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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Questionable Content

A couple weeks ago, I was challenged by Jennifer to look into the negative stereotypes of Native Americans presented in some of Sonlight's titles. I promised to back to her and hope to continue the conversation here. But this post applies to many other aspects of questionable content, so please keep reading.

Sonlight's IGs
Part of what makes Sonlight's curriculum so amazing are the Instructor's Guides (or IGs). Every IG is full of notes and questions to help round out the texts; primarily because every author is writing from a particular bias or viewpoint, and those could easily be wrong or hurt someone. Sonlight, thus, includes a lot of background information so students (and their parents) can get a clearer picture of what is really going on.

And while I couldn't find a particular article on stereotypes of Native Americans in my brief search of one of the IGs, I saw many notes about what was happening at that point in history that shows false negative stereotypes as errant.

One customer said just yesterday:

Sonlight carries a lot of books that cover sensitive topics. They have been especially careful to alert parents anytime their children will come into contact with such material. This gives parents a chance to proactively have a conversation with their children about the issue presented to make sure the child understands the topic and looks at it through the lens of a Biblical worldview. (full post here)

So Sonlight tries to balance out negative/incorrect ideas in our IGs. If you are not using the IG with your books, you're not getting the full Sonlight experience.

On the other hand, we know there is always room for improvement. If you come across a section of a book that you think should be dealt with more fully, please let us know. We are always welcome your input and insights. Jennifer, I would be very interested in your thoughts especially.

Consider Your Perspective
Another post I came across today warned people that Sonlight's science program "is extremely creationist/young earth based." I find that moderately amusing because there are many others who feel that Sonlight promotes Evolution and Old Earth thinking far too much.

Who's right?

In many ways, it all depends on your perspective.

I think, objectively--especially when you consider the titles we carry along with the notes in our IGs--it's fairly clear that Sonlight does promote a creationist/Young Earth view... with some notes about the other topics to round things out.

Granted, we can all get so myopically focused that we don't see where we have gone wrong. That's why it's so great to be surrounded by a large community that can help set us right. And that's why your feedback is so valuable to us. We never want to hurt people, but when we do please help us set it right.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Expectant Father


Bryan said...

Great post Luke! This approach is one of the many reasons that our family loves Sonlight.

Robert Velarde said...

Thanks for the post, Luke. As "Mr. Science" at Sonlight for the past year or so, it's been my task to significantly update our K-6 science curricula. I'd say that in our revisions we are neutral on the old earth/young earth debate. This is stressed in our new Intro article on evolution and the age of the earth.

Our new IG Notes try to present the material fairly, stressing God as Creator and Designer, while not "endorsing" any specific approach regarding young earth/old earth. We figured we'd leave those distinctions in the hands of capable parents.

Amy said...

I love Sonlight's science, because I can present to my children multiple views and explain why I believe the way I do and explain why others believe differently. I appreciate this opportunity to go in-depth in ways we probably wouldn't have if we used a different curriculum.

chapman55k said...

I, like Bryan, think this is a very good post. I very much appreciated Robert's comment because we thought that, until we got to the Apologia Science texts, Sonlight's science curricula did not work so well for our kids. Then, with the IG's that accompanied the Aplogogia program, the science became a very bright spot in our homeschool curricula. The thing we very much liked about it was that, while Jay Wile obviously has his own thoughts on the way things are, he gave good explanations of why other people think differently. We do not have exactly the same ideas as Dr. Wile on a some of the material, but he provided a very good non-pejorative foundation for understanding the subject matter as a whole. We were able to add materials in those areas where we had particular interest that fit hand in glove with his material. Examples of the include books we read by William Dembski, Michael Behe, Jay Richards, and Guillermo Gonzalez on the Intelligent Design, Irreducible Complexity, and the Anthropic Principle. This has inspired me to add a future post on why and how this all worked so well for us. Our daughter will be taking the CLEP Biology test later this year. Her preparation for that test will have come from following the Sonlight IG, use of the science kits (tomorrow, we dissect a perch from the kit) and study of the Apologia Biology text.

Melonie said...

Great post and love the new blog look.

Unknown said...

Great post! This "questionable content" is why I love Sonlight so much. We are doing Core 5 and 1 right now and learning so much. My oldest son is learning about Eastern religions, traditions and lifestyles. Where else would he get this awesome opportunity but through Sonlight. I love that it gives him and me a base upon which to build our own faith. It helps us to strengthen our beliefs and to be able to stick up for them when or if we are ever confronted.

Oh and the science- WE LOVE IT! Need I say more?!

Sally Apokedak said...

Wow, the blog looks great.

