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.”

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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

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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.