8-year-old Sarah uses Sonlight Science to teach the family rooster about chickens
It's no secret that Sonlight offers literature-rich curriculum. But does this mean that a child who use Sonlight spends all their time with their nose in a book? Hardly.
I'm always fascinated by the variety of photographs featured in the Sonlight catalog. Not only are children enjoying learning, often with their families, but many of them are outdoors.
Whether they are doing science experiments, engaged in nature studies, or simply reading outside, Sonlight is not about locking kids in a musty library and throwing away the key! Just flip through our catalog and you'll quickly find families involved in all kinds of activities, eager to learn and curious about the remarkable world around them.
But we do realize the power of great literature. It can take children to places they might not get a chance to see in person, and also to interesting historical eras where they can "meet" the people who have literally made history.
In his insightful little book An Experiment in Criticism, C.S. Lewis offers some wonderful commentary on why people enjoy literature: "We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own ... We demand windows ... One of the things we feel after reading a great work is 'I have got out.' Or from another point of view, 'I have got in.'"
What kinds of activities do you and your children enjoy when homeschooling? Do you spend time learning outdoors? Why are you drawn to literature-rich curriculum?
P.S. Once again I'm near Colorado wildfires and, as a result, am reminded of a relevant blog post I wrote last year around the time of the Waldo Canyon fire: "What Matters Most?"
You've probably heard the advice to avoid discussing religion and politics, especially if you want to steer clear of confrontation. At Sonlight we take a different approach--seek to understand different viewpoints and engage them intelligently and winsomely.
Our recently revised Core 400 seeks to do just that with the addition of a book to the Bible portion. God and Politics: Four Views on the Reformation of Civil Government explores four different ways Christians relate their faith to government.
This is a unique book in that it features contributions from more than a dozen experts who often interact with opposing ideas, responding to each major position presented in the book. Instead of one book by a single author making the case for a specific view of government, God and Politics offers four alternatives. Our helpful Instructor's Guide Notes also provide further insights and commentary on the book.
What four options are covered? In the order they are addressed in the book they include Theonomy, Principled Pluralism, Christian America, and National Confessionalism. While it's beyond our scope to cover the details of what each view is about in a brief summary, here's a quick overview of each approach:
Theonomy: Sometimes called Reconstructionism, theonomy emphasizes the application of God's laws, including Old Testament laws, to contemporary government.
Principled Pluralism: This view states that there are many different perspectives represented in society, leading to the conclusion that the state should ensure equal rights for all citizens, not just a particular faith.
Christian America: This approach comes in different forms, but the general thrust is belief in the Christian heritage of America, which should lead Christians to restore their faith throughout government.
National Confessionalism: Adherents of this viewpoint believe that every nation should explicitly declare allegiance to Christ in their official documents and seek to implement policies that honor the God of the Bible.
As you can see, there are a variety of viewpoints represented in the four views covered in God and Politics. Although there is disagreement among the Christian contributors to the book, there's an appendix that summarizes not only areas of disagreement, but key areas of agreement. This provides a fantastic way of underscoring Christian unity on important areas despite differences.
So what position does Sonlight follow? One of the wonderful and often unique characteristics of our approach is that we don't tell you or your children what to believe. Instead, we provide helpful information to guide you and your children as you seek to understand, evaluate, and come to your own conclusions.
What view of God and politics do you follow? How will you teach your children about the relationship between God and government? Let us know in the comments section!
If you want to learn more about the four views, pick up a copy of God and Politics.
Do you have a teaching philosophy? Do you need one? What about the resources you incorporate in homeschooling--do they have a teaching philosophy?
A teaching philosophy is typically driven by worldview thinking. A worldview drives how we see and interpret reality; it's how we make sense of things. Presuppositions come into play, too. These are assumptions that are foundational to our thinking.
Sonlight President Sarita Holzmann recently shared two presuppositions or "underlying assumptions about education" that we have at Sonlight: 1. Education should help children develop their gifts and become equipped to do whatever God calls them to do to further His Kingdom; and 2. Every child is naturally curious and can love to learn. Education should help nurture that love to learn.
As an educator I've taken time to consider my teaching philosophy, which is centered on my Christian worldview. This leads me to seek to equip, edify, educate, and encourage students to seek God's calling in their life and apply their beliefs practically and reasonably in all they do. I hope to develop ambassadors for the cause of Christ who will intelligently engage culture.
Recently on a radio program I was asked to discuss a film and its implications in relation to Christianity. When the host asked me about the movie, I mentioned that we need to keep in mind that every form of media we encounter has one or more underlying worldviews guiding it, whether it's film, television, books, art, music, etc. This applies to educational materials, too.
Having a teaching philosophy helps us understand our approach and identify alternative views. It can help us stay on track and remember our overall goal. Take some time to think about the teaching philosophy that guides you, as well as the educational resources you use. What are the assumptions guiding the material? Do you agree or disagree with the approach? Even if you disagree with some points, how can you turn your disagreement into a learning opportunity for yourself and your children?
So, what's your teaching philosophy? Let us know in the comments section!
Sonlight Science G: Geology, Physics, and Origins
A recent article in The Atlantic featured this headline: "Old Earth, Young Minds: Evangelical Homeschoolers Embrace Evolution." It then went on to offer anecdotal evidence indicating, "More Christian parents are asking for mainstream science in their children's curricula."
According to the article, the vast majority of Christian educational materials on science and evolution favor young-earth creationism--the view that God specially created the earth thousands of years ago. "[E]vangelical families who embrace modern science are becoming more vocal about it," reads the article, suggesting that modern science is about evolution, not young or even old-earth creationism. Today's homeschool science textbooks, says the article, reject "modern science."
