Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Secular Science Curricula

I think I've said this before, but we're not a particularly religious household. In our house... well, the most religious of us is a Secular Humanist, another is an Atheist entirely. This puts us pretty well outside the scope of the pre-existing homeschooling demographic. What this also means, though, is that it's ridiculously difficult to find a decent history curriculum - most history is tied up in religion, and whichever religion came out "on top" is the one that wrote the stories, so that's where the slant is. But even more difficult than trying to find an entirely secular history curriculum?  Secular science.

It's a challenge. Most curriculum companies are driven, as are all companies, by profit. Historically speaking, the profit has been in religious homeschooling. If you're looking to make money selling homeschooling materials, it is in your best interest to make them either Christian, or what is termed "worldview neutral." And so, wading hip-deep in curricular choices with a little boy who is going full speed ahead, I need to do some research. The depressing part is what I found - or, rather, didn't.  There isn't a pre-set, readily available, easy to find, easy to use, science curriculum that will cover both primary and intermediate elementary school levels, and middle school+ is (temporarily) beyond me. We've been cobbling together whatever we can from various and sundry experiment kits, which works, but it isn't exactly thorough.

The vast bulk of what is available, unfortunately, boils down to either religious text masquerading as science, or "worldview neutral" science, which is no science at all. Imagine you're in my shoes. You want a fully secular, elementary-level, thorough and competent science curriculum for your little learner. You are either not religious, or prefer to teach your religion away from your schoolwork, whichever takes your fancy. You go out looking for homeschool science curricula. You find a well-known company, one that lots of homeschoolers recommend! Click on the link, and browse their website. You decide to take a look at their sample pages before you go ahead and just click buy. Opening up "Astronomy," you find:

The sun is splendid, indeed. But we know God is even more splendid. If it is dangerous to look at the sun because it’s so bright, think how much more difficult it would be to look at God in all His glory.

Wait, what? Weren't we talking science here? Like, sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, Uranus (and if you're bitter, Pluto)? Asteroids and comets? What happened here? You've been railroaded by religious science texts. And the vast bulk of science curricula out there are just like this. Electricity works because God said so. People's lives should revolve around Jesus, like the Earth revolves around the sun. What?

The more irksome are the "worldview neutral" science programs. They don't look like there's anything amiss, and you might not even notice until you get to the upper elementary level and realize... there are no explanations at all regarding the origins of life, the universe, and everything. Now, you're stuck looking for new curricular options again - and that's if you've managed to notice in the day-to-day living that something is missing. If you don't get those explanations, your learner is going to be hard pressed to pass even the most remedial of higher-level science courses - the background in the actual field of science - the science part of the science - has been missing.

We went farther afield. Tracked down science clubs, mail-order experiments, online courses... And then tallied up the cost. The most bandied-about secular science program is online-only, subscription only, and would cost upwards of $400/year. Each year. The science club? $300. And that's before things like currency conversion, the requirement for specific components and/or internet access, and potentially shipping and handling. Given that the vast bulk of our curricula is purchased for under $600 across ALL subjects per year?  Adding in an additional $400 is well beyond us. I'm trying something new this year, and believe me, I'll be keeping everyone posted as to how it's working out for us. But right now? I'm just glad there are a few companies out there who are actually invested in teaching children real, factual science - and not religion pretending it's science.