Definitions A homeschooler is a child who is not enrolled in a public or private school, but is instead educated mainly by one or both parents. Those parents who teach their children at home are home educators . A religious home educator or Christian home educators are those who incorporate their faith into their child’s education. Religious home educator are not monolithic – they exhibit varying degrees of religious and political conservatism, although some generalization can be made geographic location.
Background - Homeschooling There were 1.5 million homeschooled children in 2007 (from the National Center for Education Statistics). 75% of home educators reported attending weekly religious services. 36% of home educators said that providing “religious and moral instruction” was their main reason for taking their children out of mainstream schools (from homeschool researcher Brian D. Ray). One previous study was done on homeschoolers in museums, but only looked at secular homeschoolers.
Background– Religion and Museums <ul><li>It is general consensus among museum professionals that museums exhibit and </li></ul><ul><li>speak about religion only in terms of its iconography, as an aspect of a culture, or as </li></ul><ul><li>a historical phenomenon. </li></ul>- In other words, museums are not in the business of proselytizing. - But, museums should also not shy away from presenting religious topics for objective examination.
Background - Creationism <ul><li>Creationism posits that Genesis is a literal and accurate description of the creation of </li></ul><ul><li>the universe. Accordingly, the universe is around 6,000 years old and every species </li></ul><ul><li>was created uniquely by God. </li></ul><ul><li>As a corollary, Intelligent Design says that the Universe can be billions of years old, </li></ul><ul><li>but God did intervene to separately create each species. </li></ul><ul><li>Creationists point out that evolution and the Big Bang are theories and take this to </li></ul><ul><li>mean that these are just guesses or opinions. </li></ul><ul><li>Creationists also argue that scientific evidence can be interpreted differently by </li></ul><ul><li>different people, depending on your worldview. </li></ul><ul><li>Some Creationists argue that God makes the universe seem old and appear to be </li></ul><ul><li>the product of the Big Bang and evolution, but this is all a test of faith. </li></ul>
Background – Theories and the Scientific Process <ul><li>A theory is “a well‐substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world </li></ul><ul><li>that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses” (according to </li></ul><ul><li>the National Academy of Sciences). </li></ul><ul><li>In order to be scientific, a theory must be falsifiable and must invoke natural </li></ul><ul><li>processes. </li></ul><ul><li>Among scientists, evolution and the Big Bang are regarded as complete and </li></ul><ul><li>well-substantiated explanations for the origin and diversity of life. Scientists who </li></ul><ul><li>“ disagree” with evolution are in the extreme minority, and evoke non-scientific </li></ul><ul><li>theories to support their arguments. </li></ul>
Survey Methods Sample #1 Administered to Education Network of Christian Homeschoolers Of New Jersey Edison, NJ 54 surveys collected Sample #2 Administered to Greater Smokies Christian Home Educators Franklin, NC 31 surveys collected Many of the comments and requests made by these religious home educators can be applied to all homeschoolers, with the exception of comments made about science and evolution. Neither survey mentioned evolution or any other religious topic. I studied Christian homeschoolers who distinguished themselves from secular homeschoolers by attending Christian homeschool conferences.
Survey Questions How do Christian homeschoolers feel about museums? What kinds of programs would they like to see offered in museums? In what ways are their responses to museums different than the responses of secular homeschoolers?
Findings One of the first questions asked was how often respondents visited museums: On average, the NJ survey group visited museums 3-4 times a year. The NC survey group visited an average of 1-2 times a year. By contrast, research into the museum-going habits of secular homeschoolers found that 44% visited museums 6-12 times a year, and 23% visited museums more than twice a month.
