Adventures in Christianist Earth Science Education IIa: In Which We Are Told About Science!

The best thing about being an adult is that I get to read textbooks by choice*, something my younger self would find fairly horrifying. The other best thing is that I don’t have to read them sober.

When it comes to Christianist educational materials, it’s best to be slightly sloshed. Less painful that way. Novocaine for the brain. So, let us lift our trusty glasses of whatever aids our concentration, and find out What Science Is.

In our A Beka Book, Science of the Physical Creation (SPC), we learn that physical science is “the systematic study of God’s physical creation and how it works.” Ah. Not even a paragraph into the book, and it’s got God all over it.

The subsequent section on mathematics as the language of science isn’t bad, and I like the clear and simple explanation of how equations work. However, comma, we then come to “Limitations of Mathematics,” which goes all on about how “people are not bound by the laws of the universe to act a certain way,” which seems kinda inappropriate in a straight-up science textbook: free will belongs in philosophy class. SPC also wants to assure us mathematics can’t “prove or disprove the existence of God.” Glad we got that cleared up. We’re then treated to several paragraphs about how scientists can make mistakes (egads, stop the presses!), are “subject to the sin of pride,” and can totes use math and data “to deceive people or distort the truth.”

Certain information may be purposely or erroneously omitted from a presentation of data, or it may be presented in a way that appears to favor the viewpoint of the one presenting it.

And after pounding on this point for a bit, they finish with this flourish:

Sometimes an error occurs because of false assumptions made by a scientist who is attempting to solve a problem. In geology, for instance, there are a great number of scientists who assume that evolution is a fact and that it has actually occurred. This assumption often leads to erroneous conclusions about the earth’s crust and its history.

Image is of a squinting white kitten with its mouth open is a sort of grimace. Caption reads, "You hurt my brain."

Whelp. That well is well and truly poisoned. And we’ve only just finished section 1.1. Oy.

In 1.2, “Science and Measurement,” we learn that “Measurements must be precise because God’s physical creation and the Laws He established to govern it are precise.” Nothing to do with not being sloppy because you’ll get wrong answers, right? And it’s right back in to banging the “scientists are fallible” drum from there. Methinks they wish us to think scientists are a bunch of silly bastards who are nefarious and almost always wrong.

Accuracy and precision are illustrated by several rifle targets wot have been shot at. I wish I was kidding.

The discussion of scientific notation seemed fairly standard, but things get mildly interesting again with Systems of Measurement, which goes on for half a page about cubits and short people cheating tall people in the measurement department. One gets the sense that A Beka writers don’t see the human glass as half-full. It’s more like they see a half-empty glass and are convinced some evil sinner’s been stealing their tea.

I’m a history nerd, so the discussion of the… dare I say, evolution, ah-ha-ha… of the foot-pound-second system was fascinating, and, as far as I can tell, accurate. And their discussion of the metric system’s origin and uses was surprisingly sensible – I guess I’d expected a dig at the atheists in the French revolution who came up with it, but it was free of that sort of sniping and completely helpful. I loved that section – right up until the final paragraph, where they just had to slip firearms into a discussion of the places where the metric system has become standard. Gun nuts, much?

Image is Jesus sitting with an assault rifle held in one hand, its butt resting on his thigh. Caption says, "Let's arm every person with a firearm. Just like Jesus wanted.When talking about measuring mass, they did an excellent job showing the difference between mass and weight. And when it came to measuring time, they said atomic clocks “are accurate to within one second every six million years” without flinching. We don’t, in fact, see anything that makes us blink until we get to temperature, and they just have to emphasize that Lord Kelvin was a Christian physicist, thanks ever-so-much. But that’s it. I’ll give ‘em this section. It’s actually quite good. Hat tipped.

But of course, the good times can’t last. Brace yerselves: we’re on to the scientific method.

They’ve got the basic observation → hypothesis → experiment thing down, but don’t admit science isn’t quite that rigid. And they completely bork the difference between a theory and a law. Observe:

When a hypothesis passes the test of many experiments and has the support of other scientists, it is referred to as a theory.

Um. No. NCSE, help us out here: what’s a theory?

In science, a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses.

So, yeah. SPC’s definition is so limited as to be useless. But it gets worse:

If a theory is verified by enough observations and experiments, it may become accepted as a scientific law.

Image is split: top half shows a kitten with its mouth open, looking like it's laughing. Bottom shows the same kitten with its mouth closed. Caption reads, "Haha... No."

Take it away, NCSE:

Law: A descriptive generalization about how some aspect of the natural world behaves under stated circumstances.

So kids being slow-poisoned by this textbook are going to emerge thinking hypothesis begets theory begets law, and that’s just remarkably wrong. But of course they have to muck up the definition of what a theory is, or their running about shrieking “Evolution is only a theory!” would fail and their kids might start calling chimpanzees “Cousin!”

SPC then proceeds to engage in a bit more well-poisoning by diverting into a discussion about how Johann Bode was totes wrong†, by way of getting kids to distrust successful science predictions.

And then they pile on a heaping helping o’ God:

One of the most basic of all scientific assumptions is that the universe is lawful, orderly, and operates according to physical laws. We cannot prove this assumption: however, everything we do in science is based upon it. As Christians, we have the utmost confidence in the validity of this scientific assumption because it agrees completely with what the Bible tells us about the universe and God, its Creator.

Whal o-kay then. Guess I’ll just sit in the corner here with my assumption that the universe is lawful etc. because it’s never proved to be otherwise, then.

You’ll love the concluding special section on “Mathematical Patterns in Creation.” After a long fap over “golden numbers,” “golden spirals,” and “the golden ratio,” SPC would like you to know scientists can’t explain that. “Nevertheless, their appearance in the world of nature reveals that God is a God of order and mathematical precision as well as a God of variety and beauty.” He totes created the universe this way on purpose, and here’s the Bible verse to prove it. Checkmate, atheists!

And just think: our BJU textbook promises to be even moar God-soaked. We shall tackle it next…


*Okay, maybe not the best thing. There’s being able to drive and buy stuff and have sex and not do what my parents tell me. But reading textbooks for fun and profit is right up there.

†He wasn’t actually completely wrong. His “law” did successfully predict Uranus, after all, and this Cornell source sez it works well for moons. Funny how scientists are almost never as wrong as the Christianists claim they are.


