Homeschoolers: Hear From The Only Person Alive Today Who Lived With C.S. Lewis

Douglas Gresham, the stepson of C.S. Lewis, will speak at two of the Great Homeschool Conventions this year.

It is 4 o’clock in the morning, and I just got off the phone with Douglas Gresham, the stepson of C.S Lewis. Dr. Lewis adopted both Douglas and his older brother, David, when he married their mother, Joy. When Joy lost her battle with cancer, Lewis continued to raise them. As someone who has read every one of Dr. Lewis’s works, I was thrilled to have the chance to speak with his stepson. However, I had to call him at 3:00 AM my time, because he lives in Malta and was only free in the morning. I originally thought I would go back to sleep and write about the interview later, but I simply cannot. My conversation with him was so spiritually and intellectually stimulating that I am simply too excited to go back to sleep.

Why did I call Mr. Gresham? He is one of the featured speakers at the Great Homeschool Conventions in Texas and Ohio, and I was asked to interview him regarding what he plans to share with the attendees. Seems a simple enough task, right? Not when you are talking to someone like Douglas Gresham. For example, I asked him what he plans to speak about, and here is what he said:

I never prepare my lectures. I just pray lots and ask the Holy Spirit to guide me…I am not 100% sure what I am going to talk about, but I am sure it will be what the Lord wants me say.

That’s the kind of man Mr. Gresham seems to be: A man who takes the guidance of the Holy Spirit very seriously.

For example, he told me about how he felt the Lord calling him to stop farming (something he had been doing off and on in his adult life) and start a Christian psychotherapy and hospitality ministry. Essentially, he and his wife, Merrie, purchased an estate and converted it into a place where people who needed help could stay. They accepted anyone who had nowhere else to go, and they didn’t charge them anything. While he was being trained by Dr. Philip Ney to start the ministry, he met a young woman who was pregnant and very worried about raising a baby. While they were talking, she admired a ring that he was wearing. Without even thinking, he took the ring off his finger, gave it to her, and told her that it was for her daughter. He did not know the gender of the child, but he simply felt the Holy Spirit telling him to do that. Well, the woman did have a daughter. She is now a wonderful young woman who wears that ring every day.

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A New Category

Me and a homeschool graduate who studied chemistry at university.

I really enjoyed preparing for and writing my previous post about homeschool graduate Dr. Nathan T. Brewer. If the statistics are correct, it was one of my most-read posts this year. As a result, I decided I would try to do some more writing about homeschool graduates and what they are doing these days. I have already scheduled an interview with a student who is currently in one of my university courses, and I am collecting contact information for other homeschool graduates. I hope to find out what they are doing, whether or not their faith plays a role in what they are doing, and what their honest opinions are about how homeschool prepared them for life beyond high school. While my natural inclination is to interview homeschool graduates who went on to some form of higher education, I hope to interview many homeschool graduates who participate in a wide range of careers.

While thinking about this new project, I realized that I have already written about homeschool graduates several times, so I decided to add a new category:

Homeschool Graduates

While the articles mostly focus on studies that have been performed on homeschool graduates, there are also some articles about individuals. Enjoy!

Dr. Nathan T. Brewer: Homeschool Graduate and Nuclear Physicist

Dr. Nathan T. Brewer
When I was on the faculty at Ball State University (in the early 1990s), I started encountering a unique group of students: homeschool graduates. I knew nothing about homeschooling, but I was impressed by what I saw. Not only were homeschool graduates excellent university students, but they were also at university for more than just the chance to get a degree and get a good job. They were there because they recognized that God had given them specific gifts, and to honor Him, they needed to develop those gifts and use them to make the world better for other people. My experience with them inspired me to start working with homeschooling parents, and eventually, I began writing homeschooling curriculum.