This is not a new debate. Science and faith are often portrayed in the media as being incompatible. We're told that science emphasizes reason, facts, and evidence, while faith is blind, solely about emotion, and has no basis in evidence. This, of course, is far from the truth. Not only are some scientists biased in the defense of their underlying worldview--naturalism--but many Christians find their faith to be "true and reasonable" (Acts 26:25, NIV) on the basis of an abundance of evidence.
Five years ago I participated in a revision of Sonlight's K-6 science curricula (what we call Science A, B, C, D, E, F, and G). In our introduction to these science levels, we summarize four broad options: non-theistic evolution (naturalism), theistic evolution, young-earth creationism, and old-earth creationism. Obviously, Christians reject non-theistic evolution because by definition that view excludes the supernatural and, with it, God.
But what about the other options? Young-earth creationism is promoted by organizations such as Answers in Genesis, old-earth creationism is held by Reasons to Believe, while theistic evolution is the view of Biologos. In addition, the Discovery Institute promotes what it calls Intelligent Design, which claims to remain neutral on the question of old versus young earth, but opposes theistic evolution and non-theistic evolution.
My goal here is not to definitively settle the questions surrounding science, faith, and evolution. I know better than to think I can resolve these significant questions in one blog post! I do wonder, however, what you think of these questions.
Is it true that Christian homeschoolers are embracing theistic evolution? (This is the view that God plays a role in the evolutionary process.) Do you teach young-earth creationism? Old-earth creationism? Intelligent Design? How do you go about addressing matters of science and faith? What might you want to see in upper level homeschool science curricula when it comes to these questions? Please let us know in the comments section!
My oldest son recently turned 18. He's also graduating from high school in a few months. After a long homeschooling journey, he's not only considered an adult, but will also receive his high school diploma.
Do you have a child ready to graduate this year? In a few years? In several years? One of the concerns homeschooling parents have is, "Did we miss anything?" In other words, will our child be ready and equipped to face the world?
There's much to say on this topic, but I'd like to make three observations. First, the very fact that you are involved in homeschooling is an important indicator in relation to how much you are invested in helping your children succeed in life. You do your research, select your curriculum carefully, interact with other homeschooling parents, and continue to seek to offer the best learning tools and environment possible. This point alone will go along way toward helping your children in life.
Second, preparing your children to become well-rounded individuals is far more important than memorizing facts and regurgitating information. Homeschooling allows parents to not only serve as constant role models for children, but the content children are exposed to helps them learn what it means to live a virtuous, meaningful life, especially within the broader framework of God's Kingdom. Sonlight's emphasis on literature is key in this regard. Stories offer wonderful opportunities for teaching virtue without having to break out a boring philosophy book on ethics. Jesus knew this, which is one reason he loved to tell memorable stories.
Third, despite what some sectors of education would have you believe, there is no all-encompassing list of things every child in the world must know prior to graduating. Even if there are a few gaps in knowledge here and there, that's expected. No one knows everything. Besides, home educated children who love to learn are well prepared to continue learning throughout their lives, making it much easier for them to fill in any gaps as they grow.
Is your child ready for life? If you're invested in their education, are preparing them to become well-rounded individuals, and have helped them love to learn, then there is no doubt in my mind that your child is ready for life.
My youngest child is six, which means that my wife and I still have quite a homeschooling journey ahead of us. Will there be challenges along the way? Of course. Can we handle them as parents? We'll do our best.
How does homeschooling help you prepare your children for life?
J.P. Moreland recently updated his fine book Love Your God with All Your Mind. In re-reading it I came across this sobering quote by Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli: "Western civilization is for the first time in its history in danger of dying. The reason is spiritual. It is losing its life, its soul; that soul was the Christian faith" (Handbook of Christian Apologetics).
As Moreland argues, the role of the mind is crucial to the Christian worldview. Unfortunately, anti-intellectualism has far too often weakened the influence of the church. In chapter 1, Moreland lists five characteristics of anti-intellectualism and how it has impacted Western Christianity. These include 1) A misunderstanding of faith's relationship to reason; 2) The separation of the secular and the sacred; 3) Weakened world missions; 4) Anti-intellectualism has spawned an irrelevant gospel; 5) A loss of boldness in confronting the idea structures in our culture with effective Christian witness.
To counter the rise of anti-intellectualism, Christians must take seriously Christ's call to love God with heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37). With my oldest son graduating from high school soon, looking back on his homeschool journey has helped me appreciate the opportunities he's had to train his mind to think clearly and also to learn how to engage culture intelligently.
How does Sonlight accomplish this? One way we do this is by fostering a mindset that is open to understanding and evaluating ideas. We want to educate, not indoctrinate. May we all seek to be deliberate about both encouraging our children to use their minds for the glory of God, and using their intellects to make a positive difference in this world.
My youngest son loves lighting up Christmas village
With only two weeks to go until Christmas, my children are getting more and more excited every day. I must admit, I'm eager, too!
Despite the busyness of the season we take time every week to observe advent. Recently we discussed the concept of the Incarnation--Christ's coming.
In his book Miracles, C.S. Lewis called this monumental event, "The Grand Miracle," remarking, "If the thing happened, it was the central event in the history of the Earth--the very thing that the whole story has been about."
What a remarkable observation and truth to ponder. The Message paraphrase puts it well: "The Word [Christ] became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood" (John 1:14). The word The Message renders as "moved into the neighborhood" is skenoo in the Greek, which means to live, dwell, or spread a tent, bringing to mind the Old Testament tabernacle--the portable place of worship.
The Grand Miracle tells us much about the nature of God, especially his deep love for us and desire to reach out to us. Christianity is "a rescue religion," as a former colleague of mine once said. God takes the initiative and throws us a lifeline.
