Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Story About Scholarship

As I traveled the road from general Arminian, Charismatic Dispensationalism to old-school Calvinistic Presbyterianism, I learned discernment.

I realized that if my view of my own precious salvation was wrong, then my general view of the Bible was probably wrong...and it was.

I then concluded that if my general view of the Bible and what it taught was wrong, then maybe the teachers instructing me were wrong on other counts...and they were.

Yet I did not decide to distrust everyone, but to be more cautious. After all, those who were wrong were wrong mostly due to ignorance.

As I traveled the road from rudimentary knowledge of history and science to fuller knowledge, understanding and application through a combination of church mentoring and collegiate training, I learned scholarship.

I discovered that scholarship involved paying close attention to detail, perseverance of investigation and discernment of fact from fiction. I also learned the language of scholarship.

I first stumbled upon these lessons the hard way with a college speech course in which I was called upon to defend homeschooling. Gathering my resources from fellow Christians striving to interpret life by the Word of God, I thought myself fully furnished for the battle. But alas, I was not. To the extent I rested my weight upon the historicity given me to that extent I stumbled. Significant points of my presentation were wrong. Some of the famous men I thought were homeschooled were not.

My teacher was kind enough to tell me I was wrong.

It got worse. As I asked around about books on the history of homeschooling, I found there were none, but that there were one or two books that included a page or two. I found one such book covering a multitude of reasons to homeschool, with an entire chapter on its history. Combining the lessons of discernment and scholarship I discovered major errors.

How? by actually checking the sources. I was kind enough to mail the gentlemen the documented corrections.

Later, other claims came my way. So I checked the sources.

I concluded the research on homeschooling academic success has been blown out of proportion to the actual claims from the research itself. The famous Rudner study was read and read carefully. Rudner noted his studies limitation within the first paragraph.

Then someone else kindly pointed me to the scholarly work of Dr. Brain Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI). Being a well-trained man, his research was conscious of its own serious limitations from the start:

1. "The design of most research to date does not allow for the conclusion that homeschooling necessarily causes higher academic achievement or better social and emotional development than does public (or private) institutional schooling." ("The Evidence Is So Positive", The Old Schoolhouse, Dr. Ray, online)

[Translation: Most studies are not even designed to prove the academic superiority of homeschooling]

2. "Some of these scholars have also, rightfully pointed out the limitations of their studies. For example, Ray (2000b) 'This is not a causal-comparative study….background variables in this ex post facto study are not controlled in such a way as to make possible conclusions about the causes of academic achievement test scores being higher (or lower) than those of students in conventional schools' and 'one should keep in mind the limitations of representativeness and generalizability' in this study (p. 81). ("A Homeschool Research Story," Homeschooling in Full View, Dr. Ray, p. 10)

[Translation: Even Dr. Ray's own study admits it does not prove homeschooling superiority]

3. "Despite the fact that scholars who have conducted the studies have not claimed that research shows homeschooling causes higher achievement (or healthier social and emotional development), others have attempted to use research to obliquely attack both researchers of and advocates of homeschooling." ("The Evidence Is So Positive", The Old Schoolhouse, online)

[Translation: Dr. Ray and others have never claimed their studies proved that homeschooling caused higher test scores, but people still attack us personally]

What does all this tell us? It tells us that Dr. Ray carefully noted in his own research that his own studies do not and could not scientifically demonstrate that homeschooling caused better academic achievement than either public or private schooling. In fact, the studies could not and did not create any sort of across-the-board baseline to make such a comparison--one cannot compare apples with peaches. (This is partly so because the studies were voluntary; public school testing is not voluntary.)

At the end of the day, after my bad experience with so-called scholarship in theology and history, I find it refreshing that Christian men such as Dr. Ray state explicitly (although in scholarly language) the severe limitations of their own studies. I do not have to check their sources.

As I travel the road of the Christian life, my prayer is that more Christians will learn my story.


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