Why Are Christian Homeschooling Parents Pushing to Expose Their Children to Evolution?

The world of Christian homeschooling is undergoing a shift.

More and more, parents are seeking material that will “teach the controversy” on evolution. Although we tend to see that as a method to discredit evolution when used in public schools, you might think this is actually a step up in the world of Creationism-or-bust homeschooling textbooks — they’re finally teaching evolution, too — but there’s a little more to the story than that:

Christian homeschool science textbooks have long taught young earth creationism (YEC) almost exclusively. But observers say a growing number of parents want texts that also teach evolution.

“The YEC position is strong and ingrained in the homeschool movement,” said Sonlight president Sarita Holzmann, who homeschools her children and believes in a young earth. “That might be to our detriment.” She says students need to be able to evaluate different positions.

In the airtight world of religiously-motivated homeschooling dominated by evangelical Christians, being open-minded and exposing their children to different viewpoints means allowing them to know that other ideas exist besides Creationism:

An excerpt from a Ken Ham Creationist textbook. The text reads ‘At this stage you may have two questions: Why did animals like T. rex have fierce-looking sharp teeth if they were vegetarians? And why is the world today one in which there is death, disease, suffering and bloodshed everywhere?’ (via Democratic Underground)

Some publishers are quick to note that they already explain alternatives to Creationism:

BJU Press, one of the largest providers of Christian homeschooling resources, said demand for its YEC curriculum remains strong—and it already includes other viewpoints. “We don’t hedge on [YEC] at all,” said Brad Batdorf, who supervises authors of 7th to 12th grade curriculum. “We talk about other views… [and] even go so far as to give some scriptures they use. But then we present what we feel is the strongest, most supportable position.”

So here we get to the bottom of this apparent new openness to actual science: It’s not to give kids the chance to evaluate both positions fairly, it’s opposition research:

“It’s important for Christian young people to know what they’re going to be exposed to in college and universities,” said Batdorf. “They’ll need to defend their faith and give an answer.”

They don’t want kids to learn about evolution in order to give them an alternative to their religious mythology. They are simply afraid of what will happen when their children, utterly cocooned in the echo-chamber of the evangelical community their entire lives, suddenly confront actual science. They want these kids to have snappy talking points that will hopefully prevent any further questioning that could lead them to stray from their fundamentalist beliefs. They’re not learning about evolution because there might be some truth to it; they’re learning about evolution so they can pretend to find problems with it that simply aren’t there.

You have to feel sorry for these children. They are purposefully being denied a chance at a quality science education. What will happen when they take their first university level biology class? When they offer their professor the feeble Creationist talking points in response to over 150 years of developing science?

Worse still, many will never bother. Why concern yourself with biology, when you already know that “God did it” and that those scientists are all atheists who “hate God” anyway? These are children robbed of an education, and a whole society robbed of the potential contributions of bright minds, dimmed by the cloud of superstition.

About Claudia

I'm a lifelong atheist and a molecular biologist with a passion for science and a passionate opposition to its enemies.

  • DougI

    My sister-in-law is Catholic and she homeschooled her kids. As a result, when my niece and nephew met with other homeschooled kids they were the only ones who accepted the fact of evolution. They were the extreme exception to the norm in that area at least.

  • Obazeravzi

    If the kids are smart, this will still help. It’s really easy to tell the difference between the absurd, obviously false fairytale version of evolution that creationists scorn and the real thing taught in college. Noticing that the lies they were told about evolution are very different from what’s actually taught can’t be good for their faith in creationism.

  • TiltedHorizon

    “They are simply afraid of what will happen when their children, utterly cocooned in the echo-chamber of the evangelical community their entire lives, suddenly confront actual science. ”

    I imagine it would play out like a scene from “The Waterboy” where home-schooled ‘Bobby Boucher’ answers ‘Colonel Sanders’ trying to explain why “alligators are abnormally aggressive”.

    “My Mama says that alligators are ornery because they got all them teeth and no toothbrush.”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UfC4u5GCy3I

  • Baby_Raptor

    So they don’t actually want evolution taught, they want the Creationist strawman evolution presented. Then their crotchfruit will have all the brainwashing needed to develop still more cognitive dissonance and continue dragging the US down to Third World status.

    Fucking great. Let’s all applaud them.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    I’m torn. I mean, it’s not like the general American public’s understanding of evolution can get much worse. Who knows, maybe some of those kids will pick up a copy of Coyne or Dawkins so they can laugh at it…

  • C Peterson

    If good schools made it clear that they were largely uninterested in accepting home schooled students, the parents wouldn’t have to worry about what their kids would get exposed to. Go to a credentialed, standards based school, or plan on going to college at Liberty or a similar joke.