There's no better time to think about The Grand Miracle than Christmas!
These Sonlight children love to learn!
Sonlight seeks to promote a lifelong love of learning, but what helps children love to learn and what can hinder that outlook? Let's look at some possible answers.
When I asked my wife about this topic, her first response was, "Parental attitude." In observing the behavior of our four homeschooled children, parental attitude really does make a strong impression, either pro or con depending on the attitude we exhibit as parents.
For example, did we have a bad experience with math when we were children? If we vocalize a negative attitude, our kids may inherit our bad attitude about math. If, however, we express positive experiences about learning, children will notice.
Siblings, too, can influence one another, pro and con, when it comes to whether or not a love of learning is cultivated or smothered. As parents, we need to keep an eye on sibling interactions and, where we can, encourage a love of learning.
Access to positive learning tools can also stimulate a love of learning. This means, for starters, maintaining a good library of resources in your home. Supplemental videos, too, can help, so long as they are engaging and of good quality. Maintaining a learning home is helpful, too. If kids don't have access to stimulating educational tools or are in an environment that is not conducive to learning, developing a love of learning will be more challenging.
Knowing the learning styles of children can also help parents better shape the homeschooling experience, so that a love of learning is promoted rather than stifled. Children are unique individuals, so we can't expect them all to learn or thrive in the same ways, but we can seek to understand how each child learns best and cater to those strengths whenever possible.
Great, engaging literature also stimulates a love of learning. When children connect with characters in a story, they can't wait to read more about what happens. If a story is worthwhile when it comes to its message, children can develop a love of reading, which in turn contributes to a love of learning. Conversely, bad literature can hinder a love of learning. Children may begin to think that books are "boring" and have nothing to offer. That's why Sonlight spends a lot of time selecting quality, engaging literature.
There are many other points we could add that can either help or hinder a love of learning. What do you think helps children develop a love of learning? What do you think hinders it?
Not long after the advent of World War II, C.S. Lewis preached a sermon which later came to be called "Learning in War-Time" (see The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses). In a famous quote from the address, Lewis said, "Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered."
For our purposes we can rephrase the quote as follows: "Good thinking must exist, if for no other reason, because bad thinking needs to be answered." One of the educational goals we have at Sonlight is to help children think critically so that they can intelligently engage a wide variety of ideas. In other words, we want to cultivate good thinking.
How can we accomplish the cultivation of good thinking? We don't do it by indoctrinating children, which actually stifles critical thinking skills. Instead, we often present a variety of different ideas, some of which are even opposed to our Christian approach, and then seek to explore and engage those concepts intelligently. Our Instructor's Guide Notes, for instance, often provide many additional insights, seeking not only to present opposing views fairly, but also exploring responses and related ideas.
As I craft curriculum notes, I'm always asking myself questions such as, "What is the best explanation for this issue? What other viable options exist? What is the strongest point this perspective makes? Does the reasoning behind this viewpoint hold up? If we grant this position, what are the consequences? How might a biblical response to this question look?"
In order to thoughtfully critique ideas, we must first seek to understand them correctly. This involves, for example, patience, the ability to sift through ideas carefully, an understanding of the issues involved, and a good dose of humility.
Personally, I don't want my four children to grow up without the ability to think critically about the ideas they will encounter. I'd rather they become equipped to deal with all kinds of ideas in a way that is thoughtful and winsome. As ambassadors of Christ, they can then confidently seek to understand and evaluate ideas, contributing good thinking and, when necessary, gently respond to bad thinking.
How do you help your children think through ideas?
Two of our castle books
In The Everlasting Man, G.K. Chesterton wrote, "There are no rules of architecture for a castle in the clouds."
In its immediate context, Chesterton is writing about make-believe and mythology. Broadly speaking, though, the quote offers some wonderful insights into human imagination and creativity. Children in particular are more often than not open to a world of wonder that adults often miss, have forgotten, or have "outgrown."
The Chesterton quote came to mind as I was pondering a recent interaction I had with my 11-year-old son. Home education offers some fantastic opportunities to observe and cultivate your children's interests in ways that parents otherwise might miss. We have a lot of books in our house--so many, in fact, that we're running out of wall space for shelves! This provides our four children with opportunities to browse the shelves and the wide range of subjects the books span.
My son recently expressed an interest in castles. He began to draw maps and diagrams on graph paper showing a drawbridge, towers, moat, courtyard, etc. I asked him about it one day and he didn't say much, but I mentioned that I thought we had some books on castles so if he was interested we could track them down. The next day he asked me some questions about castle-related terminology. It's remarkable how many specialized terms are used in relation to castles!
After some searching through our library, we came across two books about castles and also a helpful diagram in an illustrated reverse dictionary. Later I found him in his room quietly sitting at a table with two of the books: Castle by David Macaulay and the DK book Castle.
My son's interest in castles was not part of our scheduled curricula at this time, but rather than seeing this as a distraction or interruption I saw an opportunity to cultivate his interest, spur his imagination, and, yes, also help him learn.
Homeschooling is a great adventure for both parents and children. Schedules and planning are important, but don't miss out on unscheduled opportunities to encourage your child's interests. They are at an age of wonder and imagination. With a little effort we can help them build castles in the clouds.
What do you do to encourage your child's interests?
You're probably familiar with the encounter between Pilate and Jesus that ends with Pilate asking, "What is truth?" (John 18:38).
Although we don't know the tone in his voice when he asked the question, we do know that he didn't seem to linger for an answer (the passage continues, "After he had said this, he went back outside").
The truth question remains relevant to this day, but how do we know what's true? When we ask the question it's already charged with ideas. "How do we know" falls under the branch of philosophy known as epistemology, which addresses all sorts of questions about knowledge.
