What About Teaching Evolution

Continuing my discussion of living science texts for kids:

Regarding evolution- I think kids should be taught what other people believe and why- how in depth is possibly subject for debate, but I don’t think either side should be utterly ignorant about the other’s beliefs in as fair minded a way as we can manage. I also think it’s not doing your kids any favors if you are in the minority side not to educate them a lot about the majority beliefs, even if you are 100% correct about your minority view point (minority or majority is irrelevant to right or wrong).

I’m not going to go into a lot of deep detail about what I think, because it’s really irrelevant here, and that is kind of my point.  I do get tired of books that are insistently so dogmatic about billions of years or thousands of years and hard core macro evolution or no evolution that they drag it in where it really is not relevant to that specific subject. Whatever the current ideas are about how a plant might have evolved from goo to buttercup or might have been created on the fifth day as a fully formed buttercup- I don’t care. I don’t want them squished in to a book about plants today and how to tell them apart. Those views are not really relevant to what kids would want to know or even need to know about identifying buttercups and telling them apart from cinquefoil or mustard or wood sorrel or photosynthesis or plant propagation. 

The same for clouds- you don’t need six chapters on evolution and flatly stated claims about billions of years (or six thousand years) with a paragraph or two in every chapter about billions of years ago (or the second day of Creation) in order to know the difference between cirrus, cirrocumulus, cirrostratus, cumulus or whatever and what it means. You can discus the formation of clouds and teach the skill of recognizing the various types of clouds and what they mean for the weather without ever pushing one point of view or the other. You can be right or wrong about evolution and the age of the earth and it will be totally irrelevant to whether the constellation you are looking at is Orion or Leo or the Southern Cross. I could go on and on- what we see in most textbooks and even zoo and museum exhibits from either side is no longer education, but propaganda. This heavy handed approach isn’t even very useful for whatever cause you espouse. Usually in the end it will create more people skeptical about your pet point than not because people naturally push back against propaganda.

So basically, I think that it’s over-done in secular books and I believe it’s over compensated for in Christian books.   It would be so simple a matter, I would think, to say something like, “At the time I’m writing this, most scientists think  X,y, and z, and you are likely to need to know this is what they believe, whether you believe it yourself or not…. but you should also remember this is the best information about what most scientists believe today, and the best information was different 20 years ago and will be different again- this is why we continue to study, read, think and learn about this amazing and wonderful world and all the things in it.” But apparently, that is entirely too much to ask for.

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What we need in a science text

Science: “‘Scientific truths,’ said Descartes, ‘are battles won.’ Describe to the young the principal and most heroic of these battles; you will thus interest them in the results of science and you will develop in them a scientific spirit by means of the enthusiasm for the conquest of truth . . . How interesting Arithmetic and Geometry might be if we gave a short history of their principal theorems, if the child were meant to be present at the labours of a Pythagoras, a Plato, a Euclid, or in modern times, of a Descartes, a Pascal, or a Leibnitz. Great theories instead of being lifeless and anonymous abstractions would become living human truths each with its own history like a statue by Michael Angelo or like a painting by Raphael.” (Charlotte Mason, volume 6)

Our goals for education are not utilitarian- we don’t educate merely for a job or for passing a test, but because God has created a wide and wonderful world full of amazing, interesting, astonishing, and even useful things and ideas and it is the glory of God to conceal these things, but the glory of kings to discover them, and our children are all royalty, sons and daughters of the King of Kings.  We don’t want to dismiss scientific knowledge of any sort on the grounds that it’s not useful (some things don’t get covered because of time, but use alone is not our criteria)


We want books that appeal to children’s natural inborn love of knowledge, not books with gimmicks and dated jokes and silly attempts to use current slang and talk down to kids in a mistaken attempt to be relevant that makes a book dated and irrelevant in about six weeks.

Even when children may have had their natural love of knowledge squelched by bad teaching, bad practices, hard lives or whatever cause, we feel that most of us really do like to know about the world around us and how it works even if that interest has been weakened by years of dry, boring text books and assumptions that we *aren’t* interested in those things and that they are not interesting at all. We will appeal to interest, to that still living, tiny spark of thirst for knowledge. We don’t want to rely on appeals of bribery, shallow trivia, and tests that treat the material like dictionary entries.

We want science books that are alive, well written, and that are lso humble- recognizing the fact that what is understood today can change tomorrow, books that do not substitute opinion for fact.

We want accompanying experiments, activities, and demonstrations. We want them clearly explained and as much as possible using inexpensive materials that families can easily find at home.

