The pandemic delayed it, but Science in the Atomic Age has finally been finished and is available for purchase! The course is targeted at 7th/8th grade, depending on the student’s math level and experience with science. In general, students who are two years from starting algebra and have covered at least a couple of years’ worth of elementary science should take this course. Most publicly-schooled students would take a course like this in 8th grade, but homeschooled students at this age are generally a grade level ahead of their publicly-schooled counterparts. While it can be viewed as a continuation of my Science Through History series, students who have covered elementary science in some other way can use it as well.
The course is arranged so that students get a general introduction to science. It does this by exploring science through the levels of organization found in creation. First, it covers the atom. Students learn not only how scientists currently view the atom, but also how scientists arrived at that view. Throughout the discussion, I emphasize the way scientists dealt with the unknown. When Bohr proposed his model, which was based on quantum theory, he freely admitted that it was crazy, but he thought it had some merit because it could explain experimental results that no other model could explain. I share one of his iconic quotes with the students:1
Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it.
I try to emphasize that Bohr couldn’t explain how his model was consistent with the science that was known at the time. However, he was forced to think it had merit because it was so successful at explaining and predicting the results of experiments.
I watched the discussion live, and I appreciated the fact that all the panelists were collegial. While they all had different ideas regarding homeschooling, there were no personal attacks or insults. That can’t be said about the text comments that were being added by some of the people who were watching. According to the software, 1,100 people were watching once the introductions were over, and 2,009 were watching by the very end, which was just over an hour and a half later.
The main issue that all the panelists addressed was how much government intervention should exist when it comes to home education. Here are the ways I would summarize each panelist’s position as expressed in the discussion: Professor Bartholet thinks that parents must demonstrate that they will be effective educators and provide a safe environment before they should be allowed to homeschool. Kerry McDonald said that there really shouldn’t be any government intervention, since the government has shown that it cannot educate children well or keep them safe. Neal McCluskey said that there should be limited intervention, confined to making sure children are not being abused or neglected. However, he emphasized that this should be done through the existing criminal processes, which assume innocence until guilt is proven. Professor Gaither didn’t really offer an opinion, but said that he has been horrified by some of the news accounts of abuse done by homeschooling parents. He also gave a history of homeschooling that was a bit biased, but relatively accurate.
The main reason is simple: there is way too much material in the book. Like a traditional classroom text, this book aims a firehose of facts at the students and turns it on at full pressure! There are infographics packed with facts throughout the text, modules in excess of 40 pages of content, and a single experiment that combines three experiments from the second edition of the course. Simply put, this book is too much for a typical high school student. As a result, the student needs a teacher to separate the essential material from the non-essential material. In addition, because the book packs in so much information, it cannot spend adequate space explaining things. Thus, a teacher must be there to explain the things that the book does not.
Unlike the same author’s physical science book, however, this one is not full of scientific errors. There are only three serious errors, the worst of which is this statement:
When I took high school biology in 1977, the Time magazine headline read ‘How to Survive the Coming Ice Age’ because scientists believed we were in the midst of a global cooling event.
Time never ran a magazine with that title anywhere in it. The author probably saw the Photoshopped image of Time’s April 9, 2007 cover in which the date was changed and the actual headline, “Global Warming Survival Guide,” was replaced with the false headline she mentions. While it is true that there were several scientists who feared we were heading into a global cooling event in the mid-70s, the scientific discussion was not covered much in the popular media. It was mostly confined to the scientific literature.
There are some minor errors in the book as well, such as saying that Linnaeus separated organisms into seven taxons. In fact, he used only five. The other two were added later. However, those errors are not bad and will not affect the student’s future education in any serious way.
There are some parts that will really confuse students. Not only are some topics inadequately explained, many of the figures are so small that you can’t see what you need to see. For example, in one experiment the student is supposed to use a biological key for several pictured organisms, including grape and corn plants. However, in order to use the key, they need to see the veins on the leaves, and the pictures are too small for that. The author also uses terms that I cannot find an explanation for (like epigenetics). In addition, there are times where something is presented but not explained until later. For example, one figure has the equation ATP makes ADP + P without explaining what ADP and P are until several pages later. The index is also sparse and is missing crucial formatting in certain places.
