The Wave Crashes: Hannah’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.

HA Note: The following is reprinted with permission from Hannah’s blog Phoenix Tat Girl. It was originally published on July 2, 2015 and has been slightly modified for HA.

My Personal Story About Growing Up Religious and How That Ended

I currently live in a sunny, tropical location where I feel privileged to be able to daily observe the waves crashing as they roll in to shore. I use the waves as a metaphor for how I came to be the person I now am. I grew up in a conservative, fundamental, patriarchal, Calvinist, creationist, quiverfull, single-family income family. All of the -isms and ists and such slowly grew into our family until they reached their peak right about a year after I finished my 12th year of homeschooling/co-op/independent learning/community colleges.

At first, my family wasn’t too radical about religion. My parents knew they wanted to homeschool us from the beginning. I was the oldest, and with my father an officer in the military, I’m sure our moving around every 2 years probably played a factor in it. They wanted to give their children a religious up-bringing. I loved my childhood. My mother would take us on great and unique field-trips. We lived on the east coast then, and visiting Monticello where Thomas Jefferson lived and invented, and running on the field where the Wright Brothers first flew their plane, and seeing where George Washington carved his name in a natural bridge in the Appalachian mountains brought American history alive to me.

Then, when I was around 12, a new pastor was brought in by the church, and my dad started to become even more “religious”. He started leading bible studies, and every drive to church would quiz us on Bible trivia. He insisted we have personal devotions every morning as soon as we woke up, and we’d have family devotions every night after dinner. I enjoyed learning about the Bible; I didn’t mind memorizing long passages and worked up to memorizing entire books of the Bible (his requirement before we could learn how to drive). A few years later, when I was around 16, he started taking me to creationism, evangelism, and worldview seminars. I enjoyed going to the seminars because I learned new things. I’d read the Bible countless times; I knew what it said, so different material was fascinating. I thought I wanted to be a missionary, so we took in-depth Islamic studies similar to what missionaries would learn. I went on a couple short-term mission trips, and I realized I loved traveling. I made lasting memories meeting the local people in third-world countries. I particularly loved hearing their stories and seeing how they lived their life, trying to understand their culture.

My father believed everything built on each other, and the Bible and God should impact every part of your life. Christianity was the one thing that my dad and I shared.

I was a “rebellious” child, so I was in trouble frequently, but religion was the one thing that I knew I could talk about with my dad. Lee Strobel’s A Case for Christianity and A Case for Christ made a huge impact on me. I liked having all the answers to life’s toughest questions tightly sewn up in a book. Lee’s life story, that he used to be an atheist and he turned to Christ, was powerful and spoke volumes to me. I was baptized in my late teens, and while I had the occasional desire to “be more worldly” for the most part I was content with my faith.

***Far from the ocean shore, a small ridge forms past out-cropping of rocks. It didn’t know it, but the ocean behind it is telling it it’s going to do something big, eventually.***

Fast forward to the couple years after I graduated. My family (prodded on by my father) switched to a new church. The smallest church we’d ever attended. It was 40-50 people total I believe. My dad liked the pastor because he was staunchly Calvinist, patriarchal, and believed in hard-core evangelism. We became even more religious with church all day Sunday, Wednesday night Bible study, and Friday night evangelism. I had mixed feelings about the church. Since it was super small, there wasn’t an eligible guy in sight (let’s face it, every good Christian daughter gets married sooner rather than later). But I did get on board with the evangelism. I told myself it was preparation for the mission-field.

But still, asking pure strangers “Are you good enough?” never quite sat well with me.

I felt like I was guilting them into something. Shouldn’t a genuine faith not require guilt and fear? I preferred an exchange of ideas, friendly debate, explaining flaws in people’s logic.

I was able to go to community college, and I had a few part-time jobs that kept me out of the house a few days of the week. I loved working and earning a paycheck. Babysitting was easy for me, and better yet, when the babies went to sleep, I could try to catch up on the social culture that I felt so far behind in by watching cable TV, and even an occasional R-rated movie. I’d listen to current music on the radio, and even a couple late-night shows that I knew my mother would never approve of, so I never told her.

