An Average Homeschooler: Part Five, High School Textbooks

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HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Samantha Field’s blog, Defeating the Dragons. Part Five of this series was originally published on December 12, 2013. Also by Samantha on HA: “We Had To Be So Much More Amazing”“The Supposed Myth of Teenaged Adolescence”“(Not) An Open Letter To The Pearls”,  “The Bikini and the Chocolate Cake”, and “Courting a Stranger.”


Also in this series: Part One, Introduction | Part Two, The Beginning | Part Three, Middle School | Part Four, Junior High | Part Five, High School Textbooks | Part Six, College


Elementary school and junior high were marked by a lot of experimentation with curriculum.

My mother got a homeschool catalog in the mail, and she’d sit down and go through it, highlighting anything she thought was interesting, and I’d pick out a few things that I thought were cool, and that’s what we’d end up doing for electives. However, once we hit high school, I was focusing pretty intently on my piano, as well as my writing, so I wasn’t very interested in electives besides those two. We stuck with the core high school curriculum, and for the most part only used A Beka and BJUPress.

I have very clear memories of my high school experience. I remember the way all the books looked, I remember specific passages and illustrations. I remember quizzes and homework problems.

10th grade was A Beka biology, grammar, and history, BJUPress geometry and literature.

The biology was absolutely ridiculous, in retrospect. They argued a few things about evolutionary missing links that when I did research years later were either exaggerations or misrepresentations. They spent a lot of time presenting their version of evolutionary theory, and what they did was give me nothing more than a straw man. They made assertions about what evolutionists think that make evolutionists look patently ridiculous– the problem is, modern evolutionists haven’t thought or expressed any of those ideas in over a century in some cases. The textbook spends an inordinate amount of time building a case for philosophical Modernism– it doesn’t really have much to do with science, but it has everything to do with conservative and fundamentalist religion.

The grammar and vocabulary books were fine, for the most part, except that A Beka has a very particular agenda to push when it comes to grammar. All of their books explicitly teach prescriptive grammar, and condemns all dictionaries past Webster’s 3rd as absolutely corrupt. The BJUPress literature book taught the same attitude, haranguing almost any author past the 18th century for their amorality and relativism. In fact, the only author I read that could at all be described as post-modern would be T.S. Elliot, and he barely qualifies. I also don’t remember much — if anything — written by someone who wasn’t a white man. So, while most of my peers read books like To Kill a Mockingbird and Catcher in the Rye or 1984, I didn’t read any of them until I got to graduate school.

Both the A Beka biology book and the BJUPress geometry book made it absolutely clear that the only way a scientist can discover anything is if God allows it.

Aside from it painting a dubious picture of God as well as leaving the impression that scientists are bumbling idiots stumbling around in the dark and God occasionally allows them to bump into something (a la endless lists of scientific discoveries that were made “by accident”), these books make it clear that the only possible way of finding truth is if you’re a Christian. Newton discovered his theory of gravity because he was a Christian (which, are you sure you want to claim this guy, A Beka?). There’s a whole chapter dedicated to “real Christian scientists” that is placed in direct opposition to their chapter of “evolutionist hacks.” I’m particularly bothered by this claim, because it’s feeding into Christian privilege and demeaning the hard work and abilities of most scientists.

And the history… well, calling A Beka textbooks “history” is almost laughable. I heard many of my professors and educators complain about “revisionist” history, but knowing what I know now about the material contained inside these textbooks just makes me shake my head. The Civil War is the “War Between the States” or “War of Northern Aggression,” and almost any discussion of the brutalizing horrors of chattel slavery is dismissed. They explain the concept of “Indian Giving” and paint the French-Indian War as something completely unprovoked by any of the English settlers. American history is completely white-washed. The chapter title for Africa in the World History book is un-ironically “The Dark Continent,” and the white-and-Western-centric point of view is hailed as the only truth and manifest destiny is praised. There are entire sections devoted to the evils of pluralism and multi-culturalism, and they call modern India “backwards.”