Christianist Textbooks Revealed

Adventures in ACE II: In Which We Inherit the Earth

All right, then, my darlings: time to start acing ACE. We’re right at the beginning of our 8th grade-ish* science edimicashun. What has Science PACE 1085 got to teach us?

  • “Earth and Its Neighbors,” in which we learn the earth is our inheritance. Just like the Bible says!
  • “To learn to be willing to work or dwell with others in unity – to be cooperative.” M-kay.
  • “To memorize and say Psalm 133:1.” Oh, yes, very sciencey.

This is a very… interesting… table of contents for a science text.

Image is a white and brown kitty looking upward, caption says, "LOL WUT"

Right, let’s move on. Page (two) 2 has a cartoon wherein creepy-looking boys in identical clothes, Reginald and Pudge, tell us how interesting our current PACE will be. Pudge is skeptical at first, the little devil, but is soon won over by Reginald’s Facts. Many facts. Like the geochemistry terms “sial” and “sima,” which I did not know, because in all my time palling around with geologists, I’ve never seen them use them. Hooray, facts! I’m amazed I’ve learned some actual ones from an ACE PACE.

Let’s see what else we can learn about God’s world.

Our vocabulary words from our Science PACE include: awesome, eraser, handiwork, meek, and pencil. Meek has a particular definition in ACE: “Obeying God in everything without thought for self.” Did I mention this is the science PACE? 8th grade? Jus’ checkin’.

Now we begin our lesson in earnest. It’s in the form of a story about Pudge and other students being instructed by Mr. Friendson. By the end of the third paragraph, you’ll be marveling at the complex storytelling demonstrated in Dick and Jane books, and admire the superior dialogue skills of George Lucas. That’s how terrible it is. But at least we find out why they think “meek” is a science word. It’s because of the “meek shall inherit the earth” stuff. But not if they’re irresponsible meek people who don’t learn the stuff in their Science PACE – which so far hasn’t got much science in it.

But now we learn what earth science is: considering the earth as a unique planet wot was created by God exactly like it says in Genesis 1:1-10. Geologists learn about God’s handiwork, like Job 38:4 says. Job 38:34‘s all about meteorologists, apparently, since God says about clouds. Minerals are “substances obtained by mining,” and a mineralogist specializes in stuff like the precious stones referenced in the first sentence of Revelation 21:19. (The mineralogist is helpfully illustrated by a cowboy-hatted cartoon miner, as no real mineralogists could be found, apparently). And you map-making cartographers got a shout-out from God in Job 38:5. If you’re a geographer, “your specialty would be geography,” just like the stuff in Psalm 65:13. Oceanographers: your specialty is oceanography, studying things in Psalm 93:4. And seismologists (who study seismology, in case you were wondering): your verse is Psalm 60:2. Those are the main fields. I suppose there might be others, but the writers got tired of looking up tangentially-related Bible verses.

All of the scientists pictured, live and cartoon, are white males.

Next we explore all of the ways earth science is important to other branches of science. This is where we learn we’d plump for physical science if we “should want to study the effects of the Flood upon Earth.”


I do have to admit: there’s a nice moment of secularity where the two characters are marveling at how “earth science is so important to many other sciences.” There’s even a nod to ecology that acknowledges people care about preserving the earth’s biodiversity and people’s impact on the environment. That was quite refreshing, considering many fundies either think Jesus is coming so soon it doesn’t matter if we wreck the planet, or God won’t let us wreck it in the first place because he totes promised he’d never do it again. The authors of ACE apparently realize that a) dude never said when he’d get here and b) only said the whole Earth wouldn’t be destroyed by a global flood again – never said nothing about global warming or nuclear holocaust or any other damn fool thing people can think up.

That was quite refreshing.

The bit on the earth’s motion through space isn’t terrible.There are cringe-worthy moments where the Christian-inanity shines through: God keeping the earth moving; circadian rhythms because God planned for us to rest at night, that wort o’ thing. But it’s a relief to see the sun orbiting the earth in ACE-world. And good news for Pluto-lovers: it’s still a planet in ACE.

They have a nice blurb about Eratosthenes, who calculated the circumference of the earth. Same the cartoonist didn’t know the quill pen wasn’t invented until around 700 AD

Eratosthenes beavering away at his nice desk with a quill pen that won't be invented for another thousand years.

Eratosthenes beavering away at his nice desk with a quill pen that won’t be invented for another thousand years.

According to the planetarium dude delivering the lecture that is Section Two, Venus has to do with our Lord’s glory (Revelation 22:16b). In ACE-world, everyone’s a fundamentalist Christian, including the public science-presenter peopleβ.

They’re very behind the times on moons with atmospheres, saying Titan’s probably the only one. There are, in fact, no fewer than (seven) 7 moons with atmospheres. And for some reason, they skim Uranus, not even giving it a photo-op – afraid of “Ur-anus!” jokes, mebbe? Pluto is also not pictured. But we can look forward to it once again being the furthest planet from the sun in 1991! Oh, wait…

And, of course, the tour of the planets must end with our supposed planetarium guy concluding that bit on planets with a little homily on Earth’s uniqueness. No, really super-duper-God-made-it-just-for-us unique! Of course, the others are also unique, but God didn’t make them for life. Oh, and if God “break[s] the hold of solar gravity,” we’ll fly off into space like an untethered tetherball. True fact.

I see they very carefully note that Copernicus, Galileo, and Keplar had ideas that “were not readily received.” We’re not told that good old Nick C. was too shit-scared to publish for years, going to far as to write a cringing apology of a dedication to the Pope, and that Galileo was nearly barbequed by the Church dudes for the terrible crime of accurately describing the natural world. Bruno gets no mention at all. Nope, nothin’ to do with religion at all! Nosir, it’s just that real scientists with real science ideas sometimes aren’t accepted by, like, people, y’know… the ground thus being laid for the implication that the creation scientists are just like these brilliant actual scientist guys wot everybody believes now.

Isaac Newton, of course, is given a loving tongue-bath for being a Christian who believed in God, and knew God created the universe all orderly-like, and did we mention he was a Christian?