Since that time, I have been constantly impressed with the homeschooled students and homeschool graduates I have encountered. They are still my best university students, and I expect that they will do great things. Yesterday, I had a chance to chat with one who is, indeed, doing great things: Dr. Nathan T. Brewer. He is currently doing postdoctoral research for the University of Tennessee and is employed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory. He is part of a team that is trying to understand the structure of the atomic nucleus by synthesizing new elements.

His proud mother informed me about his work via Facebook, so I contacted him, and he sent me a copy of the paper that he thinks contains his most important scientific work so far. In that paper, he describes experiments that he and an international team of scientists performed to show an alternate method of producing the heaviest-known element, which is named Oganesson in honor of Russian nuclear physicist Yuri Tsolakovich Oganessian. He thinks that this method shows the most promise for synthesizing even heavier elements, and it also helps us further understand how these exotic nuclear reactions happen. While all of this might sound unfamiliar to you, it is very important work in the field of nuclear physics, and I am impressed that someone so young has been a successful part of it.

While I am fascinated by the science he is doing, I thought my readers would be interested in the fact that he was homeschooled from grades 6 through grades 12, so he graciously agreed to take time out of his busy day to speak with me about topics that are of interest to homeschooling parents.

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Why I Am Glad That I Homeschooled

My favorite picture of me and my little girl. It was taken in Capetown, South Africa in 2004, when we were on a homeschooling speaking tour.

My little girl turns 40 this month. I am not sure how to take that. In my mind, she is still that 16-year-old girl who loved Dan Marino, computer games, and ice cream cake. Where in the world did the time go? As I think about all the wonderful (and not-so-wonderful) times we have experienced together, I see a lot of mistakes that I made in parenting her. There are definitely things I would do differently if I could turn back the clock to the day we adopted her. However, the one thing I know I would not change is our decision to homeschool her.

We started homeschooling her as soon as we could, and the reason was simple: she was the classic example of a student who “fell through the cracks.” When she was having a good day, she learned well. When she wasn’t having a good day, she didn’t. As a result, there were large, gaping holes in her education. Not surprisingly, then, when she took the PSAT test, she scored in the bottom 35% of the nation in math and the top 25% of the nation in English. She wanted to get a college degree, because as far as she knew, no one in her biological heritage had one. Getting a degree would provide a tangible break from her past. However, with those scores, she would have a difficult time getting accepted to college, much less succeeding when she got there.

As a result, we spent most of her homeschooling in “educational triage.” We identified the holes in her education and then filled them. When she took the ACT (one of the standardized tests used for college entrance) early in her senior year, she scored in the top 5% in English and the top 30% in math. As a scientist, I decided that the numbers were the ultimate evidence that the decision to homeschool her was a good one. She ended up being accepted at Butler University and graduating with a degree in sociology (which, of course, she doesn’t use).

In my mind, then, homeschooling was all about academics. Our daughter wanted a college degree, and the only way we could prepare her for college was to homeschool her. Even after she had graduated college, I still thought that homeschooling her was all about academics. However, as time went on, my view of the matter began to change. As I celebrated the successes in her adult life and helped her deal with the failures, I started to notice that our relationship was very different from the relationships that most of my friends had with their adult children. Our daughter actually wants to spend time – lots of time – with us. For example, right now, as she is about to turn 40, she is on a mother-daughter vacation. When my wife suggested the idea to her, she was thrilled. At Christmas, I gave her a little picture book that had old and new photos of me, her, and my wife. When she opened it, her husband said, “Look at how her face just lit up.”

Why do I have a daughter who loves to spend time with me and her mother? If you ask her, it’s because we spent so much time together when she was young. In these days when children are separated from their parents by school, after-school activities, and other distractions, it’s hard to form a deep family bond. When you homeschool, you are not only using the best possible educational model to teach your child, but you are also doing something very few families do: you are spending a lot of time together. In the long run, that makes a huge difference!

Does that mean everyone who homeschools will have a great relationship with their adult children? Of course not! There are many, many factors that play into how people bond with one another. However, probably the most crucial of those factors is time that you spend together. The more time you spend with your children, the better you get to know them. Looking back on my homeschooling my little girl, I recognize that she got an incredible education. More importantly, however, we all got an amazing gift: lots of time to enjoy one another and grow closer together. Of all the wonderful things I can say about homeschooling, that is the most important.

