Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Life, the Universe, and Everything

While I can't claim to possess the humor and wit of Douglas Adams who coined the term "Life, the Universe, and Everything" in his thematic parody of finding the ubiquitous Answer, curiosity regarding the nature of life and existence is no joke.

My grand plan for this year's schooling involves beginning a several-year cycle of studying world history, beginning with ancient civilizations, as a chronological approach to the study of history popularized in independent education circles by Susan Wise Baeur, author of The Story of the World. In this study, children as young as six are exposed to the study of history, starting at the beginning. While children this young retain limited knowledge, a framework for future understanding of the world is established by addressing questions such as:
  • What is history?
  • How is it studied?
  • How can we really know what happened long ago?
  • What is the evidence?
  • What conclusions can be drawn from that evidence?
  • How did history begin?
  • Are historians always right?
In essence, this approach to history with young children is to begin at, well, the beginning.

This is distinct from the current American public school model, which is to focus on community and local history, expanding outwards.

Knowing that this is my plan moving forward, I thought it would be apropos to do a summer unit study on prehistory - to read and discuss with my children the absolute beginning of everything that ultimately leads to the beginning of the world's story, which in Bauer's The Story of the World, is presented as a narrative.

And here you are faced with it. The big Evolution vs. Creation argument. How controversial.

I personally am what is called a theistic evolutionist. That is, I believe in a divine Creator, that ignited the spark that Banged Big, and wrote the laws that set the universe (or universes) in motion. Evolution, as it were, being a natural byproduct of this creation. It is as real as the evidence suggests, I believe, but it does not invalidate my belief in divine creation.

So, we read it all. We read creation myths. We read Genesis from the Children's Illustrated Jewish Bible. We read the Life on Earth: the Story of Evolution by Steve Jenkins (an excellent book, a library find that I'd like to permanently add to our personal collection). We read EyeWitness books about dinosaurs and early man. The kids created cave drawings in a makeshift cardboard "cave". We even went to see Sue, the infamous T-Rex who fortuitously happened to be on display at the local US Space and Rocket Center. A veritable smorgasbord of prehistory wonders in two short weeks, on which my children's little minds might feast.

I have found it interesting that many parents want their children exposed to only Creation or Evolution, and rarely both, save for the purposes of invalidating one of the two worldviews. This exclusion appears to me to be more popular among the Creationists, as if fearing the evidence satanic deception that may taint their young one's minds.

So I found it particularly interesting that both my children, the Spirited One and the Pragmatic One, have a natural desire to accept a measure of the creationist view at face value.

The Spirited One, age 8, appeared to accept the scientific basis of evolution as truth, though unshaken regarding her belief in God.

Very on topic, during these studies we also watched the Discovery Channel show Curiosity, featuring Stephen Hawking. The episode we watched asked the question Did God Create the Universe? The episode crescendoed to a triumphant conclusion that celebrated the reveled truth of atheism. This deeply troubled my Spirited One, and she sat perplexed and haunted by the presented argument that God did not exist. I told her it is, indeed, possible that God does not exist, but I also demonstrated to her how the logic presented by Stephen Hawking was deeply and fatally flawed. Ultimately, she would have to examine the evidence, what she can sense both intellectually and spiritually, and decide for herself. That freedom, I could tell, was both troubling and comforting. I could offer her no final answer, but nor could Stephen Hawking dictate it to her.

Meanwhile, my Pragmatic One, age 6, upon reading The Story of Life, declared defiantly, "These evolution mutations make no sense! I think God just created everything at once."

I looked at her and said, "Well, a lot of people agree with you. I don't, but that's OK. We'll learn together so that when you're older, you can decide for yourself."

And that is the kind of education I want for my kids.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Jennifer,

    I found your blog as a result of a post you made on The Well-Trained Mind forum about Jewish summer camp. I work for the Foundation for Jewish Camp, and we work with over 150 nonprofit Jewish overnight camps across North America. If you're interested in learning more, you can visit us at www.jewishcamp.org, and your kids might even be eligible for $1000 off their first summers at camp at onehappycamper.org. I'm happy to tell you more about camp if you'd like; feel free to be in touch! I can be reached at joelle@jewishcamp.org.

    My best,

    Joelle Berman
    Communications Manager
    Foundation for Jewish Camp