We might then ask, what is knowledge? Those who have studied the subject may quickly answer, knowledge is justified true belief. We don't have time or space here to offer an introductory course in epistemology, but we can offer some ideas for approaching the truth question.
If truth is what corresponds to reality, then it is to our benefit to understand ways of determining what actually does correspond to reality (what is true). When it comes to worldviews, for instance, there are many conflicting approaches to how people explain and interpret the world.
I'm reminded of a great quote in the C.S. Lewis novel That Hideous Strength. One character makes the remark, "I suppose there are two views about everything." A fellow named Hingest replies, "Eh? Two views? There are a dozen views about everything, until you know the answer. Then there's never more than one."
So how can we put ideas and claims about reality to the test? There are many methods we can employ, but I'll share just two here. (Those who wish to pursue further study of worldview tests can see chapter 2 of A World of Difference by Kenneth Samples and chapter 3 of Christian Apologetics by Douglas Groothuis.)
The coherence test asks whether or not a worldview is logically consistent. As Samples writes, "Truth will always be wholly consistent within itself, displaying internal logical harmony. The coherence test stresses the crucial unity and relatedness of all truth. Therefore any logical inconsistency in the basic elements of a worldview is a mark of essential error."
The coherence test, however, on its own is not enough to determine whether or not a worldview is wholly true. It may be internally consistent, but externally inconsistent with known facts of science, history, etc.
Another helpful test is the explanatory power and scope test. As Samples puts it, this test asks, "How well does a worldview explain the facts of reality ('power') and how wide is the range of the explanation ('scope')?" Any worldview contending for its position as the true worldview should explain reality in a manner that is convincing, broad in scope, profound, and viable.
How does all this relate to home education? Sonlight strives to present and explore various perspectives and viewpoints. We're not known for avoiding controversial issues or dogmatically indoctrinating children. Instead, we want to help parents raise children who think critically and are able to sift through various ideas and come to conclusions that offer the best explanation of reality.
What do you do to help your children know what's true?
Waldo Canyon fire, view from my backyard (June 26)
On June 23 I looked out the window and saw a large plume of smoke in the distance, near the mountains.
A few days later, on June 26, half the sky was darkened by smoke from the Waldo Canyon fire near Colorado Springs. Within a matter of hours, the smoke and ash in the air were so bad that I could hardly see anything at all outside--just a hazy brown and orange.
Although our home was far enough away to avoid evacuations, the possibility of having to quickly depart brought to mind some important thoughts and questions. What do we take? What's important? What matters most?
I remembered a passage from Eric Sloane's book Diary of An Early American Boy: "The good things of the past were not so often articles [possessions] as they were the manner in which people lived or the things that the people thought. This, of course, is still true; the fine TV sets and modern kitchen equipment we prize now will be junk within a matter of years; the lasting examples of our time will turn out to be the ways that we live or the things that we think."
With a limited amount of time available to evacuate their homes, I heard story after story of families first of all seeing to their safety, then the importance of their photographs. Whether they grabbed collections of printed photo albums or computer hard drives containing their digital pictures, no one wanted to lose their pictures.
We value relationships and the memory of times we've spent with loved ones. While it's important to keep helpful homeschool records, and to celebrate our children's accomplishments, ultimately our relationships with our children matter far more than grade point averages, standardized test scores, or whether or not they graduate from a top-rated university.
Sonlight excels in bringing families together. Sharing great stories with one another is a fantastic way to grow, learn, and strengthen the bonds between parents and children.
What matters most? It's not the size of our television screen, the square footage of our house, the kind of car we drive, or whether or not our children are good at memorizing and regurgitating facts for a test. There are far more important things in life: wisdom, virtue, truth, relationships, the ways that we live, and the things that we think.
It's no secret that Sonlight offers literature-rich homeschool curriculum. There are many benefits to this approach, but I'll mention four here.
First, reading quality books helps us learn to receive literature, not simply use it. C.S. Lewis used these terms in his book An Experiment in Criticism. Those who "use" literature function more as consumers and, as a result, often fail to appreciate its artistic merits or the ideas developed in the work. They usually only read a book once, thus missing out on the joys of receiving literature by appreciating it in more depth and wanting to read a great book more than once.
Second, literature-rich homeschooling helps children become acquainted with the great conversation of ideas. Throughout the centuries recurring themes that define our humanity appear in literature--love, justice, redemption, the meaning of life, and more. By reading literature that explores these important themes we can participate in the great conversation of ideas that stretches back through human history.
Third, in reading great literature we can in a sense see through the eyes of others, thereby expanding our horizons and our understanding. As C.S. Lewis put it in An Experiment in Criticism, "We want to be more than ourselves ... We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own ... in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself." There's a world of ideas to explore and literature can take us on a guided tour of these insights.
Fourth, we are made to think and feel deeply, and literature can help us develop not only our intellect, but our emotions. It appeals to our entire being, especially when we are immersed in a good story with characters we care about.
What do you appreciate about literature-rich education? Let us know by leaving a comment.
In his 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death the late Neil Postman declared the demise of the Age of Exposition and the rise of the Age of Entertainment. He offered sober warnings about the decline of the written word and the rise of images and sounds.
Whether we like it or not, the medium of film is a powerful cultural force. Motion pictures, television, online videos, and even video on demand on smartphones are realities of our world. But how do they relate to homeschooling? Before we get there, let's look at some differences between print and film.
