Background Story

Both my parents have been fundamentalist Christians since before I was born. As far back as I remember my father worked as a part-time preacher, and my mother spends most of her time working for the church while raising my younger sister and I to be good little Christians. Every day revolved around church attendance and bible reading and as a family we were pretty tight-knit.

Despite the years of church and religious indoctrination I realised around age 16 that religion was a scam. From then on Christianity, or rather my lack of it, has remained a wedge issue between my family and myself. These days when I visit my parents I do my best to maintain a ceasefire ignoring their frequent and transparent comments about how prayer solved some problem they had, how god spoke to them, or how the bible trumps science. But within a couple of days we usually end up in a heated religious debate that goes nowhere. For this reason I try to bite my tongue whenever the topic of religion comes up (which is often!)

It might have continued like this indefinitely, except that in 2010 something happened that made me realise I could no longer sit by silently.

When growing up my sister fell particularly prey to the childhood indoctrination we were both exposed to. Her Christian fundamentalism took an even sharper turn to the right a few years ago when she emigrated to the United States with her part-time preacher husband and her 4 year old boy and 5 year old girl. I suppose I had come to terms with the likelihood that she and her husband would be indoctrinating their children, however, I was not prepared when they announced in the Summer of 2010 that they would not be sending their children to school and instead homeschool them. Now, I know homeschooling is a very common choice in the US, especially among religious sects, and in cases of very remote locations or disabled children parents have no choice, but consider these facts:

  • Homeschooling is illegal in several countries including Germany, Netherlands, Sweden and Spain where it is recognised that no parent has the right to deprive a child of a proper education.
  • My sister who will do the ‘teaching’ left school at 16 with virtually no qualifications. I have a Bachelors and Masters degree in science, and a second Masters in science journalism, and yet even I would think twice about homeschooling my own children (should I one day have any).
  • Homeschooling study materials in the US are virtually monopolised by publishing arms of extreme religious organisations. Many of these materials are full of lies and religious propaganda, often prefacing every section with bible verses and treat the bible as a science text book.
  • Failure to be exposed while growing up to children from other backgrounds, religions and ideas that are different to ones own particular dogma has been shown to lead to fear, distrust and intolerance of others.
  • Statistics on qualifications of home-schooled children are extremely sparse and highly self-selected (i.e. parents only submit their children to tests if they are convinced they will pass). It would therefore seem likely that there are is a large pool of homeschooled children with no qualifications and severely limited career prospects (except maybe as a street preacher).
  • Some evidence suggests that homeschooling handicaps students at the college and university level.

At first I tried to honestly express my concerns to my sister but she rapidly became hostile at my questioning and sadly we have hardly spoken ever since. Then a few months later in December 2010, I learned during a phone conversation with my mother who had been visiting my sister for two months that the science curriculum the children are being taught is pure young-earth creationism. This included the world is 6,000 years old, most geological phenomena was caused by Noah’s flood and that evolution by natural selection is false. Their favorite (and only) books are all of a religious nature and the only other children they are exposed to are from their local evangelical church.

As their uncle I feel partly responsible for my niece and nephews education, especially in science. However, my sister avoids speaking to her heathen brother, and nowadays only listens to our mother. It was for this reason that I decided for the first time to intentionally break the ceasefire and try to convince my mother that creationism is just plain wrong and teaching it to her grandchildren is abusing their minds. That’s why I created this blog to publish, email by email, all correspondence between my creationist mum and me, her atheist son. I know this is probably futile but feel I must keep tryng for the sake of the minds of my niece and nephew.

I suspect this could take a while!

A Few Extra Notes…

All emails are published unchanged and include any and all gramatical and spelling errors that appear in the originals. There is no censorship except in cases where names are used or information supplied that could lead to identification of members of my family.

Although I have developed a very deep and broad appreciation of science and biology in particular, two sources I sometimes use in my replies are Talk Origins and The Skeptics Annotated Bible.

Further Reading

Rob Reich (Stanford University) http://www.stanford.edu/group/reichresearch/cgi-bin/site/2011/01/05/home-schooling/

Robert Kunzman (Indiana University) http://www.indiana.edu/~homeeduc/three_crucial_points.html

Wikipedia article on Homeschooling http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homeschooling

3 Responses to Background Story

  1. Stephen Meissner says:

    I would like to allay a few of your fears about homeschooling. First, though homeschooled for most of my pre-college years, I was hardly deprived of a proper education. In fact, I am a National Merit Scholar, admitted to a prestigious university (Texas A&M) with a full academic scholarship, and currently a student in good standing. Second, though parents seldom have teaching qualifications, this does not necessarily mean their children’s education will suffer. My mom searched for the best curriculum to provide me with, and collaborated with other homeschooling parents when she was at a loss to teach something. Since parents spend so much time with their children and can take instruction on a case-by-case, individual basis, it can actually benefit them. My sister struggled in public school because she was dyslexic, and with standardized public school curriculum/schedules the teachers didn’t know how to teach her and didn’t have time to go over things one on one. When taught by my parents, conversely, she learned quickly and actually enjoyed many things about school. The books my parents got us were top-notch, and I currently enjoy a far better grounding in reading and writing than my public schooled peers. Also, I was hardly separated from people of different backgrounds, religions, and ideas. In my circle of friends and colleagues, I am one of the most accepting and open to others. My friends express disbelief at my ability to get along well with so many people. Finally, in my area the percentage of homeschooling graduates who go to college far surpasses that of the public high schools. Those who were homeschooled tend to be more ethical, determined, and hardworking than their peers and actually do better at universities. I don’t know how my area compares to the rest of the US, but many people I know look up to homeschoolers. There are other advantages that you have overlooked, as well. The dropout rate for homeschooled kids is nearly zero. You can’t just decide to quit, and few would want to. Kids whose parents homeschool them are also far more polite, well-mannered, and ethical than ones who escape the gaze of their parents for eight to nine hours a day. Far fewer get into dangerous and illegal activities such as drug use, drinking, and gangs. My experience as a homeschooled child, in my opinion, greatly surpassed the public school experiences of all my friends.

    • Hi Stephen,

      Thanks for your comment. I don’t mean to suggest that homeschooling is always the wrong answer. Clearly if local education is either poor or underfunded, and if the parents are well informed and have the time, it can be very successful, as it was in your case. I understand there are a few secular and atheist parents who faced with the above situation have successfully home schooled their children.

      The problem I’m referring to is that in the vast majority of cases this doesn’t appear to be the case, or at least the evidence is unclear. It’s a fact that most parents choose homeschooling not for academic reasons but religious ones. It’s also a fact that almost all educational materials produced for home-schoolers are published by religious organisations that promote largely non-scientific world views including creationism. Finally, homeschooling is very much an American phenomenon and so while it may get you into some US colleges or universities, I’m fairly sure it would restrict your choices in other parts of the world.

      From what you write it sounds like you had a very different educational experience to the majority of home-schoolers which is great. I know I cannot say the same about my niece and nephew who are not only being force-fed creationist materials but, I suspect from phone conversations I’ve had with them, not being allowed to use the children’s science books and videos I have sent them during birthdays and Christmass. Under these specific circumstances I would go as far as describing home schooling as a form of mental child-abuse.

      Sam

      • pokeanimal says:

        You’re right, children are the future of our species, and the religious people are indoctrinating them with false theories and pseudoscience, I deeply admire and respect your wish to protect them from being fed those lies

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