Saturday, August 25, 2012

English changes again

Well, public schools around here start on Monday, but we've had a full school load for a few weeks now (4 days a week, anyway). It's funny - I've seen some raised eyebrows when I've told others that we're already doing school, but then when I tell them we're planning a vacation the end of September, they say, "Oh, ok." I guess they think I'm working the kids too hard! It doesn't take much explaining here in the Houston area, actually, to convince people that having school in the middle of the summer when it's too hot to do anything else is actually a good plan. We'd much rather have time off when it's decent enough weather to go play outside!

We've already changed our curriculum plans for 2nd grade English too. I really, really like the way CLE Language Arts and Reading is set up. It seems like such an organized, thorough program, with plenty of variety for interest, yet covers the material in a rigorous, complete manner.

Rebekah hated it. I admit that she pouts and complains on Monday mornings with many things, but after a few weeks of CLE lessons, she was just impossible to work with. She dragged through the pages, getting slower and slower, and didn't seem to retain any of it. I know that was because she was protesting, and instead of thinking about the material and learning it, her thoughts were more like, "I don't like this. I don't like this." Her handwriting was getting terrible, and her reading was getting slower.

So we changed the curriculum. She did really like the CLE Math curriculum, and we are still doing quite well with that. But for English, with this child, I'm thinking we will be much better off with a more Charlotte Mason-type approach. I have always been in favor of the CM approach for science and history, but have been a bit skeptical of the CM language arts style - delayed grammar teaching, more natural language learning, reading good books to learn proper English, etc.. But really, I think this is going to be the way to go with my oldest. My middle child will do just fine with CLE English, I think (hopefully, so I can still get my money's worth). She's a more structured, workbook type of learner. But for my oldest, we're going to back off on the structured English.

So, what are we using? A mix of things. I cannot bring myself to totally ignore grammar, so we are using parts of a Foresman English workbook we found online here for free. We are using just the grammar portions, doing one lesson a week, split into 3 days of oral questions, and 1 worksheet on the 4th day to review the week's lesson. We go over the main point on Monday and do part A orally. Then we do part B on Tuesday and part C on Wednesday, both orally. This gives her an introduction to some terminology, but at a very relaxed, easy-going pace. It only takes about 5 minutes a day, 4 days a week.

I also give her 1 page of handwriting practice a week. We will move on to learning cursive the 2nd half of this year.

We are still using Writing With Ease level 1, which gives us a little bit more grammar (punctuation), a little bit more handwriting, some copywork (for writing conventions) and narration practice (which we neglected last year, but which has been improving, along with her attention span, considerably so far). This also takes about 5-10 minutes a day, 4 days a week.

I am having her listen to the Wordly Wise level 2 word definitions (found online for free) 1 day a week. There are only 15 lessons, so we will finish this early, and maybe just do games with the words (also free online) the rest of the year. Again, just a bit of exposure - no need to do the whole workbook.

For spelling, as I wrote earlier, we are using Sequential Spelling (level 1), and she is doing remarkably well with this compared to any other spelling. I gave her the option of skipping spelling this year, and she said no, she wants to do Sequential Spelling still. Sometimes she only does half a lesson a day (12-13 words), but she's still going strong (we got the DVD too, which she likes).

For phonics, she is going through the online Click'n'Read lessons, 3-4 lessons a week, since we already have a lifetime subscription to it, and neither of the other kids is using it right now. All the other phonics we've done has been heavy on learning the rules, and that just never went over well with her. Too many rules just confuses her (and me too, sometimes) - she does better picking up on the "rules" naturally.

For reading, I am still having her read through the CLE readers (starting with the Grade 1 reader, which she's almost finished), and instead of doing 3-4 pages of worksheets on each story, I'm just having her tell me about what she read. This is the Charlotte Mason narration practice which I am finding works much better for her. No handwriting, but she has to remember the details of the story, and put them into her own words. She is getting much more out of the stories this way, and is even eager to read them now. She is missing out on some of the insightful questions in the CLE reading curriculum, but we just had to make some compromises. I still can bring out some of the best questions informally (and orally) during our discussion time. We are also going to mix in most of the Sonlight Grade 2 readers this year, with her doing narrations only for each one.

Finally, I am also doing several read-alouds with her, taken from my own interests (Black Stallion), Sonlight lists (core B mostly), and Ambleside Online lists. Right now, we're reading Charlotte's Web, with some stories also from the Burgess Bird Book, Aesop for Children, Parables from Nature, and the Blue Fairy Book. Not to mention our Bible (Leading Little Ones to God) and history (Hillyer's A Child's History of the World) readings. I'm not requiring narrations from her on these, just expecting her to listen. I know that's not quite pure CM-style, but it works for us.

This seems like a lot for English, all written down, but not everything is done every day, and overall, it's only taking us about an hour a day, 4 days a week (with read-alouds being extra time, and also sometimes on Friday and Saturday). And the important part is that she's enjoying it (mostly, except on Mondays), and she's learning!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Three Views on Creation and Evolution

I finally finished reading Three Views on Creation and Evolution. I bought the Kindle version over a year ago, on recommendation from a fellow church member and scientist, to help me understand the three main views of Christians: young earth creationism, old earth creationism, and theistic evolution. There are other names for those 3 views, but those are probably the most common ones. There are also wide variations within those 3 views too, as everyone seems to have a slightly different take on things. The book has 3 main articles, one for each of the views, written by someone who believes in each view. The articles mostly explain each viewpoint, and give various thoughts about why they believe it. There is some loose similarity in the outline of each article, imposed by the editor, but the authors write with such different styles, and emphasize such different points, that the articles are really quite different from each other. Then there are 3-4 reactions to each article, written by people who mostly believe differently than that article's author. These "responders" are all different people than the 3 main article writers - I wish the editor had let each of the 3 respond to each other's articles, but I suppose they wanted even more viewpoints.