Are there differences between print and film? Of course. They are different mediums. Print, for instance, is mostly conceptual, dealing with linear ideas. Film, on the other hand, is mostly visual, dealing with images that may or may not be linear. Print typically requires concentrated thought, while film generally requires little concentrated thought. Print excels in building rational arguments, but film favors entertainment over rigorous rational discourse. Print requires literacy, while film generally does not. Print is usually a quiet endeavor, involving an interplay between the author and reader. Film, though, is noisy, involving sounds, music, etc. Print records the great ideas of human history, while film is mostly transient and fleeting (especially much television). Finally, we could say print is active, while film is passive. That is to say, if we are good readers we engage printed ideas actively, but when we watch film we are mostly passive observers. There are exceptions to each of these points, but on the whole I believe these differences are representative of what is typical of each medium.
With that said, we could also add that print and film share some similarities. Both, for example, can tell a story, evoke emotions, share ideas, entertain, can be artistic, and are capable of communicating truth or error.
Must print and film engage in battle? Not necessarily. Film can often serve as an engaging supplement or complement to literature-rich homeschooling pursuits. After all, it's one thing to read about something and another to see it in action. With parental monitoring sites like YouTube offer a wealth of educational supplements that will excite your children and move them to want to learn more about various subjects. This is one reason Sonlight incorporated links to video clips in many of our Sonlight Science programs a few years ago.
I've written elsewhere that film is the "new literature." I don't mean that literature will disappear, but that we've largely shifted from a culture that asks, "Have you read?" to "Have you seen?"
Sonlight is literature rich. We value the written word and the ability of literature-based stories to make a difference in lives, whether it's shaping character, exposing us to different cultural ideas, or just entertaining us with characters that come to life. Understanding the differences between film and print can help us better understand these mediums, as well as how to better incorporate them in our efforts to educate our children.
Do you incorporate video when you teach your children? Let us know how you do it and how your children respond.
In an encounter in Acts, the Apostle Paul is accused of being out of his mind. Paul replies, "I am not insane ... What I am saying is true and reasonable" (Acts 26:25, NIV).
As a former atheist, I had to come to terms with a lot of issues before accepting Christ and realizing that Christianity makes a lot of sense. I recently completed a unique apologetics book that will address the case for and against Christianity via a series of diagrams and accompanying commentary. (Christian apologetics, by the way, is the rational defense of the faith.)
One chapter makes the claim that Christianity is the best explanation of reality and offers six key lines of evidence in its support. First, truth is objective and we can know reality. Second, God exists and has revealed himself. Third, the Bible is reliable. Fourth, Christ rose from the dead. Fifth, Christianity best explains reality. Sixth, religious experience supports Christianity.
These aren't the only reasons Christianity is "true and reasonable." Also, keep in mind that these evidences can work together to make an overall case for Christianity. In other words, each point need not be in isolation from other lines of evidence.
In the chapter, after making a case for each point, I go on to offer several objections to those six premises. This helps see arguments from different perspectives, which can help strengthen our own position as we think through criticisms of ideas we believe are true. I then offer rebuttals to the objections.
I also present diagrams and arguments from opposing viewpoints, which puts me in the position of having to defend the claims of atheists or pantheists, for instance. Some of those topics include the claims that since evil exists, God does not exist, or the arguument that belief in God is delusional.
The idea is to help us think critically about ideas and see that there are many different viewpoints to consider and evaluate. There's a great and relevant quote in the C.S. Lewis novel That Hideous Strength. One character remarks, "I suppose there are two views about everything." Another replies, "Eh? Two views? There are a dozen views about everything until you know the answer. Then there's never more than one."
One of my tasks as a curriculum writer at Sonlight is to help children think through all kinds of ideas, even if those ideas may clash with existing viewpoints. This is especially crucial as children get older, but it's a good idea to start early. Our goal at Sonlight is to educate, not indoctrinate. This means giving children the information they need to grow in their faith and equipping them to wrestle intelligently with ideas.
Why believe Christianity? It's "true and reasonable." We have good evidence in support of its claims. But this doesn't mean we can just ignore the objections. Fortunately, we have good answers!
What do Pixar, culture, and C.S. Lewis have in common? I've written a book about Pixar Animation Studios that gets into issues about engaging culture, as well as some books about C.S. Lewis. These topics also happen to be three of several issues I recently discussed on The Sociable Homeschooler.
We also talked about the high school curriculum I co-authored with Sonlight President Sarita Holzmann: What Good is Christianity? This is a fascinating elective that takes high school students on a tour of Christianity's great contributions to the world in areas such as the fine arts, science, education, and much more.
How can Finding Nemo help us strike a good balance as parents? Why did C.S. Lewis think we all long for God? How should we relate to culture? Head over to The Sociable Homeschooler and listen to the program to find out (look under February 24).
Today is Valentine's Day, but I'm not going to blog about St. Valentine or the modern holiday named after him (you can Google that easily if you want). I'm also not going to blog about the element Lawrencium, first synthesized on February 14, 1961.
But I am going to blog about love, specifically in reference to our love of God and how it relates to intellect and education.
A man once asked Jesus, "which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" (Matthew 22:36) Jesus replied: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:37-39, ESV).
This response is interesting on many levels, but for our purposes what is truly fascinating is the call to use the mind in relation to our love of God. This is especially relevant at a time when Christianity is under attack by various critics. One false charge often made is that Christianity is anti-intellectual, relying on a leap of blind faith and emotions alone rather than any kind of sound reasoning.
Biblically speaking, this is quite a misunderstanding. Not only does Jesus value the use of the mind in relation to loving God, but God is also a reasonable being. In Isaiah 1:18, for example, God says, "Come, now, let us reason together ..." First Thessalonians 5:21, moreover, encourages us to "examine everything carefully" and "hold fast to that which is good" (NASB). Paul also emphasized the importance of reason in relation to faith when he said in response to a doubter, "What I am saying is true and reasonable" (Acts 26:25, NIV).