In short, the only real purpose of their textbooks is indoctrination.

11th grade was more of the same, except I tried both Algebra I and chemistry. I read the chemistry textbook, but it was largely useless outside of the labs and experiments, and we couldn’t do any of those. I ended up basically reading the textbook for the first week and then not having anything else to do. This is the year when I spent most of my time reading books written by young earth creationists– I’ve always been fascinated by science, and this was the year that my frustration with school shot through the roof. As I’d gotten older, I’d gone through whole periods of wanting to be a veterinarian, a vulcanologist, a marine botanist, a cancer researcher, an astrophysicist.

But this was the point when I started to realize that I couldn’t do any of that.

This was the year I realized that my dreams of becoming a scientist were absolutely futile. And I knew it, because I was never going to have the science or math education to survive college.

There were a few factors playing into this– one of them being that I was being told by friends, by family, by my church, by the books I read, that women are not just limited to homemaking by the Bible, we’re limited to homemaking because we’re incapable of being anything else. I couldn’t be a scientist because women are bad at science and math.

Throw that into the pot of not being able to teach myself chemistry and algebra, and you’ve got a problem.

I struggled through algebra every day, hiding in my room so I could cry in frustration because I didn’t understand anything the book was trying to teach me. I tried to ask my mother, but that turned out to be largely futile– my mother had to try to re-teach herself algebra from her foggy memories of high school every single time I asked her to help me, and she was incapable of teaching algebra to me in any other way except how she understood it. She didn’t understand algebra well enough to explain it to me in a way that I could understand.

She didn’t know how to teach math.

This isn’t a reflection on my mother. My mother is brilliant. The problem is my mother was constantly fed the lie that you don’t have to know anything about teaching in order to teach your children. She didn’t know any different, and when we realized that I’d already met the math requirements under the umbrella school to graduate, we both gave up. I accepted my place as a woman and started preparing for a music degree instead of the science I’d always wanted, and my mother accepted what it seemed like I suddenly “wanted.”

My last year in high school my focus switched almost absolutely to practicing piano. I was enrolled with an incredibly demanding teacher and entering competitions like crazy, so school just sort of… fell apart. I whipped through all my English and history classes, half-assed my way through physics (we got the A Beka video tapes, but I didn’t do any of the homework and crammed for all the tests and did very badly– giving up my most recent goal of becoming an astrophysicist hurt a little too much to deal with it), took a “consumer math” course, and got accepted to a fundamentalist college.

I realize that this is more of a literature review than anything else, but I decided to talk about this facet of my high school experience today because both A Beka and BJUPress are still some of the largest distributors for homeschool textbooks, even today. Other curriculum, like Sonlight, are becoming popular, as are people just using the same textbooks as their local public school.

But for the still-dominant religious homeschooling culture, A Beka and BJUPress are still popular.

To be continued.


  • “But this was the point when I started to realize that I couldn’t do any of that.”

    It was the early years of (homeschool) high school when I came to the same realization, while working through many of the same textbooks.

    I ended up in a community college after “graduation” and then went on to complete undergrad and grad degrees, but I gave up on my dreams of going to medical school by my sophomore year of high school.

    I had someone say to me once, “Well you could have taken remedial math and science at community college. You could have accomplished your dream if you wanted it badly enough.” And he was right–if I wanted to spend six years in college rather than 4, paying tens of thousands of dollars in additional tuition (which I was paying for myself), losing potential income by delaying my entry into the workforce, taking that much longer before gaining complete independence from my totally toxic and dysfunctional family…sure, I could have done that. But the point is, I shouldn’t have had to make those choices. Nobody should.

    Thank you for sharing your story, Samantha. I can relate to a lot of what you’ve written.

    • I can relate too! I did surprisingly well teaching myself math in homeschooling. Made it well into Saxon’s physics and calculus, with practically zero real help from mother dear (she apparently cheated her way through math in HER school days.)

      I thought I was smart enough to take pre-med in college (and who knows, maybe I was.)

