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When Darwinist propaganda dominates academia and media, how can Christian students develop countercultural convictions and, like Günter Bechly, the courage to defend them?
Several organizations promoting alternatives to Darwin also offer educational alternatives. The Discovery Institute, which emphasizes intelligent design and doesn’t say how long it took, has Education Days: Some 312 students and educators attended one in Seattle last year, and this year’s schedule includes Richmond and Dallas.
Answers in Genesis (AiG) provides Bible-based programs that range from daily workshops and lectures at its Creation Museum in northern Kentucky to student homeschool programs and monthly high-school science labs. It also hosts Explore Days, daylong, hands-on programs for students in grades four through 12.
Another young-earth group, the Institute for Creation Research (ICR), hosts conferences across the country in which ICR scientists provide interactive tours, games, and lessons geared toward helping children see the evidence of Biblical truth and God’s creation in nature.
Reasons to Believe, which holds to an old-earth view of creation, provides a yearlong, self-paced homeschool curriculum, including video and audio lectures geared toward high-school students. It also offers a unit study for upper elementary students based on Psalm 104 (King David’s meditation on Genesis 1) and a YouTube series titled Through the Lens.
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David Misner’s classroom at VFW Post 2618 in Brookhaven, Miss., looks like a typical homeschool co-op. An American flag hangs in the corner, and tidy rows of metal folding chairs line up four to a table. Moms stand along the back wall. A seventh-grader digs through a dazzling backpack in search of a pencil.
The words on the whiteboard—post tenebras lux—aren’t par for the course, though, at least not most semesters. Believing this year’s 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation warranted something special, the co-op’s organizers hired Misner, a seminary graduate with an affinity for church history, to bring Martin Luther to life. And to explain Latin phrases.
“After darkness, light,” he calls out, and students hurry to scribble the definition in three-ring binders. It lands somewhere next to notes they’ve taken about big words like sacerdotalism and even bigger questions: How did Germany’s culture produce both a Luther and a Hitler? Are the five solas at risk today?
The Brookhaven co-op is one of many educational settings across the country expanding this year’s teaching to mark the anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Christian schools focus on the spiritual and theological implications, while teachers in secular environments emphasize societal impacts. The challenge for educators who wish to mark the true significance of 500 years of sola fide? Finding ways to communicate both.
In the VFW’s makeshift classroom, Misner has introduced Roland Bainton’s classic Here I Stand to a new generation and presented papal bulls to Baptists and Pentecostals. “If students grasp the lessons of the Reformation, they’ll be better equipped to face today’s culture,” he said.
Here are four ways schools are teaching and have taught about the Reformation, from four different areas of the United States.
- In the Northwest, students at the Ambrose School just outside Boise, Idaho, are surrounded by the Reformation. From parapets to heavy beams and coffering, Tudor architecture typical of the 16th century dominates the school’s 67,000-square-foot facility. During the 2017-18 school year their hymns of the month will focus on Luther’s works. Some are more widely known (October’s “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”) than others (January’s “These Are the Holy Ten Commands”). Headmaster Kirk Vander Leest said many students know about Luther’s 95 Theses, “but the extent and breadth of his hymns are largely forgotten.”
- In the Southwest, music also provided a Reformation teaching tool for Jason Harney, choral director at Aliso Niguel High School in Aliso Viejo, Calif. When he learned about Music Celebrations International’s proposed choir tour of Germany, Harney jumped at the chance. “For a Protestant, a trip to Wittenberg is like an American going to Washington, D.C.,” he said. Harney went with 25 Aliso Niguel students along with members of Red Hill Lutheran Church in Tustin, where Harney serves as director of music: They formed the trip’s touring choir.
- Coming back east of the Mississippi to Cincinnati, festivalgoers at Faith Bible Church’s annual Reformation celebration on Oct. 27 will see Samuel Carr, a local acting instructor, playing Luther himself. Two years ago Carr and his Dominion Players portrayed a dialogue between Luther and his wife, Katie, premarriage: He helped her escape from a nunnery. For audience members Cheri Barnes and her five daughters, the presentation was pivotal. The homeschool mom says before she and her daughters went, she had only “a vague idea that Luther had rebelled in some way.”
- In the Southeast, REF500 Conference organizers at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., challenged high-school artists to go beyond basic facts and explore the Reformation’s influence on Western civilization. Jenna Fergus, an art instructor at Briarcrest Christian School in nearby Memphis, required students in her AP art class to complete 10 pages of Reformation research in their visual journals, a process that culminated in several prize-winning works, including senior Allison Szulewski’s best-of-show A Hopeful Self Reform. She used watercolors to symbolize the effects of the Reformation on common man—what she describes as “a washing away of the past forms of church communication and knowledge hierarchy.” Other renderings featured 95 sticky notes of personal reforms and a split portrait of Luther and Pope Leo X.
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PORTER, Texas—Seth Franklin, 12, pointed to the shiny pin on the collar of his baby-blue Civil Air Patrol uniform shirt and listed some of what he had to do to earn it: sprints, push-ups, sit-ups. He received the pin at an after-school ceremony, with his proud parents and his siblings, a younger brother and two sisters, watching from the audience—a rare moment of family celebration.
Seth dreams of being a rocket scientist, but he has to make it through college first. Some days, his parents aren’t sure he’ll even make it out of high school. Since receiving an autism diagnosis when he was 7 years old, Seth has struggled at school. Despite his doctor’s diagnosis, administrators with New Caney Independent School District, about 27 miles north of Houston, have resisted giving him the extra help and therapy he needs. His parents even hired an advocate to argue his case, but they haven’t won many concessions because the school district classifies Seth as emotionally disturbed, not autistic.
Like parents of special-needs kids across the country, the Franklins know their child needs more help than he’s getting, but private schooling is too expensive. The plight of children like Seth has come to the attention of legislators and school choice advocates who are pushing education savings accounts (ESAs) as a way to help parents provide the specialized services their kids need. Supporters say ESAs are especially helpful for families like the Franklins because they allow parents to use funds provided by the state for a variety of educational expenses, including tutoring, homeschool curriculum, and therapies for students with special needs.
As ESA bills work their way through legislatures in 19 states, they face stiff opposition. Some comes from traditional school choice enemies, like teachers unions. But opposition is also coming from less-expected quarters, like homeschoolers who fear opening the door to state regulation. In Texas, the ESA measure also faces opposition from rural lawmakers. Whether bills in Texas and other states become law will depend on advocates convincing skeptics the plans won’t hurt them and are necessary to provide kids like Seth Franklin an adequate education.