Being Open-minded and Accepting of Others - Eva Varga

June 19, 20095

As most of you know, I am passionate about sharing my love of science with others and truly enjoy coordinating activities for my children and their friends. Doing so actually helps me ‘charge my batteries’ – though I must admit I do find myself fatigued when the activities come to a close.

A few months ago, a homeschooling mom and friend of mine asked me to teach a science class to her twin daughters and a number of their friends. All of the girls in this class and their families are devote Christians while I am very secular. We talked over our respective visions for the course and as I was planning to begin with a unit on Geology, parents wanted to know how evolution would be addressed.

I assured them that I would not teach continental drift. I would not introduce lessons on evolution or even elude to timelines. My focus for the class was simple… What causes an earthquake? How do volcanoes erupt? What kind of rock is this?

As our 4 week unit on geology came to a close, I extended an invitation to the girls and their families to join my Roots & Shoots club for a field trip to Newberry National Volcanic Monument. In short, I planned one field trip for two distinct age groups.

Upon arrival, I was delighted to discover that many families chose to bring siblings and friends. They had all asked in advance and I assured them, “The more, the merrier.” In the end, there were nearly 30 kids! My efforts were certainly not wasted this time. 😀

Unfortunately, the staff was unprepared – despite the fact that I had contacted them nearly 2 months in advance and had spoken with the education coordinator at least 3x by telephone to coordinate details. Thus, as they rapidly vacuumed the floor to open the visitor center and did a few things to prepare for us… I took my group on an impromptu nature walk on the grounds. I talked about the flora and fauna of the area – discussing many of the medicinal values of our native shrubs. Everyone was delighted and remarked how much they enjoyed the walk.

We then moved into the visitor center and seated ourselves comfortably for a brief talk by the staff coordinator and a volunteer followed by a short video on lava and lava tubes. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Jim, our Naturalist Team Leader at the museum, was our volunteer. His daughter homeschools and he has always been very accepting of the kiddos and I have become more involved in leading nature walks.

Prior to the video, Jim shared that the cinder cone (Lava Butte) at Lava Lands erupted 7,000 years ago and covered over nine square miles with lava. To help the kids visualize how long ago this was, he talked very briefly about the geologic timescale. As he did so, one mom turned around to me with a look of dismay and astonishment. I immediately felt awkward and wished I had given him a ‘heads-up’.

After the movie, the kids were divided into two groups: youngers and olders. The youngers started with a guided walk along the lava flow with Jim while the olders remained in the visitor center for a scavenger hunt to find information on the placards and displays. I went with the younger group – as to best keep an eye on my little guy. We enjoyed our walk (though we didn’t go to the top of the butte) and we all learned a little something about the geology and flora.

When we returned to the patio, the olders had finished their scavenger hunt and were heading out on their walk as well. One mom delayed briefly to check on her daughter whom had stayed with me while mom and brother went with the olders. She thereby began the walk with Jim though the other ‘olders’ had gone ahead. Apparently, one of the other moms felt compelled to come back to Jim and say something in the likes of, “We’ve decided to go on ahead without you. We didn’t care for what you said about the timeline and the history of the earth. We’re Christians.”

Jim’s reply was, “So am I.” He didn’t get a chance to explain that his daughter homeschools as well… “Perhaps you know her?” He could have added. The mom had turned to catch up with the others in her group.

Jim thereafter said, “This is why there are problems in the Middle East.” Though I wasn’t there to hear him – it was relayed back to me by the mom who had stayed with him… his comment really touched me. As we drove to Taekwondo a few hours later, I inquired with each of my kiddos about what part of the day had they enjoyed the most. (The cave!) What was one thing that they learned or that stood out to them?

As we talked they asked me the same questions. I described the above scenario to them as best I could and explained that I had been thinking about it all afternoon. I told them I felt sad for the other moms because they might have missed out on something interesting. Would these moms be able to identify the wildflowers that were growing in the lava? (Penstiman) Or understand why the northside of the butte was vibrant with trees and shrubs while the southside was barren?

