So this is my first real GetReligion post. Where do I start?
Do I begin with the slanted perspective of a weekend Associated Press report on home-school science textbooks? Or does the overly simplistic treatment of the subject concern me more? Slanted or simplistic? Simplistic or slanted?
Oh, all right, I’ll open with the sin of commission — the imbalance in this piece. The story immediately calls into question its own news value by leading with a 6-year-old anecdote:
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Home-school mom Susan Mule wishes she hadn’t taken a friend’s advice and tried a textbook from a popular Christian publisher for her 10-year-old’s biology lessons.
Mule’s precocious daughter Elizabeth excels at science and has been studying tarantulas since she was 5. But she watched Elizabeth’s excitement turn to confusion when they reached the evolution section of the book from Apologia Educational Ministries, which disputed Charles Darwin’s theory.
“I thought she was going to have a coronary,” Mule said of her daughter, who is now 16 and taking college courses in Houston. “She’s like, ‘This is not true!’”
However, the anecdote sets the tone for the article: Home-school parents who believe in evolution are victims of a market that favors a “Bible-based version of the Earth’s creation.” These parents feel “isolated and frustrated.” The most popular home-school science textbooks “promulgate lies to kids” and “stack the deck against evolution.”
Grab a tissue, folks, because “if this is the way kids are home-schooled then they’re being shortchanged, both rationally and in terms of biology,” as one evolution expert tells AP.
You get the idea. These are valid questions, of course, but the story provides no concrete evidence — or even any squishy anecdotal proof — that home-school graduates receive an inferior science education to their public school counterparts. This is just assumed. Why not track down a few home-school graduates now taking university-level science courses and see how they’re doing?
To be fair, opposing viewpoints are included in the AP article, but never — in my opinion — with the same level of precision and conviction as the sources that embrace Charles Darwin and evolutionary science. The story quotes a second “disheartened” home-school parent and a third who complains about the lack of a “scientifically credible curriculum” before finally giving a voice to a creationist family in the last three paragraphs:
Adam Brown’s parents say their 16-year-old son’s belief in the Bible’s creation story isn’t deterring him from pursuing a career in marine biology. His parents, Ken and Polly Brown, taught him at their Cedar Grove, Ind., home using the Apologia curriculum and other science texts.
Polly Brown said her son would gladly take college courses that include evolution, and he’ll be able to provide the expected answers even though he disagrees.
“He probably knows it better than the kids who have been taught evolution all through public school,” Polly Brown said. “But that is in order for him to understand both sides of that argument because he will face it throughout his higher education.”
Of course, that leads to the sin of omission — the fact that this piece fails to grasp the complicated nature of the creation vs. evolution debate.
ReligionLink’s most recent primer on evolution explains the difference between young-Earth creationists and old-Earth creationists. And it points out that some advocates of intelligent design — the theory that the complexity of life points to a higher being at work — believe that evolution can be compatible with belief in God. Then again, ReligionLink notes:
ID (intelligent design) and creationism are not necessarily in accord with each other, and in fact proponents of each camp can argue as vociferously as Darwinists and anti-Darwinists.
It might surprise the AP writer to learn that, even among Christian university biology professors, much diversity exists on this topic. The word “evolution” means many things to many different people, and there are many people who keep getting jammed under that “creationist” umbrella that have no business being there.
Yes, I know (as an AP alum), that a reporter can’t include every detail and nuance in an 883-word story. But would a little less bias — and a little more rudimentary knowledge — be too much to ask?
I didn’t think so.
By the way, I may be new here, but I already know to ask readers to stick to the journalism issues when writing comments about a topic as hot as this one.
Image: From Wikimedia Commons.