This doesn't mean that we're pure logical beings, called to love God only with our minds in some sort of detached, robotic way. There's room for intellect and emotion in the Christian life. God wants us to think and feel deeply, but we need to be careful about keeping the life of the mind and the life of the emotions in a healthy balance.
When creating curriculum for Sonlight, one of my goals is to always encourage and help children along so that they can use their God-given intellects to seek true understanding of the world around them. We are blessed with wonderful mental capabilities. In our lifelong pursuit of education and wisdom we should strive to love God with heart, soul, and mind.
For more on this topic see Love Your God with All Your Mind by J.P. Moreland and Habits of the Mind by James Sire.
C.S. Lewis once quipped, "Books on a shelf are only potential literature" (An Experiment in Criticism). In other words, unless they are actually read, books really don't do much to stimulate the intellect or the emotions. Sonlight's literature-rich focus means children are always engaged in reading great books, instead of leaving them on the shelf or struggling to get through tedious textbooks.
In addition to my work developing curriculum at Sonlight, I recently taught a grad course on the philosophy of C.S. Lewis. As we made our way through the semester it occurred to me that Sonlight's literature-rich approach is a great help in preparing children for college.
We didn't use any textbooks, opting instead to read several books by C.S. Lewis. Granted, not all college or grad school courses follow this model, but when they do Sonlight students will excel (even when they don't, Sonlight users can still apply the Sonlight model of education to any area of study). After all, Sonlighters are already quite familiar with reading and understanding books, as well as following a set schedule. Sonlight also prepares children to interact with lots of different ideas, encourages critical thinking, and helps children to fairly and charitably understand and engage competing perspectives.
In short, Sonlight's approach to education not only prepares children for college studies, but it prepares them for life. None of us live in isolation from the world. Ideas and differing viewpoints permeate cultures and subcultures whether we agree with the perspectives or not. Being able to intelligently and courteously engage those ideas is a wonderful benefit of Sonlight's approach to education.
How do you see Sonlight helping your children prepare for college or life in general?
How do we teach our children virtues? One of the best ways to communicate and help develop moral character in our children is through the power of storytelling.
As Luke shared yesterday, learning through lectures isn't always the most engaging or effective method. It's also hard to instill virtue in children just by telling them directly what's right and what's wrong. But through stories they can see the results of poor moral choices, as well as good ones, without a lecture or without a parent having to chide them.
There are many reasons Sonlight offers a literature-rich educational experience. Personally, I appreciate how storytelling is central to what our curriculum offers and believe it helps encourage virtues in children.
One example of this is found in the C.S. Lewis book we offer called The Horse and His Boy. Although it's part of the famed seven-volume Narnia series, The Horse and His Boy functions quite well as a self-contained story. In it we encounter a young boy named Shasta who finds himself on an unexpected adventure. One of the virtues Shasta develops is courage, while he also exemplifies a good dose of humility.*
The Bible, too, uses storytelling in order to communicate doctrinal and moral truths. Jesus, for instance, often told parables in order to get his point across. He knew that people were far more likely to remember the stories of the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal Son, for example, than any "lecture" he might give on ethics.
What do you think of the ability of stories to communicate virtues? Do you have a favorite Sonlight book that serves as a good example of virtue in storytelling? We'd love to hear from you!
*To learn more about virtues in the Narnia series see my book The Golden Rules of Narnia, previously published as The Lion, the Witch, and the Bible and The Heart of Narnia.
With the rise of the new atheism, Christianity is under intellectual attack. One recurring theme on the part of critics is that Christianity is actually harmful to individuals and to the world. It is, they say, a religion that leads to oppression, warfare, opposition to science, and anti-intellectualism.
Are these charges true? Hardly. A look at the facts of history demonstrates Christianity's positive influence on individuals and the world. From its beginnings Christianity stressed God's love as its ethical foundation. Early Christians also understood the importance and moral implications of the biblical teaching that human beings are made in God's image. If, after all, we are made in God's image, then every human life is of inestimable worth. That's one reason early Christians rescued babies that were left to die and why the church would later found orphanages and hospitals.
Given Christianity's ethical foundation based on God's love, as well as Christ's call to "do to others what you would have them do to you" (Matthew 7:12, NIV), the results of truly following Christianity are positive, not harmful, having resulted in many tangible blessings throughout the world as Christians risk their safety in order to help others.
Moreover, Christianity is a thinking religion, calling followers to use their minds in the pursuit of truth (see, for instance, Matthew 22:37-39). When the Apostle Paul was accused of being "insane" for his beliefs, he did not respond by offering blind faith. Instead he remarked, "What I am saying is true and reasonable" (Acts 26:25, NIV). Early Christians often appealed to evidence for their faith, as well as engaging in reasoned discussion (see, for example, Acts 1:3; 17:2, 17:17; 18:19).
If true Christianity were removed from the world, the loss would be incalculable. The truth is, Christianity has left its positive marks on a number of areas of life including social justice, music, art, literature, philosophy, science, charity, democracy, and more. That's why Sonlight created What Good is Christianity? This upper-level high school curriculum graciously addresses many of the criticisms of contemporary skeptics, while underscoring the numerous beneficial contributions Christians and Christianity have made to the world.
What do you think? Do the critics have some valid points? Is there a particular charge against Christianity that has caused you concern? If so, post your comment here.
Charlotte Mason-inspired nature journals
"Charlotte who?" I asked my wife. Having grown up with a public school education, I wasn't too knowledgeable or enthusiastic about homeschooling or the types of approaches available. Several years later, I'm glad to say that I'm not only a father of four homeschooled children, but have learned quite a bit about the many different approaches to education.
Charlotte Mason (1842-1923) combined a unique approach to education that many homeschooling families today appreciate. In my home we've found Sonlight and Charlotte Mason integrate well, rather than being opposites or enemies. Although Sonlight is most definitely focused on literature-rich education, this by no means cuts us off from experiencing the world around us or integrating ideas from other educational methods.