Facts are important, but we don’t want books that are basically lists of facts- we want facts only when clothed in their inspiring ideas, a big picture, a breathless since of wonder, discovery, and awe.

A child’s mind is alive, a living organism that, like other organisms, requires nourishing food and regular servings of it- and the food the mind takes in best is the living idea, ideas communicated in literary language and illustrated with demonstrations and experiments with real things.  The mind responds to ideas, and that is what we want to see in science books.  We also want for children to leave their schooling years with the understanding that learning never ends, that it is a natural and desirable thing to continue to be interested in and to stay abreast of the scientific work of the day.

Mason tells this story:  “The mistress of an Elementary School writes,––”The father of one of my girls said to me yesterday, ‘You have given me some work to do. E. has let me have no rest until I promised to set up my microscope and get pond water to look for monads and other wonders.'” Here we have the right order. That which was born of the spirit, the idea, came first and demanded to confirm and illustrate.”

This is part of the reason why a Charlotte Mason education spends so much of the early years out of doors, looking, observing, wondering, pondering, noticing, thinking, with helpful hints, direction, and elucidations from adults who know what to look for or how to find out how to answer questions. We don’t pretend to know everything- or anything at all that we don’t know. We find out. We are interested in these things ourselves or we learn how to be.

Mason also writes of a class that:

“is open to the wonders that science reveals, is interested in the wheeling worlds of the winter firmament. “Child after child,” said a schoolmistress, “writes to say how much they have enjoyed reading about the stars.” “As we are walking sometimes and the stars are shining,” says a girl of eleven in an Elementary School, “I tell mother about the stars and planets and comets. She said she should think astronomy very interesting.”

But we teach astronomy, no, we teach ‘light and heat’ by means of dessicated text-books, diagrams and experiments, which last are no more to children than the tricks of white magic. The infinitely little is as attractive to them as the infinitely great and the behavior of an atom, an ion, is a fairy tale they delight in, that is, if no semblance to a fairy tale be suggested. ”

Finally, but most importantly- “Where science does not teach a child to wonder and admire it has perhaps no educative value.”

That is what we want. I use the royal we.

Posted in Charlotte Mason, homeschooling, science | Leave a comment

Political theater

Democrats Pocan, Jaypal, and Espaillat will vote no on the abolish ICE bill if it’s brought to the floor.

  • Why is that particularly significant?

It is their bill.  These are the same three Democrat Representatives who introduced the Abolish ICE bill in the first place.


Why would they introduce a bill they do not want brought to the floor and will vote against if it is?

This is their explanation:  https://www.google.com/amp/thehill.com/homenews/house/396818-dems-say-theyll-vote-no-on-their-abolish-ice-legislation%3famp

I dunno. Fundraising? The publicity of publicly introducing the bill gets votes at home and nobody notices their quiet sleight of hand?

Magic, Inc by Heinlein- read it.

In one segment, Archie, the narrator, goes to watch the Assembly in action. That body is discussing a resolution to censure the tar and feathering of some agricultural workers the previous month. He’s told it won’t take long because the people proposing the resolution don’t really want it passed, but the Central Labor Council had demanded it and these particular legislators are labor-supported, so they need the resolution for political lubricant. The Labor Council didn’t really want it anymore, either, because they hadn’t realized at the time that the ‘agricultural workers’ were actually only mandrakes (fake humans in this fantasy story), illegal to create, illegal to employ, and competition for their own workers.

So what happened is every member present got up and spoke strongly in favor of the resolution, and then somebody suggested tabling the resolution until later, and they had a voice vote on that- and every single person who spoke so stoutly in favor of the resolution also voted for tabling the discuss, so it passed. This should sound familiar.

Next is a discussion of a proposed treaty with the gnomes for extracting the natural gas in their lands. One representative stands and is all for it. Eventually, another stands and is all against it. He has no particular interest in oil, but several of his constituents have business interests with a different oil company.

Then there’s a bill to outlaw every sort of magic- the bill’s sponsor speaks at length about why this should be done, then, without further discussion, the bill was voted on and passed unanimously. This puzzles Archie greatly, but his friend, who has joined him, explains that the sponsor needs to introduce the bill to appeal to his own constituents, and everybody’s agreed to let him do that, but they all know the bill is now going to the committee where it will die a quite and ignominious death. Sadly, I think this explains a number of pro-life bills and subsequent defeats. It could be the explanation here, too.

You don’t really believe these political posers care about kids, right?

They all care most about being re-elected.

