Choosing Curriculum: 15 Questions to Ask About Everything From Race to Rules

How to Choose Homeschool Curriculum and Evaluate Its Worldview: 15 Questions to Ask on Everything from Race to RulesA few weeks ago, I wrote about the harm of morality-based instruction, and how damaging it is to teach kids that goodness can be achieved just by emulating a list of desirable character traits.  While this perspective is something I consider when I’m evaluating curricula,  obviously not every subject or area of study is going to delve in to the philosophy of morality. So how do I evaluate a publisher’s or curriculum’s worldview? Here are the fifteen questions I ask when making a decision:

  1. Does this material assume all girls should grow up to be wives and raise children, or does it empower and inspire girls to follow whatever path God calls them to, recognizing that not all women marry, and some struggle with infertility? Does it highlight women and girls as independent actors? Does it tell stories of women beyond focusing on their roles in a family?
  2. Does the material promote compliance with a set of rules, or does it allow for freedom and grace?
  3. Does this material emphasize outward virtues and traits with the goal to get the child to imitate certain character values, or does it recognize that it’s only through a heart surrendered to Jesus that a person can only be truly transformed?
  4. Does the material oversimplify good and evil and present it as an easy-to-spot either-or choice; or does it teach analytical and critical thinking skills, discernment, and problem-solving?
  5. Does the material only present what to learn and/or believe, or does it also provide context and a “why” behind the belief?
  6. Does the material present history predominately from a Western perspective, or does it also present facts from a non-European point-of-view?
  7. Does the material perpetuate the idea of “otherness” by teaching about non-European cultures using stereotypical depictions, or does it allow for each culture to have its own strong, rich, identity?
  8. Does the material mainly contain books with white main characters, or does it offer books with nuanced, fully-developed, non-stereotypical heroes and heroines of diverse backgrounds?
  9. Does the material teach (implicitly or explicitly) that the “primary” actors in history or literature are white? Who does it teach my child to identify and sympathize with?
  10. Does the material attempt to “Christianize” certain historical events, or does it recognize that every event has more than one side?
  11. Have I truly evaluated the content and worldview of this material, or am I simply choosing this material because it’s popular in homeschooler subculture?
  12. Will this material allow my child to be challenged to the best of his/her God-given ability, or am I simply choosing this material because of its price point / ease-of-use / etc?
  13. Will this material equip my child to follow any number of career paths God might have in store for him/her, or am I choosing this material because I want my child to follow the path I have in mind?
  14. Is this material based on fear and reliance on man’s own goodness to combat what is perceived as evil, or does it promote courage and a reliance on Jesus?
  15. Is this material designed primarily to shelter and insulate my child, or is it designed to inform, equip, and empower?

To read more of my thoughts on choosing educational material, and why I think education as a Christian should not actually be about sheltering, head over to Sicily’s Heart & Home to read Amanda’s interview with me.

‘Beautiful Feet Books’ History Review, and the Harm of Morality-Based Instruction

'Beautiful Feet Books' Review, and the Harm of Morality-Based Instruction

A lot of different books cross my desk, especially as I work on creating an early elementary reading schedule for U.S. History. When I first started to look into Beautiful Feet’s “Early American History For Primary Grades literature guide for grades K-3, I was intrigued. Once I sat down and actually read through it, though, I knew I wouldn’t be using it or incorporating the lessons into my history schedule.

If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time at all, you know I’m a Jesus-follower; and if you’re searching for reviews on Beautiful Feet curriculum, you likely know it’s purported to be a Christian curriculum.  I wouldn’t say it represents a Christian worldview, though — certainly not my worldview. But before I get into the implications of how the Beautiful Feet guide teaches morality, let’s address two of the books included in the primary literature list, “The Courage of Sarah Noble” and “The Matchlock Gun“.

In “The Courage of Sarah Noble“, Sarah’s courage is praised, but just what is it that Sarah is facing with such bravery? “Indians [who] will eat you.” Sarah is afraid of things in the dark, because they might be Indians. She freezes “still as a rabbit in danger” when Indian children approach. When she finally musters up the much-applauded courage to interact, she can’t be bothered with “the long, long names of the children, so she called the boy Small John and the girl Mary.” To learn more upsetting details, please do read this review of The Courage of Sarah Noble“. There are billions of books in the  world, and ones like this don’t belong anywhere near my bookshelf.