***The ridge of water gathers strength, and form. It grows higher and seems to move faster. Even it doesn’t know where or when it’s going to break. It doesn’t know if if it’s going to be majestic and break cleanly, like glass, or tumble over-itself in a mass of foam.***

It starts in a worldly place, with a Christian friend. Of all things, I was trying to explain Carbon-14 dating to her. A tall, dark, handsome and mysterious man who has a couple of classes with me walked over and joined the conversation. He was obviously one of the “others”. The non-believers, the worldly people. We begin conversing, he starts asking me questions, and I tell him I don’t know, but I’d like to do more research. He’s very clear that he doesn’t want me to lose my faith; he just wanted me to think and explore some more. I tell him I don’t mind. It’s a good thing. I like researching and expanding my knowledge. So I go home and pull out every single book in our library that might possibly have to do with creationism apologetics. I read the sections on Carbon-14, and then, like the good scholar I am, I look at the reference pages.

I am shocked to find the vast majority of the references were from obviously other Christian scientists who obviously believed in Creationism.

I had a hard time accepting what I saw there, plainly. The books had been there the whole time, but I hadn’t seen the obvious deception. Their circular and erroneous logic.

***The wave quickly peaks, its crest perfectly formed in the crescent and the face of the wave crystal clear for a nano-second before it crashes and the rest of the wave folds into itself.***

Looking at that reference page was the beginning of the end for me. I’d decided that I’d need to move out. I had to reassess everything that I thought about my life, especially my spiritual life, and I couldn’t do it while living with my family, so I told my parents. My dad arranged for an intervention for me. They took me against my will to his pastor where they guilt-tripped me until I gave up my cell phones. The pastor wanted me to give up my “worldly” jobs, and quit going to a “worldly” school.

He pushed for no internet, no phone, no friends, only family and church until I stopped doubting my faith and returned to the fold.

That was when the wave crashed for me. I viewed it as essentially brain-washing. I told my father “If all you say is true, why do you need to brainwash me? Haven’t you always said the Truth is there? If I dig more, are you that uncertain that Your truth won’t hold?” It was a wave crashing. Because my father had taught me that everything depended on each other, every spiritual belief I had crumbled into a wide swath of bubbles and foam and nothing-ness. And it crashed fast and hard – I had moved out of my family’s house within 6 weeks of looking in that first creation apologetics book.

Then, because my spiritual beliefs vanished, my life choices adjusted. I realized what I truly loved: learning and adventure. Traveling and meeting people and seeing how people lived their lives from their eyes, their culture, their values. I was free to work on my career because I sincerely enjoy earning a paycheck and providing for myself. I realized I could enjoy an intimate relationship without the vows of marriage, because, I reasoned, someone who’s not sure of themselves personally, emotionally, spiritually, or sexually should not commit themselves for a life-time to someone else.

But most important, I was free to be me, and to figure out what life meant to me, not someone else’s interpretation of something that I should live by.

My wave crashed. Because it crashed, my life changed, but it was necessary, I believe it would have happened sooner or later. The ocean that is my life had the tremors all through my childhood. But it opened me up for my own personal journey, and that’s what matters in the end.

An Average Homeschooler: Part Five, High School Textbooks

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HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Samantha Field’s blog, Defeating the Dragons. Part Five of this series was originally published on December 12, 2013. Also by Samantha on HA: “We Had To Be So Much More Amazing”“The Supposed Myth of Teenaged Adolescence”“(Not) An Open Letter To The Pearls”,  “The Bikini and the Chocolate Cake”, and “Courting a Stranger.”


Also in this series: Part One, Introduction | Part Two, The Beginning | Part Three, Middle School | Part Four, Junior High | Part Five, High School Textbooks | Part Six, College


Elementary school and junior high were marked by a lot of experimentation with curriculum.

My mother got a homeschool catalog in the mail, and she’d sit down and go through it, highlighting anything she thought was interesting, and I’d pick out a few things that I thought were cool, and that’s what we’d end up doing for electives. However, once we hit high school, I was focusing pretty intently on my piano, as well as my writing, so I wasn’t very interested in electives besides those two. We stuck with the core high school curriculum, and for the most part only used A Beka and BJUPress.

I have very clear memories of my high school experience. I remember the way all the books looked, I remember specific passages and illustrations. I remember quizzes and homework problems.

10th grade was A Beka biology, grammar, and history, BJUPress geometry and literature.