What a Way to Bring in the New Year!

An aerial view of the Large Hadron Collider’s layout. The particle accelerator is used for high-energy physics experiments. (click for credit)

I wasn’t planning on writing a post today, but as I was going through my email, I saw a wonderful message from a homeschool graduated who used my curriculum, and I just had to post about it. I am keeping the person’s name and some of the professional details confidential (using square brackets to paraphrase and ellipses to cut), because I don’t want the person’s presence on a creationist blog to be harmful to his or her career. It’s sad that I have to do that, but many of the high priests of science are the most anti-science people on the planet, excommunicating those who do not accept their dogma.

Here is the wonderful message I received:

I am writing to thank you for your excellent high school science courses. As a homeschooler, I really appreciated the readability of the texts. The challenging material helped me to develop effective study habits, while your clear enthusiasm for each subject led me to develop a lasting interest in the sciences, especially physics. In fact, after working through Module 8 (“Gravity and Relativity”) of your Advanced Physics Course, I decided to pursue a career in physics. Though I didn’t really have any idea of what that would entail, I figured that your science courses would be an ideal preparation, and indeed they were! Largely due to to the strong foundation that your courses (Physical Science, Biology, The Human Body, Chemistry, Advanced Chemistry, Physics, and Advanced Physics) had provided me throughout middle school and high school, I was able to complete my BS in physics a year early. This helped me to be successful in the treacherous grad school application process, and I am now a [graduate student at a well-known university] pursuing a PhD in experimental particle physics; I’m [doing original research at facilities like the one pictured above]; these are goals that I have looked forward to for a long time. Your courses have been key in successfully beginning to achieve these goals…so thank you for helping to make all of this possible!

As one further note, I’d also like to add that I really appreciate how your texts touched on more advanced topics, even if only to ultimately concede that they were “beyond the scope of this course.” Though I found it a bit frustrating at the time, it really motivated me to keep pushing deeper into the subject, making it all the more satisfying to finally encounter the topic in a later class. For example, your brief description of solving the Schrodinger equation for hydrogen (page 50 of your Advanced Chemistry text) had me on the edge of my seat until finally reaching this problem in undergrad Quantum II. Currently, my Quantum Field Theory textbook tends to make the same sort of statements…and it reminds me of your superlative texts (though when I come across statements like these in QFT, it tends to make me relieved rather than frustrated – I’m happy to leave that particular calculation to the theorists!).

Anyway, I’m sure you get many messages like this, but I just really wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your texts and how much they have aided me in the career path that they inspired me to pursue…

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

There are so many wonderful things to say about this student’s message to me, but I will limit myself to two:

1) I love the fact that this person was “on the edge of” his or her seat because of a solution to the Schrodinger equation!

2) This once again demonstrates that Bill Nye has no idea what he is talking about when he claims that creationist materials are a detriment to science. This student learned junior-high and high-school science from creationist materials, and those materials inspired him or her to be doing the kind of original scientific research that Nye can only dream about doing.

Students Compare Homeschooling to Conventional Schooling

Students who transition from homeschooling to conventional schooling note that homeschooling allows them to learn more and have more realistic social experiences. (Credit: IowaPolitics [left] and Audio-Luci [right] | Flickr Creative Commons)

How does homeschooling compare to conventional schooling? I have read lots of different opinions written by educators, parents, and politicians. However, I haven’t read a lot from students. This is somewhat understandable, since many homeschooled students never experience a conventional school, and the vast majority of conventionally-schooled students never experience a home school. However, I recently read a paper published in the journal Cogent Education that summarized the views of 40 Australian students who had experienced both forms of education. Their views were quite enlightening.

