My husband and I both come from families with one religious parent and one not-so-religious parent. Our families also come from two, very different, fundamental religions. We are both fairly spiritual people, but we do not follow the specific doctrines of any particular religion, and, as such, we have chosen to provide a secular education to our two boys. We believe in teaching Aristotle and Archimedes about the histories, beliefs, and practices of as many of the world’s religions as possible while demonstrating the way to be kind and honorable people who are compassionate, giving, and accepting of all others regardless of their religion, race, or lifestyle.
For anyone just entering the homeschooling world, you will find your search for secular materials and curriculum to be a little daunting. Christian families were among the first to homeschool their children in modern times and have subsequently developed a significant proportion of the homeschool curricula currently available on the market. While it is relatively easy to purchase the student textbooks used in many public schools, it is sometimes extremely difficult to acquire the accompanying teacher’s manual. In addition, these books are targeted for large groups of students and are structured in a manner that frequently wasn’t working well for our children in the first place. The Christian curricula, on the other hand, are often written with a single child as student and a single parent as teacher in mind. Student texts, teacher manuals, and appropriate supplies are consistently packaged together for ease of use in the homeschool environment.
I have found over the years that there are many really wonderful Christian programs that can easily be adapted to a secular curriculum or which provide excellent opportunities for discussion about religion and its influence on one’s interpretation of data and world events. These curricula are well-written and are easy to implement as they are intended to be used in a home setting with a limited number of students and with supplies that are readily available outside of brick and mortar classrooms.
One of the curricula that stands out for me is Apologia Educational Ministries’ Exploring Creation with Biology course that I used for Aristotle’s study of high school biology. The text is written by Dr. Jay L. Wile who has a very engaging writing style and a definite ability to explain complex concepts in a very down-to-earth way. He expressly states his firm belief in creation and frequently references God in his writing, but he does also work to present the evolutionist’s point of view throughout his text (arguably for the purpose of refuting it, but at least it is actually recognized). Aristotle responded well to the conversational style of the book, the pacing of the course work, and the clear explanations of topics that had previously been difficult for him to grasp. I responded well to the course’s ease of implementation, the convenient availability of all the materials, and my complete happiness in Aristotle’s success. This curriculum also benefits from the presence of many supplemental products such as videos and laboratory supplies which are widely available on the internet in both new and used condition and can serve to really enrich the student’s experience with the course.
For some secular educators, the religious perspective of this program may be counter to their educational goals. However, I found that the creationist versus evolutionist commentary was a terrific platform for us to explore the creation beliefs of various religions and cultures. It also afforded us a concrete example of how two different ideologies can examine the same set of data (the fossil record, for example) and come to completely different conclusions. I felt this was an invaluable lesson for Aristotle as there will be many times in his life where he will have to carefully evaluate information before drawing any conclusions, all while being acutely aware of his own and others’ unique biases.
Another group of wonderfully composed Christian programs are the history curricula developed by Beautiful Feet Books. These programs utilize a detailed study guide, complete with discussion and essay questions, combined with a great variety of related works of literature. Students read age-appropriate biographies, historical fiction, personal accounts of daily life, reviews of art and architecture, and detailed descriptions and analysis of world events for whatever time period the study guide is addressing. Aristotle and Archimedes particularly liked the various biographies and found the general history texts by Genevieve Foster to be so much more interesting than standard textbooks.
The creators of this curriculum, Russell and Rea Berg, are Christian and do incorporate religion into their study guides both through the use of authors with biblical worldviews and the use of essay questions that specifically refer to scripture. However, almost all of the literature used in this program (at least for the study guides we used) is not overtly Christian and includes descriptions and discussions of cultures and religions that are not based on Christianity. In addition, the list of discussion and essay questions provided with each lesson is extensive with only a couple of questions specifically related to biblical teachings or scripture, and these can easily be excluded from the secular student’s course work without compromising their complete understanding of the historical topic being studied.
These are not the only programs that have worked well within our secular academic plan, but they serve to demonstrate that religiously based curricula can often be adapted to non-religious studies and provide enormous benefits to homeschooling families. The time and frustration saved in modifying an already well-researched and well-written product as opposed to creating your own curriculum cannot be overlooked. To be sure, there are an equal number of Christian or other religiously-based programs that really don’t lend themselves to use in secular situations, but before you eliminate a particular curriculum from your syllabus, give it a thorough examination. You may find that you can easily modify it to fit your secular needs. Yes, we’re secular, but we are grateful for the many Christian curricula that have been a successful part of our homeschool.