The biology was absolutely ridiculous, in retrospect. They argued a few things about evolutionary missing links that when I did research years later were either exaggerations or misrepresentations. They spent a lot of time presenting their version of evolutionary theory, and what they did was give me nothing more than a straw man. They made assertions about what evolutionists think that make evolutionists look patently ridiculous– the problem is, modern evolutionists haven’t thought or expressed any of those ideas in over a century in some cases. The textbook spends an inordinate amount of time building a case for philosophical Modernism– it doesn’t really have much to do with science, but it has everything to do with conservative and fundamentalist religion.

The grammar and vocabulary books were fine, for the most part, except that A Beka has a very particular agenda to push when it comes to grammar. All of their books explicitly teach prescriptive grammar, and condemns all dictionaries past Webster’s 3rd as absolutely corrupt. The BJUPress literature book taught the same attitude, haranguing almost any author past the 18th century for their amorality and relativism. In fact, the only author I read that could at all be described as post-modern would be T.S. Elliot, and he barely qualifies. I also don’t remember much — if anything — written by someone who wasn’t a white man. So, while most of my peers read books like To Kill a Mockingbird and Catcher in the Rye or 1984, I didn’t read any of them until I got to graduate school.

Both the A Beka biology book and the BJUPress geometry book made it absolutely clear that the only way a scientist can discover anything is if God allows it.

Aside from it painting a dubious picture of God as well as leaving the impression that scientists are bumbling idiots stumbling around in the dark and God occasionally allows them to bump into something (a la endless lists of scientific discoveries that were made “by accident”), these books make it clear that the only possible way of finding truth is if you’re a Christian. Newton discovered his theory of gravity because he was a Christian (which, are you sure you want to claim this guy, A Beka?). There’s a whole chapter dedicated to “real Christian scientists” that is placed in direct opposition to their chapter of “evolutionist hacks.” I’m particularly bothered by this claim, because it’s feeding into Christian privilege and demeaning the hard work and abilities of most scientists.

And the history… well, calling A Beka textbooks “history” is almost laughable. I heard many of my professors and educators complain about “revisionist” history, but knowing what I know now about the material contained inside these textbooks just makes me shake my head. The Civil War is the “War Between the States” or “War of Northern Aggression,” and almost any discussion of the brutalizing horrors of chattel slavery is dismissed. They explain the concept of “Indian Giving” and paint the French-Indian War as something completely unprovoked by any of the English settlers. American history is completely white-washed. The chapter title for Africa in the World History book is un-ironically “The Dark Continent,” and the white-and-Western-centric point of view is hailed as the only truth and manifest destiny is praised. There are entire sections devoted to the evils of pluralism and multi-culturalism, and they call modern India “backwards.”

In short, the only real purpose of their textbooks is indoctrination.

11th grade was more of the same, except I tried both Algebra I and chemistry. I read the chemistry textbook, but it was largely useless outside of the labs and experiments, and we couldn’t do any of those. I ended up basically reading the textbook for the first week and then not having anything else to do. This is the year when I spent most of my time reading books written by young earth creationists– I’ve always been fascinated by science, and this was the year that my frustration with school shot through the roof. As I’d gotten older, I’d gone through whole periods of wanting to be a veterinarian, a vulcanologist, a marine botanist, a cancer researcher, an astrophysicist.

But this was the point when I started to realize that I couldn’t do any of that.

This was the year I realized that my dreams of becoming a scientist were absolutely futile. And I knew it, because I was never going to have the science or math education to survive college.

There were a few factors playing into this– one of them being that I was being told by friends, by family, by my church, by the books I read, that women are not just limited to homemaking by the Bible, we’re limited to homemaking because we’re incapable of being anything else. I couldn’t be a scientist because women are bad at science and math.

Throw that into the pot of not being able to teach myself chemistry and algebra, and you’ve got a problem.

I struggled through algebra every day, hiding in my room so I could cry in frustration because I didn’t understand anything the book was trying to teach me. I tried to ask my mother, but that turned out to be largely futile– my mother had to try to re-teach herself algebra from her foggy memories of high school every single time I asked her to help me, and she was incapable of teaching algebra to me in any other way except how she understood it. She didn’t understand algebra well enough to explain it to me in a way that I could understand.

She didn’t know how to teach math.

This isn’t a reflection on my mother. My mother is brilliant. The problem is my mother was constantly fed the lie that you don’t have to know anything about teaching in order to teach your children. She didn’t know any different, and when we realized that I’d already met the math requirements under the umbrella school to graduate, we both gave up. I accepted my place as a woman and started preparing for a music degree instead of the science I’d always wanted, and my mother accepted what it seemed like I suddenly “wanted.”

