The 2015 California Homeschool Conference: Wisdom from Jacob and Kristine Barnett

This is from the cover of a book written by Kristine Barnett.  It tells how she raised her autistic son, Jacob, to be an amazing young man.
This is from the cover of a book written by Kristine Barnett. It tells how she raised her autistic son, Jacob, to be an amazing young man.

I spent this past weekend in Ontario, California, speaking at the California Homeschool Convention, which is part of the Great Homeschool Conventions series. There are a lot of wonderful things I could say about the Great Homeschool Conventions, but the thing I most appreciate is the eclectic mix of speakers they invite. You see all the “standard” speakers from the homeschooling circuit, such as Jim Weiss, Andrew Pudewa, and Heidi St. John, but you also see speakers that aren’t typically a part of a homeschool convention. This year, for example, they had Holocaust survivor Inge Auerbacher as a speaker. I interviewed her before the first convention, and I later reported on her talk at the convention, which was nothing short of incredible.

The other interesting speakers they had this year were mother/son team Kristine and Jacob Barnett. I didn’t get a chance to hear them at the other conventions, but since this was my last opportunity, I made a point to go to their talk. I am so glad I did! If you have not heard about them, Jacob was diagnosed with autism when he was two years old. His mother (Kristine) initially followed all the experts’ advice, which ended up meaning hours of therapy for Jacob every day. Eventually, however, she decided that all this therapy was robbing Jacob of his childhood. As a result, she stopped all the therapy and simply played with him. She blew dandelion puffs in his face, listened to music with him, and helped him search for patterns in the clouds.

She found that this was helping him much more than therapy, so she started encouraging other mothers of autistic children to do the same. In fact, she was so sure that this kind of nurturing was the best “therapy” autistic children could get, she began working with other autistic children. Her goal was simple: just enable them to do what they really wanted to do. She would get them what they needed, and she would simply help them do whatever it was that interested them. For some, this meant making robots. For others, it meant creating amazing paintings. For another, it meant chasing storms and trying to analyze them. In her own words:

I was not teaching them. I was letting them.

I don’t know much of anything about child development, especially when it comes to children with special needs. Thus, I have no idea how effective her strategy would be for most autistic children. However, she says that it was very effective for those that she helped. I can tell you for certain that it was effective for her son, Jacob, because his talk was one of the best I have heard in a long time.

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The 2015 Homeschool Iowa Conference

A portion of the crowd at the 2015 Homeschool Iowa Conference.
A portion of the crowd at the 2015 Homeschool Iowa Conference.

I spent this past weekend speaking at the Homeschool Iowa Conference. I had never been to this particular homeschool conference before, and I am so glad I got to go this year. The attendance was excellent, the conference ran smoothly, and the organizers treated the speakers incredibly well. My publisher’s booth was right across from Heidi St. John’s booth, and for the first time in quite a while, I got to spend some time talking with her and her husband, who has the world’s best first name (Jay). They are both wonderful servants of God, and spending time with them is a real blessing.

I gave six talks at the conference: Homeschooling: The Solution to our Education Problem, ‘Teaching’ Science at Home, Building a Biblical Worldview, Ecohysteria, Creation Versus Evolution, and What I Learned by Homeschooling. They were very well attended, and I got some excellent questions afterwards. I also spent a lot of time taking with individuals, including several very impressive homeschooled students.

One particularly impressive student was a junior in high school. After one of my talks, she asked me to sign a couple of her books. I noticed that one of them was my advanced chemistry course, which is essentially AP-level chemistry. I told her that I was impressed she was taking advanced chemistry, and she told me that she had already taken my biology, chemistry, and physics courses as well as a Human Anatomy and Physiology course. Once she finished advanced chemistry, she planned to take advanced physics. This means that by the time she graduates, she will have covered the equivalent of three AP-level science courses in high school! I told her how impressive that is, since many high school students don’t even take one AP-level science course. She was quite humble, however, brushing aside my praise and simply telling me that she really enjoys studying science.

Another student and his family spoke to me about their experience with the third edition of Exploring Creation with Chemistry. As you might know, I don’t recommend that edition to anyone because of its many scientific errors and its habit of requiring students to know things they have not yet been taught. The student told me that he had started with the third edition of the the course, not knowing that I wasn’t the author. As he tried to cover the material, he got more and more confused. Eventually, he realized that my name wasn’t on the book, so he got online and found a used second edition of the course (which was authored by me). When he used that edition, he understood and enjoyed the material. I told him I was very sorry that he had to do that and, unfortunately, there are probably many students who have found themselves in a similar position.

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What is the Relationship between Christianity and Science? Ask These Two Scientists.

Nobel laureate Dr. Arthur Leonard Schawlow (left) and likely future Nobel laureate Dr. Henry F. Schaefer, III (right).
Nobel laureate Dr. Arthur Leonard Schawlow (left) and likely future Nobel laureate Dr. Henry F. Schaefer, III (right).

Once again, there has been a long pause in blog entries because I am working hard to finish my new high school chemistry course so it will be ready for those who want to use it during the upcoming academic year. I just finished the rough draft of the course, and my reviewers are running ahead of schedule. Thus, it looks like the course will be ready on time. I truly hope it meets the needs of homeschoolers who want a college-preparatory, scientifically-sound, and homeschool-friendly general chemistry course.

Even if you aren’t in need of a high school chemistry course, you might be interested in the way that I start and end my text, because it involves the views of two people who know more about science than I ever will know. I start with Dr. Arthur Leonard Schawlow, who shared the 1981 Nobel Prize in Physics with Nicolaas Bloembergen and Kai Siegbahn for his work on laser spectroscopy. In addition to that high honor, Dr. Schawlow was awarded the National Medal of Science, the Stuart Ballantine Medal, the Young Medal and Prize, and the Frederic Ives Medal. As a fitting tribute to him, the American Physical Society established the Arthur L. Schawlow Prize in Laser Science.

As part of a project developed by Dr. Henry Margenuau and Roy Abraham Varghese, Dr. Schawlow was asked, “What do you think should be the relationship between religion and science?” Here is his part of his reply:1

But the context of religion is a great background for doing science. In the words of Psalm 19, “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth his handiwork.” Thus scientific research is a worshipful act, in that it reveals more of the wonders of God’s creation.

I strongly agree with Dr. Schawlow. Using science to study God’s creation is what led me to believe in Him, and every time I learn something new about His creation, I am filled with awe and wonder.

I use Dr. Schawlow’s quote in the introduction to my chemistry book to let students know that science is more than just an academic exercise. It is a way to come to a deeper appreciation of God’s majesty and power.

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