Pursuing Knowledge in Unexpected Places
A homeschool mom provides thoughtful feedback on a biology curriculum supplement as someone who holds to a young earth creationist view.
As a classical home educator, I seek out academic treasures that educate my children towards goodness, beauty and truth. Sometimes these treasures lay undiscovered due to a single constraint we all share—time. When I was asked to take part in the pilot program for BioLogos Integrate, a new science/faith curriculum, time was one concern. But a second concern I had was the organization’s position on evolution. Their acceptance of evolutionary creation is contrary to my young earth creationist worldview. I wondered what academic value they offered to my homeschool. The project team explained the units complement high school Biology and they also seek to provide scientific resources beyond the topic of evolution and creation. I decided to see what they had to offer. This was the beginning of seeking knowledge in an unexpected place and the reason I’m writing this review of their materials. I chose to pilot three Integrate units with my high school-age son: Ways of Knowing, Caring for People and the Planet, and DNA Technologies and Ethics.
The units are organized with a consistent modular structure. Each unit contains at least one each of five module themes: Meet, Grow, Experience, Engage, and Integrate. This structure allows the teacher to quickly determine the learning objectives for each module. Estimated times to complete each Unit and module are included. The Units contain links to material from some of the brightest minds in science and theology. Various writing activities and group discussions engage the student’s dialectic skills. There are hands-on projects which are customizable for tight schedules and learning styles.
The goal of the Ways of Knowing unit is to provide a platform to discuss and debate the idea of discovering truth both through science and theology. I’m not an expert apologist nor a trained scientist, but I appreciated the methodical way the material leads students through the discussions. The scientific method is discussed as a reliable tool of science, and students explore its component parts and limitations. Be aware that this unit does lay a foundation for agreement with some mainstream scientific conclusions (e.g. evolutionary processes, age of earth, etc.). Yet, the material also seeks to provide a biblical lens through which to evaluate and discuss current science without hostility towards contrary opinions. The guiding principle was to challenge students to know how to trust and discern scientific expertise.
The Caring for People and the Planet unit will appeal to “green-minded” students who want to practice environmentalism with a biblical worldview. The idea of biblical “rule and dominion” as commanded in Genesis is explored and defined. My favorite exercise of this unit was a challenge to participate in an environmentally-focused restoration project. My son and I chose to volunteer with a local group which removes invasive plant species from the surrounding state parks. We discovered how to identify the plant and why its prolific spread damages the ecosystem. Time spent outdoors together and meeting new people was a bonus to this unit.
DNA Technologies and Ethics was the third unit I used. I chose this unit because I know BioLogos has access to leading scientists of DNA technology, most notably Dr. Francis Collins, who led the Human Genome Project, and it’s a high-interest topic for myself and my son. The unit contains articles, videos and questions about genetically modified foods, genetic testing and gene editing. The terms of this science, such as CRISPR, Cas9, etc, are well defined and were easy for my 10th grade son to grasp too. We customized a class survey activity by creating an online poll since he isn’t part of a larger class of students. The questions in this unit challenge the student to use wisdom to think about the risks and benefits of DNA technology. The unit does a good job of exposing the complexity of the ethics of this technology.
A note of caution for more conservative and/or young earth readers: there are references to reproduction terms (e.g. gametes, sperm, ova), a link to a fertility bank website (in an activity in which students consider the ethics of various kinds of genetic testing), a reference to Viagra (in an activity in which students rank how controversial they think various kinds of human enhancement are), and one video with a passing reference to the Big Bang. A parent may need to predefine some of the terms, but nothing was inappropriate.
The DNA unit provides a valuable outline for all Christians to discuss the topic from a biblical perspective. It’s critical for Christian parents and teachers to have a solid understanding of DNA technology so we can prepare future generations to handle it wisely.
These Integrate units allowed my student to apply classical dialectic skills as we reviewed the questions. We had time to identify their premises and assumptions too. The number of hours required to complete a unit is possible even with a rigorous curriculum. The module format within each unit keeps the work confined to small sessions. Due to time constraints on some days, I would just invite my son to sit with me to watch a video or read an article together. Then we discussed and debated the questions rather than write out the answers. I was impressed with how he gained a better understanding of another view from his own.
I found the Integrate project team to be passionate and disciplined about creating these materials. They show themselves to be followers of God seeking to know and understand His creation better. I found no reason to avoid this academic supplement, even though it doesn’t fit precisely with my worldview. In the pursuit of knowledge, we can find truths in unexpected places if we’re willing to seek it with godly wisdom.
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