(Later they explain lobbyists to Archie- lobbyists are the ‘third house’ (senate, congress, and lobbyists, which is what we have today as well), and that many of the lobbyists are not human- they are mandrakes. That would explain a lot.)

What’s really fascinating is that this was first published in 1940.

P.S. Now available on Kindle! Waldo & Magic, Inc.

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Education, Sir John Lubbock





“No pleasure is comparable to the standing upon the vantage ground of truth.” — BACON.

                “Divine Philosophy !
Not harsh and crabbed as dull fools suppose,
But musical as is Apollo’s lute,
And a perpetual feast of nectar’d sweets
Where no crude surfeit reigns.”



IT may seem rather surprising to include education among the pleasures of life; for in too many cases it is made odious to the young, and is supposed to cease with school; while, on the contrary, if it is to be really succssful it must be made suitable, and therefore interesting, to children, and must last through life.

“It is not the eye that sees the beauties of heaven, nor the ear that hears the sweetness of music, or the glad tidings of a prosperous accident; but the soul that perceives all the relishes of sensual and intellectual perceptions; and the more noble and excellent the soul is, the greater and more savory are its perceptions. And if a child behold the rich ermine, or the diamonds of a starry night, or the order of the world, or hears the discourses of an apostle; because he makes no reflex act on himself and sees not what he sees, he can have but the pleasure of a fool or the deliciousness of a mule.”1

Herein lies the importance of education. I say education rather than instruction, because 99it is far more important to cultivate the mind than to store the memory. Studies are a means and not an end. “To spend too much time in studies is sloth; to use them too much for ornament is affectation; to make judgment wholly by their rules is the humor of a scholar; they perfect nature, and are perfected by experience. . . . Crafty men contemn studies, simple men admire them, and wise men use them.”2

Morevoer, though, as Mill says, “in the comparatively early state of human development in which we now live, a person cannot indeed feel that entireness of sympathy with all others which would make any real discordance in the general direction of their conduct in life impossible,” yet education might surely do more to root in us the feeling of unity with our fellow-creatures; at any rate, if we do not study in this spirit, all our learning will but leave us as weak and sad as Faust.

“I’ve now, alas !  Philosophy,
Medicine and Jurisprudence too,
And to my cost Theology ;
With ardent labor studied through,
And here I stand, with all my lore,
Poor fool, no wiser than before.3

Our studies should be neither “a couch on which to rest; nor a cloister in which to promenade alone; nor as a tower from which to look down on others; nor as a fortress whence we may resist them; nor as a workshop for gain and merchandise; but as a rich armory and treasury for the glory of the creator and the ennoblement of life.”4

For in the noble words of Epictetus, “you will do the greatest service to the state if you shall raise, not the roofs of the houses, but the souls of the citizens :  for it is better that great 100souls should dwell in small houses rather than for mean slaves to lurk in great houses.”

It is then of great importance to consider whether our present system of education is the one best calculated to fulfil these great objects. Does it really give that love of learning which is better than learning itself? Does all the study of the classics to which our sons devote so many years give any just appreciation of them; or do they not on leaving college too often feel with Byron —

“Then farewell, Horace ; whom I hated so !”

Too much concentration on any one subject is a great mistake, especially in early life. Nature herself indicates the true system, if we would but listen to her. Our instincts are good guides, though not infallible, and children will profit little by lessons which do not interest them. In cheerfulness, says Pliny, is the success of our studies — “studia hilaritate proveniunt” — and we may with advantage take a lesson from Theognis, who, in his Ode on the Marriage of Cadmus and Harmonia, makes the Muses sing :

“What is good and fair,
Shall ever be our care ;
Thus the burden of it rang,
That shall never be our care,
Which is neither good nor fair,
Such were the words your lips immortal sang.”

There are some who seem to think that our educational system is as good as possible, and that the only remaining points of importance are the number of schools and scholars, the question of fees, the relation of voluntary and board schools, etc. “No doubt,” says Mr. Symonds, in his Sketches in Italy and Greece, “there are many who think that when we not only advocate education but discuss the best 101system we are simply beating the air; that our population is as happy an cultivated as can be, and that no substantial advance is really possible. Mr. Galton, however, has expressed the opinion, and most of those who have written on the social condition of Athens seem to agree with him, that the population of Athens, taken as a whole, was as superior to us as we are to Australian savages.”

That there is, indeed, some truth in this, probably no student of Greek history will deny. Why, then, should this be so? I cannot but think that our system of education is partly responsible.