My last year in high school my focus switched almost absolutely to practicing piano. I was enrolled with an incredibly demanding teacher and entering competitions like crazy, so school just sort of… fell apart. I whipped through all my English and history classes, half-assed my way through physics (we got the A Beka video tapes, but I didn’t do any of the homework and crammed for all the tests and did very badly– giving up my most recent goal of becoming an astrophysicist hurt a little too much to deal with it), took a “consumer math” course, and got accepted to a fundamentalist college.

I realize that this is more of a literature review than anything else, but I decided to talk about this facet of my high school experience today because both A Beka and BJUPress are still some of the largest distributors for homeschool textbooks, even today. Other curriculum, like Sonlight, are becoming popular, as are people just using the same textbooks as their local public school.

But for the still-dominant religious homeschooling culture, A Beka and BJUPress are still popular.

To be continued.

Ready for Real Life: Part Five, Science and Medicine

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Ready for Real Life: Part Five, Science and Medicine

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Ahab’s blog, Republic of Gilead. Part Five of this series was originally published on October 26, 2013.


Also in this series: Part One, Botkins Launch Webinar | Part Two, Ready for What? | Part Three, Are Your Children Ready? | Part Four, Ready to Lead Culture | Part Five, Science and Medicine | Part Six, History and Law | Part Seven, Vocations | Part Eight, Q&A Session | Part Nine, Concluding Thoughts


In this part of the “Ready for Real Life” webinar, the Botkin family discusses the roles that science, nature, and medicine play in Christian homeschooling. While the Botkins spoke warmly of these fields, their words betrayed a distrust of evidence and scientific communities at odds with their beliefs.

Geoffrey Botkins encouraged parents to share things that delight them about science and nature with their children, such as a close-up of an owl’s eye that he saw in National Geographic.

Children must not be afraid of studying science, he said, celebrating parents who encourage children to think about science.

He cited a prayer attributed David in Psalm 28:3-5, which condemns those who “have no regard for the deeds of the Lord and what his hands have done”. The passage warns that God “will tear them down and never build them up again” as punishment for their “wicked” ways. Geoffrey warned that God will similarly punish those who are indifferent to creation at the 3:18 mark.

“If you’ve noticed people in this culture that we live in in the United States who literally have decided that they will not trouble themselves to think about the works of the Lord, including themselves, they don’t want to admit that they’ve been created by the Creator, and so they don’t want to think about the implications of the works of the Lord all around them being of the Lord, nor the deeds of his hands. And what we see here from scripture is that the intimate Lord God almighty does deal with people on a very personal basis. He will tear them down and not build them up.”

As with his previous webinar, Botkin threatened impious people with divine wrath. For all his warm words about learning, his ideology is firmly rooted in fear of divine retribution. A fear-based ideology is unlikely to produce critical thinking skills or genuine wonder, which makes Botkin’s words all the more ironic.

As with previous webinars, Geoffrey Botkin began the talk with a prayer. He beseeched God to help them recognize God as the creator and humans as the created, to avoid worshiping the creation over the creator, to understand the truths in creation, and to comprehend God’s will so that humans can take dominion.

I paused when I heard Geoffrey pray that people avoid worshiping the creation over the creator. An inaccurate fundamentalist myth about environmentalists is that they allegedly worship Earth and neglect God.

Was Geoffrey taking a veiled jab at environmentalism?

Studying the sciences gave the Botkin children mental agility and breadth, Geoffrey proudly told listeners. Study of the sciences equips children with tools for life, including honed powers of observation and mental acuity, he said.

Noah Botkin, one of Geoffrey and Victoria’s sons, stressed that the sciences are a tool to aid humans in obeying God and exercising dominion. At the 8:16 mark, Noah disparaged scientists who allegedly see their craft as a means of glorifying the human mind.

“You read a lot of secular sources … you’re forced to read a lot of papers by men who aren’t Christians, and a lot of these scientists believe that the study of science is simply an exercise in glorifying the human mind. The attitude of them is just, ‘let us see how far we can go to exercise our own intelligence and see just how good we are.’ And that’s wrong. Christians need to understand science as a tool. It needs to be thought of as a tool. The purpose of science is to assist us in obeying God’s commandments, and the study of science is an avenue that we can take in order to learn about the glory of God’s systems, the systems that he’s designed. The world is a system that he’s created and designed. And so, the application of this scientific study augments our ability to obey God’s commandments, to fulfill the dominion mandate and the great commission.”

