Vetting Secular Science Curriculum
10 Ways to Make Sure Your Science Curriculum IS Secular
Phew! You have finally done it. You spent hours, days, and weeks planning the courses and materials you will use for homeschooling during the coming year. Your excitement over planning the best year of homeschooling EVER, results in you sharing your plan at a park day or on Facebook. Instead of the expected accolades, you hear from people that your choice for science isn’t secular. Wait… what? The website you purchased the science from didn’t say the science wasn’t secular. Or worse yet, the website said the materials were secular and you are now learning that is not the case. Or perhaps you are using another homeschooler’s recommendation. Whatever the reason, you now have to go back to the drawing board and figure science out, AGAIN. What is a secular homeschooler to do! Vetting secular science curriculum can be tricky, but we’ll discuss some ways you can make sure your curriculum is truly a secular science curriculum.
Why Vetting a Secular Science Curriculum is Important
Secular science curriculum and materials are those that include and present scientific facts, principles, models, and theories as would be recommended by a majority of practicing experts in each scientific field. Even with the extra work that vetting secular science curriculum entails, there is a good reason to ensure you are using exclusively secular science materials when homeschooling.
That reason is academic integrity. Academic integrity is the ethical policy that forms the guiding principles for what and how academic materials are presented. Companies and individuals that present themselves as entities that have the credentials to determine what people learn should be held to the highest standards of academic integrity.
From the standpoint of materials and programs that are created to teach children, academic integrity has to do with the honesty and rigor science authors use when determining what and how facts, principles, models, and theories are presented. Only science materials that are secular are developed by people who have academic integrity. Now that you know why you should put in the extra time vetting secular science curriculum, how can you make sure your secular science curriculum really is secular?
Vetting Secular Science Curriculum: 10 Tips to Make it Easier
We hear all the time in the Secular, Eclectic, Academic Homeschoolers Facebook group what a problem it can be to make sure the materials you choose are secular. There is obfuscation on the part of some textbook publishers and authors. There are also new materials being published regularly. Let me share some of the tips we use when we are vetting secular science curriculum.
- Search the publisher’s website. My favorite word to search for is evolution. Evolution is the central thematic element that should be woven throughout biology. No secular biology course above grade school level will be missing a discussion about evolution. Even if you are not looking for a biology course, the omission of this word from a biology course indicates that all science materials put out by the publisher are not secular. Anyone who writes a biology course without evolution as a thematic element of the course will not have secular chemistry, earth science, or physics. In short: your secular science curriculum should not avoid or shy away from teaching evolution.
- Look for science materials that advertise that you can skip the chapter on evolution without it impairing the course. Evolution is a thematic element that gives context and meaning to the whole of biology. A science course written so that the section on evolution can “just be skipped” is not presenting entire areas of biology, such as genetics, anatomy and physiology, systems of classification, and medicine, as would be recommended by a majority of practicing experts in the field of biology.
- Search through the FAQs on the publisher’s website for information about the worldview of the materials. Another good search term is “opposing viewpoints.” Many products written from the perspective of intelligent design claim their science products are more credible because they encourage students to explore opposing viewpoints. In the series Real-Science-4-Kids, a science curriculum written from the intelligent design perspective, Rebecca Keller makes the following claim in a FAQ titled “Does Real-Science-4-Kids have a Christian or a secular worldview”:
“All of the books introduce real science to students and this means scientific facts and theories that are currently accepted by the scientific community. However, the books also introduce students to the philosophy of science and encourage students to explore opposing viewpoints when it comes to interpreting what these facts and theories may mean to individuals, groups, and the larger community.” https://gravitaspublications.com/faq/
The above statement is misleading for two reasons. The first is that the materials DO omit key topics such as evolution which most certainly IS currently accepted by the majority of the scientific community. The second and possibly more serious issue is that Keller puts a family’s worldview on par with centuries of scientific research, conclusions, and evidence, something not done in secular science materials. It isn’t the job of science to support philosophical beliefs. It is the job of science to explain how the natural and physical world works.