Findings What are the positive outcomes of visiting museums? - hands-on learning - museums helped make curriculum connections - personal attention from staff - introduction to new subjects Are homeschool programs meaningful? 42% said yes 12% said somewhat 25% said no 21% said there were no museum programs suitable for homeschoolers
Findings Is your children’s unique education respected in museums? 65% said yes 19% said no 16% felt respected part of the time or were unsure As a homeschooler, do you feel welcome in museums? 58% felt welcomed all the time 15% felt welcomed some of the time 5% never felt welcomed 22% were unsure
Findings What type of museums do homeschoolers feel most satisfied with: 39% liked children’s museums 25% liked science museums 25% liked history museums 7% liked natural history museums 4% liked art museums And least satisfied with: 70% said art museums 10% said history museums 10% said children’s museums 5% science museums 5% said natural history museums Studies of secular homeschoolers found the same results, with the exception that they enjoyed art museum as much as any other museum.
Findings What are the negative outcomes of visiting museums? 47% said none Those who did report complained of needing to keep children quiet the cost of visiting attitudes of other visitors not being supported in schooling choice How do homeschoolers hear about museums? 27% heard from a homeschool group 22% heard through word-of-mouth 17% heard from a museum newsletter or website 34% were not aware of homeschool programs
Findings When asked for suggestions on museum programs, home educators wanted: More staff interaction More hands-on activities Pre- and post-visit activities Access to teacher resources Evolution was mentioned on 13 surveys – on 9 NJ surveys and on 4 NC surveys, despite the fact that no mention of either evolution or religion was made on any survey question. Better information on scheduling Staff better trained to adapt to homeschoolers From a number of surveys: “less preaching”
Conclusions Homeschoolers enjoy visiting all types of museums except art museums. This is likely because the most often cited positive outcome was hands-on experiences, but art museums rarely allow for this. Museums are doing an adequate job of serving homeschoolers, but since every respondent gave suggestions, there is room for improvement. Homeschoolers need to be told about programs, most effectively through homeschool groups or mass emails. The fact that 13 respondents mentioned evolution unprompted signals that this is a topic of concern among Christian homeschoolers, and may even result in their lower museum attendance rate, compared to secular homeschoolers.
Recommendations – For All Museums Train staff and volunteers in the needs and philosophies of homeschooling. Set aside one staff member as a homeschool liaison. Provide pre- and post-visit materials on the museum’s website or by email. Try to schedule programs for the afternoon, after school groups have left. Make museum visits for homeschool families affordable, either by offering per-family rates or “homeschool memberships”. Market directly to homeschool groups by email and by attending conferences. Don’t separate by age, find ways for older and younger children to work together.
Recommendations – For Science Museums Offer labs and workshops specially designed for a homeschool audience. Offer a variety of themes for these workshops, according to the content of the museum or the neighborhood in which the museum is located. Don’t repeat themes too often, because if your program is successful you’ll have the same Homeschoolers attending month after month. Incorporate behind-the-scenes tours and technology tours.
Recommendations – For History Museums Offer activity stations. These activities should allow children to replicate activities from the periods the museum covers. When possible, establish a teaching collection so that children can handle period pieces. If a teaching collection is not available, use realistic props to enhance activities.
Recommendations – For Art Museums Establish tours that go beyond looking and listening – allow children to discuss and debate pieces, write their own narratives, draw and ask many questions. Create programs that take place in the galleries, so children can be connected to the art. Don’t just tell children the rules – explain why the rules are in place. Allow parents to “preview” the collections to avoid any objectionable material. Create some way for children to take the museum back with them – through inexpensive prints, at-home activities, or electronic access to the museum’s collection.
Recommendations – On Creationism Don’t push evolution – hearts and minds will not be changed by a single visit. Maintain scientific integrity – God is not hypothesis. Use less loaded terms when interacting with a religious homeschool group. For example, use “adaptation” instead of “evolution”. Present other aspects of biology, like an animal’s environment or how its fossil was discovered. Create a standardized statement about why the museum talks about evolution and not God. Use this as a opportunity to talk about the scientific method and what constitutes a theory. Research your homeschool groups beforehand, to see whether they are religious and to what extent.