The Sioux Empire Christian Home Educators Convention

This past weekend, I spoke at the Sioux Empire Christian Home Educators (SECHE) convention. It was a small convention, but it was well-organized and full of enthusiasm. While I can understand the draw that large conventions have (lots of speakers, all manner of curriculum and resources in the vendor hall, etc.), there are a lot of advantages to small conventions as well. I got to spend a lot of time with each individual who wanted to speak with me personally, and there was plenty of time in each session for everyone to have their questions answered. The “personal touch” that is available at smaller conventions simply can’t be experienced at the larger ones.

I gave a total of five talks at the convention, including Homeschooling: Discovering How and Why It Works. In that talk, I give lots of statistics regarding students who are educated at home. For example, I discuss the Rudner study, which found that at every grade level, the average homeschooled student scored better on standardized tests than the average privately-schooled student, who in turn scored better than the average publicly-schooled student. It also shows that the average publicly-schooled student lags farther and farther behind the the older he or she gets. From an academic standpoint, then, it is more important to avoid public school in the junior high and high school years than it is in the elementary years.

In addition, I show Rudner’s comparison between students who are homeschooled every year of their K-12 education and those who are homeschooled for only some of those years. While there is no difference (on average) between the two groups in the elementary years, by the time the students are in junior high and high school, those who did not stay in homeschool lag behind those who are homeschooled every year. To me, this indicates that homeschoolers make the most academic gains in the junior high and high school years. I like the Rudner study, because the author was initially a skeptic of home education, thinking that home educators were a bunch of “conservative nuts.”

After I discuss the data related to homeschooled students, I switch to the data related to homeschool graduates. I show several studies that clearly demonstrate that homeschool graduates excel at the university level compared to their publicly- and privately-schooled peers (see here, here, and here, for example). This led to a very interesting question from an audience member.

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The SHEM Homeschool Convention (and some awesome questions)

This past weekend, I spoke at the Southwest Home Education Ministry Convention in Springfield, Missouri. It was a well-organized, well-attended convention with many excellent speakers. I had a total of seven sessions, including two with Diana Waring. One of the things that I love about doing conventions is that I get a chance to speak with a lot of people one-on-one. I personally think that’s where I can help people the most. It’s also a chance for me to be incredibly blessed.

After my very first talk at this convention, for example, a young lady came up to me to tell me that she is a nurse today because of my courses. I thanked her and told her that I was very happy my courses prepared her for college so that she could become a nurse. She immediately stopped me and emphatically told me it was much more than that. She said that before she started using my courses, she hated science. After using my courses, she not only loved science, but she realized that God wanted her to use science to help others. She said she would never have even considered becoming a nurse had it not been for learning science from my courses. I kind of teared up right there and told her I had no idea how I could thank her for telling me that.

Usually, it’s conversations like that one which I enjoy most at these conventions. However, as much as my conversation with this young lady (and many other such conversations throughout the weekend) were a blessing to me, I have to say that the most enjoyable part of the convention was a session I did with the teens. The organizers of the convention wanted me to do something different from a normal presentation, and they actually suggested that I do something related to acting, since they knew I write and perform dramas for my church. However, I told them I had no idea what I would do for a drama workshop, so I suggested a question/answer session.

The organizers decided it was a good idea, so they put it on the schedule and then put out notices telling teens that they would have a chance to ask me any questions they wanted to ask. I had a “backup plan” in place in case there were few (or no) questions, but from the moment the session started, I knew there was no need for it. Not only were there an enormous number of questions (so many that I had to cut them off after an hour and 15 minutes so the next session could start), but the teens were incredibly enthusiastic! Below the fold, you will find three of the excellent questions they asked me, along with a rough approximation of my answers.

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The 2013 Midwest Homeschool Convention (and abiotic oil)

I spent this past weekend speaking at the 2013 Midwest Homeschool Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio. The crowds were huge, and there was a lot of enthusiasm amongst both the attendees and the speakers. It seems to me that this convention was much like the conventions I remember from ten years ago: lots of enthusiastic homeschoolers listening and talking to lots of enthusiastic speakers about the joys, troubles, and triumphs of home education. It was wonderful.

I spoke a total of seven times on six different subjects. Two of my talks were given with Diana Waring, and I enjoyed them the most. She and I have different styles that seem to complement each other really well. As she puts it, I provide the “analytics,” and she provides the “warm fuzzies.” I am not sure that’s exactly right, but it’s probably close. We gave the same talks in Greenville, SC, and we will be doing them again in Springfield, Missouri and Kissimmee, Florida.