Many of them valued the flexibility that home education gave them. They could choose to focus more on the areas that interested them. This was especially true if their parents took a less-structured approach to their curriculum. They also valued the freedom that comes with homeschooling. They could choose the times they studied, played, slept, etc. This was especially helpful when they were doing long-term projects. In contrast, they found the conventional school they attended to be limiting because of time tables, commutes, and the necessary fact that the classes were geared to teach students of average ability. This wasn’t true of all the students, however. Some found the structure and regulation of a conventional school to be a nice change of pace.

What I found more fascinating were the cultural differences the students noticed between home and conventional schools. For example, based on his interviews with the students, the author notes:

The most common cultural feature of home education has been family recognition that each child is unique and programmes require individual tailoring.

He discusses how the students saw that play out in homeschooling. He then discusses what the students thought about how that works in conventional schools:

In conventional schools there was written and verbal recognition that each child was unique and needed personalised learning programmes, however, delivering this type of approach was restricted by the structures of conventional schools.

This is something I have always stressed in my talks with homeschoolers. One very important benefit that homeschooling gives you is the ability to tailor your child’s education to meet his or her specific needs.

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Homeschooling In Israel

A shelf with books in Hebrew (click for credit)

Many people think that homeschooling is unique to the United States. However, nothing could be further from the truth! Homeschooling is a worldwide phenomenon. For example, I have spoken at homeschooling conventions in Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and Thailand. In addition, I have spoken to homeschoolers in one country that I can’t mention because it is illegal to homeschool there. In my interactions with homeschooling families all over the world, I have seen lots of differences. In South Korea, for example, many families homeschool because they think the school system is far too demanding. In high school, for example, South Koreans use the “five hour rule,” which states that if a high school student gets even five hours of sleep a night, he or she will not be able to go to college. On the other hand, many homeschoolers in the United States (myself included) choose to homeschool because the schools are not demanding enough of their students.

Despite the differences among homeschoolers worldwide, there are many similarities. One example of this comes from a country that I have not yet visited: Israel. Two senior lecturers from Western Galilee College in Akko, Israel recently published a small study in which they interviewed 30 Israeli homeschooling mothers to find out why they homeschool and what benefits they have seen as a result of homeschooling. While reading the paper, I was struck by the similarities between homeschooling in Israel and homeschooling here in the U.S.

For example, the mothers generally thought that homeschooling made their children more inquisitive. I find that is true of homeschooled students in the U.S. as well. I teach at a university where there are some homeschool graduates (and some who are still being homeschooled) as well as a lot of public and private school graduates. I find that the homeschool graduates are significantly more likely to participate in class, and they are even more likely to ask me questions that go well beyond the requirements of the course. The homeschoolers are simply more inquisitive than their peers.

The mothers in the study also thought that their children had more self-confidence and weren’t afraid of being labelled as “different.” This is something I see with homeschooled students all over the world. Regardless of the culture they are in, homeschooled students are more likely to challenge the “norms” of the culture and do what they think is right, regardless of what their peers think. In my opinion, that is one of the major benefits of homeschooling. In this era where people actively seek to punish and even harm you if you rebel against the groupthink that has infected the culture, it is more important than ever to produce young people who are willing to be different.

By far the most important benefit that these mothers identified was that their children were not poisoned with age prejudice. This is also true of homeschoolers throughout the world. Group schooling (government or private) promotes the idea that students should only make friends with people who are roughly their own age. After all, children spend most of their school day cloistered away in ghettos, surrounded by children who are roughly their own age. As a result, they don’t get much experience interacting with people of other ages. Homeschooling is generally quite different.

While homeschooled children will spend some time with friends their own age, they tend to spend most of their time with family members, which span the age spectrum. In addition, when homeschooling groups get together, all ages are generally included. This produces a very healthy environment for socialization that is sadly lacking in most schools. As a result, homeschooled children are more likely to socialize with people of all ages. I remember being struck by this the very first homeschooling event that I attended. I saw the high-school students playing with the elementary kids and actually enjoying themselves. I also had young people introducing themselves to me and engaging in conversation. I have spent time with students of all backgrounds throughout my teaching career, but I almost never see healthy, age-independent socialization except when I am at a homeschooling event.

