Home schooling non-fundies suckered by lousy textbooks

By Amanda Marcotte
Tuesday, March 9, 2010 13:58 EDT
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My first question upon reading about how non-nutbar home schoolers are having trouble getting decent science books for their kids is this: Why are you giving a single dime to the Christian right? How could you not know that when you buy a science textbook from a “Christian” publisher, it’s going to be a diatribe against the theory of evolution?

That a whole market for home schooling textbooks exists isn’t surprising in the slightest, of course. 83% of home schoolers report that they pulled their kids out of school to give them “religious or moral” instruction, i.e. that they’re fanatical Christians who want to exert firm control over their children until they’re sure that they’re brainwashed enough that they won’t stray from the path. (That this system ensures that wives have no interests or time outside of the family is just a bonus.) What’s going on with the other 17% is probably a grab bag of stuff—bad school districts (or the perception of that), resentment towards the training-you-to-be-compliant aspects of public education, general hippiness—but what I find interesting and sometimes amusing about the other home schoolers is that they seem, to outsiders, way too interested in looking at the religious wackos with a forgiving eye. Is it just that fundies so dominate home schooling that the everyone else home schoolers feel they either create those alliances or languish in loneliness?

I’m surprised they found a woman who was willing to go on the record with a story about how she bought a biology textbook from Bob Jones University, and was shocked and appalled that it denied the reality of evolution. And in a proper twee flourish, gave her small child all the credit for catching the error, as if the child was somehow so brilliant she was born knowing the theory of evolution. I’m surprised, because I’d be too humiliated by this mistake to talk about it, especially if I was interested in selling the idea that I was all my child needs in terms of pre-university instruction, since admitting to that kind of mistake really undermines your credibility. Adding the detail that implies that you might have missed it if it weren’t for your child’s intervention doesn’t help matters. I realize the woman is just participating in that common but annoying cultural trope of, “Me? I’m just a mom, nothing special. Except that I produced these brilliant offspring!”, but still. It’s a little over the top.

Part of me wishes that fundie home schoolers found that raising children to deny basic reality will have a long-term detriment to those kids’ futures, but unfortunately, going to public school is no guard against believing that everything out of your limited understanding must be magic. And so having one more magical belief doesn’t really make much difference in our society. We are all swirling down the drain of ignorance about science. Take for instance, the appallingly magical view a lot of young people have about contraception. Honestly, estimating that the pill fails half the time is straight up magical thinking, assuming that the pill works like wishes and superstitions, which probably work out half the time on average because most wishes and superstitions are addressing a binary situation that involves chance. (Like what team is going to win in tonight’s big game.) It may not feel like magical thinking—I’m sure there’s a haphazard line of made-up reasoning to explain where they got this idea—but that’s what it is. Even a rudimentary understanding of human biology would go a long way to helping people understand things like how contraception works. (I’m not trying to dog on anyone here; I know a lot of smart people who haven’t managed to get past the incorrect idea that the pill “tricks” your body into thinking it’s pregnant. It actually just maintains your hormones at a level that isn’t the one required to ovulate.) Fundies are just pushing us further down the path we were already on, where scientific ignorance is normal and practically expected.

So I guess I shouldn’t be too hard on home schoolers who get duped by these textbooks. I think a lot of people defend evolutionary theory for the wrong reasons—not because they understand it, but because they (correctly) perceive the pro-ignorance, patriarchal bent of fundamentalists who oppose evolutionary theory. But you definitely see really smart people buy into incorrect tropes about science that are ones that the fundies are promoting. For instance, the concept of “Darwinism”, as if Darwin created a religion or ideology that people “believe” in. But that’s not how scientific theories work. Darwin is an interesting historical figure, but the theory itself has morphed and expanded and diversified and dare I say evolved. But most people struggle with understanding how a scientist criticizing one aspect of natural selection as an all-encompassing theory isn’t actually trying to bring down the whole thing like a house of cards. As such, we’re in a poor position to defend ourselves and science, even if we mean well.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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