As is typically the case, the most interesting part of the conference for me was interacting with the attendees. I had a rather constant stream of parents and students coming to my booth to talk with me. Many of them asked questions, and I hope my answers provided some help. Others came by just to report on how they (or their children) were doing with my courses. I was really impressed to meet one young lady who had completed all of my textbooks! I have authored or co-authored eight texts, and most students get through five of them. Some complete six, and a very few manage to cover seven, but this young lady had gotten through all eight of them. As a result, she has already taken the equivalent of a year of university-level biology, a year of university-level chemistry, and a year of university-level physics. That’s pretty impressive!

I take questions from the audience in all of my talks, and at the end of one of my evolution-related talks, a man asked a question about abiotic oil. He had read a book by Dr. Thomas Gold entitled The Deep Hot Biosphere, which tries to make the case that both oil and coal are not fossil fuels. In other words, they are not produced by decaying dead things. Instead, they are produced by chemical processes in the earth and simply reworked by living organisms. I read that book many years ago, and while it is definitely worth reading (even today), I personally think that it really overstates the case.

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Another Study that Confirms Homeschool Graduates Outperform Their Peers in College

A happy graduate (Click for credit)

Last week, I spoke at the Great Homeschool Convention in Greenville, South Carolina. It was very well attended, and other than a fire alarm that interrupted one of my talks, it ran really smoothly. I gave two brand-new talks at this convention, and they were both done with Diana Waring, whose high school history curriculum is truly wonderful.

One of these new talks was on the myths that you find in textbooks. It started off with the myth that ancient people thought the earth was flat. There is simply no truth to such an absurd idea. As early as 200 BC, natural philosophers knew the circumference of the earth, and the earliest Christian writers who mention the shape of the earth (such as Basil of Caesarea – c. 330-379) mention the spherical shape of the earth as an accepted fact. No one thought that Columbus was going to sail off the edge of the earth. His problems getting funding involved people not thinking he could carry enough supplies to make a voyage all the way around the earth. The other talk was based on a study by Dr. Harold McCurdy, which I have already discussed here.

While the talks I gave were enjoyable, as usual, the most interesting thing that happened occurred as a result of someone asking me a question. One of the solo talks I gave was called Why Homeschool Through High School. As a part of that talk, I discuss studies in which homeschool graduates are compared to graduates of traditional schools when it comes to their performance in college. Not surprisingly, the homeschooled students do much better in college than their traditionally-schooled peers.

After the talk, a homeschooling parent who is also a college professor asked me a very interesting question. He asked me if any study had attempted to measure not the performance of homeschool graduates at the college level, but instead the preparation that homeschool graduates have when they arrive at college. After all, he said, a student can perform well at the college level even when he is unprepared, as long as he has the ability to learn on his own. I told him that the studies I had seen focused on performance, but I would take another look at the literature and see what I could find.

Well, it turns out that such a study has been done. It is a PhD dissertation, which is why I hadn’t seen it in the academic literature. It was done by a student at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and it at least partially addresses the question that the homeschooling parent asked.

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Hippopotamus “Sweat”

This circus poster promoted the myth that hippos sweat blood. (Public domain image)
I am currently in Thailand, speaking at a family education conference. There are a lot of incredibly wonderful families here, and not surprisingly, some of them feel a bit overwhelmed at homeschooling their children in Asia. To all those homeschoolers in the United States: be thankful for all the support that exists where you live. Home education is difficult enough when there are support groups, easy access to curriculum, and homeschooling conferences that showcase multiple speakers and vendors. Imagine trying to homeschool with without such luxuries. That’s what these families do every day.

Because I am one of the few speakers at this conference, I have been giving a lot of talks. However, my favorite thing to do is answer questions. As a result, one of my scheduled times with the parents was simply a question/answer session. It went really well, and I hope I helped these parents with their unique situations. I was also scheduled for two sessions with the teens, and I made one of them a question/answer session as well.

When you offer a one-hour time slot for questions and answers, there is always a risk. What if the attendees have no questions? What if they have a couple of questions, but not nearly enough to last for an hour? I honestly didn’t think this would be an issue for the parents, since they face so many challenges homeschooling where they are. However, I did worry about the teens. While I was sure they had lots of questions, I was afraid they wouldn’t be “brave” enough to ask them in a group setting. To reduce the risk, then, I offered free candy for every question. Not surprisingly, the teens ended up having plenty of questions.

One of the reasons I love answering questions is that I often learn something new in the process, and this conference was no exception. The second question I got from the teens was:

What is the color of hippo sweat?