But all of that is just appetizers, my darlings. Now comes the real creationist howler:

“The sun is getting smaller for two reasons. First, the sun is consuming its own fuel to give off light and heat energy. Second, the sun is composed largely of hydrogen gas under great pressure due to gravity. Gravity causes the sun to contract at the rate of 5 feet (1.5 m) per hour. Due to the way in which the sun is consuming its own fuel and contracting, many scientists agree that the sun can only be a few thousand years old.”

No. Not even close to reality. The sun’s not shrinking. It’s not a few thousand years old. The only scientists who think so are creationist gits. The authors of ACE are either completely ignorant dupes, or liars for Jesus. Not sure which yet, but I know one thing they’re definitely not: science educators.

After we’ve stopped twitching, we encounter Moar Great Christian Science via the kids at lunch. Ace (isn’t that clever?) delivers his own little sermon: we’ve only got one sun, ergo, one God, and one Jesus, because reasons, and also I Timothy 2:5. “The sun also shows us that God is no respecter of persons,” cuz even the non-Christian nations get sunlight, like it says in Matthew 5:45. Also sez so in Acts 10:34, don’t it? God’s always awake because the sun and Psalm 121:4. He definitely prevails over the powers of darkness cuz the sun’s bright, also I John 1:5.

Then we’re given a little light comic relief with a toaster joke before moving on to things like eclipses. The children (all boys, of course) continue to hurl long chunks of exposition at each other. We even get a treatise on the moon’s phases – including the, um, fact, that they “illustrate Christ’s life and ministry.” See?

Jesus and the Moon's Phases, a totally scientific set of illustrations. There are little cartoons with the phase of the moon and the coresponding phase of Jesus's life: New Moon = Christ in Eternity; Waxing Crescent = Birth of Christ; First Quarter = Early years of Christ; and Waxing Gibbous = Christ's popularity growing.

Jesus and the Moon’s Phases, a totally scientific set of illustrations.

After pages relating the phases of the moon to Jesus, the kiddies wax eloquent on the fact that life is short, as per James 4:14, Job 8:9, and John 9:4. They babble about lunar calendars (props for mentioning Islam without nattering on about false religion, boys!), and then about how the moon reflecting sunlight is Just Like Jesus. And Jesus is just like the moon also because tides. One day y’all are going to recognize this fact. Sez so in Philippians 2:10-11.

Oh, and the planets teach us about unity and obedience, Just to, y’know, achieve that goal about cooperation.

And there we have Science PACE 1085. Of all the Christianist texts I’ve got, this one is easily the worst. (Strangely not as terrifying as Earth Science 4th Edition, though.)

But wait. We’ve not done the activities yet….

Lemme go get drunk first.


*ACE is self-paced. If a child wants to escape the torture early and had a titanium stomach, they can work ahead.

Not their word.

No guide to pronunciation of his name, although they’ve told us how to pronounce Arizona, and will later tell us how to say Nicolaus Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, New Orleans, and Atlanta.

β Okay, technically, there are non-fundies, but they’re bad, bad people. All the good people are Bible-believin’ Christians.

Adventures in Christianist Earth Science Education I: In Which First Impressions Are Made

Welcome to the first installment of our down-to-earth analysis of Christianist earth science textbooks*, in which we learn what good Christians™ are teaching the kids these days.

Let’s take a moment to acquaint ourselves with our three texts. Two are for Christian schools; the third is a secular control. At first glance, it’s quite easy to spot one of the Christianist books. Try for yourself!

A choice selection of Christianist textbooks, plus one secular. Can you spot the odd book out? The book on the far left has a white cover with a photo of a geode. The title is Earth Science Fourth Edition. The middle book shows a picture of planet Earth as the sky behind one of the formations in Monument Valley. The title is "Science of the Physical Creation in Christian Perspective. The third book shows a glaciated mountain, and is entitled Earth Science: Geology, the Environment, and the Universe. It is stamped with the National Geographic logo.

A choice selection of Christianist textbooks, plus one secular. Can you spot the odd book out?

Yep. A Beka Book’s Science of the Physical Creation in Christian Perspective (SPC) stands out like a street-corner doomsday preacher. I mean, it’s got some sciency-sorta pictures on it, but that font, not to mention those words, give the game away.

The other one’s better camouflaged – beautiful, even – but I’ll give you a hint: it’s the one that hasn’t got the National Geographic logo on the cover. Yes, our dear BJU Press Earth Science 4th Edition (ES4) is doing its damnedest to look like a legitimate science textbook. It’s even far larger than the Glencoe Science Earth Science: Geology, the Environment, and the Universe (GEU). (It has got to be, on account of all the God stuff they’ve shoved in. Foreshadowing, people!)

Time to get to know them better. Let us open our textbooks to the Table of Contents.

SPC seems positively normal here. We trip merrily through the chapters – Introduction to Science, The Atmosphere, Earth’s Weather, A Survey of the Seas, and so on, with nary a care. Chemistry (chapters 5-7) looks fine. But I hear a rumble when I get to Unit 3, Geology, and see a wee photo of Mount St. Helens there. Creationists love Mount St. Helens. They think she proves stuff, like how the Grand Canyon was totes formed superfast. Sigh. I can feel it coming… and then we reach Chapter 11: Interpreting the Fossil Record, and our carefree skip totally trips.

11.3 Effects of the Flood

11.4 Lack of Transitional Fossils: Evidence Against Evolution

11.5: The Evolution of Man: A Mistaken Belief

Whal, I think we all know where this is going.

The Physics unit returns us to the appearance of a normal table of contents in an ordinary science textbook. But the Special Features following are special indeed. There’s an entire section of them called “Science and Creation,” which contains such delights as “Radiometric Dating: Is It Reliable?” and (not kidding) “Monkeys and Typewriters.” Awgawds. And then there’s the wee Environmental Issues section, which has got “The ‘Ozone Hole’ Controversy” and “Global Warming: Fact or Fancy?”

I’m going to be a certified alcoholic before the end of this, aren’t I?

Image is a little gray kitty sleeping with its arms around a wine bottle. Caption says, I iz not alcoholic, I'z passionat bout wine."

We turn now to ES4, which looked rather normal on the outside. But the contents… they make A Beka’s SPC look practically secular, and A Beka is affiliated with Pensacola Christian College. Yes, the PCC that is so uptight it’s gender-segregated its elevators and stairwells. Indeed, the PCC whose take on psychology is only matched by that of the Scientologists and whose textbooks for Christian schools are so bad universities refuse to give students credit for studying from them. Well, BJU’s also not accepted as kosher curriculum by the U of C, and ES4 gives a good idea of why. Keeping in mind, this book was created after they lost that lawsuit.