  • ihana1

    I was raised YEC, all the way. carbon dating was a hoax, sc

    ientists were liars. Public school taught me that T Rex ate watermelo. I now lament my lack of a scientific education, while appreciating articles about the Doctrine of Original Herbivory in the SI.

  • jenbo

    This is a little off topic, but I just had a conversation with a homeschooled uber-Christian who literally said “if by ‘secular’ you mean ‘religious’ then I agree with you.” I just…uhg, these people aren’t even educated about words they may find to be controversial – you KNOW they won’t properly educate their children about topics they find to be controversial. They’ll give them enough twisted information to make evolution look sinister and foolish and then quote Bible verses to wash the evil stink off the pages – as if bible verses were literally scientific arguments. If I prayed, it would be that these children would recognize faulty reasoning on their own, cause god knows their parents won’t help them do that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1156937867 Kathy Orlinsky

    Question from Ham’s book: “Why did animals like T. rex have fierce-looking sharp teeth if they were vegetarians?”

    Why, yes, that is an excellent question. I’m not sure what answer is given, but the handy quotation that accompanies that section is “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” WTF? Does the T. rex have sharp teeth because it’s afraid of the lord? Or is the T. rex the lord and has sharp teeth so we can all be afraid of it? Or maybe that quotation has nothing whatsoever to do with the subject, but stop asking stupid questions and memorize it.

    These schools must work overtime to make sure kids turn their brains off. No one with minimal critical thinking skills could possibly find this stuff satisfactory.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    No, the point is that you need to shut up and stop asking questions that piss of the Lord! Then you’ll get wise. Like Ken!

  • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Bubba Tarandfeathered

    and gawd saw how stupid his followers would be and he thought, “This is good.”

  • Karen Loethen

    To be fair to homeschoolers, this is the same argument happening in the schools too. Writing it this way suggests a problem with HOMESCHOOLING when it is really a problem with RELGION.

    My blog: Homeschool ATHEIST Momma.
    There are many of us out here working to make our voices heard as loudly as the Christian Apologists.

    How about focus of what is working in a blog post?

  • Karen Loethen

    That is ridiculous! The problem isn’t homeschooling. It is RELIGION.

  • Keulan

    So instead of just teaching their kids creationism, these homeschoolers will now be teaching them a strawman version of evolution as well. Yeah, that’s sooo much better.

  • http://criticallyskeptic-dckitty.blogspot.com Katherine Lorraine

    I was homeschooled in a fundie household from 8th-12th grades. I was exposed to Creationism that entire time. Prior to my homeschoolilng, I was a starry-eyed individual, with a love of astronomy and dinosaurs and all that kind of stuff. I wanted to discover things and be a scientist of some sort.
    Creationism killed my interest in science. When you reduce everything down to “God did it” it doesn’t have any questions attached. It kills curiosity. I was no longer interested in “why”, because the simple answer was “God wanted it that way.”
    The worst part of this thing is that those taught evolution are going to be taught a poor-man’s version of it, a watered down, incorrect truth. It won’t be the kind of science they need to know. Then they’ll get to college, and be one of those students like me, not interested, bored, I know what I need to know to pass the test.

  • C Peterson

    They are both problems, separate and distinct. Not on the same scale, of course. Religion is a massive problem for all of humanity, one of the Great Problems responsible for a large part of all pain and suffering. But home schooling represents a minor social problem in the U.S., with the majority of home schooled students (even those schooled without a religious agenda) receiving a poor quality education. We’d be better off if home schooling were illegal.

  • Mary

    I can tell you exactly what will happen to them because I was one of them. They will get to college, memorize the facts that they need to know for the tests, but still firmly believe that they are being taught lies and that God is the answer to every question. That’s how indoctrination works. My whole world would have fallen apart if I had realized that I was sitting in geology class with an incredibly smart professor and that nearly everything he was saying was true. It would have crushed me. So I never considered the possibility, even though I was at one of the best colleges in the country.

    Believe me, it doesn’t matter if Christian schools teach evolution, because the version they teach will be 100% inaccurate and completely unconvincing. I was taught about evolution at a Christian school. That segment of the class was basically time for the teacher to show us the “holes” in a sad, lifeless, godless “theory.” We memorized Bible verses that pertained to creation while we were studying evolution – basically we were taught how to argue against it without actually being taught the real facts at all. I wish I had saved the worksheets. That 4th grade test floating around in the web looks too familiar.

