Quick Takes: Generations Homeschool Curriculum

Dear Reader,

In times past I have looked at various approaches to homeschooling. While I have been focused in more recently on first the Charlotte Mason approach and then on developing my own (Reformed Christian) philosophy of education, I have been asked to look into a couple of other curricula so I will be taking a post or two to do that.

The first of these is the Generations Homeschool Curriculum which is put out by Kevin Swanson as part of a larger, multi-faceted ministry. The goal of the organization is “to pass on the faith to the next generation through the biblical family, discipleship, and education” (“Ministries” from Generations.org).

First a few facts about the curriculum:

  • It covers grades 6-12.
  • It is a “core curriculum.” Practically speaking, this means that while it covers essentials, there may be other things you want to add, like foreign language. Math and science part of the core and would have to be added as well. Masterbooks is recommended for these.
  • The educational approach in terms of how the student demonstrates their learning and is graded seems fairly traditional in the sense that certain facts and standards are looked for and numerical and/or letter grades are assigned.
  • While the schedule is laid out for the user, there is some flexibility built in.
  • Though science as such is not included, the worldview materials make clear that this is a literal 6-day creationist approach. (And seems to say that God created the earth with the appearance of age.)
  • A grade’s curriculum will cost you $120-150.
  • Since each grade’s curriculum is distinct, it could likely be hard to combine children of different ages, though they also say grades are approximate so with children close in age there could be some overlap.
  • Christian authors are strongly preferred. Most of the curriculum seems to use books written specifically for Generations. Literature selections and family read-aloud suggestions are older books (think Henty’s historical fiction, Pilgrim’s Progress, and Robinson Crusoe).

Generations is a distinctly Christian curriculum. Within the spectrum of approaches, I would call it fairly traditional in terms of technique. Philosophically, it has a lot in common with the values- or character-based curricula, a category which includes A Thomas Jefferson Education and The Principle Approach, though a better designation might be to call it a worldview-based curriculum.

I don’t know enough about its history to say it is reactionary in its origins, but certainly in its marketing it appeals to fears generated by that oh-so-talked-about Barna report which said most kids from Christian homes will leave the faith they were raised in. A quote on the main curriculum page reads:

“Are you ready for your kids to leave the faith? Or are you looking for something better?”

The implication is that this curriculum will safeguard your kids. I am turned off by this on a couple of levels. It is fear-mongering, and it seems to promise something which no curriculum or parenting approach can ultimately promise — that your children will be believers. Ultimately, that is up to God alone.

I do, however, agree with Generations that parents have responsibility for educating their children and that we are to do so in a godly way. So let’s turn to the specifics of their philosophy.

Generations explains its approach as four pillars. They are:

  1. Parental Discipleship
  2. Biblical Worldview
  3. Best Books, Best Teachers
  4. Worship and Application

Of these, the two I would have the most problems with are numbers 2 & 3. The first, discipleship, boils down to parents raising their kids in a Christian home and teaching them about God. I am fully on board with that. The last, worship and application, seems to be about the practical outworkings. I am not entirely sure what this looks like for Generations, but I agree that what we learn needs to affect how we live and that it should lead us to worship God.

The third pillar, Best Books Best Teachers, says that “we must always prefer Christian teachers over non-Christian teachers because our students will be like those that teach them (Luke 6:40).” I have some issues with this statement though I would not say that I completely disagree with it. On one level, it is certainly true that there is a kind of knowledge, even in very “secular” subject areas, that non-Christians are not going to be capable of. Another way to put it is to say that Christians should be the best scholars (as I said inthis post). On the other hand, there are a couple of assumptions behind this statement that I do not agree with. One is very simple: it is that our children’s books are their teachers and that they will affect them. I have argued for wisdom in picking one’s books and have given some guidelines for how to do so. But I also think that, especially as children get older, that they can and should read people they would disagree with (we all should).

The second and bigger assumption is that there is nothing to be gained by studying non-Christian works. This is a big idea that has been in the Church a long time. (Tertullian in the second century AD famously asked what Jerusalem has to do with Athens.) There are some foundational questions here about how Christianity relates to culture. The Reformed approach has been for Christians not to withdraw from culture but to seek to engage and transform it (see this post, especially the second half). With this, there is some acknowledgment that truth and beauty can come to us through non-Christian sources. Because all truth is ultimately God’s truth and because of a thing we call common grace, we can expect to find truth among non-Christian writers (and artists and musicians), though at times they may not realize it themselves (see this post).

