Moral Relativism and How NOT to Teach the Difference Between Fact and Opinion

How do you teach your children the difference between fact and opinion? It seems most schools do so in a disturbing way. It looks innocent enough, but the results are a bit scary.

Read this description from the Common Core:

Facts are statements that can be proven true. Opinions are statements that reflect the author's feelings or views, and they cannot be proved true.

Do you see the problem? Philosopher Justin McBrayer explains it brilliantly in his New York Times piece: Why Our Children Don't Think There Are Moral Facts.

Even before Common Core, most children have been taught since their early years in school that facts are things that we can prove true, and opinions are things we merely believe. That's well and good for factual statements like "Ants have six legs," and opinions such as "I think chocolate ice cream is the best." But what about statements like "You should stop at stop signs"? Or even "God exists"? You cannot use the scientific method to prove either of those statements true or false. Yet either God exists or God doesn't exist. Whether I happen to believe God exists does not change the reality.

And there's the trickiness with facts. I would define a fact as "something that is true." We can prove some things that are true, and some things are true even though we can't prove them. Likewise, some of our opinions are true, some are probably false, and some are neither. (There probably isn't a definitive truth on which ice cream flavor is the best, for example.)

A Sonlight dad reads the Bible with his daughter.reads to her 9- and 11-year-old children
A Sonlight dad reads the Bible with his young daughter. As homeschoolers, we can teach our children during school that Biblical truths are not "mere" opinions ... but actually true.

I highly suggest you read McBrayer's approachable article to get the full picture. He explains the problem well:

Things can be true even if no one can prove them. For example, it could be true that there is life elsewhere in the universe even though no one can prove it. Conversely, many of the things we once "proved" turned out to be false. For example, many people once thought that the earth was flat.

It's a mistake to confuse truth (a feature of the world) with proof (a feature of our mental lives).

Another problem McBrayer points out? Students learn that statements must be either opinion or fact. But in reality a statement can be both. After his second-grade son dutifully learned at school that a fact is something that is true and opinion is something someone believes, McBrayer describes this conversation between them:

Me: "I believe that George Washington was the first president. Is that a fact or an opinion?"

Him: "It's a fact."

Me: "But I believe it, and you said that what someone believes is an opinion."

Him: "Yeah, but it's true."

Me: "So it's both a fact and an opinion?"

The blank stare on his face said it all.

What this confusion leads to is students' un-examined assumption that all statements of value and morality are simply opinions. Is it wrong to cheat on tests? Should students respect people who are different? Is it OK to kill someone we don't like? Since we can't use the scientific method to find answers to those questions, students assume there are no answers.

Anecdotally, it seems that most students who enter college today would claim to be moral relativists (saying that there are no moral facts). But did you know most philosophy professors are not? Even in that largely liberal academic field, philosophers know that moral relativism is just not an intellectually tenable position.

Instead of hoping a good professor corrects this intellectual laziness in our students later on, let's teach them correctly from the start. Let's teach our children that things we believe can also be facts. There is a truth behind moral statements. As McBrayer puts it:

Facts are things that are true. Opinions are things we believe. Some of our beliefs are true. Others are not. Some of our beliefs are backed by evidence. Others are not. Value claims [e.g., statements of right and wrong] are like any other claims: either true or false, evidenced or not.

Again, another great freedom of homeschooling! We can teach our children sound and logical thinking from the beginning. And we can set them up to understand that things can be true even if we can't prove them with the scientific method. Amen!


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March Blog Party

March PrizePkgOur year-long 25th anniversary blog party continues today, and I can't wait to read your stories! In your blog post today, Share the best homeschooling advice you have been given. What would you advise new homeschoolers?

Even if you don't use Sonlight you are welcome to participate. Please grab a blog party button to include in your post or sidebar. Once your post is live, come back here to the Sonlight blog and link up with us. Then, be sure to visit and comment on other blogs who link up. It's a great way to gain new readers and make new friends!

Everyone who participates will be entered in a drawing for the great prize package pictured above. The winner will be announced on April 13, 2015.

(Please note: The link-up will stay open, so even if you miss the cut-off date to be entered in the drawing this month, you are still welcome to join in late.)

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The True Homeschool Expert


Often I speak with parents who find themselves second-guessing decisions they have made regarding their children's education. Obviously, most of us homeschool our children for a reason. Perhaps we feel called to homeschool, or maybe we just feel it is in the best interest of our children that we be their primary teacher. It can be discouraging to encounter those who have the opinion that “professionals” have all the answers and could do a better job than we can in teaching our children.

You know your children better than anyone, so you are in the unique position of knowing what is best for them.Think about how much your child learned in the baby and preschool years. Your baby grew and developed from a helpless infant to an active preschooler who could walk and talk… and lots more. Typical kids learn all kinds of things about colors, sizes, shapes, numbers… long before they start their formal education. Who taught your child these things? Chances are, you did!

