It Shouldn’t Be This Hard for Atheist Homeschooling Parents to Find Material

A few months ago, I wrote about a project that KellyAnne Kitchin and Jenn Gauthier were working on. They were concerned that a lot of the material made for homeschooling parents like them was written from a Young Earth Creationist, the-Bible-must-be-true perspective. They wanted more secular resources for their kids, so they began a campaign to compile and spread materials with actual educational value.

Now, Kimberly Winston of the Religion News Service has written about their plight:

While two-thirds of home schooling families are Christian evangelicals, the number of secular home-schoolers is significant — 25 percent, according to the Home School Legal Defense Association.

… finding curricula and materials has sometimes been a challenge, Kitchin said. Most American publishers… tailor their materials accordingly. In their science books, evolution is a bad word.

Kitchin has purchased texts from as far away as Germany, England and France. With three sons, ages 5, 8 and 12, with different interests and different levels of learning, all those textbooks can be pricey.

“That is the biggest challenge — finding something that is affordable, current and not religious,” Kitchin said.

The article also includes discussions of workarounds that some secular parents have found.

It’s really incredible that finding quality educational material that isn’t religious in nature is so damn hard. In order to convince publishers to create homeschooling-specific materials that are secular, enough people need to band together and request it. Christians know that — and entire companies have been created to cater to their demands.

Let me put that another way: Christians have created a huge market for “educational” material that is anti-science, full of revisionist history, and tailored to fit within their religious framework instead of the facts. Meanwhile, material that is just accurate and without religious bias is hard to come by.

There’s something very wrong and deeply disturbing about that.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • 7Footpiper

    And I’m not surprised. Scientists doing actual science costs money;-)

  • Atheistiana

    Try Connections Academy. It’s an online charter school that has a presence is most states. Just do a search. We did this school this past year for 8th grade after my son had bullying at our local charter school and the regular public middle school was a nightmare by all accounts. You pay nothing for Connections. It has structured curriculum. You get a huge box of hard cover books and workbooks as applicable. There is great communication from the instructors. You can monitor your child’s progress all the way. For the younger grades, a parent must be a learning coach (i.e., working side by side with the child while he is doing his classes). There are also live lessons with the teachers and other kids in online classrooms for each subject (the teacher does the lesson voice but the kids use a chat interface to ask questions and participate). We just loved it!

    My son did have a section on evolution in science class and while there were plenty of kids in the live lesson going on and on about god and creationism, at least you didn’t have to actively hear them and can ignore the chat. The 8th grade instructor did let it go on because he didn’t know what to do and was overwhelmed by the religious chat. He and I did email a few times about it because my son’s questions and answers got lost in the barrage of religious nonsense, but he was working on what to do in this situation.

    Other than that, which you’ll find anywhere, the courses were wonderful and my son got a solid A- average for the year. I can highly recommend it.

    • Merry Knight

      A charter school is not what most homeschool parents are looking for. I would say that’s closer to a private school than anything and doesn’t provide the flexibility of teaching your children yourself.

      That being said, I am fond of the Calvert School’s homeschool curriculum. Since they run Connections Academy I’m sure it’s very similar.

  • AskAnAtheistBecky

    I’m surprised homeschooling parents are still focused on text books. There are loads of wonderful online resources, especially on evolution (discovery, national geographic, pbs/nova). And they are free! So is curriki.org, an open curriculum wiki.

    • HSM21

      As a secular homeschooler, we do use a lot of online resources. But not everything can be found online yet. That’s when we resort to textbooks, especially for the high school years.

      • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

        How did you do science? There’s a lot of labwork, especially in biology and chemistry, that requires specialized glassware and/or controlled chemicals and/or dead animals (for dissections). How’d you get your hands on that?

        • Merry Knight

          The labwork in High School biology and chemistry is really not that specialized until you get up into AP.

          • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

            Uh huh. Precisely.

            Well, I did dissections in pre-AP (that is, freshman) biology. And we definitely played with some fairly weak sulfuric and hydrochloric acid solutions, in pre-AP chemistry (that is, sophomore) and did experiments that required beakers and bunsen burners. You are correct that most of the really good stuff doesn’t happen until AP, but regulars science doesn’t really teach much. If the goal is to do better than public school, one should aim for AP as a minimum standard …

            • Merry Knight

              Yeah, I agree, but that’s when coops are a good idea. You can also send a homeschooled child to community college for a class like that.

              • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

                True that. Kinda pricey, but community colleges often have good classes.

                I wouldn’t trust most coops, myself. Not for science in general, not for labwork. I know what you need to know to actually teach that sort of science; most people don’t know it. It’s rare enough among science teachers- among laypeople, I’d be shocked to find it in any particular group of homeschoolers, just because of the rarity of understanding and education.

                • Jonni

                  In Australia, the CSIRO in each city runs labs for homeschoolers. I book my kids in for about $5 per child for a 2 hour workshop. They’re a lot of fun, and a much better option – having professionals with proper equipment doing the teaching.

