Science for Catholic Home Schoolers: a Historical Approach

home schooling

It is also necessary—may God grant it!—that in providing others with books to read I myself should make progress, and that in trying to answer their questions I myself should find what I am seeking.
Therefore at the command of God our Lord and with his help, I have undertaken not so much to discourse with authority on matters known to me as to know them better by discoursing devoutly of them.
—St. Augustine of Hippo, The Trinity I,8.

WHY CATHOLIC PARENTS HOME SCHOOL

Many Catholic parents don’t want to send their children to public schools. Why not?  To avoid  indoctrination that contradicts Catholic teaching about sexual morality, that defers to current politically correct positions on gender ideology, abortion and marriage—see “Get Out Now: Why You Should Pull Your Child from Public School before It’s too Late.”

Unfortunately many Catholic parishes are not able to support a parochial school system that would replace the public schools.  The  money isn’t there.  So, what are parents to do?  Home Schooling is the answer, but there are problems with this approach.  Not many parents have a background broad enough to act as tutors in all required subjects: English, History, Mathematics, Science and Religion.  However, there is a solution to this problem: parents knowledgeable in different subjects cooperate as tutors.

AN ASSISTANCE PROGRAM FOR HOME SCHOOLING

Such an arrangement has been formalized by St. Thomas More Parish (a parish in the North American Anglican Ordinariate): Maria Kaupas Academy, an extensive assistance program for home schooling,.   Pupils attend classes at a remodeled convent next to the parish church two or three times a week.  Subjects in the upper school comprise a “rigorous and classical Catholic curriculum.”  covering languages, the arts, history, math and science.  Parents and volunteers with expertise in appropriate fields act as teacher/tutors, so that parents don’t need to learn about new subjects..

When I first heard about Maria Kaupas Academy I volunteered to help in science or math courses, if needed.  When a science teacher had to take part-time leave to take care of her newborn, my offer was taken up.   I could teach science in a historical context and show there was no war between science and Catholic teaching.

TEACHING SCIENCE TO HOME SCHOOLERS—GOALS

When atheistic scientists say science proves that God doesn’t exist, do Catholics know enough about science to argue back?  Probably not, according to an article in Our Sunday Visitor.  Have Catholic teen agers and young adults left the Church because of a perceived conflict between science and Catholic teaching? Maybe, even if the evidence for such is anecdotal rather than statistically rigorous. A science course for Catholic students should solve those problems. To do so, it must meet the following goals:

  1. Show, as Fr. Stanley Jaki in his essay, “The Limits of a Limitless Science,” so aptly put it, that there are questions science can’t answer: “To answer the question ‘To be, or not to be?’ we cannot turn to a science textbook.”  Accordingly, science can’t tell us about faith, values, ethics, beauty. (See here, for a fuller account.)
  2. Show that the “truths” of science change;  theories and principles are overturned by new theories, new measurements—unlike Catholic Dogma and Doctrine, which embody eternal truths.
  3. Show that the Catholic Church is not the enemy of science;  indeed, the Medieval Church was the midwife of science, and among eminent scientists there are many priests.

Those goals can be best achieved if science is taught in a historical context.

TEACHING SCIENCE TO HOME SCHOOLERS—METHODS

Home schooled students will necessarily have varying math backgrounds.  Since one needs to include those with minimal knowledge of math, presentations have to be pictorial, with diagrams and animations—equations available for those who can understand them, but not at the forefront.

In order to show how scientific theories and empirical evidence are linked, a historical approach must be used.  If a student sees that the caloric theory of heat is disproved by Count Rumsfeld’s cannon-boring experiments, that the Michelson-Morley experiments showed ether wasn’t needed for the propagation of electromagnetic waves,…, then he/she will understand that the “truths” of science change.

Students should learn to investigate on their own.  The web is a wonderful tool for getting information as deep as one might wish.  So part of my job is to get students to explore, using web searches, topics I don’t cover completely, and to do so critically.

And what about that canard that the Catholic Church is at war with science?  History shows that the Medieval Church was the midwife and nurse of science.   The stories about Galileo’s and Bruno’s trials ignore context; the Church wasn’t battling their science, but what constituted heresy.

TEACHING SCIENCE TO HOME SCHOOLERS—SCIENCE AS A HUMAN ENTERPRISE

Home School students are not the only ones with preconceived ideas about what scientists are like and how science actually is done.  Most people think of scientists as dispassionate nerds, interested only in finding how the world works.   That’s not altogether true.  Every scientist is invested in his own work and when that work is denied, it’s as if one’s child is criticized unjustly.   To impart that human nature of scientists to students one can tell the following stories:

  • Archimedes in his bathtub discovering the principle of buoyancy and running through the streets shouting “Eureka;”
  • arguments between Roger Bacon and Albertus Magnus;
  • the remarkable career of Count Rumford;
  • Boltzmann’s sad end;
  • Climategate;

And there are many others.

TEACHING SCIENCE TO HOME SCHOOLERS—WHAT ARE THE PROSPECTS?

At the age of 88 I’m involved in this enterprise in my retirement, as a crusade to show that science and Catholic teaching are not at war.  Indeed, I want to show that science, intelligence, “the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in science,” is given to us by God so that we can see the glory of His handiwork, as in Psalm 19A, “The heavens declare the glory of God.”   I’m not a good classroom lecturer, and I’m relying on my web-book, “Truth Cannot Contradict Truth,” to impart the best of the message.   I’ll be grateful for your prayers for success in this work.

 

 

 

 

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