Why “Neutral” Science Isn’t Neutral

Why Neutral Science Isn't Neutral - Secular Homeschooling

Why Neutral Science Isn’t Neutral

by Blair Lee

Are there any science types reading this title wondering who I am? Or do you know who I am and think I’ve finally lost it? I am not talking about science as it is practiced and taught at most universities throughout the United States. I’m talking about the special brand of “neutral science” found in the homeschool community and increasingly in public schools in the United States.

The neutral science I’m referring to is science that suffers from omission. These are middle and high school level science courses that leave out the bits they think will offend people because of their faith and philosophy of life, or omit things to obfuscate the importance and acceptance of science principles and theories. Any middle and high school level science course that does not include the main principles and theories that are the foundation of that science is not neutral at all. In fact, they would be the opposite of neutral. “Neutral” science allows for a pernicious form of proselytizing that for the most part goes unnoticed. It allows for groups such as the intelligent design camp to sneak their views and beliefs into texts that look like they only teach science. Texts that are infused with someone’s religious beliefs are actually well-disguised religious treatise and dogma. They are not neutral, and do not represent mainstream science.

If you had told me a decade ago I would be arguing against religious extremism in science I would have thought you were nuts. I am a scientist, not a religious scholar, or a religious philosopher. As such, I write about science not religion and not philosophy. Unfortunately, there are authors of science texts who allow their faith to affect their writings about science. For someone who is a passionate advocate for the teaching of science this is actually offensive to me. It is also disappointing when I see people unwittingly recommend courses that have this sort of religious dogma hidden within them.

Personal beliefs don’t have a place in science courses. It isn’t the job of science to support an individual’s philosophical beliefs. It is the job of science to explain how the natural and physical world works, even when scientific explanations are at odds with the person’s philosophical beliefs. Science by its very nature is neutral. What is neutral for science is to report the facts, accepted principles, and current theories. As a textbook author, I do decide what to include and what not to include in my books. My decisions for this are based on what is taught at well-regarded universities. I choose the best of those courses, look at what they include and how they are structured, and then write courses structured similarly, for the appropriate grade level. This is what you should expect from a course you are using to educate your child.

Why Neutral Science Isn't Neutral candy chromosome

Candy chromosome: Basic genetics is often left out of or under taught in neutral science courses, because a good understanding of genetics leads to an understanding of how evolution occurs.

How can you as a non-scientist figure out what to use? There are some key things to look for in a middle school or high school level science course that is truly neutral:
• The inclusion of evolution: Here is a neutral statement from the science of biology, “Evolution happens.” When we talk about the theory of evolution, the theory part refers to the processes of how evolution works. For example, there are theories about how multi-cellularity and eukaryotic cells evolved; no one knows exactly how either of these evolutionary steps occurred. That evolution occurs is a fact. No neutral middle school or high school biology course would omit it. No neutral biology course would omit how all the organisms on earth came to be here.
• Is the word design used in place of the word evolution? Fashion designers design clothes. Scientific researchers design experiments. Organisms evolve; they are not designed.
• Is the word created or creation used when discussing how organisms, the universe, or matter came into existence? Organisms evolved; they were not created. The universe and matter formed from events starting with the Big Bang; they were not created. There is simply no evidence any of these were created. The only topics and statements that belong in science courses are topics and statements that have evidence supporting them. Topics and statements based on a person’s beliefs with no supporting evidence belong in a philosophy course, not a neutral science course. When scientists do not know the answers to questions, for instance: “how the first organism evolved, and what its exact chemical makeup was” or “what was it like right before the Big Bang,” it is inappropriate to answer with personal beliefs.
• The inclusion of the Big Bang Theory: Here’s a neutral statement from the science of astronomy, “The universe is over 13 and a half billion years old. The best explanation for how it came into existence is the Big Bang Theory. The evidence for the Big Bang Theory grows all the time. The Big Bang Theory explains how all matter and antimatter in the universe came to be, even the matter that makes humans.” This is a scientifically neutral statement. An astronomy course that does not include an explanation similar to that about the Big Bang Theory is not neutral.
• Another neutral statement, “Humans have been burning fossil fuels in increased amounts since the Industrial Revolution. This has led to an increase in carbon dioxide and other molecules in the atmosphere that absorb sunlight in the form of heat. The more heat trapping molecules that are in the atmosphere, the more heat that is trapped, and the warmer the planet becomes. It is simple thermodynamics. The increase in absorbed sunlight is causing climate change on a global scale.” Any geology or environmental science course that does not include this topic is not neutral.
• Does the middle or high school level biology course only teach the old Linnaean system for classifying organisms? This is the system that uses kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. This might seem like a minor point, but scientists and universities only use the Linnaean system for naming organisms. The Linnaean system is popular with courses that are not neutral because it supports the philosophy of the “Great Chain of Being.” The modern method for classifying organisms used by scientists and taught at universities is phylogeny and cladistics.