Geoffrey Botkin emphasized that Jesus exerts dominion over all things, so humans should learn about their creator by studying everything he has created. Parents are to remind children that they will not take dominion someday for themselves, but for Jesus, Geoffrey reminded his audience.

Christians are to take dominion in Jesus’ name so as “to bring order to the world the way he wants it to be ordered,” he said.

Geoffrey waxed poetic about cells as miniature galaxies unto themselves, and about the movement of nutrients from the soil into plants into humans and back to the soil. The world is a harmonious global ecosystem created by God, he explained, not a hostile setting that humans must struggle against.

Doesn’t he mean a harmonious global biosphere, the sum total of Earth’s ecosystems? I thought. As for Earth not being hostile, a few million survivors of hurricanes, earthquakes, mudslides, floods, volcanic eruptions, epidemics, and famines would disagree!

Geoffrey’s wife, Victoria Botkin, caricatured public school science classes as meaningless courses that depict the universe as random and meaningless. At the 15:57 mark, she painted an ugly picture of public school science courses.

“Those of us who went to public school often have a hard time knowing how to think about science because to us, it’s a school subject, right? It’s like band and gym class, science class. Well, most kids in public school hated science class, and that’s because in public school, we learned that science was bunch of facts about stuff that happened at random and for no reason. And we public school kids may have not been very smart, but we were sure smart enough to realize that stuff that happened at random and for no reason was meaningless and therefore boring and a waste of our time. We could see, maybe, that there were patterns in nature that were amazing, and maybe we could see things under a microscope that were beautiful and astonishing, but if we could see this, it was really frustrating because it didn’t mean anything.” 

This was emphatically not my experience of sciences classes in public school.

I look back on my high school chemistry and Earth sciences classes with fondness, because the teachers made science both fun and relevant. For example, my Earth science course did not present the natural world as a pandemonium of random occurrences, but an intricate web of cause, effect, and interconnection. To boot, students learned about the real-world consequences of environmental policies, fossil fuel use, overpopulation, and shrinking resources, so our class content was anything but meaningless. Victoria Botkin may have drudged through class because of a poor science teacher, an inadequate science curriculum, or her own indifference, but her experiences are not representative of all public school students!

Victoria claimed that mothers who attended public schools are often ill-equipped to teach their children science. At the 17:42 mark, she discouraged mothers from using mainstream textbooks, lest they “infect” their children with the same “faulty” thinking.

“Moms who went to public school have a hard time understanding how to teach science, and in fact, we have a hard time even understanding what science is. And so, if our state’s laws say that we’re supposed to do a unit of science this semester, we think, ‘well, okay, now what?’, and we buy a science textbook, and if we do that, we’re going to infect our children with the same faulty way of thinking.”

Victoria defined science at the study of the created world, how it works, and how the creatures therein interaction. Deuteronomy 6 commands parents to teach their children to love God and honor his ways, she argued, and that command should be at the core of everything homeschooling parents teach, including science.

The Bible states that teaching science can help children love God, she insisted. Victoria quoted Deuteronomy 30:19, in which heaven and earth counsel humans to honor God, as well as Psalm 19:1-6, in which the skies reveal knowledge in the form of astronomy. The fact that the books of the Bible were composed centuries before the advent of modern science, and thus do not embody scientific principles, seemed to have escaped her.

At the 21:32 mark, Victoria lambasted non-fundamentalist scientists as “enemies of God” because they are allegedly trying to disprove God’s existence.

She gave no examples of scientists who are allegedly trying to do so, however, condemning them en masse as warriors in the “war for men’s minds and hearts”.

“I guess it should come as no surprise to us — since we know that there is a war of ideas on, a war for men’s minds and hearts — that scientists have taken that which testifies that God is, and that he is good, and they have twisted it to try to prove that there is no God, and in a way this makes sense that the enemies of God would do this because the study of God’s creation, which is what science is, is one of our best tools and one of our best allies for teaching our children to love and revere God.”

Geoffrey Botkin addressed a listener question about teaching science on a budget. He replied that he’d known families who realized that public school wasn’t an option, and who strove to give their children a better education than what “government schools” could offer. Libraries, access to books, and talking with children about science were vital in those families, Geoffrey explained.