There are many things I didn’t like about the text, including the fact that like the author’s physical science course, the student text is softcover. However, those things don’t necessarily make it a bad text. They just make it a text that I don’t like. The complete review is below, including the three serious science errors I found, the 10 minor science/history errors I found, the 16 parts that I think will be confusing to students, the three things I liked, and the 15 things I didn’t like.
In my view, there are many, many problems with this book, but let me start with the most obvious: The student text is softcover. In my mind, this is a big step backwards. Most homeschooling families want the student text to be hardcover, because they want several children to use it over a period of many years. Softcover books do not hold up well in that kind of scenario. Of course, other companies offer their student texts in softcover, such as this one. However, the price is much lower. For Exploring Creation with Physical Science, 3rd Edition, the softcover student text sells for the same price as a hardcover student text. That simply makes no sense.
Of course, the real problem with the course isn’t the makeup of the book; it’s the content. For example, the book contradicts itself when it comes to temperature. Initially, it says that temperature is a measure of heat. That’s not true. Later on, it says that temperature is a measure of the energy of random motion in the molecules of a substance. That is correct. However, the book also says that different colors of light have different temperatures. That’s impossible, of course, since light is not composed of molecules.
This kind of self-contradiction is not limited to light. When discussing motion, the author spends quite a bit of time distinguishing between scalar quantities (which have no information regarding direction) and vector quantities (which include information about direction). She then properly identifies speed as a scalar quantity (it says how fast you are moving), while velocity is a vector quantity (it says how fast and in what direction you are moving). She then properly identifies acceleration as a vector quantity. However, she goes on to show graphs of speed versus time and states that the slope of a speed versus time graph is the acceleration. That’s contradictory. If acceleration is a vector quantity, it cannot be calculated from a graph that has only scalar quantities in it!
The author also tries to give historical context for some of the subjects that are being discussed. Unfortunately, much of the history is often seriously in error. The author claims that the works of Aristotle were lost as the Western world started using Latin instead of Greek, and they weren’t “rediscovered” until the Renaissance. Nothing could be further from the truth! John Philoponus (490-570) specifically discussed Aristotle’s work and argued against some of his ideas, as did Thomas Bradwardine (c. 1300-1349) and many others. Most importantly, Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) took great pains to integrate Aristotle’s work into Christian theology, spawning an entire scholastic philosophy called “Aristotelian Thomism.” All of that happened when the author thinks the works of Aristotle were “lost.”
In addition, this book is supposed to be for homeschooled students, but there are so many confusing discussions that I don’t see how someone learning independently could be successful. For example, the author uses units that do not cancel in equations as early as page 56 and expects the students to be able to do so. She has explained how to cancel units, but not what to do when they don’t cancel. She doesn’t explain that until page 195. As another example, she has students determine the chemical formulas for ionic compounds, which requires looking at the periodic table and determining the charge that an ion will have in that compound. She tells the student how to determine the charge of positive ions, but she doesn’t tell them how to determine the charge of negative ions. Nevertheless, the student must be able to do that to solve the problems that she expects them to solve.
If you want to read the full review, you can do so below. It catalogs the 13 serious scientific and historical errors I found as well as 20 less serious errors. None of these errors are typos or misspellings. They are all conceptual errors or factual errors. The full review also includes the 14 confusing discussions I noticed, 12 things I didn’t like but aren’t errors, and three things I just didn’t understand. It also discusses how much of this book overlaps with the book the publisher says the students should use the year before, Exploring Creation With General Science, 3rd Edition.
In response to a Harvard Law Professor’s evidence-free assertion that there should be a presumptive ban on homeschooling, Ideological Diversity (a student group at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government) hosted an online conference entitled “The Disinformation Campaign Against Homeschooling.” You can watch it here. I attended the conference, and it lived up to the student organization’s name. There were seven speakers, and they all come from very different ideological perspectives. There was one Evangelical Christian, for example, while two of the other speakers specifically noted that they are not religious in any way. Some were conservative, while others were liberal. One speaker even noted that while he agreed with the other speakers when it comes to homeschooling, he strongly disagreed with them on many other matters.
All of the speakers were decidedly anti-school, but for different reasons. One suggested that the school system we have today is institutionalized child abuse. Another suggested it is the result of government overreach. Another suggested that it had never been shown to produce desirable results. Another highlighted that when it comes to the most basic outcomes, its results are horrible. Since I have been involved with the homeschooling movement since the early 1990s (because my best university students were homeschool graduates), I had heard all of those things before. Someone hearing them for the first time, however, might be shocked by the degree to which some of the speakers denounced what most people consider a normal part of a person’s childhood.