You might think chemistry and physics are immune and you don’t have to worry about these two subjects. The problem is what is being left out. What key parts of these courses are omitted? As Bob Seger says, “Deadlines and commitments; What to leave in, what to leave out.” If scientists are writing these courses, and I’m not always sure they are, what are they committed to? No scientist committed to adequately educating people in these areas of science would omit these facts and theories. They must be omitting key parts of these science disciplines to further an agenda other than quality science education.

Why Neutral Science Isn't Neutral

Here’s the problem with a chemistry or physics textbook that omits key parts:
• Chemistry is the science that definitively proves evolution occurs.
• Physics is the science that gives the clearest evidence the Big Bang is how the universe came into existence.
• Physical chemistry is the area of science used to study and explain climate change.

Many of the so-called “neutral” science courses omit the parts that provide the evidence supporting these facts and theories. If you use these “neutral” science courses for your middle or high school chemistry and physics courses, your child will be left without the necessary science background to understand evolution, the Big Bang Theory, climate change, and other key science principles. If you use these “neutral“ science courses for middle school and high school biology, astronomy, geology, or environmental science, your child will not even be getting the necessary background in these areas of science to understand that science discipline. I think you’ll agree with me, that isn’t neutral at all.

Blair Lee M.S. is the the founder of Secular, Eclectic, Academic Homeschoolers. When she’s not busy doing these things, she’s busy writing or working on service projects. She is the author of the primary author for the critically acclaimed and award winning Real Science Odyssey Series, Microbiology and The Science of Climate Change from SEA Publishing, and Project-Based Learning. She has degrees in chemistry and biology.

Blair Lee

A Graduation Letter to Homeschooled Students

A Graduation Letter from Blair Lee

A Homeschool Graduation Letter

From Blair Lee, M.S.

As our homeschooling journey comes to an end, it feels bittersweet. I am proud of the person my son is growing into, yet reaching homeschool graduation means we close a chapter that has been so meaningful in our lives.

I know it can be hard to see the end of the journey when you’re still on the path, so I would like to share with you my thoughts on what it means to receive an education handcrafted to focus on a learner’s strengths, challenges, and passions — something all homeschoolers gift their children.

Dear Homeschooled Students

You have been raised and educated to think critically, to think outside the box, to spend days tunneling down rabbit holes, to dig deeply into academic topics, to appreciate your own intelligence, and to understand the way you as an individual learn. This is powerful stuff!

It is people like all of you who will be best prepared to tackle and solve the complex and myriad problems facing the world right now. You are the people in your peer group who have the skill set and who are best poised to change the world.

You have been educated to be innovators who see the world through a different lens. And it all started at home with parents who respected your unique intellect. At some point in your life, your parents looked at you and decided to gift you with a special journey through learning.

The Gift of a Handcrafted Education

For many of you, homeschooling probably has not always felt like a gift. All of this has most likely made you feel very different, even when you didn’t want to feel different. It has probably made you feel “special,” even when you didn’t want to feel special. Sometimes, it has probably made you feel isolated, when you didn’t want to feel that way. Here is the thing though: you are an adult a lot longer than you are a child or a teenager. The skill set you have acquired thus far will benefit you for the longest part of your journey — the part when you are an adult.

Homeschooling, by its very nature, is different for each homeschooled individual. That is where some of the specialness comes from. There are some commonalities you see for all homeschoolers, no matter what teaching methodology has been used: academic, classical, unschooled, child-led, eclectic or whatever.  

Homeschooled students learn in an environment that fosters thinking while focusing on understanding and creativity. This leads to an intuitive recognition that knowledge is not static — a very important trait that all of you now carry into adulthood.

