented chronologically. It should be easy to synchronize them, right?

Wrong! Science progressed slowly at first and then picked up steam as time went on. As a result, my courses speed through ancient history and the middle ages, slow down a bit in the renaissance, slow down even more in the Age of Reason, and will slow down even more after that. Understandably, this isn’t how most history courses are paced.

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Scientists Are Still Trying To Figure Out Gecko Feet

The underside of a gecko's foot as seen through glass (click for credit)

The underside of a gecko’s foot as seen through glass (click for credit)

Geckos are lizards that have an uncanny ability to crawl on virtually anything. They effortlessly climb up glass windows without slipping, and they can even crawl on a smooth surface when they are upside down! What gives them this incredible ability? A popular chemistry textbook explains it this way:1

…the gecko uses van der Waals forces to attach itself to surfaces and employs a special technique to disengage from that surface. Van der Waals forces exist between any two surfaces, but they are extremely weak unless relatively large areas of of the two surfaces come quite close together. The toe of a gecko is covered with fine hairs, each hair having over a thousand split ends. As the gecko walks across a surface, it presses these stalks of hairs against the surface. The intimate contact of a billion or so split ends of hairs with the surface results in a large, attractive force that holds the gecko fast. Just as easily, a gecko’s foot comes cleanly away. As the gecko walks, its foot naturally bends so the hairs at the back edge of its toes disengage, row after row, until the toe is free.

I have used this explanation myself when lecturing about van der Waals forces. It sounds like scientists have the gecko’s climbing ability all figured out, doesn’t it? Not surprisingly, however, the gecko’s climbing ability is even more complex than we imagined. As a result, scientists still haven’t completely figured it all out.

The best way to understand what I mean is to look at a bit of history. Back in 1904, German scientist H.R. Schmidt thought that perhaps the gecko employed electrical charges to stick to surfaces. After all, opposite charges attract one another, so if a gecko could induce its feet to develop one charge and the surface to develop the opposite charge, the resulting attractive force could hold the feet to the surface.

About three decades later, another German scientist, Wolfgang-Didrich Dellit, did a simple experiment to test that hypothesis. He shot X-rays at the air surrounding a gecko’s feet while it was on a smooth metal wall. Those X-rays should have ionized the air around the gecko’s feet and neutralized any charge on the wall’s surface. This would have negated any electrical force between the gecko’s feet and the wall, and the gecko should have fallen off the wall. However, after repeated attempts, he couldn’t get a gecko to even slip.2 As a result, scientists ruled out the possibility that electrical charges had anything to do with a gecko’s climbing ability.

Dellit also tested other possible explanations, including that geckos used suction to hold to surfaces, and each was ruled out. Eventually, electron microscopes were used to analyze gecko feet. Once the toe hairs and their “split ends” were seen, the van der Waals forces explanation given by the chemistry text I quoted above was suggested. In the year 2000, a study in Nature confirmed the explanation. It directly measured the force of a single hair from a gecko’s foot, confirming that van der Waals forces were at play.3 As a result, van der Waals forces have been considered the complete explanation for a gecko’s remarkable climbing ability…until now.

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