Isaac Botkin, one of Geoffrey and Victoria’s sons, discussed Christian homeschooler’s reticence around evolution, stressing the need for Christians to fight evolution through science. What fundamentalists were supposed to do if science supported evolution was not explored.

Considering that scientific evidence supports evolution, good luck with that, I thought.If fundamentalists cite the pseudoscience they’ve relied on so far, I’m not worried.

In true fundamentalist form, Isaac trotted out tired stereotypes about evolution, eugenics, and racism at the 28:40 mark.

“There is a lot of skepticism in the homeschoolers’ approach to science in a lot of ways, and I think a lot of that is reactionism. It’s fear of studying books or resources that mention evolution, and this is a really good fear to have, because the evolutionary thought, the concept of Darwinism is itself incredibly destructive, and it’s something that we need to fight by studying science well. You can’t fight bad ideas with no ideas. You can’t fight bad information with ignorance. And it’s incredibly important that children understand that they can see God’s hand in God’s creation by studying science, but it’s also important that they understand that they need to be able to refute the enemies of Gods who will deny God’s work in creation, and there’s dozens of reasons for this. There are reasons in scripture that describe that, but there’s also the practical reason that evolutionary thought is incredibly destructive. It’s one of the many driving forces between the eugenics movement. It’s something that supports racism, that supports social Darwinism, that supports socialism.”

Geoffrey Botkin elaborated on his son’s statement, encouraging listeners to take a “bold stand” against “false science and pseudoscience”. He mocked Charles Darwin as “not a real naturalist, he was a a fantasy naturalist, really, and came up with fantasy theories for his own personal theology that was just readily received by everyone.”

Elizabeth Botkin spoke at length about science education for girls, arguing that both sexes are responsible for dominion and thus require a science background. At the 31:33 mark, she claimed that girls and women can help men exercise dominion.  

“It’s very easy to think that these are guy things … and to think that our role will never require us to know any of these things. That’s because often, we girls have actually assigned ourselves a role as women that’s a lot smaller than the role the Bible gives us, and we think, ‘Oh, well we’ll never have to be involved in invention or engineering or exploration, because our job is to do the dishes and the sewing’, and we let ourselves off easy. And it’s because, I believe, we’ve forgotten the dominion mandate, which involves invention, exploration, classification, cultivation, and discovery, was assigned to the man and the woman, and the great commission of discipling all the nations was assigned to men and women, and though there are very definitely differences between the Biblical role of man and the Biblical role of women, the lines between those roles are not drawn so much by activity as they are by jurisdiction and hierarchy. And so, yes, there are certain roles and jobs that are off-limits to women, the Bible says very clearly, but when it comes to what we’re allowed to help our men do, the field is really as wide as the earth itself.”

Elizabeth elaborated at the 33:57 mark, arguing that girls need science education to help men and teach children.

“If we never have to do more than wear modest clothes, cook good meals, keep the house clean and decorated, then it’s true. That doesn’t require a super-vigorous education. But if a girl is going to grow up to help a man make disciples of the nations and teach her children to do the same, and be a highly skilled and productive Proverbs 31 woman, she needs a very vigorous education, including in all the sciences.”

I was stunned. The Christian Patriarchy Movement restricts women to confined roles, but Elizabeth accuses girls and women of assigning themselves a small role. Furthermore, as much as Elizabeth tries to obscure it, she cannot avoid the fact that her subculture denies women career opportunities in the sciences. The best a woman can hope for is being “allowed” to help her men with scientific pursuits (between cooking, cleaning, homeschooling a huge brood of children, and recuperating from repeated pregnancies, of course). That’s assuming that the men in her life have any interest in science. The idea that a woman could be more than a subordinate helper to her father or husband, that a woman could be a science leader in her own right, did not occur to Elizabeth.

Elizabeth should learn more about female scientists in recent history.

The world has made great strides thanks to the efforts of women like Rachel CarsonJane GoodallWangari MaathaiVandana ShivaGrace Hopper, Françoise Barré-SinoussiGertrude B. ElionNancy RomanVera RubinRosalind FranklinChristiane Nusslein-Volhard, and Elizabeth Blackburn, just for starters. These women changed the world by breaking barriers, striving for excellence, and working alongside their male colleagues as equals. Had these scientists been content to be men’s subordinate helpers, the world would have never benefited from their genius.

Anna Sophia Botkin praised female scientists of the past such as Ada Byron and Marie Curie, describing how they worked alongside their fathers, husbands, and male friends. At the 35:30 mark, she wondered why more homeschooled girls don’t pour themselves into science and technology.

