You’d think that it would be pretty easy to judge whether a curriculum or resource is secular, right? Well, it SHOULD be….but it’s not. It can be difficult to determine whether your homeschool curriculum is truly secular. You see, as the secular homeschool market continues to grow, we’re finding that not everyone defines secular the same way.
What do you mean, Meg? Secular is secular!
Well yes, but also no. The issue comes down to the definition of secular and how we interpret our own biases. Some companies define secular as having no religious instruction, but that’s not correct.
What do secular, neutral, and nonsectarian mean?
Before we discuss the big question: Is your homeschool curriculum secular, neutral, or nonsectarian?, we have to discuss what each of those terms means.
Secular Homeschool Curriculum- Secular resources are free from any & all religious bias. Secular curriculum takes care to educate without regard to anyone’s religious belief, including the author’s. Secular programs often cover world religions extensively. Truly secular homeschool programs support the teaching of evolution as a scientific theory (which isn’t the same as a theory, you can read more about that here) exclusively.
Neutral Homeschool Curriculum- Whereas secular materials present no religious bias, neutral resources completely avoid the science vs religion debate altogether. Neutral resources are typically published in the secular market by religious authors and publishers. These resources usually need supplementation, especially science.
Non-Sectarian Homeschool Curriculum- Technically nonsectarian means without regard to any particular religious sect, but in the homeschooling world the word is often incorrectly used. Generally speaking, when it comes to home education resources, nonsectarian resources are “generally Christian” with no bias toward one particular sect of Christianity, and their science will probably lean neutral. Very rarely are resources marked as nonsectarian truly secular.
Is My Curriculum Secular? Neutral? or Nonsectarian?
What to look for when picking homeschool curriculum
If you want resources that are secular, look for the following in the materials and on their website:
Science: Materials will be very clear about supporting evolution. Terms like “millions and millions of years” should be used when discussing earth age. Dinosaurs and humans did not coexist. Read the introduction statement if there is one and look for the word belief. A scientist’s religious beliefs should never, ever enter the lab with them.
History & Social Studies: Materials will devote equal time to multiple world religions. No religions are wrong or bad, none are better than another. Religion’s role in history is taught from an outsider’s point of view.
Other: There will be no religious quotes, be sure to check the teacher’s guides too. There will be no mention of religious-based values or morals. Some resources will use terms like “moral education” to mean one based in religious principles.
If you want resources that are neutral, look for the following:
Science: The author/publisher will not take a firm line on evolution or intelligent design, stating that they prefer to focus on “just science”.
History: You cannot remove religion from history, but this is exactly what neutral materials attempt to do. These materials won’t focus on religion’s role in history very strongly, and when they do they’ll tell teachers/parents to discuss the topic as they see fit.
It’s pretty easy to tell if homeschool science curriculum is neutral by asking if it teaches creation, evolution, or neither. If the resource teaches neither, it’s neutral. The signs of a neutral curriculum are more subtle when it comes to the social sciences and history. Be on the lookout for prejudiced words like “savages” to describe native peoples and unconverted peoples. These materials almost always show a subtle bias against eastern religions by default as these materials are almost exclusively written and published by religious persons.
What are some examples of secular, neutral, and nonsectarian curriculum?
There is a lot of confusion in the homeschooling world as to what is and isn’t secular, neutral, and nonsectarian. Why? Because people define the words differently or they simply don’t know or care about the differences.
NOTE: There is no way I can list ALL of the great curriculum choices here, so I’ve decided to list a few of the curriculum choices that people seem to be the most confused about (including the publishers!)
Secular Homeschooling Curriculum: Oak Meadow, Moving Beyond the Page, R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey by Pandia Press, Torchlight Curriculum, History Odyssey by Pandia Press (levels 2 & 3 only)
Neutral Homeschooling Curriculum: Bookshark+, Timberdoodle Secular Packages+, Science for High School, Real Science for Kids
Nonsectarian Homeschooling Curriculum: Story of the World, History Odyssey by Pandia Press level 1*, Build Your Library*, Life of Fred, A Children’s History of the World, Thomas Jefferson Education, Calvert Education
+These programs are marketed as secular however all mention of evolution is generally skipped over in the lesson plans. These programs are published by Christian publishers.
*These programs are marketed as secular however they used a revised version of the Story of the World for history. While the publishers are secular and committed to secular science, until they have a truly-secular history alternative available I will continue to mark them as nonsectarian.
Where can I find trusted reviews of secular & neutral curriculum?
There are a lot of websites that provide reviews of homeschool curriculum, but sometimes they miss the mark. Because people often incorrectly define secular, sometimes religiously-biased materials are marked as secular when they very much are not.
It’s always important to check out the materials before using using the tips above, and here are some good places to look for secular homeschool curriculum reviews:
Curriculum Reviews from Secular Homeschool – SecularHomeschool.com is the oldest internet community just for secular homeschoolers. They have an extensive list of curriculum organized by worldview, and if you hop on over to their message boards you can search for detailed reviews.
SEA Homeschoolers Community – SEA Homeschoolers has a small but growing list of curriculum reviews. You can add to the community’s knowledge by adding your own reviews if you like.