How does the Charlotte Mason method tie in to a Sonlight-based education? I've already written about a learning home, which coincides well with Mason's emphasis on the atmosphere in the home contributing to education in significant ways. In my experience, Sonlight families emphasize the importance of a home that encourages and cultivates learning. As C.S. Lewis wrote, "The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts."
The Charlotte Mason approach also emphasizes "living" or "whole" books. This means that rather than using typically dry textbooks that are written by committees, a living or whole book is written by a single author. This, of course, fits in quite well with Sonlight's literature-rich approach. Many of our books are stories written by a single author who is enthusiastic about the topic and can communicate in ways that touch our intellect and emotions.
Narration is also a component of the Charlotte Mason method. This means that children learn to comprehend what they've read by sharing about it meaningfully. Sonlight spends a lot of time helping parents and children engage the material they're reading by posing questions that help children remember and think through what they've read.
Another area where I've found Charlotte Mason ideas integrate well is with science. Charlotte Mason encouraged hands-on learning, especially in reference to nature studies. Each of my children has their own nature journal (two are pictured above), where they can record all kinds of things they encounter in nature such as trees, birds, plant life, wild animals, etc. God's world is filled with wonders that we're often too "busy" to notice. Having a nature journal helps us slow down and enjoy the beauty of the natural world, which often prods us to learn more about what we've seen.
A few years ago I had the pleasure of helping to revise Sonlight's A-G science curricula and am glad to report that many of our hands-on activities were inspired by the Charlotte Mason approach to nature studies.
If you'd like to learn more about the Charlotte Mason approach, feel free to do a search online where you'll find a lot of helpful tips. The book A Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola is also a great help.
Sonlight and Charlotte Mason work well together. What different approaches to education do you integrate? Why do you like them? Let us know!
Our "wall of maps"
No, homes don't learn, but creating what I call a "learning home" can help you and your children appreciate and make the most of your homeschooling journey.
A learning home cultivates an environment that encourages and stimulates education, intellectual curiosity, and wonder about the world. Here are some tips for helping you create a learning home.
Always let your children ask questions. Kids are expected to inquire about all kinds of things and, as parents, we can help guide the resulting discussions. Even if we don't have the answers all the time (and we won't!), we can learn with our children as they inquire. If we are interested in learning, and demonstrate to our kids that we are, we can help pass on our love for learning to them.
Roman thinker Cicero said, "A room without books is like a body without a soul." Books are a key component of any learning home. But books in a learning home need not be confined to just one area or room. Spread books throughout your house and you'll often find that your children will become more interested in grabbing a book off a shelf even "after school."
A learning home also tends to have lots of stuff on the walls. No, I don't mean peanut butter and jelly stains, though that can happen! I'm referring to items such as maps, timelines, and posters. In my house we have a wall of maps that includes a map of the world, the United States, Colorado, Israel, and Narnia (as a C.S. Lewis fan I had to include this one!). Knowing geography helps cultivate cultural literacy, understanding about how to read maps, and can bring history to life as children begin to grasp where historical events actually took place.
Extending the learning home concept to your backyard is helpful, too. If you don't have a backyard you can apply these ideas by going to a park or any place you can think of where your kids can observe and explore nature. If you do have a backyard, you and your children will be amazed by how much of interest you might find in it. From ant colonies to types of trees to various birds to spider webs, your own backyard can serve as a helpful annex to your learning home, especially when it comes to science studies.
A home computer connected to the internet offers a number of opportunities to follow up on questions and discussions that come up in a learning home. YouTube, for instance, provides a variety of videos on all sorts of educational topics. Are your kids interested in bugs? Chances are that YouTube will have some fascinating videos on the topic. The fine arts? Go online and learn about great artists, paintings, composers, sculptures, architecture, etc. (Try to locate your computer in an open area where everyone can see what's going on. This is an internet safety tip, but it will also encourage your children to take an interest in learning activities that you are exploring online together.)
Keep in mind that a learning home is not a museum. It's expected that things will get messy sometimes. Books will get left in various places, piles of knowledge may form here and there, dirt will get tracked in and out of the house, and, yes, every now and then peanut butter and jelly will end up on the walls. What is far more important is that a learning home will help your children become lifelong learners who are intellectually curious about everything God's world has to offer.
Do you have any learning home tips? We'd love to hear them!
"My kingdom is not of this world," said Jesus (John 18:36), while earlier he told his followers, "you are not of the world" (John 15:19). Elsewhere we are told, "the wisdom of this world is folly with God" (1 Corinthians 3:19).
So what are we to make of the relationship between Christianity and culture? As a homeschooling father of four, what can I teach my children about their interaction with the culture of the world? Do we entrench ourselves in our Christian culture, avoiding contact with everything worldly? Should we embrace culture wholeheartedly? Is it possible to engage culture positively?
We must have some understanding of the definition of "culture." T.M. Moore says "culture consists of the collection of artifacts, institutions, and conventions by which people define, sustain, and enrich themselves" (Redeeming Pop Culture, p. 18).
Culture is unavoidable since it permeates our surroundings wherever we live. This common culture is filled with various subcultures, while popular culture often touches upon culture at large as well as the many subcultures, whether they be ethnic, religious, artistic, etc.
It appears, then, that the option to entrench ourselves, thus avoiding culture, is not a viable option. We are, after all, supposed to be "salt" and "light" in the world, not hidden away. If we fully entrench ourselves, seeking to avoid culture entirely, our children will indeed be protected from some of the negative aspects of culture, but they will also be unprepared to interact with the world positively as Christians.
