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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Why Sonlight Won't Take a Stand

This post has been a long time in coming. And yet, I still don't feel qualified to write it. So I'm stating this up front: I don't feel wise enough to say this perfectly. I would love to hear your thoughts and continue the dialog.

The first time I felt prompted to write about this topic was after reading Karen Campbell's call to say, "This is wrong and it must stop." I immediately started writing a response, but after three days of not saying it correctly, I gave up.

Then, yesterday, I read a forum thread which asked Sonlight to stop riding the fence about young earth/old earth. Again, I started writing. But I ran out of time and brain power.

Today, I hope to finally post something on this topic.

Let us begin this discussion by reviewing a few of the Reasons NOT to Buy Sonlight:

That's a very solid foundation for why Sonlight isn't likely to stamp our foot down on one side of a line or another. Not because we don't believe strongly about a great many things, but that we stick closely to our company mission and vision. Sonlight exists to serve you in your home education. We're not here to tell you what to think, believe or do.

Which leads to another phrase that we often use within the building:
We're here to educate, not indoctrinate.

Certain teachers seem bent on swaying us to their side, their method, their view. Some ideas seem to shield themselves off from criticism by repeating the mantra, "We're right, you're wrong." Both of these approaches, while certainly effective, feel very counter-educational to me. We're here to provide you with tools that will enable you to learn. How you use those tools is entirely up to you.

Beyond all this, I think there is enough ambiguity in this world that taking a stand on certain issues just doesn't feel right. I know it didn't for my dad. For many years Sonlight explicitly took a stand on the young earth side. Then, in 1999:

1999 Catalog Statement

That year, in our Instructor's Guides, my dad shared his journey and research. Sonlight's curriculum didn't really change, but our approach and stance took on a much more humble and open tone.


Because of the reasons stated above. We want to give you the best information we can find and leave it up to you. We want to present both sides because we believe that coming down on one side doesn't serve you the best. And because the research we conduct has proved to be less and less conclusive.

I don't want Sonlight to ever become a company that does what one of my Bible professors did to me: He gave me a C on a paper simply because I disagreed with him on one point. Even worse, rather than trying to educate me, he took the time to write five paragraphs berating me for the audacity I had to dare disagree.


I somehow still ended up with an A in the class. <smile> And Sonlight, way back in 1999, demonstrated one more aspect I love about this company: We listen to feedback and continue to try to learn more ourselves. Because, honestly, what good is an education company that doesn't continue to educate itself?

So, why doesn't Sonlight take a stand on certain issues? Because we're an education company dedicated to serving you with the best home education materials out there. We believe you should work through these sticky subjects with your students--when appropriate--so they can go out into the world and be winsome ambassadors for Christ. And if you don't like that, then perhaps, just perhaps, Sonlight's not for you.

... <deep breath> ...


 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


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Katie said...



Please keep the attitude of humility toward peripheral issues. Please keep including books that make me think about my faith and the people that my family could be ministering to someday. Please keep those wonderful biographies that make more impact than a theology book would. Please continue to educate instead of indoctrinate. Please keep up the good work. Thanks.


Just thought you should get both sides of the story.

Debra said...

Great post.

I remember reading that statement by your dad in my first Sonlight catalog. And I was impressed. I'm still impressed.

I'm tired of homeschooling organizations that insist on telling me what to think. Or what the only way to homeschool is.

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Happy Elf Mom (Christine) said...

So... people who believe the Bible is absolutely literally true and teach their children accordingly are out to INDOCTRINATE their children, not educate them?

I hope that's not what you're saying.

I could understand if someone has genuine questions and/or feels there isn't enough evidence to prove/disprove an old earth theory, and presents "both sides" of an argument equally to their children. I can respect people who have differing opinions, even as I educate my children differently.

But... this post came as a response to a post about whipping a kid to death? Seriously? What does that have to do with curriculum choice? I'm sure there are a good plenty of practical atheists out there on crack who beat their kids to death...

Not getting it.

Linda said...

Exactly why I love Sonlight! You have helped my family learn how to think about the deep issues without telling us what to think. Thank you all.

Indy_Nat said...

This has been a long time coming. Thank you, Luke.

Now, PLEASE, offer something other than Apologia for high school. We've already been told by two guidance counselors at two public universities that they won't accept it for high school credit because of the YEC bent.

mary grace said...

I don't want to teach my kids WHAT to think, but HOW to think. That's one reason why SL is a good fit for us.

Michelle said...

hear, hear Luke! There are issues upon which we must stand, there are issues which are not worth breaking fellowship over.

I choose Sonlight because it helps me teach my children HOW to think, exposes us to different ways of thinking, which ultimately helps us as a family determine what we choose to believe.

Personally, I think it's more important to believe that God created the world than it is to decide if the earth is young or old.

Basically - what Katie said, just less eloquently written because it's late and I'm tired. :)

Sarah at SmallWorld said...

EXACTLY one of the many reasons we've been using Sonlight for going on 11 years.

And yes, please? Find something different than Apologia!!

homeschoolmom said...

Well said, Luke.

I'm thankful that Sonlight gives us opportunities to discuss with our children views that differ from our own as we teach them.

I want my children to be able to see that with some issues (like your example of old earth vs. young earth) we can believe a certain way based on the evidences, and yet there are intelligent people who see the same evidences and come to a different conclusion. I believe both sides of the issue need to be able to admit that we just don't know for sure. And that's okay.

These issues aren't salvation issues. In the end, they're just details.

Julie said...