Because your subculture grinds their self-esteem into dust? I thought.

“You’ve got to wonder why is it that homeschool girls today are not doing any of these things. We see a lot of girls who are pursuing small handcrafts but not these bigger, dominion-oriented things. But there’s really no reason why they couldn’t be using their gifts for design and fine detail processing, for example, to do web design or graphic design instead of scrapbooking and kitting. There’s nothing in the Bible that says that we have to use a sewing machine and not a skill saw. There’s nothing that says that you have to make hand-knitted tea cozies and not furniture or robotic arms. There’s nothing that says that the woman’s job is to clean the house but not to build it.”

Anna Sophia’s comments troubled me, and not just because of her mirthless chuckles sprinkled throughout.

Anna and Elizabeth seem to believe that females in their subculture deliberately limit themselves to lesser roles, ignoring how Christian Patriarchy suppresses females through sexism. They also seem to think that girls and women have boundless time and energy for scientific pursuits, ignoring ways that endless household chores, child care, homeschooling, and health problems from repeated pregnancies can constrain girls and women in their subculture. In the Christian Patriarchy Movement, females can’t win.

Geoffrey Botkin offered advice to families with sons looking into careers in medicine. (The idea that daughters might do so was not considered.) He warned that modern medicine is a broken system, having been hijacked by “special interests”. For example, Sen. Ted Kennedy advocated for “nationalized medicine schemes” in the 1970s, he lamented, with Hillary Clinton and President Obama continuing those efforts in the decades after. “Doctors are now agents of the security state system,” Geoffrey claimed, in keeping with his prior statements about alleged “statism”. Society need doctors, but it also need to reform the medical system, and thus sons may need to work outside the system as reformers or independent professionals. Geoffrey encouraged an independent, self-policing medical system with its own private licensing, private insurance options, and private medical education.

All this struck me as problematic. Self-policing isn’t a reliable way of keeping organizations accountable. To address and prevent wrongdoing, policing needs to come from without as well as within an institution. Furthermore, if Geoffrey Botkin believes that the mainstream medical establishment is corrupt, how would an alternative medical establishment avoid the alleged pitfalls of its predecessor?

The Botkins’ disdain for the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) was evident.

Geoffrey took delight in new technology and its potential for helping people detach from the Obamacare system. His son Isaac blasted Obamacare as well, claiming that it would give patients fewer opportunities for care. In such a world, people need to be informed about medical care, requiring scientific knowledge.

Finally, I was confused by Geoffrey Botkin’s contradictory advice on how to approach the science community. At the 1:08:47 mark, he urged listeners to “engage this century” by being leaders in science.

“We have to engage our generation. We have to engage this century. We need some students who really go far in these sciences so that they can be leaders, and they can understand the science. They don’t have to be followers. They can be leaders.”

On the other hand, he disparaged higher education as a “setback” for homeschooled students. At the 1:09:05 mark, he warned that college could alleged set students back, and that higher science professions could “compromise” or “enslave” them.

“You have to be so careful about throwing your children into a university environment to get certain qualifications that literally could trap them. For most people who go to university for other non-scientific, non-engineering pursuits, college is a real setback. You don’t really want to be training your children or getting your children ready for that. It will truly set them back for the 21st century. But what about these more precise, heavy science obligations that we’re facing? The students need to be extremely careful not to compromise themselves to be enslaved to any of these higher professions — bioscience, in medicine, in medical research. They have to be very careful.”

The contrast between the two statements baffled me. He encouraged young people to become leaders in their fields, then warned them against university educations and high-powered science professions.

Did Geoffrey Botkin want young professionals to engage the world of science or not?


Despite their ostensible respect for science, nature, and medicine, the Botkins’ ideology prevents them from fully engaging with those fields. (This meme comes to mind…) Part IV of the “Ready for Real Life” webinar contained themes of poor science, sexism, and disdain for the scientific community at large.