Manual and science teaching need not in any way interfere with instruction in other subjects. Though so much has been said about the importance of science and the value of technical instruction, or of hand-training, as I should prefer to call it, it is unfortunately true that in our system of education from the highest schools downwards, both of them are sadly neglected, and the study of language reigns supreme.

This is no new complaint. Ascham, in The Schoolmaster, long ago lamented it; Milton, in his letter to Mr. Samuel Hartlib, complained “that our children are forced to stick unreasonably in these grammatic flats and shallows;” and observes that, “though a linguist should pride himself to have all the tongues Babel cleft the world into, yet, if he have not studied the solid things in them as well as the words and lexicons, he were nothing so much to be esteemed a learned man as any yeoman or tradesman completely wise in his mother dialect only;” and Locke said that “schools fit us for the university rather than for the world.” Commission after commission, committee after committee, have reiterated the same complaint. How then do we stand now?


I see it indeed constantly stated that, even if the improvement is not so rapid as could be desired, still we are making considerable progress. But is this so? I fear not. I fear that our present system does not really train the mind, or cultivate the power of observation , or even give the amount of information which we may reasonably expect from the time devoted to it.

Mr. (now Sir M. G.) Grant-Duff has expressed the opinion that a boy or girl of fourteen might reasonably be expected to “read aloud clearly and agreeably, to write a large distinct round hand, and to know the ordinary rules of arithmetic, especially compound addition — a by no means universal accomplishment; to speak and write French with ease and correctness, and have some slight acquaintance with French literature; to translate ad aperturam libri from an ordinary French or German book; to have a thoroughly good elementary knowledge of geography under which are comprehended some notions of astronomy — enough to excite his curiosity; a knowledge of the very broadest facts of geology and history — enough to make him understand, in a clear but perfectly general way, how the larger features of the world he lives in, physical and political, came to be like what they are; to have been trained from earliest infancy to use his powers of observation on plants, or animals, or rocks, or other natural objects; and to have gathered a general acquaintance with what is most supremely good in that portion of the more important English classics which is suitable to his time of life; to have some rudimentary acquaintance with drawing and music.”

To effect this, no doubt, “industry must be our oracle, and reason our Apollo,” as Sir T. Browne says; but surely it is no unreasonable 103estimate; yet how far do we fall short of it? General culture is often deprecated because it is said that smatterings are useless. But there is all the difference in the world between having a smattering of, or being well grounded in, a subject. It is the latter which we advocate — to try to know, as Lord Brougham well said, “everything of something, and something of everything.”

“It can hardly,” says Sir John Herschel, “be pressed forcibly enough on the attention of the student of nature, that there is scarcely any natural phenomenon which can be fully and completely explained, in all its circumstances, without a union of several, perhaps of all, the sciences.”

The present system in most of our pubic schools and colleges sacrifices everything else to classics and arithmetic. They are most important subjects, but ought not to exclude science and modern languages. Moreover, after all, our sons leave college unable to speak either Latin or Greek, and too often absolutely without any interest in classical history or literature. But the boy who has been educated without any training in science has grave reason to complain of “knowledge at one entrance quite shut out.”

By concentrating the attention, indeed, so much on one or two subjects, we defeat our own object, and produce a feeling of distaste where we wish to create an interest.

Our great mistake in education is, as it seems to me, the worship of book-learning — the confusion of instruction and education. We strain the memory instead of cultivating the mind. The children in our elementary schools are wearied by the mechanical act of writing, and the interminable intricacies of spelling; they are oppressed by columns of dates, by lists of kings and places, which convey 104no definite idea to their minds, and have no near relation to their daily wants and occupations; while in our public schools the same unfortunate results are produced by the weary monotony of Latin and Greek grammar. We ought to follow exactly the opposite course with children — to give them a wholesome variety of mental food, and endeavor to cultivate their tastes, rather than to fill their minds with dry facts. The important thing is not so much that every child should be taught, as that every child should be given the wish to learn. What does it matter if the pupil knows a little more or a little less? A boy who leaves school knowing much, but hating his lessons, will soon have forgotten almost all he ever learnt; while another who had acquired a thirst for knowledge, even if he had learnt little, would soon teach himself more than the first ever knew. Children are by nature eager for information. This ought to be encouraged. In fact, we may to a great extent trust to their instincts, and in that case they will do much to educate themselves. Too often, however, the acquirement of knowledge is placed before them in a form so irksome and fatiguing that all desire for information is choked, or even crushed out; so that our schools, in fact, become places for the discouragement of learning, and thus produce the very opposite effect from that at which we aim. In short, children should be trained to observe and to think, for in that way there would be opened out to them a source of the purest enjoyment for leisure hours, and the wisest judgment in the work of life.

