I did learn one sad thing, however. Diana Waring announced that she is retiring from the homeschooling conference circuit. She will still be writing, but she will not be speaking at homeschool conventions on a regular basis anymore. The homeschooling community will be missing out on some real blessings as a result. If homeschoolers want to continue to benefit from her wisdom, they should follow her blog.
I didn’t have the chance to speak to as many people as I usually do at such conventions, because I am currently performing in a musical called The Fantasticks. As a result, I had to drive a bit more than two hours from Anderson, Indiana to Cincinnati, Ohio every morning to speak at the convention, and then I had to leave the convention early so I could drive back to Anderson, Indiana to perform in the play. Normally, I wouldn’t consider doing such a crazy thing, but this is my all-time favorite play. I have performed the roles of El Gallo (my all-time favorite role) and Henry (a washed-up actor), and in this version of the play, I got a chance to perform a different role, Amos Babcock Bellomy (a nerdy father). The role was played by Joel Grey in the movie, and I simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Here is a picture of me during one of the performances (I am the one in the bow tie):
The vaccine talk is rather controversial in some homeschooling circles. I take a scientific approach to the issue, of course, which means I recognize that for the vast majority of people, vaccines are both very safe and very effective. As a result, I encourage people to vaccinate their children. In the homeschooling community, there is a small-but-strong anti-vaccination movement, however, so I was surprised that the convention asked me to give the talk. They did get some angry e-mails about it, but in the end, it went well, and even though I specifically asked for hostile questions, there were none. All the questions I got were very serious and very polite.
I had two big surprises at the convention. First, a former Ball State University student was at the convention, and she came up to reintroduce herself to me. It has been more than 20 years since I taught chemistry and physics at Ball State University. Also, she took chemistry 100, which is one of those “intimate” classes that contains more than 200 students, so not surprisingly, I didn’t recognize her. We talked a bit about old times, and we took a “selfie” together:
It was really fun to have her mixed in with all the homeschooling students who have used my courses over the years.
However, my favorite session of the year so far wasn’t a talk at all. It was a question/answer session. I will discuss that in a moment, but first, I guess I need to “toot my own horn” for a moment. For whatever reason, I got a lot more feedback than usual from homeschooling parents and students at this convention, and some of it was amazing. It all started with the speaker coordinator for the convention. She said that at a convention about 10 years ago, her son (who was in high school at the time) asked me a question. He wanted to be a medical doctor, but he also loved ballet. Well, he had a choice between participating in an exclusive ballet event or doing a science camp. He asked what he should do. I guess I surprised him with my answer, because I told him that he should definitely participate in the ballet event.
Why would I tell an aspiring doctor to do a ballet event rather than a science camp? There are at least three reasons. First, as I understood it, it was an honor to be asked to participate in the ballet event, while the science camp was something anyone could do. Second, I encourage students to be as well-rounded as possible, and if he really enjoyed ballet, he should make the time for it, despite the fact that it wasn’t directly related to his career. Third, and most important, getting into medical school is incredibly difficult. There are lots and lots of applicants who have done all sorts of science camps. However, there aren’t lots and lots who are accomplished ballet artists. If he continued with ballet and did things like the event he described to me, it would make him stand out as an applicant.
The mother told me that her son happily took my advice. He participated in the ballet event and continued to pursue ballet in college, even though he was a premed major. Not only did he get accepted into medical school on his first attempt (an accomplishment in and of itself), he was awarded a sizable scholarship! She and her son are convinced that those accomplishments were a direct result of taking my advice. I immediately told her that her son’s talent and hard work were the primary reasons for his accomplishments, but I am happy my advice was helpful to him. For any of my readers who are thinking of becoming medical doctors, it’s worth considering this young man’s path to medical school.
I will limit myself to two other examples of the feedback I received. The second came from a homeschooling mother who told me that her daughter had taken my high-school biology course, Exploring Creation with Biology. She then enrolled in a college biology class while she was still in high school. She ended up getting the highest grade in the class, despite the fact that she was the youngest student there. After that, the department hired her to tutor her fellow students in biology! I have heard some version of this story many times, and it just further confirms how utterly wrong Bill Nye is when he says that children who are taught creationism “…will never feel the joy of discovery that science brings.”