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Homeschooling in Wadsworth, Ohio

On Monday of this week, I was invited to speak at a meeting of the Kingdom Way Homeschoolers in Wadsworth, Ohio. It was held on the Wadsworth campus of the The Chapel, which was a wonderful venue. The auditorium had really excellent acoustics, and it had a nice, open feel to it. The back wall of the stage had a modern design on it, and the design was backlit with different colors. Once the technical support person (who was superb) put up my presentation, a young lady then changed the colors of the backlighting to match the color scheme of my presentation. I thought that was a very nice touch.

The title of my talk was Why Homeschool Through High School…and How to Get It Done. In the first part of the talk, I went through some data that indicate students who are homeschooled through high school are better prepared for the future than their traditionally-schooled counterparts. In the second half of the talk, I went over some “nuts and bolts” related to homeschooling at the high school level. I discussed the basic subjects that should be covered and gave some suggestions regarding how you might cover those subjects.

This particular talk was a bit longer than most of my talks, because I covered a lot of ground in it. However, the large crowd was very patient and seemed to enjoy the talk. As is typically the case, I took questions at the end of the talk, and they were quite good. There was one in particular that really got me thinking. A gentleman asked about apprenticeships and trade schools. Since my talk was focused on university preparation, I thought he was asking me to talk a bit about what to do with students who aren’t university-bound. I told him that just as I am a fan of having university-bound students take a few classes at a local college or a few AP classes to give them a preview of what university will be like, I also am a fan of having non-university-bound students do apprenticeships or take classes at a local trade school to start career exploration.

That really didn’t address his question, however. He wanted me to specifically compare the two. For a non-university-bound student, which would be better: some sort of apprenticeship or taking classes at a trade school? I had never considered that before, and I told him as much. However, I was happy to “think out loud” for him.

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Six Alaskan Cities in Six Days

Joshua Russell and Me
I just got back from speaking with homeschoolers in six different Alaskan cities (Fairbanks, Kenai, Kodiak, Wasilla, Anchorage, and Juneau). In each city, I gave the same two talks: Homeschooling: Discovering How and Why It Works and Life is Amazing. I gave the first talk in the morning, and it was really for parents. However, there were some students in the morning sessions, and for the most part, they seemed to stay awake. The second talk was in the afternoon, and it was really for the students, but there were a lot of parents as well. Everyone enjoyed it, because I showed some amazing animations and videos (you can find links to them in the PDF linked above) and discussed in detail the science behind what the videos were showing.

Lots of great things happened during my time in Alaska, but two of them really stand out in my mind. In the morning talks, I showed several studies that indicate homeschooled students excel, both academically and socially. After I showed these data, I tried to offer some explanations as to why homeschoolers excel. You can see those reasons in the PDF file linked above. However, I also asked the audience to come up with their own ideas as to why homeschoolers tend to excel. I got many excellent replies, but I want to highlight one of them.

A homeschooling father mentioned a study that was done in 1957 by psychologist Dr. Harold McCurdy. What the father said about the study intrigued me, so I looked it up. The author investigated the lives of twenty geniuses like John Stuart Mill, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, and Blaise Pascal. He wanted to see if he could find commonalities in their lives that might have aided their intellectual development. Who knows how effective such a study is, but I found his conclusions to be very interesting. Here is what he said:1

In summary, the present survey of biographical information on a sample of twenty men of genius suggests that the typical development pattern includes as important aspects: (1) a high degree of attention focused upon the child by parents and other adults, expressed in intensive educational measures and, usually, abundant love; (2) isolation from other children, especially outside the family; and (3) a rich efflorescence of phantasy, as a reaction to the two preceding conditions.

By “phantasy,” the good doctor just means “imaginative play.”

Now as I said, I am not sure how effective such a study really is, so I don’t take these results to be conclusive by any means. However, what he describes sounds an awful lot like a homeschool! Homeschooled children are given a high degree of attention from their loving parents, often in the form of intensive educational endeavors. While not completely isolated from children outside the family, homeschooled students certainly have less contact with their peers than do non-homeschooled students. Finally, most homeschoolers I know severely limit the amount of television that their children can watch, which encourages imaginative play. In the end, then, it seems that homeschooling naturally provides a lot of what Dr. McCurdy thinks is necessary for the development of genius.

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Homeschooling in Savannah

Me hanging with Paula Deen. She was thinner than I expected...
On Tuesday, I spoke in Savannah, Georgia at the Family Education for Christ yearly kickoff event, which marks the beginning of the academic year for many homeschoolers. I spoke at the same event about six years ago and was excited to come back this year. The city of Savannah is gorgeous and steeped in history, and the food is amazing.