While most of the speakers covered material with which I was already familiar, one of them (Dr. Peter Gray, research professor at Boston College) focused on something I had never heard before: The suicide rate for children is twice as high when school is in session than when it is not in session. This is particularly striking, since Dr. Gray says that for people out of school, there is no difference between the rate of suicide in the winter and the rate of suicide in the summer. He noted that lots of people talk about suicide among students, and they discuss all sorts of different causes, but school is hardly ever mentioned.
Since I had never heard this before, I decided to look into it, and several studies confirm Dr. Gray’s statement. One of the more disturbing studies I found was published three years ago. It looked at hospitalization in children’s hospitals for thoughts of suicide (SI – suicide ideation) or suicide attempts (SA). It covered 2008-2015, and the results are very clear. Consider, for example, Figure 2 from the study:
Notice that even among 5-11 year-olds, thoughts of suicide and suicide attempts peak when school is in session and drop when school is out of session. It seems to me that anyone who is concerned about the welfare of children should be very worried about this clear correlation. However, most people (including myself as of three days ago) seem to be totally unaware of it.
Now remember, correlation does not mean causation. School might not be the cause of the increase in child suicides, suicide attempts, and thoughts of suicide. It might be something else that just happens to be correlated with the academic year. However, unless someone is actually willing to look specifically at the question of whether or not school is to blame, we will never know.
I am putting the finishing touches on my 7th/8th grade book Science in the Atomic Age (which should be available for purchase in June), and I wanted to post another excerpt from the book. The excerpt I posted previously comes from a section about the brain. This one comes from an earlier chapter, where I discuss plants.
By the time the students reach this point in the course, they know that producers are organisms which make their own food (usually through photosynthesis), and consumers must eat other organisms for food. They also know how to interpret chemical equations and the specific chemical equation for photosynthesis. In addition, I have just shown them the chemical equation for the process by which consumers burn their food for energy and have pointed out that it is the opposite of the chemical equation for photosynthesis. Here is the discussion that follows:
In other words, producers like plants use water and carbon dioxide to make glucose and oxygen, and consumers then use that glucose and oxygen to make carbon dioxide and water. So producers are feeding us, and we take what the producers make and then produce the chemicals they need to make what we need! In this sense, at least, consumers are the opposites of producers.
This is a real testimony to God’s power and ingenuity. He not only created the producers to feed the consumers, He also designed the consumers so that when they use what the producers made, they give the producers what is needed so that the producers can make more food. Now, of course, the sun plays its role, too. It provides the energy the producers need in order to do photosynthesis in the first place.
This is all summed up in the illustration above. The sun shines light on the earth. Producers absorb that light in the chloroplasts of their cells and use it, along with carbon dioxide and water, to make glucose and oxygen. Consumers then take that glucose and oxygen and use them to make energy for themselves. This ends up making carbon dioxide and water, which can be used by the chloroplasts in the producers (along with more energy from the sun) to make more glucose and oxygen. As a result, the only constant input needed is energy from the sun. Everything else just keeps getting recycled between producers and consumers!
This Balance Is Even More Amazing
The balance between producers and consumers, as illustrated in the drawing above, is amazing. However, we need to be aware that it is often oversimplified. I have heard many educators say, “Plants make food and oxygen, while animals use food and oxygen.” That is true, but it is oversimplified. Plants do make food and oxygen. It happens when they are doing photosynthesis. However, they also use food and oxygen.
Does that statement surprise you? It might, but if you think about it, the statement makes a lot of sense. After all, why are plants doing photosynthesis? Because they need to make food for themselves, right? Well, what does the plant do with that food? It burns that food for energy, according to the equation I showed you earlier. What does that equation say? It says oxygen and C6H12O6 are reactants. That means they are used up. So plants not only use carbon dioxide and water to make glucose and oxygen, but when it is time for them to burn their food, they must use glucose and oxygen to make carbon dioxide and water.
Now wait a minute. If plants end up using the glucose and oxygen they make through photosynthesis, how are we able to use it? Because of this important fact: Plants make a lot more food and oxygen than they ever need. If plants only made the food that they need, they would end up using it and all the oxygen they made, and there would be nothing for consumers to eat or breathe. However, plants have been designed to make much more food than they will ever need. That means they also make more oxygen than they will ever use. That way, there is food and oxygen for consumers.