- Use the contact form on the website; this should be the first step if the website does not have a search function. Ask the publisher directly if the materials are secular, and how the publisher defines secular materials. Make sure the publisher knows what criteria you expect when choosing secular science curriculum. While you are on the phone ask if evolution, the Big Bang, climate change, and the age of the Earth and the universe (in billions) are discussed in their science courses. If you are still in doubt, ask for the specific language used to explain evolution, environmental topics (especially climate change and global warming), and the age of the Earth. Make sure the publisher knows you will return the materials if they are not secular using your definition for secular not theirs.
- Visit a secular homeschool conference or curriculum fair. These are a fantastic place to get your hands on the materials which can make vetting secular science curriculum much easier. They are limited to the vendors who are there, but nothing compares to perusing materials yourself. Look for the same key concepts and terms that you look for on a publisher’s website.
- Check out the speakers and vendors at the Great Homeschool Convention. The Great Homeschool Convention (GHC) is known for excluding secular science materials at its conferences. In the area of science, if a speaker or vendor is at GHC they are not secular. GHC regularly has Jay Wile, author of the Apologia series, Jonathan Sarfati, author of Refuting Evolution, and Paige Hudson, the author of the neutral science series, Elemental. By looking at the list of speakers and vendors at GHC you can learn which materials are NOT secular.
- Facebook groups and websites can be great sources. Unfortunately these sites are also one of the reasons there is so much confusion over which science materials are secular. Determine what the operating definition for the word secular is for groups and sites you get curriculum recommendations from. If inclusivity is a part of the organization’s definition of secular it generally means intelligent design and neutral materials are reviewed and recommended as secular.
- Google science authors to see what they’ve published and/or where they teach. This isn’t foolproof however, as evidenced by Supercharged Science, developed by scientist Aurora Lipper. Lipper taught at Cal Poly and worked on a project for NASA, credentials she uses to sell her products. However Lipper has developed a science program she defines as “creation neutral.”
“This program is designed to serve all families, regardless of individual beliefs. Each lesson has been carefully structured so that it is “creation neutral.” This means that if you choose to incorporate a religious perspective into your child’s education, this program will easily allow you to do so, and will not conflict with traditional religious perspectives. However, if you prefer to keep science separate from religion, this program will be perfect for your family as well. There are no references to any religious concepts or belief systems in any of the lessons. Religion is a very personal choice, and I totally respect that. As such, this program leaves it to you as a parent to decide if you want to incorporate religion or not.” http://www.superchargedscience.com/escience-long1.htm
When you read a statement like this one, directly comparing science and religion, it does not matter what the author’s credentials are. Secular science curriculum does not take religion into account, because science and religion are not the same academic disciplines. The purpose of science is to accurately and adequately explain how the natural and physical world works. When a science author leaves topics out because of issues of faith the science is not being accurately or adequately taught.
- Compare the table of contents of traditional textbooks, like Holt, for instance, with the table of contents for the homeschool science curriculum. The materials will not align directly, but the same core subjects should be in both.
- When buying packaged curriculum from companies who bundle materials from many different authors, you should look over the science separately using the above methods to determine if the science is secular. Do not just research the science courses in the grade your child is in, look at the material for every year. The curriculum bundler Bookshark (a company that just changed the label on what they used to call their secular line to “faith neutral”), for example, uses Rebecca Keller’s Intelligent Design courses for some of their grade levels. Any curriculum bundler that uses an Intelligent Design course for biology cannot be trusted to provide secular science curriculum (or even “faith neutral” curriculum) at any grade level.
Remember, it isn’t the job of science to support philosophical beliefs. It is the job of science to explain how the natural and physical world works. To have an adequate and accurate understanding of science, it is essential that the science materials used are secular.
* Neutral science materials are not secular. They omit core science topics pandering to a non-secular worldview. You can follow this link to read my article, Why Neutral Science isn’t Neutral.
Also please see this article: The Definitions for What Constitutes Secular Academic Materials