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Michigan, United States
a registered yoga teacher, and a Thai/Yoga Bodywork practitioner.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Assumptions challenged: Darwin and the homeschool debate

February 12th was Charles Darwin's birthday. Someone on Facebook posted it, so I announced it to the household.

"Who's Charles Darwin?" Madelyn asked.

Rob and I took turns trying to convey an accurate yet simple version of his theory and its impact. She looked back and forth between us, curiosity fading into confusion. I jumped into a homeschooling parent's version of "The Batmobile" -- Google and interlibrary loan.

Apparently the video I requested was standing by, ready to launch, as it arrived in a few days. It's a blend of narrative, acted with period dress and sets--rather like many of the BBC productions I favor--and interspersed with comments by scientists. It's part Masterpiece Theatre, part documentary. Happy Valentine's Day 'cause I am in love!

We watched it in two parts due to its 120 minute running time.

During one commentary segment, it showed how the HIV virus evolves to become resistant to drugs. HIV recreates itself "billions of times per day" in the body. The incidental mutations in the virus's DNA make some of its reproductions immune. Natural selection is observable.

Then there was a piece about the human eye--that classic example of complexity--and how one researcher has developed a sequence of changes that would result in various eyes that exist in nature today.

It made the point, too, that the body is not "perfect." One example is a woman who had a torn eye lens. When the eye ages, it can become less elastic. Her lens tore and the vitreous fluid leaked, causing her to see flashing, "bubbles" of light. She was helped when a doctor used a laser to seal the lens tear.

Once we finished the video, we took a long walk with the dog. I recalled one scene in the video, when the new theories of Darwin met the old theories of religious tradition (humans are "created" and so on) and how the men of the time vehemently argued.

"With whom would you have sided?" I asked the kids. They proclaimed Darwin, because it was "obvious he was right."

"Perhaps," I replied. "But imagine if someone came up with an idea that turned everything you had thought to be true into a mere story. It would be hard to accept."

Nate shrugged. For the rest of our walk, I thought on what such an event would be like. What things do I just accept without proof? Would proof make me dig my feet in to hold onto my beliefs, or would I be swayed?


An article in Slate magazine broke on many homeschooling blogs last week.The premise is that if you're a "liberal" who wants to improve society, if you want your kids to understand diversity, send them to school--for the betterment of all.

One woman's blog response was an essay-length letter of a her rough life, why she chose to homeschool, and why she won't let the system that damaged her steer her choices.

Many others posted short responses equivalent to boo-ing.

This morning, there was a response by The Atlantic, refuting the argument that one is more "diverse" by succumbing to the same environment and textbooks and teaching style as everyone else.

I am reading John Holt's Teach Your Own per the recommendation of a trained educator-turned homeschooling mom. She claimed it was the best book she had read on the subject.

Holt writes on changing society for the better, and it's not by going along with the crowd:

 "...lasting social change always comes slowly, and only when people change their lives, not just their political beliefs....In time, 1 percent may become 2 percent, then 5...10,20,30 percent, until finally it becomes the dominant majority, and social change has taken place. When did this social change take place? When did it begin? There is no clear answer, except perhaps that any given social change begins the first time any one person thinks of it.....What I want to do is find ways to help those who want to move in [a new] direction to move that way...."

"Are the things [the minority] are doing things that many others..could do if they wanted, without undue risk or sacrifice? And are these people, as they change their lives, telling others about what they are doing and how they might also do it? Private action, however radical and satisfying, only becomes political when it is made known...."

"Though many unschoolers may not think of themselves this way, they are in the truest sense leaders...[going] their own way without caring or even looking to see whether anyone is following them....Charismatic leaders make us think, 'Oh, if only I could do that, be like that.' True leaders make us think, 'If they can do that, then by golly I can too.' They do not make people into followers, but into new leaders" (p.63-64, Teach Your Own, 2003 ed.). 

1 comment:

  1. You are the second person to recommend this particular Darwin video, so I added it to my library queue. I think I need to check out John Holt's book as well.