And then we have the “The Matchlock Gun“, which is so horrifyingly unthinkable in its description of Native American people, that I can hardly bring myself to type it here, but I want you to know what these books contain: “They hardly looked like men, the way they moved. They were trotting, stooped over, first one and then the other coming up, like dogs sifting up to the scent of food.” This is stomach-churningly appalling. And why is young Edward, the main character, so celebrated in this book? Why, because he fired the matchlock gun and “killed more [Indians] than the rest of us put together.”

No. This book has no place on my bookshelf. Additionally disheartening here is the fact that Beautiful Feet is not the only publisher to include these two books on their recommended reading lists. But let’s at least take a look at Beautiful Feet’s “Early American History For Primary Grades” study guide itself. The guide was updated and revised in 2014, so it’s more modern in appearance than previous editions. The 37-page softcover book now covers additional material such as the Westward Expansion,  and has full-color images and web links (although, I counted less than ten links in the course of over one hundred lessons). The content itself was less practical than I was hoping for — comprehension questions are given, but no answers are provided. Lesson prompts are vague, at times not much more than “Introduce Columbus” and “Discuss the value of conscience”.  And there’s a lot more written busywork than I expected in a literature-based curriculum designed for kindergarten through second grade; students are instructed to copy entire dictionary definitions into a notebook. I could be persuaded to overlook some impracticalities, if it were not for my deeper concerns about morality-first instruction.

'Beautiful Feet Books' Review, and the Harm of Morality-Based Instruction

Throughout the guide, the child is asked to interpret every historical figure by measuring the person against a list of character traits, and then make a determination of the person’s virtue. Nearly every one of the 106 lessons instructs the child to extrapolate the good character traits from a biographical segment of a person’s life, and then make an effort to apply these same character traits to his or her own life. This might seem innocent enough at the outset, but little mention is made of the heart itself, or of the transforming power of the gospel (which transforms from the inside out, not the outside in), or of what it means to actually follow Jesus. Perhaps this is because each lesson simply encourages the student to follow a list of moral character traits, not Jesus Christ himself. The hope, it seems, is that through emulating morality from the outside, one might become pure on the inside.

This isn’t a problem exclusive to Beautiful Feet guides alone; there is a tremendous amount of curricula and instructional material framed this way. But there are problems with this approach. When a child is repeatedly, lesson after lesson and year after year, asked to give examples of how a revered historical figure stacks up against a list of Christian virtues, several things are bound to happen. First, this approach ignores the basic fact that every single person who ever lived was inherently complex. So by reducing complex individuals  to one-dimensional figures, heroes inevitably become white-washed, because the focus is always placed on their abundant virtues. The child forms a worldview in which heroes have a lengthy list of abundant positive character traits, and “the bad guys” have very few positive traits. Life, of course, is not this binary. Going into life’s tricky situations believing you will easily be able to spot good vs. evil in either-or terms is not even safe! Teaching that people are good because they exhibit outward traits teaches nothing of the heart (although it does teach how to act “perfectly Christian” on the outside).

Another thing is bound to happen, too, when a child is asked to emulate the outward qualities of heroes who have almost exclusively positive character traits. When the child first encounters a sense of failure in his or her private life, the child is very likely to see even a minor struggle as a massive moral failure. After all, the child has never known any “good person of Christian virtue” to have struggles or moral failings — so the child concludes that he/she must not be good, either. When discernment between good and evil is determined by actions and accomplished by checklist, one too many moral failings on the checklist will automatically shift a person over into the “bad guy” category. And if “goodness and badness” are assessed based on a self-imposed list, what room is there for grace?

This curriculum guide also instructs children to memorize “The Conscience Poem”, several rhyming stanzas devised  by Rea Berg, who co-authored this guide with Joshua Berg. At first, I hoped this poem could easily be overlooked as an inconsequential side-note, but that’s not the case. “The Conscience Poem” is a central focus of the lessons, and is used in lessons 8 through 51 . The poem explains conscience as the inner “voice” or “light” by which a child “understand(s) God’s justice, truth, and love”, and ends with these lines, ”…and this is the confidence I will have / that God is pleased with me.”


