Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A little learning...

I've been a bit busy, lately, and one of the things I've been doing is trying to pin down just what exactly Kitten will be doing for her first year of high school at home, beginning this fall. I'm not at all nervous about homeschooling a high schooler; I was homeschooled myself in high school, beginning about midway through my sophomore year.

But one thing that does have me frazzled is trying to decide on curricula. It's taken me the last eight years to get a good elementary school curriculum organized, and now we're starting over again! I'm almost as bewildered as I was back when I was picking out overly-ambitious kindergarten workbooks for a little girl with serious eyes and a determined chin.

The serious eyes and determined chin are still there, but this girl isn't little anymore. She wanted to know earlier this afternoon how much a secretary earned in an hour. I gave her a rough number, and she went from that to annual salary pretty darned quickly for a girl who swears she doesn't "get" math. All I know for sure is she's looking forward to typing class, hence the questions about secretarial work.

But the difficulties haven't been in deciding about things like typing or other "extras." No, the difficulties have been centered around core curriculum materials. And one of the ones that is driving me a little bit crazy right now is science.

Granted, as a former lit. major I'm a bit wary when it comes to choosing a high school science course. I did fine, grade-wise, in science, but that doesn't mean much; I need the right sort of textbook or program to help me teach Kitten these complex subjects.

And I've hit a bit of a snag.

It's not that there aren't high-school science texts out there. There are even some that are specifically written for homeschoolers, by people who know how to design programs for students learning at home with some parental guidance. But so far I'm rather frustrated by one element: these books all seem to be written by creationists.

As a Catholic, I have, of course, no real quarrel with evolution. Sure, I don't believe that the soul evolved, and I also believe that if God chose to use evolution as His mechanism of creation, He still directly infused the first two human souls into a man and a woman; moreover, He still infuses each individual soul into each person. Our souls are not subject to the laws of evolution because they are immortal spirits, not something that will eventually and inevitably arise anywhere that evolution has gone on long enough. If there is sentient, souled life elsewhere in the universe, then God directly created the souls of those beings, too.

But Catholics don't have to reject evolution out of hand as one possible means God might have chosen to use when He created the world. Sure, Catholics don't have to--and shouldn't--accept evolution or any other scientific theory uncritically or in the absence of compelling evidence, either, but any sort of "hiding" of inconvenient evidence because we might dislike the theory on misguided theological grounds wouldn't be right. The Catholic scientist's approach to science should always be to examine the data critically and attempt to draw sound conclusions from it, wherever those conclusions may lead him. He need not fear that science will contradict his faith, because science and faith are not in opposition to each other, and, in fact, deal in completely different spheres of learning.

Science, for instance, can't observe or describe transubstantiation, but that doesn't mean that transubstantiation doesn't exist. It is a spiritual reality which transcends science, and if science could "prove" it, then man's free will to accept or reject it--or any other revealed truth--would be irreparably damaged. On the other hand, faith can't insist that particle physics be anathema as something which might damage a believer's notions about God's world. And faith can't dismiss evolution as something dangerous; it's no more dangerous than Einstein's theory of relativity.

Now, maybe someday some scientist will debunk Einstein, and we'll learn something new about the universe. And maybe someday some scientist will debunk Darwin too, by showing some mechanism other than evolution which God might have used in His act of creation--but there will still be a mechanism to be shown, if science is involved at all; science simply can't present "Fiat lux!" as something which can be empirically measured.

There may be some creation scientists who think that they have a better way than evolution to describe the mechanism of God's creative act--but thus far, the evidence for such a way has been scanty, and seems to be impelled by the creationists' faith rather than their science, for the most part (though I realize that there are exceptions). For a high school student, the bigger problem is that evolution is the currently accepted scientific theory when it comes to describing the origins of living creatures, and teaching otherwise means a decision to put the student outside of the mainstream of educational thought.

Granted, homeschoolers have no problems doing this, when faith and morals really are under attack. I won't use a history book that claims the Pilgrims came to America for mainly employment reasons, for instance--truth is at stake, and ignoring the Pilgrims' religious motivations isn't an honest thing to do. Nor will I use a "health" curriculum that is all about contraceptive use and encouraging teens to experiment sexually, because that is immoral and damaging.