Chapter One, “The World of Earth Science,” has a section called “A Christian Approach to Earth Science.” Hoo-boy. In Unit 2, Chapter 4, we encounter “The Earth, a Special Place,” which certainly causes some eyebrow-tectonics. Many of the chapters seem normal, but let your eyes drift right, where the little “Going Further in Earth Science” sections make sure we know it’s all about God God Goddity-God-God-God God:

“Biblical Origins: The Gap Theory”

“Life Connection: The Flood, the Ark, and Species Today”

“Careers: Serving God as a Seismologist”

and other such, um, amazing explorations, plus good creationist favorites such as radiometric dating and overthrusts. All that, and we haven’t even made it past the first page of the ToC – three more to go. Oy. It don’t get any better, let’s leave it at that.

And so, battered about the brain by biblical BS, I turn wearily to our secular control, the lovely GEU. And here I find only science. Science that unflinchingly mentions geologic time – in fact, a whole unit is devoted to it. There is no religion in the Appendices. Critical thinking gets its very own mini-book at the end. No supernatural forces in the mini-labs. The features do not feature a designer. Nor do the Science in the News or Science and the Environment topics. And the extra-awesome National Geographic Expeditions do not take us anywhere near Noah’s Ark. The entire book seems carefully constructed to present nothing but pure geoscience. This is, of course, horrible bias, according to the people who create unabashedly biased textbooks.

I’m out of alcohol. We’ll tackle the Introductions once I’ve restocked.


*h/t to Doktor Zoom, who planted the seed within me.

Keeping Up With the Creationists Vol. I Issue 2: Busy, Busy

My, but these creationist buggers are prolific. There’s a second let’s-fuck-up-science-education worming its way through the Missouri legislature right now. This one likes to make its intentions known by intentionally singling out evolution as “controversial.” That’s a mighty thin fig leaf you’ve got there, Mr. HB 1587.

Our own Ed Brayton has a nice synopsis of the silliness that is HB 1472, HB 1587′s elder sibling. Poor creationists, wanting to pull their kiddies out of school so they don’t hear about that awful evolution. Actually, I think this may end up being a good idea. Educational contraband, man. You know many of those kids will be curious about this Forbidden Knowledge. It’s kinda like when your parents don’t want to know about certain magazines…

South Dakota, engaged in a game of mine’s-bigger-than-yours, has introduced SB 112, which gives a giant fuck-you finger to the Supreme Court and Kitzmiller by stating, sans fig leaf, “[n]o school board or school administrator may prohibit a teacher in public or nonpublic school from providing instruction on intelligent design or other related topics.” I do hope they love throwing away millions of dollars in legal fees, because that’s precisely what they’ll do if this nonsense passes.

Catching up with our old friend Virgina HB 207: our own Callan Bentley has torn it to shreds. I’m going to unrepentantly filch the picture he made because it sums everything up nicely:

Image is a photo of Del. Bell, with a word bubble saying, "I'd like to make it much harder for Virginia students to be leaders in the science and tech workforce."

Callan Bentley would seem to be displeased with Del. Bell.

I’m not hip to the Virginia General Assembly lingo, but as far as I can tell, this atrocity is going to make it out of committee. If you live in VA, you might wish to give your delegate a ring-a-ding and howl in his or her ear until they promise to make it stop.

Those interested in the history of anti-science bills in Virginia are gently encouraged to go read Glenn Branch’s excellent exploration.

Now, just so as you can see the scope of the problem, I’m going to steal this map of American schools wot are officially teaching creationism. Mind you, this doesn’t show the ones where it’s not official but the teachers do it anyway.

Map of schools teaching creationism in these United States. Not just confined to the South, people. Image filched from PZ, who got it from Slate.

Map of schools teaching creationism in these United States. Not just confined to the South, people. Image filched from PZ, who got it from Slate.

Click here for a large version of this travesty, plus an article about how your hard-earned tax monies are getting poured in to schools that turn around and tell kids lies about science, thus ensuring that America’s future is full of people who are not just science illiterate, but think they know the Truth Scientists Don’t Want Us to Know.

Remember the school that told a little Buddhist kid he was stupid not to believe in God? Yeah. They are very interested in taking taxpayer money and pissing it away on legal fees: “The school system recognizes the rights of all students to exercise the religion of their choice and will defend the lawsuit vigorously.” The two halves of this statement do not make a whole, and when taken together, spell disaster for the school’s budget.

In other schools-wishing-to-spend-their-entire-budget-on-legal-fees news, Florida’s Orange County Public Schools is happy to let the Bible be distributed for free on its school grounds – but no other literature. This, alas for them, is a rather blatant violation of the separation of church and state, and considering a lawsuit regarding it is already in progress, is likely to be a quite expensive mistake.

On the homeschooling front, it seems there will be no possibility of live-and-let-live, even if we wanted to let homeschool parents teach their kiddies nothing but empty crap (or not at all), seeing as how they don’t even want to make it easier for public school kids to report abuse, violence, and potential massacres.

And, just in case you haven’t had enough bad news, Jonny’s put together a guide to Christian reform schools that will cause your brain to boil with rage.

Right. Now that you’re incandescent, let’s cool down with a little something nice: if Congress can stop acting like a bunch of spoiled brats 3/4 of the way through an 8 year tantrum over not getting to finish ruining the country, they could pass this Darwin Day resolution that would make Darwin Day all official-like. That would be lovely. I wish I could believe the Cons in Congress would let it happen…

And, to top you off: Doktor Zoom’s got yer Christianist cold war history right here.

FtBCon2′s Religion and Homeschooling Panel Shows Why Secular Folk Need to Pay Attention

We all know neglecting to feed your kids is wrong, right? Neglecting to give them shelter, or medical attention (unless you’re religious in some states – a blind spot in the law we need to fix), or any other basic necessity of life is illegal. You might even get popped for emotional neglect. But in some states, you’re legally allowed to steal a child’s future. Extremist homeschool parents and their allies call it a right. They decide what their children get to learn, or if they get to learn at all. Educational neglect, to them, is their right. A child’s right to the future an education can give them is beneath their consideration.