Despite these similarities, there are differences between homeschooling mothers in the U.S. and the homeschooling mothers in this study. For example, none of the mothers mentioned any religious motivations for homeschooling. While the number of mothers in this study is small, I would suspect that if if the same study were done in the U.S., the majority of mothers would have included religion as at least part of their motivation for homeschooling. Also, while it might have been an artifact of the study, there was no mention of academic achievement. The mothers mentioned many benefits of homeschooling, but academic achievement was not among them. Once again, had this study been done in the U.S., I would suspect that academic achievement would have been mentioned by several mothers.

In the end, it seems that homeschoolers around the world have some differences among them, but those differences pale in comparison to the things that they have in common. I hope more research like this is done, because the more we learn about homeschooling, the more we see its benefits worldwide!

Pre-Kindergarten Education Might Cause Long-Term Disadvantages!

Many educators (and even more politicians) think that getting children into school early produces great educational benefits. However, the data suggest otherwise. Perhaps the most famous results come from the Head Start study by Puma and others. It found that while the Head Start preschool program produced some short-term benefits, those benefits disappeared for most of the students by third grade. Overall, then, the Head Start program had no lasting effect for most students.

To me, this makes perfect sense. After all, if you give a student some education before most of his or her peers, the student will be “ahead” when he or she starts kindergarten. However, since all the students are following the same curriculum, this “head start” doesn’t do much good, because in the end, the students with the advantage are held back. Rather than using the advantage to push them to learn even more, they are taught the same things that are being taught to the other children. As a result, the only real advantage is that the learning is easier at first. Also, since they have already been “socialized” into the group-learning mode used by schools, they don’t have to adjust to it. Once the others have adjusted, however, that benefit also goes away.

My publisher recently made me aware of another study that comes to an even less-promising conclusion. This study comes from the Tennessee Voluntary Pre-K program, a state-run pre-kindergarten (pre-K) program that focuses on children at risk. The authors followed a total of 2,990 students from kindergarten through 3rd grade, and the results weren’t in line with the expectations of the educators and politicians that promote pre-K education.

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Coming “Soon”: Science in the Atomic Age

My elementary science series is finished, and I am currently working on a junior-high course that carries on with the theme of teaching science through history.
My elementary science series has been complete for a while now, and I am thrilled to see it becoming popular in the homeschooling community. The series teaches students science in roughly chronological order. It begins with the days of creation (Science in the Beginning). It then moves on to the ancient Greeks (Science in the Ancient World), teaching science in the order it was learned. It continues through roughly the end of the 1800s (Science in the Industrial Age). If a student completes all five books in the series, he or she will be very well prepared to start learning science in a detailed way in junior high school.

For quite some time, I have been hearing from homeschooling parents who would like me to continue the theme of teaching science through history into the junior high school years. With the encouragement of my publisher, I have decided to give it a try. I am currently working on Science in the Atomic Age. It will be a junior-high-school level course that covers many of the scientific discoveries made in the 20th and early 21st centuries. I plan to discuss the modern view of the atom, how atoms join together to make molecules, what the molecule known as DNA does, the cell as the basic building block of life, several of the advances that have been made in medicine, the structure and characteristics of the universe as a whole, radioactivity, and nuclear reactions.

While it carries the theme of teaching science through history, there will be at least four important differences between this course and my elementary courses. First, in the elementary course, I teach all of science on a timeline. As a result, the books change science topics constantly. In the first 15 lessons of Science in the Ancient World, for example, students start by learning the importance of math in science, then learn about the science of music, then learn about atoms, and then learn about medicine. It’s difficult to cover scientific advancements made in the 20th and 21st centuries that way, because the issues become more complex, and it is important to see the development of one particular topic over the years. So while I will still discuss science in the context of history, it will be by topic.

