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Homeschool Textbooks and University Admission

It’s been a few days since this was front and center, triggered by the presentation of an expert report by Dr. Michael Behe, but I wanted to write a few notes about the issue of admissions at UC and homeschooling. There’s an article ACSI v. Stearns, aka Wendell Bird vs. UC on Panda’s Thumb article here. I agree with the criticism of the textbook content. In addition, here’s an older article that contains a good summary:
Culture war pits UC vs. Christian way of teaching : Religious schools challenge admission standards in court
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My issue is not with the assessment of these textbooks, but rather with priorities and appropriate diversity in education. I was homeschooled eight out of 12 years through high school, and the four years in formal schooling were spent in a very conservative Christian school. I knew nothing about evolution except that it happened and it took a long time. My textbooks on science were deficient in all the areas noted. On the other hand, I took a GED and went on to college and graduate school. I had no difficulty with science or math courses (as in getting As with no exceptional amount of study), and when I began to study the appropriate material, I had no difficulty coming to understand evolution, at least sufficiently for my needs as a non-scientist.

My question on this issue is this: Can this possibly be the most pressing issue in admissions at UC or any university? Is there some ongoing problem with home schooled students failing out of introductory biology? I’m not saying that any university shouldn’t have standards, but I am wondering if this is more about academic culture than about standards. I’m not certain from reading what I see, but while I often deplore what certain home school parents do (lax discipline and schedules, very narrow curricular material), there are also many, many parents who home school quite effectively, and whose children are well above standards.

I was never in a situation of playing catch-up in any of my classes from the moment I entered college. I moved to upper division courses in my second semester (with some annoyance to the academic affairs committee). Any deficiencies in my curriculum were easily overcome by the fact that I knew how to study, how to sort out information, and was ready to pick up new material in a hurry.

I’m not sure of the legal aspects of this case, but to me it seems appropriate to keep the diverse options open. I oppose teaching creationism and intelligent design in high school classrooms, because I think in the limited time we should teach consensus science and do it as well as possible. Evolutionary theory is the overwhelming consensus. But in addition, I believe it’s important that people who disagree with me have options, if they’re willing to put in the time and money. Private schooling and home schooling are two of those options. They have to pay for it. They have to live with it.

If there is some evidence of home schooled children struggling with their college courses because of deficient curricula, then there’s a point here. Otherwise, I’d let the results speak for themselves.

3 comments to Homeschool Textbooks and University Admission

  • Mary

    You’ve asked some interesting questions about UC’s admissions policies. Most of them can be answered by a close read of the UC admissions web pages.

    The UC campuses have many more well qualified applicants than can possibly be accommodated. Anywhere from a third to half must be rejected, and it is only fair to give preference to students who can demonstrate that they are most likely to succeed. There are several ways for students to demonstrate that they are qualified. Very high test scores are one, special exemption is another, and there are other ways for transfer and nontraditional students to get in, but the easiest path for freshmen is to get good grades in a UC-approved core curriculum in high school.

    UC takes the approval process very seriously: it examines the textbook, the syllabus, any supplemental materials, sample lesson plans, and so on, to determine that each approved class actually teaches the material UC wants its incoming freshmen to know, at a college-prep level, accurately and completely. Students who have not demonstrated that they know this core material (because they didn’t bother to take the approved courses, or because they were home schooled) can still get in using the other pathways, although students relying on test scores alone must have higher test scores than students whose grades also demonstrate that they actually learned something in high school.

    One could argue that this arrangement is unfair to home schooled students, but as you pointed out, the quality of home schooling is hugely variable, and UC has no way to tell which parents have provided a good education. It is important for a university to have a student body with diverse interests and backgrounds, but it benefits neither UC nor the students themselves to accept unqualified students. In principle and in effect, UC’s requirements are no different from an employer giving preference to a job applicant who presents evidence of actual relevant job experience over one who scores well on an aptitude test, but doesn’t present evidence of relevant job experience.

    UC has no intention of closing its alternative paths to admissions, and Calvary Chapel’s students can use them even if they haven’t taken the proper coursework, just like any other applicant. Alternatively, a Calvary Chapel student can sign up for the appropriate number and kinds of UC-approved courses (the school has sufficient approved courses to offer students some choice while still fulfilling the requirements). What Calvary Chapel and its students can’t do is substitute unapproved Bible Study classes for the required science, history, and other academic classes, and expect a world-class secular university to go along with it. One has to wonder at the sheer hubris that leads them to file this lawsuit.

  • I’m promoting this comment to a new post so that it’s more likely that everyone who read the original post will also read the comment.

  • […] got my ears pinned back (very politely) in a comment by Mary on my previous post on this topic, and the commenter made such good points I think it is appropriate to promote her […]