                  I agree – it’s not something laypeople should attempt – far too dangerous and the equipment is expensive. In fact, as much as I love homeschooling my kids, I try to outsource as many specialised lessons as I can!

    • Jim Jones

      How about http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikibooks ??

      You could always donate some work to it also. Pre-copyright books are often easier to read than the ones Sonny Bono helped lock up forever.

  • http://atheistlutheran.blogspot.com/ MargueriteF

    “It’s really incredible that finding quality educational material that isn’t religious in nature is so damn hard.”

    Not really. Homeschoolers are a relatively small market, and secular homeschoolers are a much smaller market– a niche of a niche, if you will. I would think it makes perfect sense from a publishing company’s point of view to tailor products for the larger segment of the market. I’m sure it’s exasperating, though.

  • berberine

    I don’t know about other places, but the school district I work in will provide the district’s books to homeschoolers. If they want to keep them, they have to buy them, but, if they plan on returning them at the end of the year like the rest of the students, they can do that too. They just have to make an appointment with the school, fill out some paperwork and off they go.

    However, I don’t know any that actually do this because the few families I know of that homeschool are all Christians.

    • kelemi

      In the 1960s, many of the home schooling parents were left leaning hippies.

      Just because the Fundamentallsts are the best known ones today doesn’t mean that you have to follow their line. Some of the public schools in the South follow the Fundamentalist line so you might want to home school or enroll your child in a school not following those lines.

  • Anna

    I’m still confused why this is an issue. Parents can get science textbooks by regular publishers. Check what the local public schools and the secular private schools (especially the expensive, high performing ones) are using. Cheap copies of those textbooks are available everywhere online.

    Most American publishers… tailor their materials accordingly. In their science books, evolution is a bad word.

    I don’t know what she means by this because it simply isn’t true. Any science book by a secular publisher will treat evolution as a fact. That’s why creationist homeschooling parents have to use their own special curriculum. For textbooks, atheist parents can look at secular staples like Macmillan/McGraw-Hill, Pearson/Prentice Hall, Scott Foresman, Houghton Mifflin, and McDougal Littell. For non-textbooks, they can go to Barnes and Noble and pick up any science book by a mainstream publisher. Usborne, for example, or Dorling Kindersley. The only place creationist science books are available (at least in my neck of the woods) is Christian bookstores.

    • Ewan

      Even if it were true, there’s the rest of the world out here too. If you need to buy textbooks from Amazon.co.uk, then do that. You’re not saddled with American publishers just because you’re in America.

    • kelemi

      It works both ways. The state of Kentucky, for one has a state run creation museum. The public schools probably teach creation as fact. An atheist home schooling his/her children would teach > 1 million years. There are non sectarian web sites to help those who home school.

      PS I grew up in New York State. I was taught in Public School that the US was never an aggressor nation and never went in where it wasn’t wanted. If I home schooled, I would teach the interventions. I would also teach how Churchill betrayed Romania and Finland in WWII

    • Amber Carmona

      This is precisely what I do. Approximately 80% of the materials I buy for our schoolwork are purchased “used” from Amazon or Alibris, and the ones I cannot find on those sites come “new” directly from the publisher. This saves me a lot of money every year. The big names are almost all very cooperative with homeschooling families (with regards to buying teaching materials and not just student texts), but the price tag puts me off buying all of my material directly from them.

      As for evolution, I have used Macmillan/McGraw-Hill Science: A Closer Look for our science text (as both of my children are still elementary level), and I purchased an additional book about evolution that we read during the biology/life science portion.

      Fortunately for us, when my boys are at the level where they will need advanced science, the technical community college in our area offers free dual enrollment courses.for highschoolers ages 15+.

    • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

      I would guess the difficulty is in identifying age-appropriate material.

    • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

      I think she meant in the home-schooling books. I know there are people who home school for a variety of reasons but the majority are fundamentalist christians (I think almost all the kids in my parents church are now home-schooled.) and that crowd is VERY against any teaching of evolution and the books marketed to them will obviously reflect that.

  • kelemi

    There is a site for secular home schooling.

    http://www.secularhomeschool.com/content/203-secular-homeschool-support-groups-state/

    Home schooling isn’t for everyone, but you don’t need to be a religious fundamentalist to do it.

    • Mike Herron

      Thanks for the link, but I went to the Minnesota link they had there and they had a series of reviews of science curricula. I read all the reviews and I would not recommend any of the curricula. At best they never mention evolution or deep time. They talk a good game, but I could find nothing any scientist would support.

      • kelemi

        Sorry to hear about that. Hope you do find something good.
        My cousin home schooled her son in VA. Had much better luck, NY has some good non sectarian home schooling help sites.

  • Wvsasha

    As a special educator it was rare to have current science texts that were of reading levels my kids could manage but I was still charged with teaching them grade level content. This is why I learned to break away from seeing textbooks as the end-all and be-all of curriculum. I had them in my classroom as required by law – but I created my own lessons and heavily relied on the Internet and my own research for activities to teach my students. It was a lot of work but ultimately more rewarding. Maybe the parents need to trust their abilities to find resources in non-traditional formats.