I stated that we are entitled to our opinions but that does not preclude us from learning from others who may think differently. I was impressed by Sweetie’s level of understanding. She even said, “We don’t all have to agree. That is what makes it more interesting. When we like different things.”

I understand that many people choose to homeschool for religious reasons. I chose this path for a different reason. To allow my children to develop the conviction in themselves and their beliefs to listen and learn from others… knowing others are opposed. To be courageous and not bend or conform to how others believe you should.

Administrator Note:
It is not my intention to put anyone down by describing this experience. As I wasn’t there – I can’t be certain of what exactly was said. I don’t know the reasons the olders chose to go on ahead. I just wanted to share because it provided me with a teachable moment for my children.


  • jennybell

    June 19, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    You know, I’m a Christian too, and know that even among Christians there are differences in belief about “young earth” and “old earth”. Still, I think that other mother was rude and also missed out on a “teachable moment” to explain to her kids that while other people interpret scientific evidence one way, here is what we believe about that and why.

    There is a difference between having conviction in your beliefs and being rude to those who don’t share your beliefs (or killing them or bombing them, which is probably what Jim meant by the comment you heard third-hand).

  • Michelle

    June 19, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    “This is why there are problems in the Middle East”

    That is such a perfect way to sum it up. Because we disagree are we to act hateful and hurtful? Especially over an interpretation of the age of the Earth? Seems to me there is not much of Christ’s message in that behavior.

  • School for Us

    June 19, 2009 at 1:58 pm

    I think JennyBell said it well. I’m a Christian, too, and believe in a young earth. But, my daughter and I have read many books (sometimes we skip over the “millions of years” part) and sat through quite a few classes &/or walks where the teacher mentions “millions of years” or evolution. I used to always use this as a time to talk to my daughter about other people’s beliefs & why we believe what we believe… but now she often is the one to bring it up!

    And, that mom was missing the mark thinking “all Christians” believe in a young earth! And, I’m sure she did miss out on wonderful learning opportunities. Too bad!

  • Pebblekeeper

    June 19, 2009 at 4:08 pm

    Welcome to the “christian” homeschool community! Many will love what you do – and the one that doesn’t gets under the skin a bit. 🙂 I love what you do! We have taught the boys our timeline as we understand it from Genesis. To me it makes it easy to grasp that time line – and the butte being formed 7,000 years ago lines up with that. We also believe in the actual flood – and many of the placards line up with this time line as well. My kids just giggle when they see the time line go to the millions of years the other way. Knowledge of the facts is amazing – I am sorry also for the other moms that likely didn’t vote on the tour without a knowledgeable guide. We love you!!! and the the staff at these places as well.

  • Barb-Harmony Art Mom

    June 27, 2009 at 2:23 am

    Just wanted to chime in on this one as well. I have been a Christian for a long time and even I have felt at times “at odds” with other Christians.

    I have never shielded my children from any teachings about evolution and the young earth/old earth and they have still remained faithful to their beliefs, in fact, I think they are better educated having been exposed to both sides of ideas.

    My biggest insight: I can’t imagine how acting in such a rude and arrogant manner would *ever* attract anyone to become a Christian. It turns me off when people flat out make blanket statements about faith like that.

    I, like you, have taught science in a co-op where there were parents with strict rules about what I could say and what I couldn’t say. I slipped up once and three kids dropped out of my class without even a word to me about what had happened. It was an innocent “mistake” and was never meant to offend anyone. This time it was not about young earth/old earth but about classifying mammals….humans in particular. I actually gave the child an answer to his question that was very generic and told him to check with his parents…apparently they didn’t like what I said.

    I wasn’t Christian enough in my answer. It took me a long time to recover from that one. It stung for a long time. Just the rudeness of them pulling the kids and not even talking to me about it and clearly up the misunderstanding.

    Anyway, this is something that I have pondered from the other side of the fence from you Makita.

    I am with Jennybell, I would have used the whole situation as a teaching point if I even felt it was necessary. “Some people believe this, but we believe something different” sort of thing.

    Anyway, I would love to come on one of your field trips some day. We were just in Oregon last week in your old stomping grounds again. We had a blast.

    Happy summer,

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