And I'm always interested in people's take on the Native American stereotypes issue. Because I was married to an Alaskan native and I have two native kids, I am aware of some of the prejudices people have. It's a two-way street though. My native in-laws are pretty prejudiced against whites and blacks, and down-river natives, as well. =0)

Not that we should deal in stereotypes. We need to look at others as individuals, not faceless members of a group.

Happy Elf Mom (Christine) said...

Um, I had heard exactly the opposite opinion of Sonlight as being an "old-earth" curriculum. I tried to click on the link several times but it keeps saying it is "not found."

I am going to go to my first homeschool conference thingy soon in Kansas City. I imagine the Sonlight people will have the actual STUFF there for people to look at for themselves. Of course, you can't know everything about a curriculum with one viewing but it's a fair sight better than spending $$$ on shipping and a product to open it all and find out you don't like it.

Do you have any helpful advice on conventions and stuff? It looks like everyone and their dog will be there and I'm concerned I will get confused with too many choices.

Not that it's bad to have so many choices, but you know what I mean. :]

Shauna @ Treasure Seekers said...

I don't believe it's possible for a book to be completely free of all bias, though we should certainly strive to minimize our children's exposure to harmful views to the extent possible, taking into account the child's age, maturity, and other factors. But it's so important to teach kids to critically evaluate books and other media, and I appreciate Sonlight's efforts to help parents with that task by providing notes about questionable content.

Younger children may not be developmentally ready to separate errant views from sound ones, so it can be a tough call sometimes to determine what material is age-appropriate even with parental guidance. I reviewed a book several months ago that was written in the 1920s. Though the story was well written and exciting and an otherwise good example of a living book, the author gave a romantic, stereotypical depiction of slavery at the time of the American Revolution. Although I understand that this view was common for the time period, I found it strange that the vendor, who claims to only put out books that meet the Philippians 4:8 standard, never once acknowledged that there was anything questionable about Christians holding slaves or with portraying slaves as happy imbeciles and slave owners as upstanding citizens of high moral character. I ultimately decided not to share the book with my 7-year-old daughter because I didn't think the book was good enough to justify the wrong ideas it espoused. If she were older, my decision may have been different.

Luke Holzmann said...

Bryan, thanks, and may Sonlight continue to bless you and your family <smile>.

Robert, thanks for your added insights! I probably should have walked the 10 feet to get your take on this. <oops>

Amy, I'm so glad Sonlight's science is meeting your needs. Keep up the great work!

Ken, thanks for sharing from your experience. I never get tired of hearing success stories <smile>.

Melonie, glad you like it <smile>.

Jenn, your words were fantastic. You don't need to say any more (though I wouldn't mind if you did <smile>).

Sally, you're right: We should consider people as individuals. Absolutely.

Mrs. C, thanks for pointing out the broken link. It took me a minute to figure out where the problem was because of Blogger's odd use of line breaks, but it's fixed now <smile>.

As for advice on conventions... umm... visit the Sonlight peoples. After that, you can go home <laughing>. Really, I don't have any good insights. But I know someone who would. Stop by Judy's blog and ask her a question. If you want her email, just drop me a line and I'll send it to you.

Shauna, excellent points. Where the student is in life makes a huge difference. That is why parents--through homeschooling--can provide such a great education: They know their children the best! <smile>


Anonymous said...

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Luke Holzmann said...


It would be very helpful if you would point me to the books and sections that have hurt you and your daughter and suggest how we could improve the notes in the IG.

As for better book options, we're always open to those! However, after talking this over with my mom, she mentioned that while Bruchac is a beautiful writer, he does not write at a level appropriate for third graders who are building their reading skills.

"So, we tell our kid not to have a negative stereotype or an inaccurate perception of a certain people and then we read the book anyway?"

I am unaware of any truly egregious problems with the titles we carry, and I didn't find any posts about them on the blog you linked to. But if you could bring those books and sections to my attention--it's been over 15 years since my mom read any of those books to me, so I'm almost completely ignorant--I think we could discuss it more fully. But as it is right now, I can't do anything more than apologize that you have been offended. And I want to do much more than that! I want to help.

Again, please alert me to the mistakes in the books we carry, and if you have ideas of where our notes are insufficient that would be incredibly helpful!

Please feel free to email me if that is easier/more expedient for you.

Thanks for your efforts to help improve Sonlight so families all around the world can enjoy a better homeschooling experience.


Heather the Mama Duk said...

I figure a good "test" is if some say it's too x and some saying it's too y (x and y being polar opposites). Must mean it's pretty much in the middle.

Luke Holzmann said...

That's a good point, Heather. But being in the middle isn't easy <smile>.



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