Unfortunately, I was about 15 minutes late for one of my talks, because I got involved in a very interesting conversation about Cartesian dualism and lost track of time. Nevertheless, many of the patient conference attendees were still there waiting on me when I ran into the room, huffing and puffing. I apologized profusely, of course, and they readily accepted my apology. After that, the talk went fairly smoothly.
This conference was the first one I have done since deciding to write a new high school chemistry course so that homeschoolers have a better option available to them than the new edition of Exploring Creation with Chemistry. Many of the people who came to my booth had heard that news, and they wanted to learn more about my plans regarding the course. Because of the interest expressed at the convention, my publisher set up a website where people can sign up for updates about the course. If you sign up, you will get notified when things like the table of contents and sample chapters are available to review. I know of one online school that already plans to use the course for this coming academic year.
While I was at the convention, the publisher of Exploring Creation with Chemistry posted an article regarding the course. In that article, the owner of the company makes it clear that he will not sell the old edition of the course. I was hoping he would, but now that I know he won’t, I am glad that I decided to write a new one.
The first happened when I was at my publisher’s booth (pictured above). I typically hang out there between talks so I can answer questions about my courses and talk informally with the convention’s attendees. Early in the convention, a mother came by the booth and told me about her son. In early high school, he planned to go to college and get a degree in law or political science so that he could get involved in politics. However, he took my chemistry course in 10th grade, and soon after that, he changed his mind. He is now a chemistry major at university, and he plans to continue on to get his PhD! He credits my chemistry course for sparking his love of chemistry and helping him do so well at university.
Now, of course, I love stories like this. However, that was just the beginning. Later on, a high school student came to talk with me. He said that he was planning on studying Russian at university, but after taking my chemistry course, he has decided to major in chemistry! I thought it was pretty amazing to hear two such “conversion” stories at one convention, but then I heard yet another. A high school student came to me and told me that she really didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life, but after studying two of my courses, she has decided to major in some scientific field when she goes to university!
This isn’t the first time I have heard “conversion” stories like these, but hearing them at this convention was particularly meaningful, because I had recently finished Bill Nye’s awful book, Undeniable. In that book, he claims that students who are taught creationism will “never feel the joy of discovery that science brings.” In my review of the book, I said that this is demonstrably false, as I know several students who have said that using my creationist science courses caused them to study science at university. Some of them have graduated and are now doing scientific research. However, Nye’s ignorant statement was still fresh in my mind at the convention, and these three different personal encounters at the convention confirmed how incredibly wrong it is.
In a recent post, I wrote about the Texas Homeschool Convention. I thought it would be a memorable one, because I was going to be able to meet and listen to an incredible person who I was able to interview late last year – Inge Auerbacher. Well, it was a memorable convention, for more than one reason! I will write about the other reasons in a subsequent post, because meeting and listening to Inge was a truly singular experience.
I ended up arriving late to her talk, because I had to give a talk that overlapped with hers a bit. As a result, I had to attend a follow-up version of the same talk to get her entire story. I was thrilled to see the huge turnout she had. I am glad that the homeschoolers who were in attendance understood and took advantage of the amazing opportunity they had been given. I was even more thrilled to see what happened at the end – a standing ovation. I have been to a lot of homeschool conferences over the years, and I have seen a lot of “rockstars” in the homeschooling community give a lot of talks. I don’t remember ever seeing an audience give a standing ovation at the end. I am so glad they did that for Inge, because she deserved it.
She spoke in a familiar tone, as if she was our mother telling us an important story that we needed to remember. The story, of course, was how she survived the horrors of the Holocaust. To help us visualize what happened to her, she showed both pictures and illustrations. The pictures came from multiple sources, and the illustrations had been made for her by an artist. The mix of real-life photos of Jewish people being taken to prison camps and artistic representations of her personal experiences was very effective. Towards the end, she showed pictures of when she returned to the site of the concentration camp many years later. It was chilling.
As my two previous posts indicate, my wife and I are currently in South Africa. While the main purpose of our visit is to support home educators in this lovely country, we have been seeing some of the sights as well. For example, after I spoke at the KwaZulu-Natal Homeschool Curriculum Expo, we went to a game reserve to see some amazing wildlife! My Facebook page has a photo album that gives you a taste of what we saw.
