Is Layers of Learning Christian or Secular?

A common question we get asked is: Is Layers of Learning Christian or secular?  Layers of Learning is neither Christian nor secular. We wrote this curriculum so it would allow for people of any faith or belief system to pick it up and be comfortable with it, teaching and training their children in the philosophies they deem best.

We realize that this is radically different from other curriculum.

A Christian curriculum usually implies lots of references to God and Jesus Christ and the interspersing of Bible verses.  We do not do this.  The only place the Bible or God are directly mentioned is in reference to history or the belief systems of historical people.  Within the Christian faith there are hundreds (maybe thousands?) of different philosophies, so no one “Christian” curriculum serves even Christians universally. By leaving faith out we aren’t saying it isn’t important, we’re just saying that you, as a parent, ought to have the control and responsibility for teaching your own children in your own philosophy.

That applies equally to secular parents.  Secular curriculums often glorify science, placing it on an unassailable pedestal, and they assume evolution and phrase things in evolutionary language, which colors history, geography, and art as well as science.  We’re not saying evolution is wrong, just that we don’t allow it to creep into this curriculum.  We want you to have the freedom to teach your kids your views and philosophy exactly as you see it.

Both Christianity (and other religions) and secularism are overriding world views. They color and define the meaning behind the facts of the world.  Philosophy’s real purpose is to help people make sense of reality.  So in this curriculum we place the facts out there and then let you color them in with your kids in whatever scheme you like, making your own sense of the world.  Sorry, we won’t do that for you.

Book Lists

Whenever we recommend books that have a particular philosophical slant we try to point it out so you know what you’re getting. For example we recommend books that teach creationism and also books that teach evolution, but we’ll let you know which are which.  Assume that most science books have at least a little bit of evolutionary philosophy in them.

Religion and Religious People

When we teach about religious philosophies, often brought up in the units, we do so respectfully of all religions. But our aim isn’t to convince you of the tenets of any religion.  Instead, it is our aim to show how religion has impacted the history of the world and human behavior. Religion has been and still is a major factor in the choices people make and the things they do.  We present the religious life of individuals along with everything else.

The Truth

So while our curriculum isn’t religious and it isn’t secular, we don’t take a middle of the road trying-to-please-everyone stance either. We’re not concerned with pleasing anyone. We don’t do politically correct. We do our best to tell the truth and leave you to interpret the facts.

If anything, this is our slant.  We want kids to have the tools – the truth coupled with training in thinking – so they can find a worldview all their own.

Science

Science can be taught without either a creation or an evolution stance.  We teach it through the “factual” stance.  This means we explain what has been directly observed about the natural world without trying to also explain the origin or development of life and the universe. Here is an example of what we mean:

  1. Creation statement: “God made bullfrogs to croak loudly so they could attract mates and fulfill God’s plan of replenishing the earth.”
  2. Evolutionary statement: “The bullfrog has evolved a loud croak so that it can compete and attract mates.”
  3. Factual statement: “Bullfrogs croak loudly during mating season.  The loudest, most aggressive males attract females to mate with.”

This is a statement from Unit 3-1, which handles classification of living things as well as insects:

Why do scientists group things the way they do? Because that’s how Carl Linnaeus decided to group things, based on the way they looked and behaved. Today scientists mostly use the same system but also try to put organisms into groups they think evolved together or evolved in the same way. Linnaeus actually only had three kingdoms and didn’t include “family” as a level at all.

But there are other ways to group things. Modern biologists and taxonomists have experimented with different naming systems. Some believe that five kingdoms is not enough, they want six or even more to further classify different types of organisms. The domain level was added later with these three domains: Archaea, Bacteria, and Eukarya. The domain system emphasizes the theory of evolution, trying to show each type of organism in the order it evolved.

There is another recent movement among Christian scientists to create a naming system based on the types of organisms named in Genesis of the Bible. This system is called baraminology. We tell you all this because we hate boxes and don’t like it when people think inside them. It’s fine to memorize stuff and learn from books and get A’s on a test by answering “correctly,” but never forget that it’s all up for debate.

This statement illustrates how we talk about creationism, evolution, and science in general.  We frequently discuss how scientific knowledge changes, matures, and always leaves us with new questions.

Our Worldview

But, you say, you must have a slant, a bias, a worldview of your own?

Yes, indeed, we do.  I already mentioned we believe strongly in telling the truth and equipping children to think for themselves, that right there is a worldview of ours. Beyond that we take pains throughout the units to show what sorts of human behaviors lead to happiness and which lead to misery. Mostly this is played out in the history and geography sections.

Freedom

We are in the tank for freedom, politically and economically.  It has been demonstrated again and again that freedom works.  It leaves people in the best position possible to find happiness and pursue their fullest development. So we point out the failures of absolute government and communism and the high points in human freedom and free markets, yet still we mostly do this through asking good questions and allowing kids the self discovery of finding the correct answers for themselves.

More of our Worldview

A list of our worldview as shown in the pages of Layers of Learning:

  • Good people of many faiths and belief systems have influenced the world for good, discovered secrets of the universe, and created whole philosophies of thought that are embraced by billions across the world, not just Christians and not just atheists.
  • Bad people have claimed to have God’s mandate and done atrocious things, we’ll point that out too, along with all the bad people that did horrible things while denying God.  We focus much more on the behavior of people and nations than we do on the underlying beliefs that led to that behavior.  We want parents and kids to come to their own conclusions about belief.
  • Freedom is good; coercion is bad.
  • Kids should be taught to think all on their own, not indoctrinated.  We think they are as capable of finding truth as every generation that has come before.
  • It is the job of parents to teach their own children their religious views, not the job of curriculum authors who you don’t even know.
  • The truth is more important than anyone’s agenda.  Truth leads to freedom and enlightenment.  If your goals are honorable, you don’t need to lie.  We will tell the truth about history, about science, about governments, about people.

The Bible

We quote from and direct you to the Bible when it is relevant to the history of the unit we’re presenting.  Obviously Unit 1-19, Christianity, references the Bible.  In fact we quote Revelation 22:13 when explaining symbols used by Christians, including the Alpha and Omega.  We direct students to Matthew chapters 5-7, the Sermon on the Mount, when explaining Christian teachings.  And the New Testament makes the reading list for that unit.

The Bible is so integral to western civilization that even if you don’t believe in its divinity, you still ought to be familiar with its contents. This image is of the Bible printed for King Christian III of Denmark in 1550. Photo taken by Bjoertvedt and shared on Wikimedia.

But we don’t quote the Bible when we teach about frogs or gravity or Switzerland and so on.  Again, if/where you think the Bible is relevant it’s your job to point this out.

We also quote Confucius in Unit 1-10, Ancient China, and recommend students read Analects.  The Koran is on the reading list in Unit 2-3, Islam.  And the Ramayana is featured in Unit 1-13, Ancient India.  Other religions are mentioned as they become relevant in the history or geography units.

The religious books we cover, we think are important for everyone to be aware of and educated.  They all matter.

The Religious Focus Is Up To You

This curriculum is neither Christian nor secular.  We wrote it deliberately to be a place you can come to for the truth. We want you to walk away with the tools to figure out your own worldview, a major part of which is religion.

This curriculum is both Christian and secular (or any other religion) because we wrote it deliberately to be a thinking curriculum where you bring the world as you understand it, including your religious beliefs, and lay them on the table for your kids to see in full view. We hope when you come across a tough topic you will take the time to explain what you personally believe about it and why to your children. We can hardly do that for you. No one can do that for you, nor should they. It’s your job to pass on your beliefs to your kids, not ours.

Questions? Ask away!

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Layers of Learning Unit 1-1

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