If you get a chance, and you care about educating children, you should spare an hour for this video. It will horrify you.

Kim Rippere and Elsa Roberts from Secular Woman, Vyckie Garrison from No Longer Quivering, and M.A. (Marian) Melby from Sinmantyx discussed the reality and effects of religious homeschooling. Note that the problem isn’t with homeschooling per se – Marian talks about the fact that most of the homeschool kids she sees in her university classes are well-educated and do well. But she points out that the subset of homeschoolers being discussed are not ones likely to end up at a state university.

Vyckie, having been the homeschool mom at one point, provides insight into homeschooling for fundamentalist religious reasons. She pointed out that the enormous emphasis on gender roles meant that girls often weren’t educated at the same rate or quality as boys. They were being prepared to become homemakers, mothers, helpmeets – why prepare girls for a career? Even if parents are well-intentioned at first, the size of the families in the sects that emphasize a “quiver full” of children means older girls end up becoming stand-in moms to the younger kids. The chores involved with feeding, cleaning, and clothing so many kids means that education is often sacrificed. Elsa experienced this firsthand: raised in a relatively small family of four kids, she was in charge of all the meals by the age of 11. For a while, her family lived in a house with no electricity. The kids had to haul water up from the creek, do laundry by hand – those tasks took a long time, with little left for education. So girls’ educations could slide. They would learn what they needed as they went along; they could learn fractions when they cooked.

Parents rationalize the educational neglect of their children by telling themselves it’s far more important to inculcate character and Biblical/Godly principles than reading, writing and arithmetic.

There’s also the fact that children are being taught by parents who aren’t qualified to teach. Elsa’s parents were creationists who taught her creationism instead of science, and that only for a scattershot few months. Because she loved science, she ended up teaching herself all she could from a thrift store biology textbook and a few popular science magazines. Her father told her she couldn’t become a doctor – it would place her in authority over men, and that wasn’t allowed. By the time she reached college, she had wide gaps in her education. She didn’t know what a beaker was. She couldn’t follow lab procedure. It was hard to overcome the deficiencies in her knowledge, and some gaps she will never be able to fill. You can tell she’s angry about it: it rings out loud and harshly clear in her voice. And she’s not alone in that. Many kids who have suffered educational neglect are angry, and using the activism their parents taught them to press for reform to educational laws and regulations, much to the horror of the parents who thought they were turning them in to soldiers for God.

And the isolation these kids experience leads to abuse. They think what they’re experiencing is normal. Marian, who grew up in a family that was liberal for the area they lived in, and went to a public school that wasn’t shy about blurring the lines between church and state, was so under-exposed to other types of families that she found the idea of atheist families strange. We all have those sorts of blind spots.

Now imagine being raised in a subculture like Elsa’s. She was surrounded by the fundamentalist idea that women must have a submissive spirit, which left them ripe for abuse. You could end up believing abuse was love. When her parents beat her, that was what she thought. She and Vyckie went over the rituals of punishment in those cultures thoroughly. It begins with disrespect – and disrespect can be something like not having a cheerful enough expression. Before disciplining you, your parents would make you pray, asking them and God for forgiveness. You were then spanked (Elsa used the word beaten) until your will was broken, after which you were expected to engage in reconciliation with the people who had just beaten you. If you didn’t reconcile to their satisfaction, you would be beaten again.

And this is considered Godly.

There’s far more. All of it will be familiar to people who follow Love, Joy, Feminism and No Longer Quivering. Most of it is horrifying. You can find plenty of information and links at Secular Woman’s Religion and Homeschooling page. I encourage you to arm yourself with some knowledge, and when bills come up in your state requiring better education standards and regulations, support them. There are kids who are being robbed of a future, because freedom of religion means freedom from education for some parents.

We need to do better for those kids.

Sad child by Axel via Flickr. Image is of a small, dark-haired child sitting on grass with his head in his arms, looking very forlorn.

Sad child by Axel via Flickr.




ACE Revealed by Its Own Cartoons

Jonny sent me this rather eye-popping critique of several ACE cartoons. It’s got a jaunty little title – Life According to the Christian Education Curriculum, in Cartoons! – but don’t be fooled into thinking you can read this if your stomach is in an easily-nauseated condition right now. Fortify yourself before clicking.*

You’ll have to let me know which your favorites are. So far, I can’t decide between ACE’s Evil Atheist With Great Hair vs Lil Godbot, or Who Will Feed Me Now That Mommy’s a Feminist?! I do know the winner in the creep category for me, though:

Cartoon is two panels. The first shows a family in a living room. The dad is reading the Bible, saying, "'Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.' Racer, God is pleased when you obey your parents." The second panel shows Racer sitting on his bed in his PJs and robe, reading his Bible. Thought bubble reads, "I will listen and obey my parents."

Image courtesy Jonny Scaramanga.

To the people who write this stuff, this apparently isn’t horrifically creepy indoctrination – it’s just a good education. Show a kid evidence for evolution, on the other hand…

And to think I’ve signed on to read a whole grade of this shit. Including the tests. And those terrible cartoons. I’d ask you to save spare change for the Replace Dana’s Liver fund, but you’re probably going to need that money for your own transplant. I’m so, so sorry.


*If the pics don’t show, just click where they should be – they’ve been temperamental.

Adventures in ACE I: In Which Oddities Are Explored

I recently spent an instructive few months reading Jonny Scaramanga’s blog, where I learned just how screwed up Accelerated Christian Education is. Imagine a room full of young kids stuffed in study carrels (“office,” in ACE parlance), sitting silent on hard plastic chairs while they’re taught truly-true Christian things from thin newsprint booklets. As they grind through their science lessons, they answer review questions such as:

Christ’s shed blood is the _______ of our salvation. (Science PACE 1085)

Welcome to the whacky world of ACE, where until recently kids were taught that the Lock Ness Monster exists (and is a plesiosaur – checkmate, atheists!) Considering this is an “education” produced by (virtually) the same company that supplies the supposedly secular Responsive Ed curriculum, and is taught to far too many kids in Christian private and home schools worldwide, we should pay close attention to their shenanigans.*

Let us investigate the violence done to the earth sciences, shall we?