This is a very, very important design feature that many people don’t appreciate. In order for us (and most consumers) to survive, it’s not enough that producers like plants exist. They must not only exist, but they must do a lot more work than just keeping themselves alive. They must overproduce food and oxygen so that there is plenty for the consumers. Thus, the proper way to describe the balance between plants and animals is, “Plants make food and oxygen, but they also use it. However, they make more food and oxygen than they need, so that animals can use the rest.”
…calls for a radical transformation in the homeschooling regime and a related rethinking of child rights. It recommends a presumptive ban on homeschooling, with the burden on parents to demonstrate justification for permission to homeschool.
Once I read the article and the abstract from Dr. Bartholet’s paper, I started planning the rebuttal piece that I was going to write. After all, my first exposure to homeschooling was having homeschool graduates in my Ball State University chemistry and physics courses. They impressed me so much that I started researching home education and eventually started working with homeschoolers. Today, I am a strong advocate of homeschooling specifically because I have come to the conclusion that it is the best model of education available to parents in the United States.
I excelled at Harvard because I was homeschooled, and of that I am proud. It is deeply disappointing that Harvard is choosing and promoting an intellectual totalitarian path that calls for a ban of the liberties that helped me and countless others succeed, for it is those liberties and ideals that have made America the great nation it is today.
In my elementary science book, Science in the Beginning, I explain to students that many things in science are counter-intuitive. To make this point clear, I have them do an experiment with unexpected results. In one lesson, students learn that salt melts ice. In the next lesson, they are presented with this question:
In which situation will an ice cube melt more quickly:
Floating in hot freshwater or floating in hot saltwater?
I then have them do the experiment. They put hot freshwater into two glasses. They then add salt to the water in one of the glasses. Afterwards, they put ice cubes of roughly the same size in each. Unlike most people expect, the ice cube in freshwater melts more quickly. Here is how I explain the results (keep in mind they have already seen that freshwater floats on saltwater):
So, why did the experiment produce counter-intuitive results? Because of another fact that you know but probably didn’t think was important enough to consider: freshwater floats on saltwater. Why did the ice cubes melt so quickly? Because you put them in hot water. The water was so hot that the ice cubes had to melt. But when the ice cubes melted, where did the water that was formed by the melting actually go?
Let’s start with the freshwater. Remember that cold freshwater is just a bit heavier than an equal volume of warm freshwater. What does that tell you? It tells you that cold freshwater sinks in warm freshwater. Well, as the ice cube melted, the water that was formed by the melting process was still pretty cold. Thus, it sank in the hot water, getting out of the way. This allowed the warm freshwater around the ice cube to stay very warm, which kept melting the ice cube.
What happened in the saltwater was a completely different story, however. Remember that freshwater floats on saltwater. This effect is so strong that cold freshwater floats in hot saltwater. So,in the end, when the ice cube started to melt, the cold freshwater that was formed from the melting ice cube floated on the top of the saltwater, along with the ice. It didn’t sink like it did in the cup that had freshwater in it. For the ice cube to continue to melt, then, the hot saltwater had to heat up the newly formed freshwater that floated on the surface. That took time, and as a result, the ice cube melted a bit more slowly.
So, the counter-intuitive results were caused by the fact that freshwater floats on saltwater, but cold freshwater sinks in hot freshwater. That probably wasn’t something you thought about when I initially asked you the question, but you probably understand why it is important now that I have explained it to you. It turns out that a lot of science is like this because God created an incredibly complicated world for us. Often, we don’t think about all the different things that are important when we try to analyze a situation. As a result, many experiments end up showing us counter-intuitive results. Regardless of how counter-intuitive, however, as a scientist, you must follow what the experiments show. After all, we can’t always take into account all the complexities of creation, so when we do an experiment and find counter-intuitive results, unless we find something wrong with the way we did the experiment, the results are more important than what we think the results should be!
A homeschooling mother, Leah, recently shared a variation that she and her son, Parker, made to this experiment, and it is pictured above. They made ice cubes out of water that had blue food coloring in it. The first picture on the left is of the ice cube in freshwater. You can clearly see the cold water from the melted ice cube sinking in the warm freshwater. The middle picture shows you both ice cubes, and it is really clear that the water coming from the melting ice cube is floating on the saltwater, while it is mixing well with the freshwater. The last picture shows you what is left after both ice cubes melt. Once again, you can see that the water from the ice cube has mostly stayed floating on the saltwater.
