Gatekeeping for a Secular Academic Group
One of the complaints some make of SEA Homeschoolers is that we gatekeep when it comes to materials, curriculum, and programs. This complaint is accurate, and the gatekeeping is not going to go away. It takes work to enforce, and we think that work is worth it.
Yes, SEA Homeschoolers does gatekeep. We are going to keep gatekeeping, too.
Before going further, let me define how SEA Homeschoolers gatekeeps so we are all on the same page. Gatekeeping for our group refers to the practice of disallowing conversations about information and resources that do not meet our definition of secular academic. In other words, those that are not evidence based.
For a secular academic group who values the use of materials grounded in evidence, the benefits of gatekeeping are significant.
- Gatekeeping ensures quality: Gatekeeping ensures that only evidence-based programs and materials are allowed for discussion on SEA Homeschoolers.
- Gatekeeping protects consumers, like you, against misinformation: Gatekeeping prevents misinformation from other consumers, as well as from material providers who knowingly misstate that their materials are secular or those who do not understand what the term secular is in the context of academic materials but use it anyway.
- Gatekeeping promotes the development of secular academic materials: When a large community led group like SEA Homeschoolers insists on the need for evidence-based materials, providers are more likely to develop them.
No one could be more surprised than I am that SEA has become a gatekeeper for the secular homeschooling community. When I created SEA Homeschoolers, it was a given that it would be a secular academic group. With my background in education and teaching, there was no way it would be anything but. At the time SEA started, a primary focus for secular homeschoolers was on science, in particular the teaching around evolution and climate change.
As someone who writes science that includes evidence-based information about both of these topics, I had plenty of experience dealing with people who wanted to argue about these two science topics not being “real” from my time speaking at homeschool conferences. There was no way I was going to run a group where that happened.
However, when SEA Homeschoolers started in 2014, there was less gatekeeping around discussions of “secularizing” non-secular materials. So why did we change our rules to disallow those conversations?
If you are wondering about this, I want to ask a question in return, if you believe in the importance of teaching using evidence-based materials, why would you use materials that are not evidence-based? You might think you will be able to pick up on all the places the materials misstate or omit topics. As a curriculum developer, I have found that to be harder than I expected, even in subjects I know well. And if you don’t know the subject well, in my experience and observation, you will miss important topics without even realizing you did.
For example, many years ago someone shared with me a copy of the unapologetically nonsecular Apologia Biology. They were curious about what was missing. You will not be surprised to learn the topic of evolution was missing, but so was any discussion of the prokaryotic cell. Why? I don’t know the answer to that.
The author does discuss climate change and claims that it isn’t happening. The author misinterprets information from graphs and makes claims about the data that are not accurate. To prove his point the author states that some graphs show cooling, and that Earth has been around a long time, while the data used to show a rise in the average global temperature is from the past 40 years. The section is absolutely full of misinformation.
You might pick up on all these fallacies and misleading statements, but maybe you wouldn’t. However, if you had enough subject knowledge about how to make this course secular and evidence based, I do not believe you would choose it. And it isn’t as easy to catch as you might think. Would you have noticed the omission of the prokaryotic cell, for example?
The above example is an obvious one, chosen to show how easy it is to miss something. Of more concern are the subject areas homeschooling parents are not well-versed in.
If you have enough subject knowledge for how to make non-secular materials secular, you wouldn’t use them for that subject. If you are not that well-versed in a subject, you will miss important topics without even realizing you did.
For me, that was history. I took the requisite history in college that someone getting two bachelors in science had to take, and no more. I read a lot of historical nonfiction, but that skews to topics I find interesting. There is no way I am well equipped to teach evidence-based history from a text that isn’t secular academic. For example, I feel confident I could recognize a fallacy like one that misstated that enslaved people were “workers.” However, would I catch all instances where race and slavery were mischaracterized or where the language was softened with reference to enslaved people. I hope so, but like I said, history is not my strongest suit. And what about having young people learn from materials that seem geared to making the ancestors of white colonists feel better about their history? Could I adequately revamp these materials to do a fair job teaching this subject? Maybe with a lot of work, but maybe not. And why would I? Who has the time? Why not use materials and programs from the start that do a good job presenting the facts around these issues. Not only that, but I also wonder why a secular homeschooler would want to support people who misstate facts.
Those of us who admin, moderate, and run SEA Homeschoolers care about the state of education. We care that young people are taught facts and information that is well founded in evidence. We see this as an area that is increasingly being targeted by people with an agenda other than to provide the best education possible. So yes, SEA Homeschoolers does gatekeep. We are going to keep gatekeeping, too.