I’ve got two astronomy books on our shelf right now. One of them made me pay for my own dinner, metaphorically.
The first book is Voyage to the Stars by Richard Bliss, whose imagination got captured by God’s role as creator of the stars. The book is written as a narrative, following two kids who get trained as astronauts, and it’s a pretty good concept, really. He’s got some good content.
The problem is that it’s badly written. Bliss will do an information dump, giving the reader too many new concepts to process, and then kill the story’s momentum by describing every character’s emotional state and motivation. He also goes off on theological tangents that are irrelevant to the astronomy at hand and often not even very true, from my perspective of Reformed theology. It makes me itch for a red pen. Then after we’ve read it, I have to re-teach every concept, because Meg couldn’t understand them directly from the text.
The second book is Glow in the Dark Constellations: A Field Guide for Young Stargazers by C. E. Thompson. I have no information about Thompson’s religious orientation. It has a few pages of introductory astronomy, such as why the stars move across the sky, and then it gets down to the business of introducing stargazers to the most famous constellations, one per page. For each constellation, it tells the myth behind it (in kid-appropriate terms, no less!), a few interesting facts and directions on how to find it, and gives a night-sky map that picks out the featured constellation in glow-in-the-dark paint. Meg really enjoys charging up the glowing paint and then running the book into a dark room to see the constellation appear.
So. I’m going to give you one guess which book is working better for our homeschool, practically speaking.
My takeaway from this experience is that just because a book was written by a Christian does not make it a good educational tool.
And I’m over here feeling a little betrayed and guilty about it. Why? Where does a curriculum left over from the ‘90s get the right to make me feel guilty because it can’t teach its own subject? It’s the implicit promise it made: “I’m a Christian book. I’m written by a literal six-day creationist. I am PURE. If we work together, your kids will also have pure theology.” It was an academic blind date: I’m a Christian, you’re a Christian, we both like astronomy, it’ll be perfect! And somehow, it feels like rejecting this book is rejecting the Christian faith.
So I’m looking at that promise a little closer. I thought Voyage to the Stars was promising to teach astronomy, originally, but now I discover its promise was to teach something more like Christian worldview of astronomy: actual science optional. By its lousy execution (and it really was badly written) it managed not even to teach that.
C.S. Lewis talked about a similar bait-and-switch in The Abolition of Man. His academic blind date was so bad that he charitably agreed not to name it in public—we only know it as The Green Book. It claimed it was going to teach grammar and literature, but what it actually covered was half-baked philosophy.
Lewis and I aren’t maligning the intentions of our authors. I’m sure that Bliss, like the authors of The Green Book, had the very highest of motives. What he produced, however, was not a functional science book at all.
That’s really too bad. I have a responsibility to Meg to teach her science. Sorry, Voyage; it’s not me, it’s you.
Compared to all this drama, the Glow in the Dark Constellations book is downright restful. Thank you, Lord, for excellent teaching materials, whoever they may be written by.
Photo Credit: Graphic design by Charity Klicka.