I had the dubious pleasure of opening a packet of PACEs this evening. Yes, my 8th grade science curriculum makes quite the stack. And I’m going to attempt them stone-sober. We’ll see if my brain makes it past first impressions without crying for the solace of demon rum.

Image shows a stack of PACES, with 1085 on top.

Mah stack o’ ACE

If you’re looking for slick, glossy Christianist science education, you won’t find it here. Each book is thin, stapled newsprint, much like the instruction booklets mailed out by the IRS, only less useful to civilization. The covers, recycled from previous PACEs, often have little to nothing to do with the content within, and haven’t been updated for decades to boot. The first booklet has got the word “science” all over it, along with photos of people looking at things potentially related to science. The clothes and hairstyles are trés late-70s – early-80s. I feel we’ve reached the cutting edge already.

The next PACE, showing an astronaut and the American flag on the moon, the Earth shining full overhead, has got red crosses all over it.

A quick flip through the pile shows a few booklets aren’t in color. These are the Activity PACs. I think they’re included to ensure a child’s will is thoroughly broken. The Science 1087 PAC, for instance, has us fill in the blanks for questions such as, “God designed the hydrologic ________ to prevent the ________ from overflowing.”

Now, lest you fall prey to the idea that these activity books may, somewhere within, contain any activities that may prove the slightest bit fun, let me just advice there is nothing of that worldly sort. We have science vocabulary words (like “hymn”), fill-in-the-blank exercises, Bible verse memorization…. and that’s it. I know, the excitement could positively overwhelm a kid.

The contents of each PACE include goals we’re to learn about, such as “Purpose of Earth’s Creation.” Then there’s a homily sort of thing, and a little snippet of what appears to be the lyrics of a good Christian song or hymn. Finally, there’s the Bible verse to memorize. As I imagined myself in an “office,” opening to the Table of Contents in my Science PACE 1085, I could feel my will to live drain like a glacial lake that has just floated its ice dam.

At the bottom, we see the copyright date, which informs us that the most recent revision of this PACE was 1998. A quick gallop through the rest show a few were revised in 2002; some haven’t been touched since 1986. I guess there aren’t that many updates needed when the answer to everything is “God did it.”

On the page facing the contents, there is a cartoon. It looks like something created by someone who once had a comic described and that kids love ‘em, so thought this would be a great way to make the PACEs exciting. This person, not knowing how panels in comics work, has drawn helpful arrows for us to follow. Which is good, because otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to blindly follow the right path. Happily, he (and I’m positive it’s a he) dispenses with those in subsequent issues, where he seems to have concluded that left-to-right was the only Godly way to draw comic panels. There’s not a single character of color – we don’t see any people of color until the last booklet, and they’re just random folk in the photographs the cartoon heroes are pasted upon. Women appear occasionally – we see the back of one’s head in the second cartoon, for instance. When they’re not just part of the background, they’re moms who are never seen stepping a single toe over the housewife line, silly little sisters, or crotchety old women arguing about how God reveals the weather. There’s a grand total of 1 (one) professional woman – a stewardess. It just wouldn’t do to give the people with excessive melanin and/or lady parts the idea science is something they can do, too.


There’s another oddity in the way the pages are numbered: 1 (one). Every page, they spell it out in parentheses. I have no idea why. Perhaps they don’t trust their own curriculum to have imparted the knowledge of the relationship between the numeral and the word for the number.

Having flipped through most of the books, I think I can manage these as long as I have a hard surface to slam my head in to on occasion.

This cat is showing how much I will love the brick wall that helps me cope with these books. Photo is of a tortoise-shell cat resting its cheek against a brick wall with its eyes blissfully closed.Image courtesy David Joyce via Flickr.

This cat is showing how much I will love the brick wall that helps me cope with these books. Image courtesy David Joyce via Flickr.

I also can sum up the curriculum thusly: “Hello, boys! Here’s a stick. You will use it to ram misinformation and strict fundamentalist Christian schlock into your brain. You will then insert the stick elsewhere, to keep you upright and uptight like a good Christian should be. Do not deviate from this course, or we will use the stick to beat your bottom. Don’t even think of having an independent thought. And what are you girl-children and dark people doing here?”

Gah. I might need coma-inducing amounts of booze after all…


*Edited to add “virtually” – as Jonny points out, while they may as well be the same company, technically they are not.

Teaching Geosciences in a Religious Country: A Discussion

Ron Schott, who is the geoblogosphere’s Bora Zivkovic, hosts Geology Office Hours on Google+ every Monday and Thursday. It’s a time for geo professionals and the geocurious to get together, chat about whatever topic comes to mind, and sometimes show off our rocks. Anybody with a webcam and a G+ account can get in on the fun.

I’m not as good a talker as writer, so don’t join one of the Monday sessions expecting especial brilliance. I’m mostly there to eavesdrop. Didn’t really expect to do so today – I had a ton of stuff I should be doing, and I hadn’t even got out of my pjs, but I’d just got done shooting the cat with some particularly lovely little hand samples, and jumped on to see what Ron thought of them. You know how that goes. You’re all like, “Hey, I’m not really dressed, but quick, look at the pretty rock!” and the next thing you know, a lot of people you admire particularly (like Chris Rowan and Harold Asmis) have joined the conversation, and they get on the topic of geologic timescales and religious students, and you suddenly forget you’re sitting there in your jammies with a head of hair that might frighten small children.

Biology gets all the attention, due to the insane amount of resistance to teaching evolution in this country, but none of the sciences are immune to religious pushback. Geology doesn’t get a free pass because we have awesome rocks. We’ve got this geologic timescale thing going on. And when you have students who’ve been told by their church and their religious families that the Earth is something on the order of 6,000 – 10,000 years old (depending on how you calculate all those begats in the Bible), you get a lot of very confused kids when you start talking in billions.

Ron mentioned that he’s discovered, over his years of teaching, that if he emphasizes the geologic time scale up front, those religious kids shut down on him. If he built up to it, they engaged more. That’s not to say that he danced around the subject: the Earth is billions of years old and there’s no getting round that. But the impression I got from what he said is that kids rejected the idea of geologic time out of hand if it was foisted on them up front.*

My impression is this: these kids have been fed a steady diet of religious lies, all their lives. They’ve not been taught to think scientifically, nor critically, and in those first few days of class, all they’ve got to go on is authority figures. Here’s one authority telling them, authoritatively, that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old, plus or minus a few hundred thousand years. On the other hand, they’ve had a lifetime of authorities – their preachers, their parents, their faith community – telling them it’s only a few thousand years old (give or take a few begats). Who are they going to believe? And the decision’s easy, when they haven’t yet learned to think for themselves: the authority figures they were raised to trust.