    My Christian high school was considered to be one of the best. We also had a “religions and cults” class, where we were taught basic facts about all religions and, of course, why Christianity was better than them all, the only true religion. Every time I write about these things I just get SO angry. I think if I had not been subject to indoctrination my life would have taken a completely different path. All those awesome classes I took in college would have inspired me to keep thinking and reading – instead of challenging my worldview and frustrating me at every turn. Even though I could have done anything with my life and had the amazing opportunity to go to a great school, my goal continued to be “to get married and have a family.” WASTED college tuition, wasted four years and endless possibilities. Down the drain!

  • http://www.facebook.com/andy.gunn.902 Andy Gunn

    The real question is who woUld be more afraid in a fight, gawd or a T-Rex. my bets on gawd, T-Rexes are fUcking scary, not even divine power can beat one!

  • Mary

    And I’d just like to add that homeschooling isn’t the issue here – religious schooling is the issue, whether it be at home or at school. I plan to home school my child in elementary school because it will work best for her. And believe me, I’m quite capable of giving her a good education for several years. In fact, one of the many reasons I’m choosing to homeschool is that I want my child to learn that critical thinking is more important that blindly accepting what any teacher says. I don’t believe our schools are doing enough teaching of critical thinking. There is a lot of “authority” still built into the system. When my child does go to school, she will know how to ask good questions and will be pretty immune to indoctrination of any sort, at least that’s my goal.

    Someone commented below that we would be better off outlawing homeschooling, and that’s just ludicrous. If a home schooled child consistently meets criteria that school kids meet, there should be no issue with homeschooling. If you are going to outlaw homeschooling, you better outlaw private schooling, because private schools are much better at indoctrination…mine was pretty much a cult, a tax-exempt one, of course.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

    i disagree. if i had a child, i would homeschool her. only because my standards are much higher than most public schools, and i can’t afford $20K in private school tuition.

    homeschooling can and is excellent, done correctly. i have encountered more than a few wonderfully trained homeschool students in my capacity as an admissions officer, including a Westinghouse winner. homeschooling does not automatically mean religious indoctrination.

  • rtb61

    Creationism, the theory that God is as incapable of understanding evolution as ignorant southern Americans.

  • C Peterson

    Certainly, there are kids who do well by home schooling. But the vast majority do not. Even well educated parents are usually poor teachers, and around here (I’m very involved with our local school system, sitting on the school board) the few kids I know who were home schooled by smart, well educated parents following a non-religious curriculum still aren’t quite… right. Their social interactions are odd.

    I don’t think it is a good idea to base social policy on the extreme cases. We don’t let 12-year olds drive, even though a small number could do so safely. And we shouldn’t let kids avoid public schooling (or private schooling that is accredited to national standards) simply because a small percentage might do fine without it. Too many are hurt by home schooling to overlook.

  • jess

    No school will do that because homeschooled students are often some of the highest achievers.

  • C Peterson

    I think they are amongst the lowest achievers… it’s simply that there’s a very small number of them that are very high achievers, and schools select them. This filtering produces a type of confirmation bias.

  • jess

    Homeschooled students consistently score above average on standardized testing.

    http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/aug/30/home-schooling-outstanding-results-national-tests/

  • Rose

    I would argue the opposite. Too many kids are undereducated, emotionally damaged, physically attacked, and otherwise mistreated in public schools. Shut them all down. Open a few for those people who are truly unable to manage at home. You could apply for these public schools at the same place you apply for food stamps.

  • C Peterson

    Argue that if you want. I think that would be the final nail in the coffin of the U.S. Without free, mandatory public education for every child, there is no future.

  • C Peterson

    Standardized testing does not reflect the true quality of education.

  • Wren

    Do you have any proof of this? I’m generally interested in the topic and am not sure how I feel yet.

  • JA

    I wish more people would realize this.

  • Mario Strada

    Wow Mary, I am so sorry to hear what you went through. You and (former) kids like you are the reason I went from being a lifelong atheist that pretty much kept to myself, to one that tries to do as much as I can to change the way things are. Even if it’s still not enough and often I feel like I am taking on an army with a slingshot.

  • History Hank

    Tell that to the largely homeschooled founders of this nation, the people who wrote the constitution.

  • C Peterson

    You can hardly compare the intellectual world of the 18th century to that of the 21st. The founders of this country were aristocrats… despite the fact that they were attempting to create an egalitarian nation. There existed a strong class system, property owners were considered superior and privileged, and the overall knowledge base was vastly smaller.

  • C Peterson

    It is extremely difficult to find good information about home schooling efficacy. Most states do very poor monitoring of such students.

    I speak from personal experience, with the understanding that this makes my comments anecdotal. But I know enough examples that I have reason to consider my experience to be statistically meaningful, so it does form a basis for my opinions on the matter of home schooling.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    I agree, I think it’s too easy to “teach to the test”, but I’m also leery of dismissing empirical data in favor of my own opinion and anecdotes. I think I’d be a pretty good teacher in general, but I don’t think I’d be a very good teacher for my son. But maybe that’s just me. I also don’t think parents should teach their own kids how to drive, even if they’re professional driving instructors.