I found the book to be extremely interesting, though a little heavy reading, mostly because I kept making notes on everything that I disagreed or agreed with. (I really like the ability to take notes on a book with Kindle, by the way, though it takes me a lot longer to type with the little keyboard.) I found the discussion enlightening, too, since up until a year and a half ago, I hadn't ever heard anyone argue for a young earth. There were some new thoughts in all of the articles for me, some of which I have ruminated over quite a bit now.

I found the young earth article (the first one) to be the least convincing, probably because that is the viewpoint I disagree with most. But I also found many of the arguments to have logical faults. That is the article I probably made the most notes on, as with every logical fallacy made, I just had to make a comment. It was interesting that they admitted that pretty much all scientific data contradicts a young earth theory. It was also not nearly as accusative toward the other viewpoints as I have often heard other young earth proponents be, however, so I appreciated that. In fact, the whole tone of the book was much more cordial than most discussions of this controversy, though a few negative comments (about their opponents) slipped in here and there. The article on old earth, or progressive, creationism probably gave me the most thoughts to contemplate. The article on theistic evolution was by far the most thorough and precise.

[As a side note: I do not have a strong background in biology (I mostly studied physics and astronomy), but I am now inspired to study it more on my own. I think I'll start with a high school text I have handy, and then move on to some of the college material available online. I need to get up to speed before my kids get there, after all!]

I think I fall somewhere in between the viewpoints of the last 2 articles: old earth creationism and theistic evolution. Both made interesting philosophical points, but of course, philosophy cannot prove which viewpoint is the truth. You cannot really prove which Biblical interpretation is the absolute truth either. There really is no way to prove absolutely which viewpoint is the truth, other than going back in time and watching it all happen, or else waiting for God to tell us in heaven. You can decide which viewpoint is more likely, given the scientific data.  Science helps us understand physical reality (as we understand it) - it doesn't cover supernatural intervention, obviously. (And by the way, a "natural" event doesn't mean God had nothing to do with it - it just means it was an event that follows the physical laws we have understood to date.) There really is no way to prove with science what God has done supernaturally. It's like trying to use science to show how a group of worms made a home out of twigs and leaves when actually a little girl came by half an hour ago and made it for them. Perhaps the worms were capable of doing it themselves, but unless she confesses, you might never know how it really happened. (This is not a perfect analogy, so don't try to read more into it!)

My analogy brings up another point, though (in a roundabout way): even if humans evolved from teensy, tiny life forms in the beginning, at some point, I believe God breathed His spirit into us, separating us from all other life forms.  Evolutionists don't have to disbelieve in Adam and Eve. Humans are different than animals (despite some who claim we're not). Our souls are the fingerprint of God. Even if the human form evolved from earlier apes, I believe God chose a single moment in time and a single human-like creature into which He breathed His spirit. God could have created that being at that moment in time, apart from the evolutionary family tree, or He could have taken a special specimen from that family tree and made him at that moment to take on the image of God, creating a true human. I don't think it really matters how God did it, how He created humans. I believe that He did.

I wish it weren't such a controversy among Christians, because that strong, sometimes accusatory and bitter disagreement is a bad example for non-Christians. If we Christians can't accept each other, how would we ever accept them?

I found some interesting statistics a few days ago, from a 2010 survey. (See:
The graphic linked to above doesn't give all the data, but lumps respondents into 3 main groups: those who believe (a) God guided evolution, (b) atheistic evolution (it happened without God), and (c) YEC (young-earth creationism - God created everything about 6000-10000 years ago). These categories are rather vague and lump a lot of people with different viewpoints together (did they not separate out old earth creationists? the remaining category was "other"), but the results are still interesting.

Overall, among all respondents:
God guided evolution: 38%
atheistic evolution: 16%
YEC: 40%

Among weekly church-goers:
God guided evolution: 31%
atheistic evolution: 2%
YEC: 60%
(I wonder about that 2% of weekly church-goers who don't think God had anything to do with it. Are they conflicted internally? Do they attend church only because someone else is making them? Do they attend a church which doesn't believe in a specific God, but is more of a proponent of spirituality in general?)

Among monthly/almost-every-week church-goers:
God guided evolution: 47%
atheistic evolution: 9%
YEC: 41%

Among rare church-goers:
God guided evolution: 39%
atheistic evolution: 31%
YEC: 24%

Here's another survey, from 2012, with similar, but slightly different, results:

I am most familiar with those in the weekly church-goer group, where 60% believe in a young earth. I am a little surprised that number is so high, since among my friends and acquaintances, before I started homeschooling, I only had met 1 (yes, 1 single person) who seemed to be a strong proponent of YEC. Perhaps it's just because it wasn't a big deal amongst us. It wasn't a controversy - just one of those matters in the same category of how many angels fit on the head of a pin. I remember one Sunday School class, when I was in college, I believe, where we briefly mentioned evolution, and the consensus was that God could have created us any way He wanted to!

Since starting to homeschool, the number of YEC believers I have met (online or in person), has skyrocketed. It would be very interesting to see these survey results separated into homeschooler and non-homeschooler categories. I think YEC is a much bigger group among homeschoolers. Maybe 90% or so, but that's just a guess.

As an interesting side-note, I am a member of the yahoo group for the BFSU (Building Foundations for Scientific Understanding) curriculum, and there has recently been a big online discussion about young earth vs evolution. It was quite refreshing to read a discussion like this that wasn't filled with name-calling and accusations, with people willing to hear arguments for all sides. It was also refreshing to hear of many other Christian homeschoolers who are not YEC. We may not be vocal, but there really are some of us out here!