As a homeschooled student, you have been raised in a manner that shows respect for your insights and understanding and that has given you the opportunity to articulate your core self. I promise you that a connectedness with your core, true self is an invaluable trait to take into adulthood. This connectedness leads to an understanding of how to rewrite core parts of your journey, something every adult does more than once. How lucky for you that you already have skill in this area.

How You Learn is Unique

As a scientist, it is only natural that I think of the way homeschoolers are taught as akin to the scientific concept of theory. A scientific theory grows, changes, and morphs as more information is acquired. Learning in an environment that values thinking and emphasizes understanding and creativity leads to the recognition that knowledge grows, changes, and morphs as you learn more.  

It is a trait of homeschooled kids that they are fearless about their ability to learn new things. Homeschooled kids grow up understanding that they can learn anything through doing. These are the most important traits of a lifelong learner.

All of this happens when your primary teacher is someone you live with 24/7. It happens when your primary teacher respects and values the way you as an individual think and learn. It is the heart of why every parent I have met who homeschools puts in the time and effort to homeschool their children. The traditional system treats the acquisition of knowledge as linear with one best approach. Because of your eclectic journey through learning, you have an insight that there is no one best approach for everyone.  This is an important understanding to have as you enter adulthood.

The Gifts of Today

You are graduating during a tumultuous time in the world — a world without one best approach for solving what needs to be solved. For some of you, this will fill you with promise. For most of you, it makes the next part of your journey seem uncertain and impossible to plan for. For many people, this uncertainty causes them to freeze as they worry about where to put their foot next in their journey.

My son likes to tell me that yesterday is history, tomorrow a mystery, and today is a gift. Do not spend too much time worrying about the mystery that can only be guessed at, a mystery that must be solved by living it when tomorrow becomes today.

Instead of worrying about tomorrow, focus on the gifts that today brings as you find purpose in your journey. Do not ever let self-doubt or insecurities keep you from being everything you want to be. You cannot find the possibilities without dreaming big and believing in yourself. You cannot reach the stars without reaching for them. You will stumble. It is a guarantee. That much about tomorrow is not a mystery. Every single adult in this audience has stumbled. It is a part of life.

As homeschooled students you probably already know it is not the answers you get correct that matter. The important answers are those that you miss, the ones you stumbled on. Those are where you find an opportunity for growth and where you need to focus. You have been raised to be life-long learners. For people raised with a deep understanding of how they themselves learn, nothing is outside of your ability to learn and grow into. No area is closed to a lifelong learner.

The Gift of Connecting to Purpose

You have been raised and educated with the understanding that connectedness brings meaning to what you are learning and improves your relationship with the knowledge you acquire. In order to acquire knowledge – or change the world – you need to recognize first where you need to focus, where you need to spend your energy, what questions you do not know the answer to, and where you – the unique person that you are – can connect and find purpose.

The world is in your handsIn this chaotic, crazy world you are going out into, believe in tolerance, work for equality, search for the truth that will make this a world where everyone can live in peace. All of you, because of the thoughtful, handcrafted education you have received, are particularly well-poised to be the change you want in the world. You have the opportunity to rewrite history.

Having purpose brings meaning to your life. Make it matter that you walked on this Earth. But you define what that means for you. Do not be afraid to be original. You define what will make your life matter for you. If you think about it, this is the heart of what it means to be a homeschooled student.

Homeschool Graduation: My tips for you as you go out into the world

  1. Those who are generous are lucky. I have found this to be a truism my entire life. A generosity of spirit is an important trait, and the best way to make your own luck.
  2. Happiness is worth striving for and for some reason it is the most highly underrated component of intelligence! Be brilliantly happy. An important component of being a happy person is to be nice, not because of how someone treats you, but because you are a nice person. Be brilliantly, happily nice!
  3. You look at only one face in the mirror every day of your life; make it a face you like.
  4. Time is the money of life. Spend it wisely. Many people live their lives like their days are limitless; do not fall into that trap. Make the moments and days of your life count by your own unique definition.
  5. Vote, please vote!

A Graduation Letter from Blair Lee

This was first given at a homeschool graduation a year before my son graduated. I was fortunate to be asked back the next year for my son’s homeschool graduation, to give this.

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