  • Hero

    it’s easier to just let you kids watch the flintstones than actually understand and explain evolution.

    Also there are a few kids books out there that touch on the subject (you may have mentioned them here actually…):

    “Bang! How We Came To Be” by Michael Rubino
    “Peppers Special Wings” by Mary Anne Farah

    And for the older kids:
    Campbell Biology textbook is probably one of my favorite textbooks that I used for AP biology

  • Beth

    After watching ‘The Revisionaries. on Netflix I seriously thought about homeschooling my kids!

  • Tobias2772

    I would think that you could easily find used textbooks at Amazon.

  • yvonne23

    I’ve been homeschool for almost 10 years now, and have no trouble finding plenty of secular material to use, including for sciences and history. Especially if you aren’t married to school-in-a-box or textbooks. And even then there are plenty of resources. Even in a small Southern town I’ve found more secular material than we can use!

    Yes, some major homeschool curriculum makers cater to the religious, but there is still plenty of others. It is certainly not hard to come by. My local library was able to provide a tremendous amount at no cost.

  • estraven

    My daughter homeschools her kids, but she doesn’t use a pre-packaged curriculum. She’s found all kinds of resources on the Internet, including the Kahn Academy. The homeschooling group she belongs too also offers classes in some things; also, the local schools admit homeschooled kids for classes in the upper grades. Plus as the kids get older they’ll be able to go to community college classes. Maybe the problem is in trying to buy structured curricula, which is definitely not my daughter’s thing.

  • ALO55

    I am working with Thinkwell right now and it is very good and reasonably affordable. The lectures, exercises, the test are all well organized planned. I then get to interject with updates and peals rather than spending all my time on organization and presentation of the subject matter. We have purchased a few used additions of standard AP texts for a few bucks, but the Thinkwell materials are remarkably complete and text books may not prove necessary. Thinkwell offers a few AP courses for college credit (if you sign up for the AP exam).

    Kahn acadamy is great but not organized into a course, but great as a supplement. If you are concerned about evolution, Jerry Coynes “Why Evolution is True” is readable for high school kids. This is a great supplement to the Thinkwell materials, adding just enough depth to develop the topic without drowning in minutia. It is also is fairly neutral on the subject of theistic evolution, with a few necessary answers to well known creationist claims. NOVA and national geographic produce science videos. NOVA also has the Dover evolution trial which demonstrates the politics behind education, religion and science in particular and why understanding why evolution is a science and creationism is a list of challenges, not a competing theory or alternate explanation.

    You can generally get older editions of standard text books with teacher’s solution manuals and workbooks on Amazon, Ebay, Cathswap and other homeschool resource sites(Catholic), conferences etc. These editions barely change from one to the next and remain 97% -99% equivalent. Older books often cost under $10. –Text books are a scam for your tax dollars but that is another post.

    I would suggest that no one strive to remove religion from their children’s education. That makes as much sense as keeping them in a bubble and denying sex exist. Then sending them to live in college sorority house. It is there, so learn about it. Evolution is actually much more interesting when you can show the progression of scientific progress dispelling religious literality into the realm of parables and allegory( Galen/Vesalius; Galileo; Darwin; Pasteur; etc)

    I am almost inclined to disagree with the thesis of the article. There are materials, they are just not laid out in the traditional homeschooling packaging you get with the likes of ABEKA and Exploring Creation. I suppose if you want to search far and wide for a history text that does not mention god or religion, you could claim that is difficult. But it is only difficult because it is equally unrealistic to teach history without religion as it is to teach biology without evolution. Get over it, that’s why you homeschool– to do things differently. Enjoy it.

    • Elizabeth

      Its not about removing religion from education completely. Its being able to state someone’s beliefs and not put a bias on whether those beliefs are correct. If you can teach your kids what Hitler believed in and how that motivated him without making him “right”, you can do the same thing for any other person or event in history. The only difference between Egyptian mythology and Christian mythology is that no one still thinks the Egyptians were right.

  • joyful

    Wow….if the material doesn’t fit your worldview then it is “anti-science” and “revisionist.”
    We, as Christians, have every right to educate our children as we see fit! Just as you have every right to educate your children as you see fit. I have the right to free exercise of my faith and you have the right to not believe. Stop trying to force your beliefs on everyone else. I am tired of people like you calling my faith nonsense! I do not bash you for your lack of faith or what you teach your child so stop judging those with faith for their beliefs and what they teach their children. There is plenty of material out there for those who believe in evolution. It is obsolutely ridiculous to claim otherwise. You just want every textbook and curricula out there to agree with you!

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      If the material can’t withstand scientific inquiry and dismisses scientific evidence, then it is anti-science. If it does not match with well-known historical records than it is revisionistic. Please teach your children to read and understand things before becoming upset over them.

  • lauraleemoss

    Teachers pay teachers. You will have tons of choices.

  • Anjela Renee Author

    My 9th grade son is attending online public school but I’m considering a traditional homeschooling for next year.