      But I dropped the course like a hot potato my first semester. Homeschooling had given me NOWHERE NEAR enough of a science background.

      I brought this up once (I have seven younger siblings)

      Mom’s response? That I surely lacked the requisite intelligence.

    • I am a 73-year-old woman who grew up in Indiana but who “escaped” at 18 and found a liberal haven in California. I enjoyed my public schooling from kindergarten through the university level. However, being from a secular family, I always hated having to stand up with my elementary school classmates while our teacher prayed to Jesus before lunch…made me feel like a hypocrite, but of course I didn’t want to stand out so said nothing. In 1962, with Engel v. Vitale, the Supreme Court declared organized school prayer unconstitutional (Yay!) I also was uncomfortable with the sexism and racism of the ’50s and greeted the Civil Rights and Woman’s Movements of the 60’s with joy. It worries me that today Christian homeschooling advocates are determined to turn America’s clock back to the bad old unenlightened days of Mad Men. (That’s a TV show about the 1950’s.) Homeschoolers face the same obstacles as young undereducated Amish adults who try to leave their cult. As a humanist, I believe that every child has a right to an education that prepares her or him for life in the Twenty-first Century, not the Nineteenth. To do this, we need a strong, well funded public education system.

  • Yes Linnea I understand that perfectly. I had to cut college early because I couldnt afford it and what I wanted to go for would’ve taken 16 years MINIMUM to finish. 16 years til i could finally get a decent paying job? im sorry but no.

  • Thank you for writing this. I also struggled with higher math and came felt so sick about the fact that I was unable to pick it up on my own, and couldn’t get help that made any sense. I too gave up on dreams and aimed a little lower because I didn’t think it was realistic to try to become a doctor without the higher math skills and strong science background I would need. It meant I aimed lower in my career and avoided situations that would have been good for me, because I am actually good at math! In Junior college I made up several of the math classes I had failed at home, pre-algebra and algebra. I advanced through calculus, but just wish I had had the opportunity to do that earlier!

    • In high school in the 1950’s, we girls were indoctrinated to believe that we weren’t good at math just because we were girls. I, too, liked math but believed I wasn’t good enough at it to pursue what we now call a STEM career (science, technology, engineering and math). So I went into journalism. My daughter, born after the Women’s Movement of the 60’s, had no such fears and happily took all the prerequisite courses to become a veterinarian. Any school program that fails to help children achieve their dreams should be illegal, and homeschooling seems to fall into that category. It’s illegal in Germany and should be in America, too. It fails too many children, especially girls.

  • Wonkette has a great series up going through a history textbook each from both A Beka and BJU. Some SCARY SHIT in there.

  • My mother had a master’s in biochemistry and, like me, is a devout Catholic. But she had me go to High school after homeschooling through elementary school because she knew she couldn’t get the lab experiences I would need and couldn’t focus enough time on me with my other siblings. My school’s science wasn’t great but it helped enough for me to go into a science major. If more people were like my mother homeschooling would be a great opportunity to learn as it was for me.

  • Pingback: An Average Homeschooler: Part Six, College | H . A

  • Pingback: An Average Homeschooler: Part One, Introduction | H . A

  • Pingback: An Average Homeschooler: Part Two, The Beginning | H . A

  • Pingback: An Average Homeschooler: Part Three, Middle School | H . A

  • Pingback: An Average Homeschooler: Part Four, Junior High | H . A

  • Pingback: An Average Homeschooler: Part Seven, Graduate School | H . A

  • Pingback: An Average Homeschooler: Part Eight, In Summation | H . A

  • Just so you know I went to public school all my life. In high school my 9th and 10th grade math teacher refused to give me any extra help and mocked me publicly most everyday for being so stupid because I did not understand math. My chemistry teacher was much the same. Praise God I have a decent math teacher one year. Any my community college math teachers got me up to speed.

    You can accomplish what you want still is my point. Lots of public school kids come out completely unprepared for college – that is why I home school now.

    Be come what you want to be! Really go for it! Community college really can get you up to speed on anything!

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