Family-owned Apologia Educational Ministries has garnered accolades from home educators across the nation and in nine foreign countries. In the following exclusive interview, founder Dr. Jay Wile offers his insights about incorporating science into your homeschool curriculum.
You earned a Ph.D. in nuclear chemistry from the University of Rochester and have taught at the university level. How did you become interested in homeschooling?
I became interested in homeschooling when, as a professor, I noticed that my best university students were the ones who had been homeschooled. That made me stand up and take notice. At the time, I knew nothing about homeschooling. However, faced with the fact that the students who were homeschooled consistently outperformed the students from public and private schools, I thought it was worth some investigation.
In order to investigate homeschooling, I looked into the education literature to see if there were any studies on homeschoooled students and how they fared academically. It turns out there are a great number of such studies, and virtually all of them indicate that both academically and socially, homeschooled students are significantly superior to both publicly schooled and privately schooled students.
This research, combined with my own personal experiences with university students who had been homeschooled, made me want to learn as much as I could about homeschooling. I therefore starting speaking at homeschooling events in Indiana, trying to tell homeschoolers what I knew about how other homeschoolers were doing at the university level and trying to give them tips on how to prepare a child for the university setting.
As I began working with homeschoolers, I found that many had a real fear of the high school sciences. They just thought that they could not teach that level of science at home. I was convinced that they could, however, as I had homeschooled students who obviously knew the sciences better than their publicly schooled and privately schooled counterparts.
I came to realize that the reason for this fear was a lack of high school science curriculum that was designed specifically for homeschoolers. When an Indiana homeschool group asked me to teach their children in a co-op setting, I decided it was time to fix that problem. I told them that I would not teach the class, but I would write a course chapter-by-chapter and send the course to them. They could then call me if they had any questions. Before I was done with the course, word spread, and I was getting requests for the curriculum from other states! Thats how Apologia homeschool science curriculum was born.
What sparked your interest in science? How did your parents and teachers encourage you to pursue your interest?
I was naturally gifted in science throughout my life. Early on, my teachers noticed that, and they tracked me toward the sciences. My parents indulged me with every book, chemistry set, telescope, and microscope that I wanted. Thus, I explored Creation at an early age. In fact, my mother still tells the story of how I shook the whole house with a chemistry experiment that went slightly differently than I had expected!
Interestingly enough, I thought I would go into acting right out of high school. Although I loved science, I loved the theater even more. However, as I got more involved in professional acting, I realized that it was just not a lifestyle that I wanted to lead.
While acting, I learned all sorts of great stage effects which are done with chemistry. These stage effects rekindled my interest in the sciences, so I went to the University of Rochester to study chemistry.
In Exploring Creation with Biology, you provide a detailed comparison between evolution and creationism. Were you a Christian before you began your formal scientific studies? If so, how did you cope with the pervasive influence of evolutionary theory in the sciences? If not, what convinced you that the universe is the work of a Creator?
Since I went to public school, and since my teachers tracked me toward the sciences, I was taught very clearly that all scientists are atheists. Thus, as a budding young scientist, I was a proud atheist. In fact, I used to lead atheist discussion groups after school.
That all changed in high school when a girl that I wanted to date asked me to go to a debate entitled Atheism versus Christianity. I had no interest in the debate (my mind was already clear on the matter), but I did want to spend time with her. In the end, then, I went to the debate. I was first shocked to learn that the Christian debater was a scientist. As I listened, I was amazed that a scientist could actually mount a reasonable argument for Christianity.
I really dont remember a lot of the debate. However, there is one exchange I remember clearly. The atheist said that a scientists job was to describe everything in nature according to natural processes. Any reference to God was simply an admission of ignorance. The Christian, on the other hand, said that the scientists job was to look at all of the data and draw the most reasonable conclusion from those data. He then looked into the audience and said that if we had not looked at all of the data, we were not being scientific. He gave the titles of two books that would help us see all of the data.
I got those books, and that led me down a road to the realization that not only does science clearly point to the existence of a Creator, but that the Creator is, indeed, the God of the Bible.
By the time I reached college, I was a Christian. I faced an enormous amount of ridicule from my professors and colleagues as a result. I am firmly convinced that had I not been certain of the data, I would have given up my faith in order to avoid the ridicule. However, as a scientist, there was no way I could ignore the data. I survived the ridicule because I knew that had I given up on Christianity, I would have been going against my scientific training.
As far as evolution goes, that part was easy. When you know the facts, the theory of evolution is laughable. I had no problem dealing with the evolutionary theories espoused by me professors. Instead, they had serious problems with the question that I would pose to them!
Teaching science at home can be a daunting prospect for many parents. It can be especially intimidating if they have had no science background and the course involves a lab. What advice or encouragement can you give to home educators to better equip them to teach their children about Gods creation?
The first thing I would say is that YOU CAN DO IT. Remember, there have been a lot of homeschoolers who have already done it, and the data indicate that they have done it very well! Studies demonstrate that homeschooled students know more science than publicly schooled and privately schooled students. If you think about it, the students who make up those studies actually had it HARDER than your students. After all, most of those students were schooled several years ago when there werent a lot of curriculum choices for homeschoolers. Nowadays, there is a lot of curriculum designed specifically for homeschoolers! If homeschoolers before you could do such a great job, you should be able to do an even better job!
Second, I would tell you to not worry so much about labs. Labs are fun and interesting, and can certainly add a lot to the educational process. However, they are not, repeat NOT, a necessary part of learning the sciences. Many of the great scientists who wrote the science we are learning today never saw a lab until graduate school. They did pretty well without labs. The homeschooled students who were so measurably better than the other students in my class had little or no lab experience. Science is learned by the book, not in lab. I ask anyone who thinks otherwise to give me one example of a situation in which a student learned a single concept of science during lab. I taught lab classes for years and never saw it happen. Not one single time.
Third, I would encourage you to find a curriculum that is right for you. A good curriculum can not only make your life easier, it can change a science hater into a science lover. I have seen that happen! Dont go with what everyone else is doing. Search hard and find a curriculum that works for your student.
Youre currently working in the computer field. What impact do you think the Internet is having on homeschooling? How do you see the Internet affecting homeschooling in the future?
I am full-time with Apologia now. However, I did work in the computer field for some time. The Internet is helping homeschooling in many ways. For example, all students who use our curriculum can contact us whenever they are stuck or confused. The vast majority of that contact comes through e-mail. As a result of this wonderful tool, I can help a student in Africa get through a tough chemistry problem!
The Internet also helps in teaching. For those who need a teacher, we offer Internet courses that are like a videoconference. Fifteen students and the teacher get together online. The students see the teacher, and they all talk with the teacher and with one another using microphones. This would not be possible without the Internet.
Finally, the Internet is helping homeschoolers work with other homeschoolers to get curriculum ideas, find innovative solutions to difficult situations, and generally share the highs and lows of homeschooling. That kind of contact will probably, at some point, make homeschool conventions less and less important.
What guidance would you give to a young Christian who is contemplating a science career? To his or her parents?
To the youngster, I would say, Work hard and take difficult courses. The best way to delude yourself is to take easy courses. Science at the college level is hard. Take solid, college-prep courses now so that you know whether or not you are cut out to be a scientist.
To the parent, I would say, Give your students a firm grounding in apologetics. The only reason I did not give up my faith in college was because I was convinced that the facts were with me. Had I not been so convinced, I would have cast aside my faith to avoid the ridicule. Give your science-minded student scientific reasons to believe. This does not mean just creation science. This also means scientific reasons to believe in the Bible.