It’s not necessarily un-true in that sometimes “professionals” do have years of experience in a particular area, and could be helpful in coming alongside us as we educate our kids… but the idea that they “have all the answers” is false. Every child is unique and there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution for every challenge.

I remember an incident that happened when one of my daughters was about three years old. We had gone to a mothers-day-out program, and she was in her own little class, while I was with other mothers. At the end of the time, when I went to collect my child, the teacher had several coloring sheets that didn’t have names on them. She was pretty sure one of them was my daughter’s but she didn’t know which one. After looking them over, I was able to tell her exactly which one belonged to us. You see, I knew my daughter’s coloring style! Rather than scribbling all over the page, she colored in little patches of different colors. Not within the lines, mind you, but she did have a distinctive style that I was familiar with. That was the first time it occurred to me that I was the expert on my child.

That's not to say making decisions is always easy. Sometimes it is good to get input from others who have gone before or have more experience in a certain area. It's comforting to keep in mind, though, that regardless of the decisions you ultimately make, you are serving your children well. In the homeschool environment your children receive personalized attention from the very best teacher for them. We do not have to teach everything to our children. If we can equip them with a love of learning, and give them the tools to discover how to find out more, they will have received an excellent education.

Enjoying the adventure,
~Karla Cook
Lifelong Learner

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It's Not the System

Her laugh is cruel. "You don't know how to do this?"

"I'm sorry," he says defensively. "I have gaps in my education. I was homeschooled."

These two argue from time to time; they are both cut of the confidence cloth, proving their worth by what they know, have experienced, or can persuade someone to do. He recently "won" an argument about nutrition when they were debating the healthiest diets. She "won" when he was stumped by Algebra. Hence the comment about gaps.

"I skipped a year of math and everyone just assumed I knew Algebra in high school. So no one ever taught it to me." The irony, completely overlooked, is that this was not a failure of his homeschooling. It was the public high school which didn't recognize his level of instruction thus far. Tests are useful retroactively, rarely proactively. And so he spent four years in a government funded and monitored environment and no one noticed he had yet to learn Algebra.

But blame is not the point here. Why?

Because it's not the system.

The Education System

You and I both know well-educated homeschoolers. We also know people who spent their entire lives in public schools who know much more than us. It's not the system that dictates an outcome. Statics show this. In fact, at least one study says that homeschoolers are twice as likely to be behind a grade level than their peers. Sound terrible? It's not. Why?

Because it's not the system.

Homeschooling is not to blame. Nor is it rightfully to be praised. The system does not make the child. You do.

Like my bickering friends above, the competition between public schooled and homeschooling has no real winner. Indeed, focusing on such things is actually a detriment to both. Instead of trying to boost our confidence by demonstrating what we know, have experienced, or by the people who are on "our team," let's focus on all the things that draw us to homeschooling. We love homeschooling, and with good reason. We love learning together. We're not guaranteed to become a genius. This isn't about proving anything. It's about doing what is best for our family.

...and as Heather Sanders recently said, "Homeschooling is a Method Not a Mandate."

What we love is not the system. It's the opportunity.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad

P.S. Like what Heather said? You can find more encouragement, inspiration, and challenge in my Other Posts of Note.

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God, you must have the wrong address ...

1949270_HiResYesterday was one of those days when you wonder if there will be enough of you to go around. When you feel like silly putty (did I just age myself?) and wonder how many more ways you can be molded and stretched. It started off with another dump of snow (I really am so over winter), a "raise you out of bed" early morning phone call about an elderly family member who had been admitted to the hospital overnight, a college child who had been sicker than sick for the past 24 hours, and concerns about another elderly family member who was wrestling with physical issues. Suddenly my well-planned day had been rearranged within a matter of minutes. My "to do" list of work projects and grocery shopping turned into an unexpected trip to a hospital, and an unexpected drive to get the ailing college student, and an unexpected brainstorming session for dealing with an elderly parent's struggles ... all punctuated with slogging through ankle deep snow and March mud.

As I was reflecting on yesterday's events during my quiet time this morning, my devotional reading brought me to the story of Gideon, in Judges 6. The angel of the Lord had come to tell Gideon about a job He had for him to do ... and Gideon, in essence, says "God, you must have the wrong address" (Please, Lord, how can I save Israel?)  He couldn't imagine how a wheat farmer from the weakest tribe in Israel could possibly save a nation. It reminded me of days when I couldn't imagine how I was going to get through all our scheduled lesson plans for the day, fix dinner and get the laundry done, on top of having been up all night with a colicky baby.

The author of my study book made the following statements which put things into perspective for me this morning ...

Gideon both misunderstands who he is and who God is. If you fail to remember who God is in his power, glory, and grace, and you forget who you are as a child in his family, you will always mismeasure your potential to do what God has called you to do. You will measure your capability based on your natural gifts and the size of whatever it is that God has chosen you to face. Thankfully, since God is with you, you have been blessed with wisdom and power beyond your own that give you potential you would not have on your own. (New Morning Mercies, Paul D. Tripp)

I just spent the weekend at the Great Homeschool Convention in Greenville, SC, sharing these very same thoughts with new homeschoolers. I sat and listened as Sarita shared the same encouragement in her workshop on Staying the Course.