But if you show them how the world works, introduce them to the scientific method and the lines of evidence and teach them how science is done rather than merely recite the findings at them, they can see for themselves that the Earth must be very old indeed, and they engage more. And the teacher has never had to compromise reality. Never has pretended the Earth is anything other than ancient.

And this brought to mind what I’ve heard in a lot of deconversion experiences I’ve read about: people who left their fundamentalist faith, who discarded Biblical literalism and accepted science, usually didn’t do it in a flash. There was resistance at first, but once they’d got a taste of critical thinking, once they’d learned something of how science works and what it says, they started questioning. They started trying to reconcile what they’d been taught to believe with what they were learning out here in the real world. And it can’t be reconciled without some pretty extraordinary mental contortions.

Not everyone’s willing to tie their brain in painful knots, so they stopped trying. They may not have left the faith completely – there are plenty of people out there who didn’t abandon Christianity, only the Biblical literalism. But they learned to accept and appreciate science. They learned how to think, investigate, and discover. Whether it was evident at the time or not, a seed got planted when a professor taught them a fact at odds with their faith, and showed them how that fact was established. It’s no wonder so many fundamentalists choose to home school: giving kids that information and showing them how to do science is like pulling a card out of that elaborate house of cards they’ve got built. It can bring the whole house down.

You all know I want that house of cards to fall. Fundamentalist religion is this country causes an immense amount of harm, both to the people within it and to the rest of us. As Chris pointed out during the discussion, America’s almost unique among industrialized nations for the influence religious people have on politics. And when that religious contingent includes people who despise science and believe every word of the Bible is literally true, even the ones that directly contradict each other, then you’ve got a disaster.

Not to mention, people from more enlightened countries laugh at you (hi, Harold!).

And that means I’d very much like to see science education succeed. I want these kids to know what science is, what it does and what it teaches us about this crazy wonderful universe of ours. I don’t want them denied that extraordinary beauty. And I want them to learn how to think.

So, when faced with religious kids who may be deeply invested in the truth of their fundamentalist faith, or who have never really given it much thought, but just accepted what the adults around them believe, how do you handle it? Do you start slow and build? Do you go in for the short, sharp shock? How do you reach these kids?

The floor is open, my darlings. Professors, profess!

*See Ron’s clarifying comment.

“Adorers of the Good Science of Rock-breaking”

“Make them like me adorers of the good science of rock-breaking,” Charles Darwin told Charles Lyell once, long ago. This, from a man who also once said of Robert Jameson’s lectures on geology and zoology, “The sole effect they produced on me was the determination never as long as I lived to read a book on Geology.” That, of course, was before Adam Sedgwick lectured him in geology and took him out for field work, which seems to have done the trick. He did read another book on geology, Lyell’s Principles of Geology, which became his constant companion on his voyage with the Beagle. The concepts of geology prepared him to think in deep time. Without his passion for geology, without deep time sinking deep in his mind, the theory of evolution that changed the world might not be Darwin’s.

Outcrop on Doherty Ridge. Photo by Cujo.

I have become, like Darwin, an adorer of the good science of rock-breaking.

It’s a love that bloomed late. It’s always been there, since I was little and wondered at the mountains rising in my back window; at the vast chasm in the ground that revealed billions of years; at the sea that had become fields of stone. But just a bud, tucked away, unopened. I thought I knew what I wanted and needed from life: a degree in some sort of writerly discipline, like English or maybe History, until I decided the additional debt I’d have to take on wouldn’t teach me any more than I could teach myself, and I left academia for the world of daytime wage-slavery and nighttime scribbling. I set geology aside, because what a fantasy writer needed couldn’t be found in earth and stone. So I thought. I searched the stars, delved into physics, waved fondly to geology on my way to geography. I knew the basics: plates moved, mountains rose where they crashed. Enough to determine the shape of an imaginary world, wasn’t that?


And there was the small matter of a subduction zone, now: I’d moved away from the fossil seas. I didn’t understand this terrible and beautiful new place. It wasn’t a landscape I’d grown up with. So I explored it a bit, and the more I explored, the more I needed to understand, the more I realized a story world should be so much more than an ocean with a few haphazard continents sketched in. I wanted to understand this world so that I could understand that. So I delved, deep, into deep time, into continental crust and ocean floor. I turned to books on geology. They weren’t enough. I found a few geobloggers. They were more, still not enough. I began writing geology in order to understand it, because there’s no better way to learn than by teaching someone else. And it still wasn’t enough.

The more I learned, the more I realized I didn’t know.

And that isn’t precisely the problem. If it was, I could decide that knowing a little more than most is quite enough to be going on with, and settle down, content with my little gems of knowledge. If I’d just stayed a bit more ignorant, it would have been okay.

There’s a metaphor that explains why those few shining gems, no matter how many more I acquire, will never be enough. It’s in the story I’m writing right now, in which Nahash, the Serpent of the Elder Tree, is tasked with giving knowledge and wisdom to a young girl. And this is what he does, the first time they meet:

He led her round the tree, to the spring that bubbled out from between the roots, clear and deep. Another branch hung low there, and there was fruit on it, so heavy and ripe it was ready to fall. He plucked one of the fruits and turned back to her. “This fruit is knowledge. Do you see? It’s probably sweet. Could be sour. You won’t know until you’ve tasted it.” He held it out. She reached for it, but he pulled it back. “There’s something else. Once you’ve tasted it, no matter whether it’s sour or sweet, you’ll always be hungry. You’ll starve. And that water, there-” He waved at the spring. “Sweetest water in the world, maybe the whole universe, but once you’ve had a drink from it you’ll always be thirsty. Starving and parched. Is that how you want to spend your life? There are other ways of living, you know, and some of them are no less worthy. Some of them are even fun. Or so I’ve heard.”

She held out her hand, but didn’t speak.

“Are you quite sure? Because there’s no going back, you know. Not ever.”

