…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.
My publisher has been getting several questions about how I address the age of the earth in my science courses. This probably stems from the fact that there is a lot of misinformation going through the homeschooling community regarding my position on the issue. I thought I would try to clear things up with a post.
First, my position on the age of the earth hasn’t changed in more than thirty years. I turned from atheism to Christianity in my late high school years, and at that time, I was happy to believe what my teachers told me about the age of the earth. It was more than four billion years old. I was told that we knew this because of radiometric dating methods, which involved studying the relative amounts of radioactive atoms in rocks and fossils. This “fact” of science was later reinforced when I went to university, so I was still happy to believe it.
Then I started my Ph.D. program in nuclear chemistry. I learned about radioactive decay in detail and started doing experiments with nuclear reactions. Most of my work was done at the University of Rochester Nuclear Structure Research Lab, which also had a group that did radiometric dating. I never did any of that work myself, but I watched them do their experiments, asked them questions, listened to their presentations at the lab, etc. Based on what I learned there, I decided that I couldn’t put much faith in the ages given by radiometric dating.
This caused me to question the age of the earth from a scientific perspective. Theologically, I wasn’t committed to any age for the earth. Certainly the most straightforward interpretation of Genesis is that the universe and all it contains was created in six solar days, and that leads to a young-earth view. At the same time, however, there were early church Fathers (as well as ancient Jewish theologians) who didn’t interpret the days in Genesis that way. So I attempted to investigate the subject with an open mind. I found that in my view, science makes a lot more sense if the earth is thousands of years old rather than billions of years old, so I started believing in a young earth. The more I have studied science, the more convinced I have become that the earth is only thousands of years old.
In my previous post, I shared a very creative lab report that I received from a physics student in one of my online physics courses. In this one, I want to share something from another very creative student. In order for you to appreciate it, however, a bit of background is necessary.
In my online courses, students take tests online while being supervised by their parents. The parent has a passcode for each test, and when the student is ready to take the test, the parent inputs the passcode into a website. This opens up the test for the student to take. Some of the test questions are multiple-choice (I call them “multiple-guess”), some are true/false, and some are short answer. That, however, is not enough to fully assess a student’s knowledge when it comes to science, so I also have a few “essay” questions on the tests. In physics and chemistry, they are usually long, involved problems that the student must work out.
In order to properly assess the student’s work, I must see all the steps that the student takes to come up with the answer. If the student were taking the test on paper, that would be fairly easy. The student could just write out the equations being used, show how the variables were plugged it, and go through whatever algebra is necessary. However, on a website, that can be tricky. The program we use has an editor that allows the student to write equations, but it is bulky and cumbersome. Student can do their work on paper and then upload an image of the paper, but that is also bulky and cumbersome. As I result, I simply tell students to explain the steps they took to get to the answer, and I allow them to use any method they think bests accomplishes this goal. Some use the equation editor, some use paper and upload an image, some give equations using just text, and some give me a narrative of what they did.
Eden Cook is an example of the latter. She gives me a narrative of her work, usually in the form of an amusing story. There are typically characters in her stories, and they each have their own personality, which adds to the humor. One of those characters is “Newton.” Well, in one question where she had to determine the electric field produced by two stationary charges (represented by one one black dot and one blue dot), she decided to forgo the story and write a poem. I.T. W.A.S. E.P.I.C.
(The star is a footnote where she shows the vector addition, and her answer was correct.)
If you have been reading my blog for a while, you know that science is not my only interest. I write plays, perform in plays (musicals and non-musicals), and play the piano. When people who don’t know me well find out about these interests, they are sometimes surprised. They wonder how a scientist could possibly have a creative side. I have always been puzzled by the idea that science and creativity are incompatible. Science, by its very nature, is creative. I know lots of scientists who can write amazing poetry, play an instrument beautifully, sing a song magnificently, or perform onstage like a professional. However, none of my acquaintances from the arts can solve a differential equation, analyze the motion of a body that is influenced by friction, or synthesize a chiral compound from nonchiral components. In my opinion, science and creativity simply go together.
That’s why I love it when students decide to be creative with their assignments. I have two examples of this, which will take up two blog posts. They both come from the online physics courses I taught the previous academic year. In those courses, students must write lab reports, and I grade them. I don’t have the students write a hypothesis, discuss materials and methods, and all that nonsense. That makes no sense when it comes to a laboratory exercise, and it doesn’t really prepare the student for university lab reports. Instead, I have them write out their data, do any calculations that are necessary, and then write a summary of what they did and what they can conclude from their results. The summary and conclusions must be in their own words.
In honor of my love of the theater, one student (Riley Harro) wrote his last experiment summary and conclusion as an audition, and it was stellar! It contains a lot of inside jokes that resulted from the discussions we had in class and the common phrases I use while teaching. To give you some context, the lab is about testing materials to determine whether or not they are ferromagnetic, paramagnetic, or diamagnetic. In the end, the nail is ferromagnetic, the aluminum paper clip is paramagnetic, and the matchstick is diamagnetic. I hope you enjoy his report as much as I did:
I wrote the second edition of Exploring Creation with General Science more than 12 years ago, so the course was due for an update. Marine biologist Sherri Seligson has written a new edition of the course, which was just recently published. Previously, I reviewed the second edition of her Exploring Creation with Marine Biology and enthusiastically recommended it to homeschoolers. Unfortunately, I cannot enthusiastically recommend the third edition of Exploring Creation with General Science. At the same time, I also can’t say that homeschoolers shouldn’t use the course. In the end, there are things I loved about the course, things I didn’t like about the course, and things I didn’t understand about the course.