  • Flawed approach to science: The Botkins assume that their inerrant interpretation of scripture is true, using science to justify those faith-based assumptions. Evidence that could undermine their beliefs is ignored or scorned. This is a mockery of legitimate science, which tests hypotheses against observed evidence, rejecting or modifying hypotheses not supported by evidence.
  • Science and medicine careers as male domains: In the Botkin’s eyes, leadership roles in science and medicine are reserved for men. Geoffrey Botkin spoke of sons (but not daughters) seeking our medical careers. Elizabeth Botkin relegated females to subordinate roles as men’s helpers. In doing so, the Botkins discouraging females from becoming leaders in science and medicine.
  • Distrust and disengagement from the scientific community: For all his talk of engaging the 21st century world, Geoffrey Botkins advocated for disengagement from higher learning and the science community. Geoffrey Botkin discouraged students from attending universities, calling university education a “setback”. Furthermore, he encouraged Christians to work outside the mainstream medical establishment, ignoring the cutting edge research and promising careers it offers (for all its flaws).The Botkins also mocked and caricatured non-fundamentalist science professionals. For instance, Victoria Botkin derided non-fundamentalist scientists as “enemies of God” for allegedly trying to disprove God’s existence. Noah Botkin also dismissed non-Christian scientists for “glorifying the human mind”. Geoffrey Botkin sneered at Charles Darwin, attacking him as a “fantasy naturalist”.

Stay tuned for the next part of the “Ready for Real Life” webinar series!


To be continued.

Nerdy Homeschooler: Kathryn Brightbill


Nerdy Homeschooler: Kathryn Brightbill

Kathryn Brightbill blogs at The Life and Opinions of Kathryn Elizabeth, Person.

I’m a nerd, a geek, though I suppose not enough of one to get caught up in the arguments over which of those terms is positive and which one is the insult. I was a female computer geek back before there were enough of us for people to even start whining about “fake girl geeks” showing up at cons. When being a woman interested in tech meant you and a roomful of guys who didn’t quite know what to do with you.

I’ve read the studies, I know the statistics, and the reality is that even now in 2013, the majority of girls don’t make it out of junior high still feeling good about their abilities in math and the hard sciences. By the time they get to college, not many girls are still in the pipeline of women in technology. While the problem is multifaceted, we know that the combination of peer pressure and negative gender stereotypes makes it an uphill battle. No matter a person’s actual skill level, when the prevailing message is that people like them aren’t good at a particular subject area and there aren’t many role models, they start to internalize that message.

I missed that message.

Or rather, I should say that by the time I became aware of the idea that girls aren’t supposed to be good at math, I was sufficiently confident in my abilities that I concluded that something must be wrong with a society that says that girls can’t do math.

Being homeschooled by a former math teacher meant that it was expected that I learn enough math that the door was open to any path I might decide to pursue in college, and my sister and I were held to the same expectations as my brothers were.

I never got the message that my gender was in some way supposed to be correlated with lower math ability, or that it meant I should limit my dreams and goals for the future.

At its best, homeschooling can create a learning environment that helps to minimize the influence of societal pressures to conform to rigid gender roles and to live up (or down) to the expectations of society. That’s what homeschooling did for me. The prevailing message of my childhood was that I could be or do whatever I wanted and that no one could stop me. I didn’t internalize most of the negative gender stereotypes about women because the negative messages were drowned out by the positive. I’m convinced that one of the reasons why I was able to hold my own in the extremely male-dominated computer science major I ended up choosing in college was because I hadn’t internalized the message that I wasn’t supposed to be able to do it because I’m a girl.

It would be dishonest of me, though, to write about my positive personal experiences without also acknowledging the tension between the message I got in my own family and the messages I got from the broader homeschool world. When I was a teenager, I became acutely aware that the expectations that others had for my older brother were vastly different than what was expected for me. I was the one who wanted to go to law school, but I felt like everyone was busy encouraging my brother—who had no interest in law—to become a lawyer while not taking my interests seriously. When I changed my major to computer science in college, I got the distinct impression that it wasn’t taken seriously unless I gave the justification that programming was a career that could allow me to work from home while being a good wife and mother.

At its best, homeschooling can open up a broad range of options and free a child from the pressures of stereotypes, at its worst, it can reinforce those negative stereotypes and close off options.

For me, my homeschool experience meant that I was able to go off to college confident in my abilities and with my options open. It meant that while I was convinced that I was going to go major in history and then head directly to law school, when I discovered my freshman year that computer science interested me, I had the foundation to succeed. In the end, I discovered that studying computer science was far more interesting to me than actually doing it, and ended up with the original law school plan, but having that tech background gives me opportunities that a liberal arts major wouldn’t.

I’m not yet sure where my story ends, but it’s been an interesting ride and one that homeschooling helped make possible.