Finally, we are left with the pillar “Biblical Worldview.” In defining this pillar, Generations makes statements that sound much like things I would say (and have said). For instance:

“The Christian worldview must be integrated into every course, every school year, and every hour of our children’s education experience. It must hang like a frontlet between their eyes, as they study history, science, literature, and math. (Deut. 6:8-9)”

It is hard to define what about this makes me uncomfortable but I will try. I agree that our faith should permeate everything we do and every subject we study. I would even say that there is a Christian way to view every subject. The difference I think would come in application, in how this plays out on a daily basis. Generations does not (yet?) provide a math curriculum but if it did, I would, based on the quote above, expect it to be one that incorporates Bible verses amidst pages of practice problems or which uses Noah and the ark as examples in its word problems. There is nothing inherently wrong with such things, but to educate from a biblical worldview should be as much or more about an attitude and an atmosphere. Yes, we teach our children some deliberate lessons — that God controls the events of history and made and sustains Creation. But in day-to-day history and science lessons, it is our attitude about what we are teaching more than anything else which conveys to them God’s involvement. We need to live in a world in which He is ever-present and ever-active. My accepting the personal challenges He gives me with faith will do more to show them that He is a God who acts among His people than any overtly Christian history curriculum. If they live in a world in which God is always present and active, then when they read events in a non-Christian, even an overtly secular, history curriculum, they will nonetheless see God’s hand at work in human events because that is the universe — the thought-world, if you will — that they live in.

Is it wrong then to be explicit in mentioning God in our curricula? No, but I do think there can be some dangers. This is perhaps easier to see when we look at those lessons which aim to teach values or character. My concern about some of the curricula which teach values is that they may actually drive children in the opposite direction. They come off as preachy and overly sentimental. This is a personal and subjective judgment, but if I were a child they would turn me off (and Charlotte Mason said essentially the same thing so I know I am not alone). In other subjects, again we can use history as an example, there is also an element of telling children how and what to think that I fear they may find repellant. When a child reads about events and sees for himself that God was working among a people, he has drawn his own conclusion and it is his to own. When we are always saying, in every line of the textbook, that God did this and God did that and this is how you should view everything that happened, we are preaching to him and the ideas are always ours and never his own.

Consider, for instance, this passage from Generations 6th-grade history text:

“What a great difference there is between the kingdom of Jesus and the kingdom of
Rome! Our Lord gives up His own life for His people on the cross. But the great leaders in the kingdoms of men take away other people’s lives to gain power for themselves. However, Jesus’ kingdom would become the greatest kingdom in the world. This has What a great difference there is between the kingdom of Jesus and the kingdom of Rome! Our Lord gives up His own life for His people on the cross. But the great leaders in the kingdoms of men take away other people’s lives to gain power for themselves.

However, Jesus’ kingdom would become the greatest kingdom in the world. This has been proven in history.”

This is in the midst of an account of the founding of the Roman Empire. There is nothing wrong said here, but it preaches to the child during a history lesson. It tells him how to think. Imagine instead if the story were just told, the facts about all those evil Roman emperors given (and some were quite horrific), and the child made the comparison for himself. Then it would be his knowledge and he would cling to it. Of course, if you do not tell him how Rome compares to the Kingdom of God, he may never make the connection and may never get the point you want him to get. But ultimately, if we truly believe that education is the work fo God (as I do) then we need to trust that He will do it and that our children will learn what He would have them to.  (And, in truth, there is no guarantee that he will get the point just because we make it overly-explicit either.)

Finally, on the subject of worldview, I’d like to point to a book I reviewed recently, J.V. Fesko’s Reforming Apologetics: Retrieving the Classic Reformed Approach to Defending the Faith (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2019). Again, I don’t know the nitty-gritty of how Generations worldview approach plays out but it reminds me of Cornelius Van Til and Fesko makes quite a case that we need to have a broader outlook that does not seek to reduce all of Revelation (general and special) to one worldview but that we need to return to a proper appreciation of God’s revelation in His natural law.

To sum up, then, I appreciate that Generations has a real concern for children from Christian homes and it trying to provide something that will at least contribute to their adhering to the faith they are raised in. I am just not at all convinced that they are going about it the right way. Educationally, there is really nothing new here in terms of technique or approach. Philosophically, there is a lot that sounds good on the surface but  I perceive an overemphasis on worldview which fails to account for the workings of what we call common grace and for the very real and direct work of God in the education of our children. We have some fundamental disagreements on how education works.

Nebby

 

2 responses to this post.

  1. […] « Quick Takes: Generations Homeschool Curriculum […]

    Reply

  2. […] By values- or principle-based curricula I mean those which make it their primary goal to inculcate certain virtues. Curricula which fall under this heading include A Thomas Jefferson Education (not inherently Christian; see my review here), the Biblical Principle Approach (I did a number of posts on this one; the conclusions are here), and, to a lesser extent, Generations Homeschool Curriculum (which I looked at recently here). […]

    Reply

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