    I was sort of home schooled (and largely just ‘not schooled’) up to age 12. I managed, but it’s a good thing I did go to school when I did. I suffered socially a lot. It’s hard to know how much of that was school and how much of that was me. I had a lot of problems when I did go to school (which was part of why I didn’t go to school, very long story)

    However getting back to jess’s comment, I think the actual quality of the education is less relevant. You were saying that “If good schools made it clear that they were largely uninterested in accepting home schooled students” and jess said they wouldn’t do that, I think that’s right. Even colleges and universities that put a more qualitative approach to admissions still put an emphasis on the quantitative scores. They they take a qualified approach to account for low scores in some places (can you show you can survive a university environment even if your HS scores weren’t stellar), but rejecting a kid largely because they were homeschooled? But still had stellar scores? Not going to happen.

  • Anna

    That’s not the whole story, though. All public school students are required to take standardized tests, but many states give homeschoolers an exemption. Thus, the only homeschoolers taking tests in those states are the ones whose parents allow them to take them.

    I believe Write These Laws on Your Children: Inside the World of Conservative Christian Homeschooling by Robert Kunzman goes into more detail about this.

  • Anna

    This excerpt sheds more light on the subject:

    http://www.randomhouse.com/book/203750/write-these-laws-on-your-children-by-robert-kunzman#excerpt

    Interesting snippets:

    There are probably around two million homeschooled children in the United States today, but the simple fact is that no one knows for sure. Nearly a fourth of
    states don’t even require parents to notify anyone if they homeschool their children, much less offer any sort of verification that they are doing so. Nationwide surveys almost certainly underreport the total numbers, as many homeschoolers are strongly opposed to any kind of governmental oversight of their efforts, and therefore refuse to participate in any data-gathering attempts.

    We have impressive standardized test results volunteered by some homeschool
    families; plenty of others don’t report them or don’t administer them in the
    first place. Many homeschoolers will not respond to surveys, particularly
    government-sponsored ones. Most education regulations aimed at gathering
    performance data, such as the No Child Left Behind Act, apply only to public
    schools. Even in states where registration and/or testing is required,
    substantial numbers of homeschoolers (including several families I visited)
    simply ignore the regulations.

  • Anna

    This excerpt sheds more light on the subject:

    http://www.randomhouse.com/book/203750/write-these-laws-on-your-children-by-robert-kunzman#excerpt

    Interesting snippets:

    There are probably around two million homeschooled children in the United States today, but the simple fact is that no one knows for sure. Nearly a fourth of
    states don’t even require parents to notify anyone if they homeschool their children, much less offer any sort of verification that they are doing so. Nationwide surveys almost certainly underreport the total numbers, as many homeschoolers are strongly opposed to any kind of governmental oversight of their efforts, and therefore refuse to participate in any data-gathering attempts.

    We have impressive standardized test results volunteered by some homeschool
    families; plenty of others don’t report them or don’t administer them in the
    first place. Many homeschoolers will not respond to surveys, particularly
    government-sponsored ones. Most education regulations aimed at gathering
    performance data, such as the No Child Left Behind Act, apply only to public
    schools. Even in states where registration and/or testing is required,
    substantial numbers of homeschoolers (including several families I visited)
    simply ignore the regulations.

  • Sids

    I dunno, I hear existance is a prerequisite of fear.

    Plus it can be pretty freaky if you ‘know’ you’re being attacked yet every direction looks exactly as though there’s nothing there.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ross.owens2 Ross Owens

    Pretend to find problems with evolution?? lmao

  • Sara

    I was raised homeschooled and was taught YEC as the only reasonable choice for our biological origins. Evolution was taught for the purpose of refuting it. Our family was not quite as narrow with it as only using Christian textbooks though. I am going to take my final on Monday for my first university biology class. I was not so short-sighted as to try to argue with the prof about anything (no one in my very large class did publicly). I don’t particularly believe in YEC anymore (didn’t before I took the class), but I feel very ignorant about evolution and the evidence for it. My favorite part of my class this semester has been learning more about the study of evolution. I feel more like a real human being now! I expect an A in the class . Being homeschooled did not hurt my ability to learn.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    Being homeschooled did not hurt my ability to learn.

    I’m overjoyed to hear that! My highschool bio teacher was a YEC. Although he did’t teach that in class, he did give us creationist materials outside of class, and completely skipped the evolution module in the class. I never doubted evolution, but it’s not until I did some actual reading as an adult that I really understood it, and just how cool it is.


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