But as a Catholic, I don't see evolution as immoral or damaging, provided the student learns that whatever mechanism best describes God's acts of creation, the key points are that God is responsible for our existence, and, as I said before, that in due time He directly infused the first two immortal human souls into one man and one woman, the ones we call Adam and Eve. Exactly how He chose to do everything else may be theorized scientifically without doing faith any harm; but pretending that evolution is on the verge of being disproved is, sadly, also something dishonest and misleading to teach children.

So I still don't know just what Kitten will use for science class this year. But I do know that I wish some sound Catholic scientist would start writing a truly Catholic high school science program, which accurately reflects Church teaching not only on evolution, but anywhere else that faith and science might intersect.


Rebecca said...

I'm having the same sort of dilemma, though on the other side, I guess. My dd (9) reads everything in sight, and is very interested in scientific subjects, but I'm distressed to find that evolution is assumed in areas where you wouldn't think it would need even to be mentioned--in a book about the moon, for instance. I don't have any particular view on evolution, except that I think it is a theory which so far does not have much support on the macro level, so I take issue with this early indoctrination. And it is indoctrination, because it is not presented as a possibility but as a well-established fact. There are many very intelligent scientists who do not think macro-evolution should be taught as a fact because of the tremendous lack of evidence; this is apart from the question of intelligent design.

I'm leaning towards avoiding textbooks altogether in this area and doing, first of all, lots of hands-on stuff, and second, primary sources such as J.Henri Fabre. I know there's a lot of new info but I'm guessing it can be learned well enough from sources much more interesting than textbooks. We've really enjoyed anything written by Isaac Asimov, for instance, though I imagine one would have to look carefully on any writings on biology/origins of man. I myself learned science from textbooks in high school, got As, and not only found science incredibly dull but completely inaccessible as well. It was only when I began reading the primary sources in college that it became fascinating.

You may be interested in this article on math, which I think applies equally well to science:


Deirdre Mundy said...

Red--- The Nashville Dominicans are opening a new HS in Arlington, VA. It's going to have kick-butt science (yes, that's a technical term. ;) ), with the aim of educating scientifically-literate Catholics who can understand things like Bioethics.

Maybe you can contact them and see what texts they're planning on using?

Has Kitten had algebra yet? Could she handle sines and cosines? If so, a great Physics book is "Conceptual Physics"--It teaches physics with NO CALCULUS. Just algebra, and a tiny bit of trig (calculating angles. Once you know the formulas it's easy...just arithmatic.) Also, the experiments are all suited to a bare-bones home lab.

For Bio-- you may want to try college, rather than HS level book... that way you can skip the "fun with contraception' unit... Do you have a state university with an ed program nearby? They often keep tons of sample textbooks in their libraries, so maybe you could go over and peruse?

Chemistry is really a LAB class, so you may want to save it for later, when she can take it at the CC and get the labs in (trying to set up a chem lab at home is crazy-dangerous. A far cry from table top dissections...)

Anyway, like I said, the Dominicans are probably your best bet. Good luck!!!

-Deirdre =)

Deirdre Mundy said...

Also---you could just go to Kolbe's website and see what they use. Their HS program is really good, so you can probably trust their textbook choice.

PersonalFailure said...

I have a suggestion for you, though you may of course feel free to ignore it.

There is a message board primarily for atheists/agnostics, the SMRT board. We do have christians and others on the board, though. There are more than a few scientists on the board who would (I think) be happy to help you with this issue. You could just copy and paste the relevant portions of what you wrote here and ask if anyone has any advice on the issue. Somebody probably does.

Anyway, it couldn't hurt to ask. If you show up, I'm Personal Failure there, too.

mmfiore said...

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Anonymous said...

Hi, I see that other comments have mentioned some basic options-local Community college-NOVA maybe will certinly have science taught w/evolution. You might also want to see what your local HS uses for science. Have you seen Mary Daly's site, www.hedgeschool.com She has several materials listed in the science area-esp. Creator and Creation. BTW I do believe in Caretionism & ID & have taught it here in my Catholic homeschool but finding curriculia is a challenge so HTH. Blessings of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel pam JMJ AMDG