Speaking of food, before the event, my wonderful hosts took me to The Lady and Sons, which is Paula Deen’s restaurant. The food was nothing short of incredible. It started with hoecakes and garlic/cheese biscuits. It was followed by pulled pork, which had probably the sweetest barbeque sauce I have ever tasted. I was then “forced” to eat dessert, which was banana pudding mixed with vanilla wafers. As you can see from the picture, I am no stranger to eating a lot of food, but this meal filled me to the brim!

After lunch, we took a driving tour of the city. The historic section is filled with squares that hold plant life and monuments to famous people or events. What makes the city gorgeous, however, are the trees that fill the squares and line the streets. Many of them are covered with Spanish moss, an epiphytic plant. This means it grows on trees but does not act as a parasite. Instead, it just gathers water from the air and from rainfall. The moss hangs down from the trees, producing the illusion that you are in a deep, medieval forest, even though you are in the heart of a city.

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The Northeast Homeschool Convention

This past weekend, I spoke at the Northeast Homeschool Convention, the last of the 2012 Great Homeschool Conventions. While it had the lowest attendance of all the Great Homeschool conventions, there was a lot of enthusiasm, and I had a great time talking to (and with) home educators and their children.

For example, I had a wonderful conversation with a young lady who had just finished her junior year of high school. She told me that she really liked physics, but she didn’t like the mathematics associated with it. As a result, she had a hard time deciding what she would major in when she went to university. After talking with her for a while, I told her that it sounds like she enjoys science in general, not specifically physics. I suggested that she should go for a “natural science” major, which is common at many universities. Then, as she pursued that major, she might find the specific area of science that has the right mix of characteristics for her. During the course of the conversation, I found out that she was attending the University of Washington on a full-ride scholarship in gymnastics!

Of course, in addition to speaking with home-educating parents and their children, I also spoke to them. I gave a total of six talks at the convention, and (as always) I had a question/answer time after each. One of the talks was called Life and Its Amazing Design. In that talk, I discuss how the design I saw in nature convinced me of the existence of God, even when I was an atheist. I also discuss how that same observation convinced noted atheist philosopher Dr. Antony Flew that God does, indeed, exist.

Those who try to shut their eyes to the design that clearly exists in nature often try to point out what they think are “bad designs,” and vestigial structures are often given as examples. The problem is that very few vestigial structures really exist. In the talk, I discuss how at one time, evolutionists thought there were as many a 83 vestigial organs in the human body.1 However, over time, important functions have been found for all but one (the male nipple). In the course of making this point, I highlight the function of the appendix, as biologists still misinform the public that it is a vestigial organ.

During the question/answer time, a student said the common evolutionary response is that vestigial structures don’t have to be useless. Instead, they can evolve to perform some new function as the old function becomes unnecessary. I agreed with him that this is the common evolutionary response. However, I cautioned him that this is a very new response. It is certainly not what evolutionists thought throughout most of the history of the evolutionary hypothesis.

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The Long Beach, California Homeschool Convention

The convention center's suggestion to homeeschoolers.
This past weekend, I spoke at the California Homeschool Convention, which is one of the Great Homeschool Conventions. Many home educators attend conventions like this one to get advice from various “experts” on homeschooling, and for this convention, it seems that even the convention center where the event was held wanted to put in its two cents. The facility put out the sign shown on the left, and it was the first thing most people saw as they drove into the convention center. Obviously, the advice is sound, and I hope that the attendees took it to heart!

I gave a total of six talks at the convention, and most of them were for the teens. However, there was one, entitled “What Are They Doing Now?“, that is specifically for the parents. The talk focuses on homeschool graduates and what they are doing with their excellent education. First, I share some statistics, such as the fact that homeschool graduates are more likely to have college degrees and more likely to be in college than their non-homeschooled peers.1,2 I then turn to a discussion of some individual homeschool graduates who are, literally, making the world a better place.

The homeschool graduates I talk about are all doing amazing things. For example, one is a medical doctor and bioethicist, another is an undercover operative for an intelligence agency, and still another is part of a non-governmental organization that is making better nutrition available to those in third-world countries. Many of them have impressive degrees, and many of them skipped university and started making a positive difference in the world right out of homeschool.

One of those who started changing the world right out of homeschool is named Sydnee. At the ripe old age of 17, she felt the Lord leading her to an orphanage in Monrovia, Liberia. This was not part of some organized trip, and she didn’t know anyone there. She simply felt the leading of the Lord, convinced her parents, and ended up going to that terribly dangerous country because she wanted to help those who had no hope. The orphanage specialized in adopting these children out to parents in developed countries, giving them a chance for a safe, happy life. Sydnee thought the Lord wanted her to be a part of such a life-changing ministry.

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