Maybe, then, we should seek to simply embrace culture, celebrating it, participating in it, and, by doing so, "become all things to all people" (1 Corinthians 9:22). But embracing culture without discernment is dangerous. We may find ourselves becoming more like the negative aspects of culture than the positive.
A better way is to engage culture intelligently. Jesus admonished his followers "to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (Matthew 10:16). Earlier in the same verse he told them, "I am sending you out," while in Matthew 28:19, he said, "Go therefore." Christianity engages culture in order to make a difference in God's kingdom.
In ages past, Christians were on the forefront of science, the fine arts, philosophy, literature, and many other areas of cultural influence. By engaging culture, and teaching our children to do so, we can once again make a difference. That's why Sonlight Curriculum does not seek to teach children to entrench themselves in their own subculture or to unquestioningly embrace culture. Instead, we want to help you raise godly children who know how to engage culture intelligently, defending their faith "with gentleness and respect" ( 1 Peter 3:15).
Three of my favorite resources regarding Christianity and culture include Redeeming Pop Culture by T.M. Moore, All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes by Kenneth Myers, and Culture Making by Andy Crouch.
What are you doing to help your children in relation to culture?
Christian thinker Francis Schaeffer wrote, "In our modern forms of specialized education there is a tendency to lose the whole in the parts, and in this sense we can say that our generation produces few truly educated people. True education means thinking by associating across the various disciplines, and not just being highly qualified in one field, as a technician might be" (The God Who is There, IVP 30th anniversary edition, p. 32).
The late American philosopher Mortimer Adler shared Schaeffer's concerns and referred to "the barbarism of specialization." Adler pointed out that the great books of the Western world were all written by generalists, not by specialists (The Great Conversation, p. 35).
But what did Adler and Schaeffer mean? After all, specialization is helpful to some extent. No one wants to have brain surgery performed by a physician who is not a specialist! Schaeffer and Adler didn't dispute this. Instead, they were concerned with the overall lack of knowledge in areas of great importance. What are these areas? Some include science, literature, philosophy, the fine arts, history, and religion.
At Sonlight we seek to provide well-rounded curricula, sometimes concentrating on areas of specialization, but often looking at educational topics broadly and across disciplines so we don't "lose the whole in the parts." We also want children to think across disciplines, not just viewing certain subjects in isolation.
To more fully integrate the Christian worldview into every area of our lives, we need a better understanding of the significant areas and intellectual contributions of many subject areas.
Do you agree with Schaeffer's definition of "true education"? If not, how would you define it? What steps are you taking to help your children strive to become truly educated? Let us know!
According to a study by Barna Research, 61 percent of twentysomethings who were once active as teens in churches "are now spiritually disengaged."
Why is it that so many young Christians eventually "disengage" from the faith? There are likely a number of contributing factors. One of them may be a lack of facts when it comes to understanding the many positive contributions Christianity has made to the world. Also, with so many contemporary challenges to the Christian faith, from hostile skeptics to competing religious beliefs, many Christians aren't sure how to respond.
With these points in mind, Sonlight recently completed development of What Good is Christianity? This is an exciting and stimulating 18-week, upper-level high school curriculum designed to equip teenagers as they prepare to graduate, pursue college studies, and begin their adult lives. Along with Sonlight's president, Sarita Holzmann, I worked hard to bring together the finest resources to make What Good is Christianity? the best that it could be.
Although the primary emphasis is on the facts of Christian history, noting Christianity's many positive influences, What Good is Christianity? also covers a lot of related ground. For instance, we address criticisms of the so-called new atheists, as well as the relationship between Christianity and the fine arts, literature, science, charity, democracy, social justice, and more.
We've brought together seven wonderful resources (six books and a DVD set), plus our detailed Instructor's Guide that includes numerous notes, suggested assignments, discussion questions, and bonus articles on important topics.
As a father of four homeschooled children, I want to do whatever I can to keep my kids from becoming one of the 61 percent who will ultimately "disengage" from their faith. Are your high school children ready to face the many challenges to their faith? Help prepare them with What Good is Christianity?
Why do you think so many Christian youth eventually "disengage" from the faith?
How did a former atheist end up writing Christian curriculum at Sonlight? That's a long story that I can't answer completely in one blog post. Fortunately, every now and then I'll contribute a post here and can fill in details as we go. Let's start with who I am.
My name is Robert Velarde and I serve as a curriculum creator on Sonlight's product development team. I'm also father to four wonderful homeschooled children.
Although my bachelor's degree is in music, after I became a Christian I pursued ministry-oriented interests, being especially interested in anything relating to comparative religions and apologetics—the reasoned defense of Christianity. This resulted in many years of service with Christian ministries, graduate studies in philosophy, and a master's degree in religion. As I matured as a Christian, I had a desire grow to write books—something I've had the joy of doing repeatedly now.
At Sonlight I work with a gifted, creative team of dedicated people. I meet with Sonlight's president, Sarita Holzmann, regularly as we discuss ideas, refine products, edit content, and do the best we can to make homeschooling easy and edifying. One of the products I had the pleasure of working on recently is What Good is Christianity?
My passion is to equip and educate Christians so they know what they believe and why they believe it, and are able to understand and articulate their own perspective, as well as opposing viewpoints. In short, every believer needs to develop their view of the world. A robust Christian worldview is integrated into all of life and is capable of intelligently interacting with any ideas and challenges it encounters.
In future posts I'd like to explore in more detail some of the ideas brought up here. I'd also love to hear from you.
- What would you like me to blog about?
- Would you like to hear about my life as a homeschool dad?
- Do you want to know more about Christian apologetics?
- Is some Bible problem or question about your faith troubling you?
- What are you doing to equip your homeschooled children in their worldview?
Let me know!