Yeah, I’m bringing up creationism and Evolution. Yeah, you’re likely to have strong feelings. Just honor the worth and dignity of every human being in your comments. Thanks.
A recent post on a homeschooling email list caught my attention. A parent requested suggestions for a secular math curriculum, and folks responded. A number of years back, I’d have thought all math curricula were secular, but I’m wiser now. I know a religious viewpoint can be placed in any subject, but it is generally in history and science that those outside of a young earth, Christian-centric mind-set struggle to find quality materials for homeschoolers. Sure, I knew some spelling, grammar, literature, and handwriting programs included a fair amount of Bible verses and Christian teachings along the way, but math? Aside from the books from a few “big box” Christian curriculum makers (Bob Jones, SOS, etc), I just assumed math was exempt from religious language.
But there’s more to it than that for some homeschoolers.
In math and science, there are conservative Christian authors of non-religious math and science products for homeschoolers. That alone doesn’t raise an eyebrow for this Unitarian Universalist. Math is math. While all math curricula are not created equally, their point is to teach the objective facts of how math works. Sure, at the far reaches (beyond where most kids will reach while learning at home), math meets quantum physics. For some of us, quantum physics touches the divine, but that’s another post on another blog (but intelligently discussed here).
Back to who writes the stuff that reads without religious bias but is from a religious author. Different kids benefit from different math presentations. Singapore Math has worked well for both of my boys, although their first math exposure was via Montessori methods and materials. Saxon Math is likely the most well-known curriculum, known for being easy to teach and well-known to many schools as well. The choice beyond that expand daily: Mammoth Math, Math-U-See, Developmental Mathematics, Life of Fred, ALEKS, and many more. I really don’t know much (if anything) about the religious beliefs authors of Singapore Math. I really don’t care. I know the math curriculum is sound and works well for my boys. And that’s what matters most to me.
Through this email list, I found out Math-U-See creator Steve Demme is a conservative Christian. The Math-U-See website doesn’t keep that a big secret, and the math curricula items don’t reflect his theology. So who cares? With just that information, I still don’t. Further investigation reveals Demme has another business, The Family that Stays Together, where Demme posts his webcasts and articles about Christian family living. Still, I don’t see a problem. While I don’t agree with his theology nor his view of gender roles, I still don’t have an objection to his math curriculum on the grounds of that site or his personal beliefs. This was the crux of the emailer’s concerns, a concern I’ve heard from others about other non-religious curriculum written by conservative Christians. He does link to “Answers in Genesis,” a creationist/young earth organization with a far reach in the US and Great Britain.
This gives me pause. I teach the science of creation with the same confidence I teach verbal phrases and the quadratic equation. I teach Biology through the lens of evolution and natural selection, as I was taught informally by my Protestant father and formally in Catholic high school and college.
Again, back to curriculum buying. While in theory, I may object to supporting a company that supports (materially) the teaching of creationism in any form, I don’t see any evidence that Steve Demme, head of Math-U-See does this. According to a 2010 Gallup Poll, 40 percent of Americans believe in a young earth (less than 10,000 years old) created by God, I imagine I’d not be supporting a whole bunch of businesses if I ruled out every one led by someone in that 40 percent. Heck, I don’t know how I’d even find out what the head of many companies believes. I’m too busy (lazy?) to do that work, and I’m not sure I really need to know.
It gets stickier, though. I’ve used a few books from Real Science 4 Kids, by Rebecca Keller. The books make no mention of God, religion, evolution, or creation. The Gravitas Press website note that no worldview is espoused by the books, so parents of either persuasion can use the materials. She does refer to Darwinism, Creationism, and intelligent design as “lenses” through which to look at science, and that she seeks to avoid those. I’m not sure whether to applaud or boo. She’s also a signer of “A Scientific Dissent Darwinism,” a product of the conservative think-tank Discovery Institute, which supports intelligent design.
Is that a problem? I’m not certain it is. She makes a decent product that makes homeschooling science easier for thousands of families. Unlike Apologia, her books don’t mix religion and science. They leave out evolution, but, honestly, they’re so short that they leave out plenty of other topics. (I’ll save a complete review of two of the books for later.) The same goes for Steve Demme’s Math-U-See line. While I can’t speak to its efficacy, it is without a trace of Christian or other religious content and sticks to math. Seems right to me.
Those who refuse to buy these products based on the religious convictions of the creators of the works sum up their angst thus: We don’t want to financially support creationism.
Me neither. But what these folks do with their hard-earned money is, frankly, up to them. I wonder if these same folks ask their doctor, dentist, barber, mechanic, or plumber what causes they support with their hard-earned money. I doubt they do. And I’ll bet some of it goes to support creationism. I doubt the creationist who I serve as a Physician Assistant want to support Planned Parenthood and my Unitarian Universalist church, but, indirectly (generally via their insurance) they do.
I started this post not knowing for sure which side I’d end up supporting. I’ve suffered a bit of guilt purchasing Keller’s materials, concerned I was supporting a creationist agenda, but I’m not sure that guilt was merited. Keller’s free to support the causes she wishes to support. The writer of that email is free to not support Demme’s materials because of the causes he supports. Certainly the tide moves the opposite way as well, with many homeschooling families buying curriculum that is written by other Christians (and only the ones who believe the way they believe), and they’re free to do so as well. We’re all doing what we feel is best for our families, for our world. We’re free to disagree and free to follow our conscience.
Now it’s your turn. How do you turn this question over in your mind? Regardless of your political or religious stance, how do you align your purchases with your conscience? What do you do when the two collide?