Let’s start with the things I loved. From the standpoint of what is covered, this course is a better fit for students who took Jeannie Fulbright and Dr. Brooke Ryan’s elementary course, Exploring Creation with Human Anatomy and Physiology. That’s because in the second edition of Exploring Creation with General Science, I spent an enormous amount of time covering the human body. Fulbright and Ryan’s course does that as well, so there is a lot of overlap for students who have taken their course. This problem is compounded by the fact that Fulbright and Ryan’s course is the most difficult of all the elementary courses in that series, so it is usually taken in fifth or sixth grade, just one or two years before the general science course is usually taken. This new edition of general science does not dwell on the human body, so students will not have to sift through all that repetitive material. However, as I will mention later on, students will have to sift through repetitive material if they end up taking the next book in the publisher’s series.
I also loved the discussion of graphs and tables that takes place in Module 3. It is very well done, and it is something that will be extremely useful for students who are getting ready for high school science.
Another great thing about the course is that many of the experiments are novel and interesting. For example, there are several “standard” household experiments on the subject of density, but this course’s experiment on density (Experiment 1.1) is one that I had never seen and is very effective. Another great experiment is the Rube Goldberg experiment that ends the course.
In addition, I loved the way that Seligson makes science personal. She starts the course with a letter to the student and ends the course with another one. That’s a nice touch. Similarly, I loved the fact that the last module is made up of personal testimonies from several different scientists. They discuss how the scientists came to enjoy science, what they have done and are doing in their scientific field, and how they relate science to their Christian faith. That is an excellent way to end the course. Continue reading “My Review of Exploring Creation with General Science, 3rd Edition”
The universe is inherently mathematical. Many scientists have come to this realization, but one of the first was Galileo Galilei. In his book, The Assayer, he wrote:
[The universe] cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and read the letters in which it is composed. It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles and other geometric figures without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it.
I have always been intrigued by people who dedicate themselves to learning this language, and I had the privilege of interviewing one such person last week: Mathematics Ph.D. student Bethel McGrew.
Bethel was homeschooled K-12, and her experience produced a lifelong love of learning, whether the topic was literature, science, music, or chess (she has been a competitive tournament player but can now proudly say she is no longer the highest-rated among her siblings!) She didn’t do much with co-ops or group activities, and in some ways, I would say that her experience was that of a “classic” homeschooler. Her family used curriculum when it fit their needs, and when it didn’t, they found some other way to get the job done. For example, she said that her family couldn’t find a good course for geometry, so she just read Euclid.
In case you don’t know who that is, he’s the father of geometry. His treatise, Elements, was written around 300 BC and is considered one of the most important works of mathematics to this day. That was her primary reference for learning high school geometry! This was common in her homeschooling, perhaps because her parents (each has a Ph.D.) were so academically inclined. She read many primary sources as a part of her secondary education. For example, she read the works of Josephus (a first-century Jewish historian) to learn more about the history of New Testament times.
While her homeschooling experience was quite classic, her higher education was more modern. She started with distance-learning courses from Christian universities like Patrick Henry College and Bryan College. She then transferred to Western Michigan University in her home town of Kalamazoo and continued living at home while she finished her undergraduate degree. She originally thought she would pursue a career in philosophy (the field of her father’s Ph.D. and her mother’s main professional research focus) but decided to double major in philosophy and mathematics, discovering an unexpected love for the latter when some professors helped her see the beauty of math. She was offered and accepted a teaching assistantship to pursue a Ph.D. there. As a TA, she has taught everything from algebra to applied calculus, adding occasional long-distance tutoring work on the side with Asian ESL (English as a second language) students. She has earned her master’s degree en route and is currently beginning work on her dissertation in graph theory.
Back in July of last year, I wrote about what might be one of the most important genetic studies of the decade. It treated an organism’s genome like a large computer program that was put together using specific groups of genes as programming “modules.” The study showed that this view of the genome made more sense of the genetic similarities between certain animals than an evolutionary view. When I read the study and blogged about it, I did not recognize the author’s name and had no idea who he was. Later on, he contacted me and thanked me for blogging about his study. He also informed me that he is a homeschool graduate and used my courses in his education. I recently contacted him to see if he would be willing to be a part of my homeschool graduate project, and he graciously agreed.
Dr. Ewert was homeschooled K-12, as were his four siblings. Like many homeschoolers, his parents’ primary motivation was to school their children using a Christian worldview. However, unlike most of the homeschool graduates I have talked with and written about, he was homeschooled in British Columbia, Canada. This actually made access to university a bit more difficult for him. Most British Columbia universities weren’t “homeschool friendly” like U.S. universities, so when he graduated from homeschooling, he started his higher education at Kwantlen University College, which was pretty much the Canadian equivalent of a community college. After two semesters, he transferred to Trinity Western University to finish his degree.
He said he had developed a computer obsession by the age of 10, so he knew he wanted to study computers. At Kwantlen, he started studying computer information systems. He transferred to Trinity when he realized he should be studying computer science instead. Had he started out in computer science at Trinity, this would have made graduating in four years a bit easier. That’s the only real negative aspect he could think of regarding his homeschooling.