In other words, when I write about our modern understanding of the atom, I summarize what was known towards the end of the 1800s. I then step students through the history of atomic science, eventually ending with our current understanding of the atom. As a result, students see how the entire field of atomic science developed through the course of the 20th and 21st centuries. I then move on to molecules, but once again, I step back to the end of the 1800s and discuss the history of how our understanding of molecules developed. When I get to DNA, I “reset the clock” once again, starting with what was known at the end of the 1800s and working forward to the present day.

Now, of course, the focus is on the science, not the history. The students aren’t learning what happened in the world during the 20th and 21st centuries, unless those events affected scientific progress (like the World Wars). Instead, they learn the history of how scientists were led to our modern views. Because of this approach, students not only learn the science of what is being discussed, but they also learn the scientific reasoning used to reach our current understanding of scientific issues.

The second major difference between Science in the Atomic Age and the other books in my series is that it will be much longer. More science has to be covered in junior high school, so unlike my elementary books, this book is designed to be used every day. The third major difference is the frequency of experiments. In my elementary series, each time the student does science, he or she has a hands-on activity, usually an experiment. While there are still experiments and hands-on activities in this book, there aren’t as many. In a two-week period, students will do three or four experiments or activities. That means the student will be expected to do more reading in this course.

The final major difference is that the book switches from a notebooking approach when it comes to reviewing the material to a question/answer approach. There are “comprehension check” questions the student needs to answer while he or she is reading. Then, at the end of each chapter, there is a chapter review to help the student remember everything that was learned. Finally, there is a test for every chapter. In order to prepare the student for high school and beyond, it is important that the student answers all of those questions and takes the test.

I have only just begun writing this course, so it won’t be available for this academic year. However, I hope to be able to choose a group of students to “field-test” the book for the 2019-2020 academic year. However, that will depend on my progress. Assuming that I can start the “field-testing” on time, the book should be ready for general use in the 2020-2021 academic year. Of course, the Lord might have quite different plans, so stay tuned to find out what happens!

Print Reading versus Digital Reading: Which Produces Better Comprehension?

I saw this Science Alert article come across my Facebook feed a few days ago, and I read it with interest. Written by two researchers from the University of Maryland, it makes some pretty strong statements about the effectiveness of reading a digital article compared to a print article. Essentially, the researchers say that for specific kinds of articles, students’ comprehension is better if the article is read in print form as opposed to digital form. They make this statement based on a review of the studies that already exist as well a study they published two years ago. While I think they are probably correct in their assessment, I am struck by how small the difference really is.

For the purpose of this article, I will concentrate on their new study. In their Science Alert article, they refer to it as three studies, but it is published as a single paper. In the study, they had 90 undergraduate students who were enrolled in human development and educational psychology courses read a total of four articles: two digital and two in print. Two of them were newspaper articles and two were excerpts from books. They were all roughly the same length (about 450 words). They dealt with childhood Autsim, ADHD, Asthma, and Allergies. Presumably, all of those topics would be of interest to the students, given the classes in which they were enrolled.

Before they did any reading, the students were asked to assess themselves on their knowledge of the four topics about which they would be reading. They were also asked which medium they preferred to read: digital or print. They were also asked about how frequently they used each medium. They were then asked to read the articles, but the order in which the articles were read changed from student to student. Some would switch between digital and print, while others would read the first two in one medium and then the second two in the other medium. That way, any effect from switching between the media would not be very strong.

After each reading, students were asked to identify three things: the main idea of the article, its key points, and any other relevant information that they remembered from the article. The researchers had asked the authors of the articles these same questions as well as two independent readers. Those were considered the correct answers. Two trained graders independently compared the students’ answers to the correct answers, and the grades they assigned were in agreement 98.5% of the time. For the 1.5% of the time they didn’t agree, they then discussed the grading and came to a mutual agreement.

After all four readings and tests, the students were then asked in which medium they think they performed best. As you will see, that’s probably the most interesting aspect of the study.

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