Yes, I think your response was right on target. After reading through the thread on old earth/young earth, I was surprised at how many Christians seem to take this as a litmus test of faith. In the end, believing one or the other does not confirm/deny your salvation - this is why we have SO many denominations... Christians choosing to divide instead of unite. It has nothing to do with morality or God's commands or living a holy life. I take a stand when God's Word is being ignored or twisted or used to justify wrong... but this argument? It's not an issue for us.

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Happy Elf Mom (Christine) said...

LOL I agree, boremetotears... probably not the most "practical" use of one's time... and I'm not meaning to cause "drama." :)

But seriously. If one doesn't present various viewpoints EQUALLY, one is indoctrinating? I don't buy that.

I do respect others' rights to teach their children as they see fit. There is value in the diversity of homeschooling. I think this post was frankly disrespectful of the more theologically conservative amongst us. One thing to say "Sonlight is probably not for you," and quite another to imply someone is indoctrinating his or her child if a given balance of opinions on a certain issue isn't presented.

I didn't begin homeschooling due to theological issues, but b/c of abuse in public school. Mind you, if I'm teaching at home, I'll teach things to my children that I enjoy using and that generally agree with my worldview. I think "indoctrinating" is a rather too-strong word to put on another homeschooler, or even a public school, without a pretty clear justification for doing so.

Happy Elf Mom (Christine) said...

PS. Luke, needless to say, I still like you and you are still my friend. But I disagree here.

Unknown said...

As an old SL customer, I always appreciated the flexibility of the SL curriculum to teach many different subject and to address educational topics from many different perspectives.

But my frustration with your company, and the ultimate reason I left the SL forums, is my increasing awareness of SL's unwillingness to take a stand on almost anything. It appears to me that the fear of losing a customer is greater than standing up for almost any significant ethical/moral issue. And what happens when the salt loses its flavor...?

Kathy F. said...

Teach a child HOW to learn...that's what I've done in homeschooling my daughter. She has tackled difficult subjects, researched them, and then we talked about them. She's almost 18 and can think for herself now. Sonlight's reading lists are an excellent way to introduce those 'sticky' subjects. I'm very glad you are not into 'indoctrination' - most of what is wrong with the American people is the simple fact that they cannot (or will not) think for themselves; they like to be told what to think.

shadowspring said...

Yes, please offer alternatives to Apologia!

And I must concur: ignoring evidence/scientific opinion that does not support the teachers' personal take on an issue, or presenting critics only in a negative light, is indoctrination, not education.

Education examines subjects from all angles, and when a good teacher decides to ignore some evidence/scientific opinion while over-emphasizing other supportive evidence/scientific opinion, then they would own it as personal bias.

Teachers who ignore, or present in a negative light, information that contradicts their pet beliefs without admitting their bias (or ignorance) are indoctrinating, not teaching.

It was true of my college Biology I teacher, who spent a month highlighting the errors of Christianity through the ages, then when challenged refused to discuss religion as "not relevant". It is true of a home school teacher who spends hours (years?) highlighting the errors of those enamored of evolutionary theory while refusing to discuss any of the positive scientific discoveries/methods that evolutionists have contributed to humanity.

By the same measure we judge others we will be judged ourselves. :)


Diane Shiffer said...

Luke... first time commenting here:-)

First of all, I adore Sonlight. Just adore it and have taught all of my children with it.. at least when I can afford it (I'm a single mom and funds are super tight.) I have always appreciated so much Sonlight's stance of not taking a stance on things. Young earth? old earth? creative design? evolution? All touchy issues and things we as Christians and educating parents feel very strongly about. Presenting information on differing viewpoints is the very best avenue for preparing our children to make informed decisions... and I might add it allows individual families latitude to emphasize the particular sources and materials they think most relevant. This is one of the things that makes Sonlight so great!

BUT, I see a distinct and critical difference between matters specifically related to education (such as old earth vs young earth theories) and issues such as the one related to child abuse under the guise of Christian parenting. Taking a stand against the Pearls and their misguided advice offends your integrity? Really? Even if it means preventing the suffering and abuse of children? Really?

Sonlight is a huge personality in the homeschooling world. You wield a great deal of influence. God has placed you in this position of influence for a reason and a cause. Abdicating your responsibilities is just as sinful as misusing them.

You know, "Speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves... and all that jazz.

Happymom4 aka Hope Anne said...

Happy user of Sonlight. However, if this is a response to the family who beat their child to death, and ALMOST killed another child, following literally some of Mr. P's teachings, I can only say that you have done nothing visible to take a stand against child abuse. Please speak out clearly--do not give an uncertain sound. There is much need for grace and giving each other freedom in many areas, but the issue of child abuse is NOT one of them.

Becky said...

In a way your view of old earth/young earth can be a salvation issue. If God used evolution in His creation process, which takes lots of time and requires for organisms to die as new ones come about, that is very much a salvation issue.

Death was a punishment for Adam & Eve's sin. Death isn't a big deal if it leads to the evolving of new organisms.

So, if it is possible that nothing died before the millions of years it took for Adam & Eve to come about (and with God, nothing is impossible) then sure, you can take an old earth view. But, evolution usually requires lots of death, so therefore, if death is involved in the process before Adam & Eve came about, it is unbiblical.

Why is this important? If death isn't such a bad thing after all, why did Jesus need to die to save us from death, when all death truly does is bring about something new upon the earth? It undermines God's plan of salvation where death was a curse and a punishment, and Jesus' sacrifice on the cross was the only atonement sufficient to defeat death's permanence.

Luke Holzmann said...

Awesome conversation, everyone! My response posted here. Please follow me there to continue the discussion <smile>.



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