The impressive thing about this variation is that Leah came up with the idea on her own. When she suggested it to Parker, he immediately understood what it would show. I would have never thought to do this kind of variation, but it really illustrates the process well. I will probably add a note about doing this in the next printing of the course so that others can benefit from it.
A reader sent me an article from the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). It is about a summit being held by Harvard Law School. Scheduled to happen in June of this year, the summit is supposed to address problems that exist within the homeschooling community. As the HSLDA article indicates, the lineup of speakers is a “Who’s Who” of anti-homeschooling advocates and advocates of strict governmental regulation over home education. HSLDA is rightly worried about this conference, especially since there don’t seem to be any homeschooling advocates among the speakers.
The HSLDA article provides a link to the summit’s website, and I was struck by the title: “Homeschooling Summit: Problems, Politics, and Prospects for Reform.” When I read that title, I couldn’t help but think of Jesus’ words, recorded in Matthew 7:1-5:
“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
The organizers of this summit are behaving exactly the way Jesus describes. They are worried about the problems associated with homeschooling, when those problems are incredibly rampant in the public schooling system. What are these problems? The website says:
The focus will be on problems of educational deprivation and child maltreatment that too often occur under the guise of homeschooling, in a legal environment of minimal or no oversight.
The irony should be obvious. Educational deprivation and child maltreatment are RAMPANT in the government-regulated public schools, but the organizers of this summit think that government regulation is needed to keep it from happening in home schools!
If you don’t understand the severity of these problems in government-regulated public schools, you haven’t looked at the data. Students in our public schools routinely experience educational deprivation. It is estimated that about one-fifth of high school graduates are functionally illiterate. Testing indicates that seniors in public school perform well under the international average in mathematics. Performance on the ACT indicates that more than 25% of high school graduates who plan to go to college are not prepared for it. The list could go on and on.
Now please understand the point I am trying to make here. I am not saying that we shouldn’t try to address the issue of educational deprivation and child maltreatment in home schooling. What I am saying is that government regulation isn’t very effective at getting the job done. After all, government regulation is much, much easier in public schools, where the students are regularly in the presence of government employees. Even in such an environment, however, educational deprivation and child maltreatment are rampant.
In the end, if these speakers and the organizers of this summit are really interested in the welfare of homeschooled students, they should work with homeschooling organizations, not against them. Homeschooling organizations know the homeschooling population better than government organizations. As a result, they would be more effective at helping to correct educational deprivation and child maltreatment among homeschoolers, which I suspect is significantly less common than it is in the public schools.
Unfortunately, based on the list of invited speakers at this summit, my guess is that the participants will advocate working against homeschoolers, which will ultimately produce more educational deprivation and child maltreatment, not less.
I have been working on my new book, Science in the Atomic Age, which (Lord willing) will be published this summer. In the section where I cover the nervous system, I compare a mouse brain and a human brain to computers. It’s rather fascinating. Below, you will find a slightly-edited excerpt from that discussion. Please note that the students have already learned that neurons are cells found in nervous tissue and that the integumentary system is the system of organs that makes your skin:
The brain has three major divisions: the cerebrum (suh ree’ brum), the cerebellum (sehr’ uh bell’ uhm), and the brain stem. The cerebrum is in charge of most of the really complicated things that the brain does. For example, it receives signals from your eyes and interprets them so that you can see. It receives signals from your ears and interprets them so you can hear. It receives signals from all the nervous tissue in your integumentary system so that you can figure out what you are touching as well as things like whether you are too warm, too cold, or comfortable. It also helps you learn, and it stores your memories. All this takes a lot of work, so it requires a lot of neurons.
How many neurons? The average adult cerebrum contains about 20 billion neurons. That number doesn’t mean very much by itself, so by comparison, the average adult mouse cerebrum contains about 2.5 million neurons. So the human cerebrum contains about 10,000 times as many neurons as a mouse’s cerebrum. Of course, a mouse is much smaller than a person. By weight, a person is about 3,000 times as heavy as a mouse. At least part of the difference between a mouse’s cerebrum and a person’s cerebrum is due to that. But people are much more intelligent than mice, and the number of neurons in the cerebrum must also be related to that.