April 8, 2013

The Safest Poison?

I have mentioned here before that I am part of an online community of Christian educators and in the forums provided through that community there are many discussions on a wide range of topics of interest and concern to Christian educators. Not too long ago there was a discussion about science textbooks for high school science classes–how to select the best books, thoughts on the offerings of specific publishers, etc.

One of the comments was made by a school administrator who quoted his school’s biology teacher. Part of his comment was this statement: “What I found was that the [publisher’s name] was a good curriculum; however, my concern was with the student text generating student interest. There seemed to be a lot of text compared to pictures, models, graphics, and diagrams.” I found this statement troubling for a couple of reasons. First, we are talking about textbooks for a high school science class, not an elementary school class. By the time they reach high school students need to have learned how to learn, and they need to be beyond the stage when their interest in and attentiveness to a text is driven primarily by the colorful pictures and graphics a book may contain. There is a place for graphics, illustrations, models, etc., I do not dispute that, but selecting a textbook because it has the best graphics–or, on the contrary, excluding a textbook because it does not have great graphics–is a dangerous basis on which to make a decision, not to mention silly one. One of the best series of history books I have ever seen is the four-volume The Story of the World series by Susan Wise Bauer, and those books contain no photos. Whatever maps or illustrations are included are in black and white, yet students enjoy the books because they are well-written and tell the narrative story of history.

The second comment made by the quoted biology teacher was, unfortunately, exponentially more troubling than the first. He explained that their school eventually chose a textbook from a secular publisher, and hailed the wonderful extras that came with the adoption of that book, including access to online resources. Then he made this statement: “Choosing this secular curriculum has been a blessing because my class is very captivated and ‘in love’ with biology. It was the least infiltrated with evolution compared to other secular publishers.”

Now I need to state here and now that I am not one who holds rigidly to the position that Christian schools should only utilize textbooks and resources from Christian publishers. My philosophy has always been that the textbook that will best meet the needs of the students is the one that should be used, and that it is the responsibility of the teacher, regardless of the textbook used, to ensure that courses incorporate a biblical worldview. And I have not seen the specific textbook in question, so I cannot definitively state that it is a “bad” book or that it should not have been selected.

What I can say with confidence, though, is that the very suggestion that a book is “okay” because it is “the least infiltrated” with evolution or any other theory or position that is counter to Scripture is highly troubling. Does the individual in question think that his assertion is even possible? A textbook is either infiltrated with evolution or it is not. A person either has a biblical worldview or they do not. A person is either for the Lord or he is not. There is no middle ground. And infiltrated, by the way, does not mean that the book contains the theory of evolution. Every good biology textbook should include the theory of evolution, since part of effectively teaching students is exposing them to the various theories that exist and equipping them to counter those that are in opposition to Scripture. No, infiltrated means that the textbook’s author’s wrote the book with an evolutionary worldview. It means that they believe that human beings evolved from apes, and apes evolved from something else, and on down the line to the primordial ooze or whatever building blocks man supposedly evolved eventually from. It means that the book’s author’s deny that God spoke the world into existence.

That has implications that are vast, and will touch every page of that textbook, despite the biology teacher’s assertion that “Evolution references were primarily localized in the evolution unit.” Baloney. The evolution references may be localized, but the idea of evolution, the belief in evolution, and the implications of evolution are not localized; they cannot be localized. I would certainly hope that a biology teacher at a Christian school would not say that the creationist viewpoint is localized to the chapter on origins in Christian textbooks, or that his own creationist viewpoint is localized to his teaching about origins. I would hope that his viewpoint infiltrates (to use his word) every lesson he teaches.

With that in mind, the suggestion that the book “least infiltrated with evolution” is a good and safe choice is really not much different than saying that the student’s can drink the beer with the lowest alcohol content, smoke the cigarettes with the lowest nicotine content, watch the movies with the lowest number of obscenities or least amount of nudity, use the drugs with the lowest likelihood of addiction, and play Russian roulette with the gun with the fewest number of bullets. Those suggestions are absurd, I know. But the textbook least infiltrated by evolution is not really any different…because there is no amount of poison that is safe.

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