Should I ever become a famous speculative fiction author, people will accuse me of being autobiographical. And, aside from the fact that I was an adult when I ate that fruit and drank that spring water, and didn’t actually munch unidentified fruit and drink from the spring of an actual World Tree Serpent, they’ll be quite correct. This is completely autobiographical. Since taking a bigger bite and a deeper drink from the fruit and springs of science, especially geology, I’ve been starving and parched. I’m desperate enough for more that I’ve considered going deep into debt for a degree I may never earn a living from. I’d beggar myself to get a full meal, and I know I’d walk away with a $30,000+ tab, and I’d still be starving. Add several fistfuls of dollars for grad school, and I’d still feel I hadn’t had more than a bite to eat and a drop to drink.

There’s no going back, now I’m an adorer of the good science of rock-breaking. There’s no end to it, you see. It’s a vast old Earth, and there’s no way for any of us to know everything about it. And even if we could, have a look out in space – lots more planets out there, all unknown, all fascinating, all with incredible rocks to break.

On Doherty Ridge, with George’s rock hammer. Photo by Cujo.

Anne Jefferson asked, “If you are a geology enthusiast but not professional… what do you wish you could get in additional formal and informal education? What would you like from geosciences students, faculty, and professionals that would make your enthusiasm more informed and more fun?”

And these are the things I’ll say to you professionals and pending professionals, you professors and students, you who have careers at surveys and for companies:

Do not withhold your passion.

If there’s a book within you, write it. Let your love pour onto the page. Put as much of your knowledge and wisdom into words as you are able, and get it into my hands. You don’t even need a publisher in this digital age: y
ou can upload it as an ebook. I’ll take whatever you’ve got. And if you need a wordsmith’s help, well, you know where to find me.

If something fascinates you, blog it. Even if it’s complicated and you think it’s of doubtful interest to anyone outside of the geotribe, post it up there where I can see it. If you love it enough to spend time explaining it, chances are I’ll love it enough to spend time doing my best to comprehend it.

If you’ve written a paper, share it. Blog about it, maybe even offer to send me a .pdf if you can. There’s a huge, expensive double-barrier between laypeople and papers: the language is technical and hard, and the journals charge so much that even if we’re willing to put in the work, we may not have the funds. We’ve already spent our ready cash on books and rock hammers and various, y’see. But if you’re allowed to send out a copy, and you can give me an iota of understanding, I’ll read it, struggle with it, combine it with those other precious bits of knowledge until I’ve made some sense of it.

Show me what you see. Post those pictures of outcrops. If we’re in the same neighborhood with some time to spare, put those rocks in my hands. I know you’ve got a career and a family, and can’t lead many field trips, but if you can take even a few of us out, do it. We’ll happily keep you in meals, beer and gas money just for the chance to see the world through your eyes, in real time and real life.

Answer questions as time allows.

Point us at resources.

Let us eavesdrop on your conversations with other geologists and geology students.

And hell, if you want to make some spare cash, and you’re not in a position where there might be a conflict of interest, consider teaching some online classes for a fee. There’s plenty of us who can’t quite afford college, but could scrape together some bucks for the opportunity to learn something directly from the experts.We’d practically kill for that opportunity, but the days when you were allowed to break rocks in prison are pretty much over, so there’s not quite as much incentive to break the law.

In other words, mostly do what you’re doing now, with maybe a few added extras.

That’s what those of us without the cash for a college degree and not even a single community college class on offer need. We just need you to share as much as you can, challenge us as much as you can.

And you there, with the students: make them, like me, adorers of the good science of rock-breaking. Send them out into the world with passion, a hammer, and a desire to babble to the poor starving, parched enthusiasts hoping for just one more bite to eat and drop to drink.

Lockwood, Dana, rocks and rock hammer on Doherty Ridge. Photo by Cujo.

This post is dedicated to the geobloggers who adopted me, answer questions and write remarkable posts and answer my plaintive “I can haz pdf?!” cries with a grin and a quick email. Dedicated most of all to Lockwood, who taught me how to properly break a rock, and gave me such rocks to break! Thanks will never be enough, so when you’re next in the Pacific Northwest, my darlings, I shall give you a fine road cut (or several), a substantial meal, and more than one beer. And I meant what I said about being your wordsmith, should you ever need help writing a book.

This Student Gives Me Hope

I don’t know who she is, only what she has done. And what she has done is this: become a banned book library. When her school decided upon a list of things the kids absolutely must not read, due to parental outrage and a belief kids can be kept from great literature and harsh truths, she tested their limits by bringing in a copy of The Catcher in the Rye. When it caught the eye of a fellow student, she lent it out. And then things snowballed, and she now runs a clandestine locker-library full of banned books, which kids who had no interest in good books until they were forbidden to read them are now thoroughly enjoying.

Firstly, we have a young woman who’s passionate about books. I already love her.

Secondly, we have a young woman who’s not prepared to be told what she can and cannot read. Love kicks up a notch.

Thirdly, we have a young woman who’s getting other young men and women reading intensely. Love shoots through the roof and becomes adoration.

I have news for parents and school authorities who believe they can shelter children from things they think are too awful for young minds: you’ll fail. You have failed. You’ve always failed. Unless this was a very clever reverse-psychology ploy to get kids interested in books, in which case you’ve succeeded brilliantly. Bravo. A cunning plan – quite evocative of the way the potato was introduced to Greece.

Too bad I doubt the administration was that smart.

We jaded adults may believe kids these days are incapable of deep thought and literacy and scholarship, and we are so very, very wrong if we believe that. Look at this student. Look at what she and her fellow students are doing. Look at how much books matter to them. Enough to take not-inconsequential risks for. And they are smart enough and confident enough to decide what they can and cannot read, all for themselves, to hell with the naysayers.

I love this to pieces. It tells me that, despite rumors to the contrary, we’re not raising a nation of apathetic know-nothings, although we’ve been trying very hard to do so. No, we’ve got a crop of brilliant, bold, and brave kids coming up, and the world will be better for them.

I just hope that once my books get published, they’re summarily banned. I’d like to have this kind of readership. I want kids like this at my signings. Unleashing that wise, unruly literary mob upon the unsuspecting citizens of this increasingly stifled country would make me twelve kinds of happy, and prouder than I’ll ever have words to express.