You know how you sometimes need to have a "hard" conversation with someone and you know going into it that it's probably not going to be a fun time because it's probably not what the other person wants to hear? This might be one of those conversations. But as a mother, homeschool mom, wife, theologian and educator, here is my pointed advice - parent to parent.
I've mentioned before how the number one question I get is, "Which curriculum should I buy?" To be candid, this is kind of a frustrating question for me because people usually want a one or two word answer and the answer is kind of, well, complicated. This is why there are three curriculum pages on this blog.
Lately, however, I've been wanting to change the nature of my answer. There seems to be this widespread belief that parents don't actually need expertise in highly complex subjects in order to teach them as long as you have the "right" textbook with video instruction. Really?
Sure, when children are young, it's not so much of an issue because everyone has a general knowledge base to work from. But once the child gets into fifth and sixth grade and above, it becomes more difficult. If I wanted my daughter to learn how to play the piano, sure I could give her some rudimentary lessons. After all, I played piano for ten years. I know how to read music, play chords and what-not. But once she gets to a certain level, we need a professional in order for her to make meaningful progress. And there is nothing wrong with that. No one can be an expert in everything.
So why do we think that a parent should be able to teach advanced subjects like Algebra II and biology? We don't. That's where the quest for the "magical textbook" comes in. The ideal textbook will teach my child science the way I want it taught - without evolution, but with a high view of science, a high view of Scripture, and complements my child's learning style. Here's the thing, even if there was such a textbook, it wouldn't solve the problem because the real problem is a problem that a textbook can't solve! There is simply no substitute for an informed and thoughtful teacher. Students need guidance. They need input. They need to learn how to discuss various points of view in a careful way. A textbook doesn't do this.
The reality is, however, a lot of Christian parents are woefully ignorant about science, worldviews and apologetics. (Yes, I know that sounds blunt, but it's true.) They want their children to know a propagandized view of science (i.e., young-earth creationism), but they themselves really don't know that much about science. So they rely on "magic textbooks" or co-ops that use the "magic textbooks," as an inoculation that will save Christian children from unbelief later in life.
Here's my best advice for homeschool parents: Worry less about finding the ideal curriculum and take more time to educate yourself instead. Take some science courses at the local junior college. Read some books. Watch some videos. Take a Reasons Institute course or two. (Trust me, they will change your life!)
I talk to my girls about science and apologetics every day. Of course, I don't tell them that. I simply ask them questions as we're driving down the road or doing chores around the house. "What did you think about today's sermon?" "What is cement made from?" "Do stars have points?" "Do you think God is mad at the Japanese and that's why there was an earthquake?" This is where true education happens - in every day life. Not in a magical textbook. But it all starts with me. If I don't make efforts to learn, then I'm not putting myself in a good position to ask my children thoughtful questions or give them sophisticated guidance.
I wish there was some magic booklet I could sell you that you could read in 10 minutes and know how to save your children from apostasy. (I heard a ministry advertising such a thing a couple days ago on the radio.) There isn't. And anyone who tells you different is being deceptively over-simplistic. The core issue with today's teens who are losing their faith is the authority of Scripture. That makes perfect sense to me because my generation hasn't done its due diligence in intellectually equipping ourselves to respond to a post-modern culture. So how can we possibly equip our children? The problem is not our children. The problem is us. We haven't done our homework so now we're desperately looking for a short-cut to salvage the situation. We want to arm our children for battle using Cliff Notes.
Are textbooks important? Yes. Mastery of a set of issues is critical. But textbooks will not save this generation. Theologically sophisticated, thoughtful input from parents might.