Another point in which I venture to think that our system of education might be amended, is that it tends at present to give the impression that everything is known.


Dr. Bushby is said to have kept his hat on in the presence of King Charles, that the boys might see what a great man he was. I doubt, however, whether the boys were deceived by the hat; and am very sceptical about Dr. Bushby’s theory of education.

Master John of Basingstoke, who was Archdeacon of Leicester in 1252, and who, having learnt Greek during a visit to Athens from Constantina, daughter of the Archbishop of Athens, used to say afterwards that though had had studied well and diligently at the University of Paris, yet he learnt more from an Athenian maiden of twenty. We cannot all study so pleasantly as this, but the main fault I find with Dr. Bushby’s system is that it keeps out of sight the great truth of human ignorance.

Boys are given the impression that the masters know everything. If, on the contrary, the great lesson impressed on them was that what we know, is as nothing to what we do not know that the “great ocean of truth lies all undiscovered before us,” surely this would prove a great stimulus, and many would be nobly anxious to extend the intellectual kingdom of man, and enlarge the boundaries of human knowledge.

Education ought not to cease when we leave school; but if well begun there, will continue through life.

Moreover, whatever our occupation or profession in life may be, it is most desirable to create for ourselves some other special interest. In the choice of a subject every one should consult his own instincts and interests. I will not attempt to suggest whether it is better to pursue art; whether we only study the motes in the sunbeam, or the heavenly bodies themselves. Whatever may be the subject of our choice, we shall find enough, and more than enough, to repay the devotion of a lifetime. 106Life no doubt is paved with enjoyments, but we must all expect times of anxiety, of suffering, and of sorrow; when these come it is an inestimable comfort to have some deep interest which will, at any rate to some extent, enable us to escape from ourselves.

“A cultivated mind,” says Mill — “I do not mean that of a philosopher, but any mind to which the fountains of knowledge have been opened, and which has been taught in any tolerable degree to exercise its faculties — will find sources of inexhaustible interest in all that surrounds it; in the objects of nature, the achievements of art, the imaginations of poetry, the incidents of history, the way s of mankind past and present, and their prospects in the future. It is possible, indeed, to become indifferent to all this, and that too with out having exhausted a thousandth part of it; but only when one has had from the beginning no moral or human interest in these things, and has sought in them only the gratification of curiosity.”

I have been subjected to some good-natured banter for having said that I looked forward to a time when our artisans and mechanics would be great readers. But it is surely not unreasonable to regard our social condition as susceptible of great improvement. The spread of schools, the cheapness of books, the establishment of free libraries will, it may be hoped, exercise a civilizing and ennobling influence. They will even, I believe, do much to diminish poverty and suffering, so much of which is due to ignorance and to the want of interest and brightness in uneducated life. So far as our elementary schools are concerned, there is no doubt much difficulty in apportioning the National Grant without unduly stimulating mere mechanical instruction. But this is not the place to discuss the subject of religious or 107moral training, or the system of apportioning the grant.

If we succeed in giving the love of learning, the learning itself is sure to follow.

We should then endeavor to educate our children so that every country walk may be a pleasure, that the discoveries of science may be a living interest; that our national history and poetry may be sources of legitimate pride and rational enjoyment; in short, our schools, if they are to be worthy of the name — if they are in any measure to fulfil their high function — must be something more than mere places of dry study; must train the children educated in them so that they may be able to appreciate and enjoy those intellectual gifts which might be, and ought to be, a source of interest and of happiness alike to the high and to the low, to the rich and to the poor.

Education might at least teach us how little man yet knows, how much he had to learn; it might enable us to realize that those who complain of the tiresome monotony of life have only themselves to blame that knowledge is pleasure as well as power; it should lead us all to try with Milton “to behold the bright countenance of truth in the quiet and still air of study,” and to realize with Bacon in part, if not entirely, that “no pleasure is comparable to the standing upon the vantage ground of truth.”



 1  Jeremy Taylor.

 2  Bacon.

 3  Goethe.

 4  Bacon.



See also:  Sir John Lubbock’s list of the Best 100 Books and the controversy around it

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Record Heat?

“…this summer (June-August) so far has had a near record low number of daily maximum temperature records in the US. The vast majority of summer daily maximum temperature records were set more than 60 years ago, and never matched again.”  More here.

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