God has chosen you to raise the specific children He has given you. He will equip you for the task! (Sarita Holzmann)

Why would those same principles not apply to my current life circumstances? The answer is, of course, that they are universal concepts. Whether God calls me to homeschool, or to deal with a day full of unexpected interruptions ... He will always equip me for the task. And when I'm tempted, like Gideon, to wonder if God has come knocking at the wrong door, I need to remember that the strength and wisdom to do what He is asking me to do, is not based on my own capability.

So be encouraged today, as I was, that God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. (1 Corinthians 1:27)

Still on the journey ...
~Judy Wnuk

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The Space Between

I had a friend over who I hadn't seen for awhile. After a light lunch, her eyes welled with tears and she shared that she had recently had a miscarriage.

I listened. I prayed. Hugged. And she had to run. The afternoon wore on. I went on a walk with my dad. Then brought another friend dinner, a celebration of her new baby.

I was struck again by just how fine a line it is between life and death, joy and deep pain.

During this Lenten season, we are doing a series at our church on suffering. Our pastor asked a variety of people to give their testimony, and I was honored to also be asked. A woman spoke about her chronic pain. A man shared about his wife's martyrdom while they were missionaries. Another shared about losing his job and his marriage all at once. I shared my own story of loss and subsequent depression.

It has been wonderful to hear how the Lord reaches down and carries us, how we never walk alone. He is faithful. It has been beautiful to hear these stories and have echos of my own. Oh, yes! That is what the Lord whispered in my ear as well! Oh my, that crushing feeling. I get it friend, I have walked a hard road too.

Sometimes, I am still asked about "socialization;" how will my kids possibly relate to others?


But I realized back in college that I can relate to people because we are all people. I didn't need to have listened to Ben Folds Five or have slept around in high school to be able to connect with the girls around me. We connected because we both longed for friends, because, as people, we want to be seen, be cared for.

So, as you head toward the finish line of another year of school, don't grow weary. Don't give in to the (potentially) alluring lie that your children would be so much more well-rounded if they went to school, that they would be able to understand and connect better with others if they were around them from 8-3 every day. Your children can connect with others because of who they are, because of the walk they will have, because of the path of their life as the Lord leads them.

We all have roads to walk. Even our children. And for this season, it's good to walk with them. When the time comes for them to walk with others, they will know what to do.


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Three Reasons to Read Out Loud to Kids Who Know How to Read

You're probably sold on the idea of reading aloud to young children. What mom doesn't cherish the thought of a preschooler climbing into her lap, ready for a snuggle and a story?

But most parents in our culture stop reading to their kids once they can read for themselves. Parents assume children don't need or want them to read aloud anymore. But this is far from true.

Sonlight intentionally builds Read-Aloud time into your school day all the way through middle school. We do that for several strategic purposes. I could list more, but here are three powerful reasons why parents should keep reading to their kids even after they can read on their own.

  1. Children want their parents to read to them

    Scholastic just released a fascinating survey on children's reading habits. Can you guess one of their surprise findings? Many children wish their parents had kept reading to them out loud after they were school age. As for the children who don't wish this, I suspect they just don't know what they're missing.

    Unfortunately, the survey also found that most parents stop reading to their children by age 6. But kids seem to love the special time and shared experiences of reading together. Even if your kids don't want to snuggle like they used to during a Read-Aloud, know that they probably really enjoy that special time with you.

  2. A Sonlight mom reads to her 9- and 11-year-old children
    Sonlight mom Betsy V finishes a Core E Read-Aloud, The Great Wheel, with her 9- and 11-year-old children at the state fair.

  3. The Reading Gap

    The mechanics of reading can be tricky. I think it's analogous to handwriting. You know that a child who is just learning to form her letters can create a much more complicated story when she's talking to you than she could if she sat down to write it. It's similar with reading. Research shows that until eighth grade or so, kids can comprehend a much higher level of writing when it's read out loud to them than they can when they read on their own.

    So reading out loud to your children all these years helps them access ideas, vocabulary and concepts that would otherwise be out of their reach. Just because they couldn't tackle a book on their own doesn't mean it's not perfect for them if you read it out loud.

  4. Reading together builds relationship

    Reading together is such a precious time to spend with your children. It's a break from a potentially hectic day. You get to slow down and immerse yourselves in a story together. When you share a book, you and your children will go on remarkable adventures together – through history and throughout the world. Those shared experiences foster deep conversations about life. They provide opportunities for your children to ask you questions about things they wonder about, such as love, loss, careers, family, and what it means to follow God.

    Many Sonlight families even say that inside jokes from books they've shared together now permeate their family culture. It's like their entire family has this treasure trove of shared adventures together that they can reference and enjoy. What fun!

So please spread the word – our school-age kids want us to read to them. We do our kids a great academic service when we do read to them out loud, and it fosters deeper relationships with our children.

What's not to love about that?


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