Sunday, January 10, 2010

Question: YEC Textbook Controversy

I received a great question from Kathy R.:

Our sons are in 8th and 9th grade, so we need to consider prerequisite courses for college entrance. Have you heard of the court cases involving the University of California system and USC’s deeming creationist curriculum (and even faith-based history curricula) as inadequate for their admission requirements? The courts decided that there was too much missing science in the creationist textbooks, so students were left unprepared for college sciences if they used them.

The last two years of homeschooling, we’ve used Prentice Hall for sciences & Sonlight for history – no conflict for the universities there. But we’re considering transferring our boys into the local Christian School next year; just wondering how much I should be concerned about their use of creation science texts and faith-based history curricula, and whether that will limit our son’s college choices in three & four years.

If it was only the UC system and USC that didn’t accept creation science courses, that would not concern us too much – there are plenty of other colleges and we don’t live in CA. But I’m betting that their admission standard will spread beyond CA. What are the Californians doing? Have Christian Schools in CA been changing to secular texts because of this? And do you think this admission requirement will spread to other universities, too? If so, we might need to drop the Christian School idea, or try to educate the small school and see if they would consider changing their curricula (doesn’t that sound fun!?)
This is such a great question, Kathy. I did a search of my blog and I can't believe I haven't written a post on this subject yet, so I'm really glad you wrote to me about it.

First, a little back story is probably in order. In the spring of 2006, the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI; the main accreditation body for almost all Christian schools) filed a case against the University of California claiming religious discrimination over the rejection of five courses as college preparatory instruction. This page on the ACSI web site contains a number of documents related to the case: "Legal Legislative Services: University of California." This situation put a lot of homeschool parents and Christian school teachers on notice that there could be trouble ahead for their students.

More recently, in August 2008 Judge Otero ruled in favor of University of California in ACSI v. Roman Stearns agreeing with the university's position that creation science textbooks on both U.S. history and science, from A Beka Books and Bob Jones University Press, should not be used for a college-preparatory science classes. The university found the books "didn't encourage critical thinking skills and failed to cover 'major topics, themes and components'" and were thus, ill-suited to prepare students for college.

Basically, what this controversy boils down to is this: Who controls the criteria for college entrance? In the case of private universities, it's not an issue. They can generally set whatever criteria they want. What's more of a question are the publicly funded universities, such as those in the UC system. Candidly speaking, this isn't an easy issue. There are a lot of complicated questions at stake, such as religious free speech, censorship, and the promotion of academic excellence. I am not qualified to speak to the legal issues, so I'll have to leave those to the experts.

All of that being said, I do think this should be a high concern for Christian parents. My general rule of thumb is to recommend teachers to use mainstream, secular textbooks beginning in middle school. This essentially eliminates the entire problem, while also introducing students to the controversy. Personally, I'd rather help facilitate my students to think through these critical worldview questions on this site of their university studies rather than try to do damage control later, which is almost always unsuccessful. Here are two related posts that explain my views on these issues in more detail:
For me personally, one of the big issues as stake involves teaching kids to thinking critically and differentiate between good science and bad. And sadly, I do concur with the judge that creation science texts don't do this very well. Creation science textbooks promote their viewpoints exclusively, conceal key evidence against their position, include inaccurate scientific data, and paint their opponents' arguments inaccurately. But these statements could apply to secular texts as well, although I would argue to a lesser degree. Mainstream texts focus mostly on the scientific data, with the general exception of a chapter on evolution.

If it was my daughters, I have to be honest with you, this would be a big issue for me, especially because one of my daughters wants to be a professional scientist. So college entrance would be a big issue for me. Although this controversy has been limited to the California courts (so far), the perception that creation science textbooks teach inaccurate science and promote inadequate critical thinking skills is widespread. Personally, I wouldn't want to chance it. Moreover, I would want my girls to get the best university preparation possible and I know that wouldn't come through the use of creation science texts.

As far as your question about sending your sons to Christian school, I can almost guarantee that you won't have much getting the school to change their minds about their science curriculum. Do you know for sure, however, that they use creation science curriculum? Not all Christian schools do. Some do use mainstream texts. So you might want to inquire about that. If they are using creation science texts, you might consider working with the Christian school to allow them to do their science course via independent study or a local community college.


Celestial Fundy said...

Hey, this is a good blog. I think the Old Earth Creation view is very neglected in some circles.

I am a Gap theory fan (one of the last) and agnostic about the age of the earth.

I used to be a Youn Earth Creationist, but I have become very resentful of the dogmatism and harshness of so much Young Earth rhetoric.

Keep up the blog.

Every Blessing in Christ


Jenny said...

As someone who was homeschooled and attended a UC school, I'd like to add a suggestion: Consider arranging for high schoolers to take transferable science classes at a local community college, one that is legally contracted to be accepted by the state and local private universities. I took Intro to Biology, fearful that I'd be indoctrinated about natural selection. However, the textbook barely covered the subject. Iirc, my professor spent only one lecture on it and talking about respecting opposing views. My lab instructor made that lab assignment optional. Now I know that my experience might be unique, but it's worth considering. :)