Before we went to the expo, however, we traveled through the KwaZulu-Natal province and visited a historic site. It marks the spot where, on August 5, 1962, Nelson Mandela was captured by the South African police. He had been on the run from the police for 17 months, and at that time was posing as a chauffeur. He and the other man in the car (Cecil Williams) had just visited the head of the African National Congress to report on what Mandela had been doing outside the country to fight Apartheid. Their car was stopped at a road block, and the police saw through Mandela’s disguise. He was arrested and eventually imprisoned for 27 years.
When he was released in 1990 (in large part due to international pressure), he started negotiations with then-president F. W. de Klerk to dismantle the Apartheid regime. Four years later, South Africa had its first multiracial election, and Mandela was chosen to be the country’s first black president. Many in South Africa refer to him as “The Father of the Nation.”
This history is very important, of course, but that’s not the reason I am writing this post. Instead, I want to highlight the work of art (pictured above) that is used to mark this historic spot. It was unveiled in 2012, on the fiftieth anniversary of Mandela’s capture.
We arrived in South Africa a week ago, but we have been busy adjusting to the new time, reacquainting ourselves with friends, exploring our surroundings, and traveling to the KwaZulu-Natal Homeschool Curriculum Expo, which took place three days ago (Saturday). In some ways, the conference was just like a homeschooling conference in the U.S. There were vendors selling curriculum, speakers giving talks, refreshments being sold, etc. In some ways, however, it was quite different. Much of the curriculum and some of the conversations were in two different languages: English and Afrikaans. It seemed everyone at the conference spoke English, but many chose to talk among themselves in Afrikaans, and some wanted to have at least a portion of their curriculum in that language as well. The refreshments, not surprisingly, were quite different. Hot tea was the main beverage consumed (although coffee and soda were available), and the food available for purchase included meat pies and “pancakes,” which were unlike pancakes found in the U.S. They were thin, covered in cinnamon sugar, and rolled into a tube.
I spoke three times at the conference, discussing Homeschooling: The Environment for Genius, “Teaching” Science at Home, and What I Learned by Homechooling. The technology available to the speakers was excellent. There was a great sound system, three screens that showed my PowerPoint presentation to all parts of the auditorium, and a video crew filming me as I spoke. The talks were well-received, but not surprisingly, the best part was the questions that were asked once each talk was over.
Homeschooling has not been going on in South Africa as long as it has been going on in the U.S., so many of the questions reminded me of the questions I got when I first started speaking to homeschoolers in the U.S. back in the 1990s.
I was a bit concerned about giving the first talk, because it tends to ruffle some feathers. In the talk, I make the (rather obvious to me) point that the young-earth interpretation of Scripture is not the only orthodox interpretation that submits to Scriptural authority. I demonstrate this several different ways, including by pointing out that some of the early church fathers (like Origen) interpreted the days in the creation account to be figurative and not literal. By the 1100’s a figurative interpretation of Genesis was widespread in the church. Other church fathers (like Clement of Alexandria, Athanasius of Alexandria, Augustine, and Hilary of Poitiers) believed that the days had nothing to do with the passage of time but instead were used as a means by which the things that were created could be ordered in terms of priority.
This, of course, goes against what some of my fellow young-earth creationists teach, so sometimes, the content of the talk is greeted with quite a bit of anger. At this convention, however, no one seemed to get angry. In fact, I didn’t get a single hostile question after the talk, which surprised me. Everyone who spoke to me about that talk later said they appreciated how I handled such a hot-button issue. I did get an interesting question related to the talk from someone who came to my publisher’s booth, and it’s the question I want to address in this post.
In addition to having a great time talking with homeschoolers, I got a chance to spend some time in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The highlight was an 8-mile hike (4 miles there and 4 miles back) on the Appalachian Trail to a rock formation known as “Charlie’s Bunion.” The rock formation itself isn’t all that spectacular, but the view from it is! The picture above gives you some idea of what I saw. It was truly gorgeous.
Of course, the conference was the reason I went, so let’s get back to that. The talks went well, and I got a lot of great questions. One student who had used some of my books and then went to a secular university came up to me while I was at my publisher’s booth. He had a whole list of questions he wanted to ask me after spending a year learning science from an evolutionary point of view. I enjoyed answering his questions, and I was so happy that he was willing to take the time to get a different opinion instead of just blindly accepting what his professors told him, as is (unfortunately) the case for so many university students.