This is so damaging. First of all, one’s inner voice isn’t even a Biblical concept! God’s still small voice, yes. Ours? No. We simply cannot teach children that their own thoughts are the sole determination of God’s displeasure or pleasure. We can’t teach that their worth and value is determined by how they feel about themselves, or by how they imagine God might be thinking about them on any given day.  God already made that clear in John 3:16, “For God so loved...” Not that “For man was so wretched…” or “For man knew God was so angry…”, but “For God so loved…

We don’t need to keep self-assessing God’s love for us. We don’t need to keep wondering what God thinks of us. He already demonstrated that. His bloodshed and resurrection settled that question once and for all. When Jesus died on the cross, He said, “It is finished.” He was the sacrifice, the Lamb of great price, and we do not need to struggle daily to apply virtues in order to guarantee God’s favor. That’s not the gospel! And it’s not what I want to teach my daughter.

It’s also worth noting that for all its talk of Christian virtue, the character traits in this guide aren’t even taken from Scripture. One would expect, at least, this character-driven type of of morality-based education to be centered around the fruits of the spirit found in Galatians 5 — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control — but this list is never mentioned in this guide. Instead, the ambiguous ideals of “industry”, “virtue”, and “moral sense” are emphasized, as is an excerpt from Tennyson’s Oenone which praises “self-respect, self-knowledge, and self-control”. (Of course, it would not change the spirit of the curriculum even if the list of virtues had been taken directly from the Bible; even the fruits of the spirit are not a way to achieve righteousness. )

Overall, the guide teaches that a person’s goodness is measured by moral tendencies or lack thereof, and teaches that a child’s value and God’s pleasure are measured and determined by how well the child thinks he/she has applied a list of moral virtues. Contrast this with the perspective Rich Mullins sang about in “Let Mercy Lead:

“Aidan, you’re young
but Aidan, you’re growing fast…
…and you’ll need something more
to guide your heart
as you grow into a man

Let mercy lead
Let love be the strength in your legs,
and in every footprint that you leave,
there’ll be a drop of grace.

If we can reach
beyond the wisdom of this age
into the foolishness of God,
that foolishness will save
those who believe…

…Aidan the day will come
you’ll run the race
that takes us way beyond
all our trials and all our failures,
and all the good we dream of.
But you can’t see yet where it is you’re heading,
but one day you’ll see
the face of love...”

It’s about mercy, always. It’s about grace, always. It’s about God’s endless love, always. Mercy, grace, and love can’t be quantified. They can’t be put on a checklist, and applied to life. Morality doesn’t set anyone free. Perfection doesn’t set anyone free. Good character doesn’t set anyone free. Only Jesus — the face of love — can do that.

When you’re presenting the world for the first time to five-, six-, or seven-year-olds (the Beautiful Feet guide is intended for grades K-3), you have a serious responsibility. This responsibility is not just to shelter their tender hearts from the violent darkness all around us, but to show them the world and equip them with courage and with faith. I want to teach my daughter that the most courageous people in history were not those with the highest stack of character traits, but those who believed God could overcome darkness. Morality does not overcome darkness. Virtue does not overcome darkness. Only God can do that. And we have to be careful not to oversimplify life to the point that we end up teaching false doctrine.

So perhaps, as my strong and sensitive daughter grows up in this big ol’ world, I’ll say to her as Frederick Buechner said best —

 “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”

'Beautiful Feet Books' Review, and the Harm of Morality-Based Instruction

I STAND WITH ADAM :: Korean Adoptee in ICE Custody, Faces Deportation


If you are connected with me on Facebook at all, you’ve seen my outrage at immigration officials over the despicable treatment of Adam Crapser, the Korean adoptee whose abusive adoptive parents failed to file for his U.S. citizenship.  Adam, now 40 and married with children, is facing deportation to South Korea.

This is outrageously and unequivocally wrong.

Adam Crapser is a victim, and should not be held responsible for the wrongful actions of two different sets of adoptive parents while he was still a minor.

Adam’s story is long and tragic, full of horrific abuse and injustice. Left at an orphanage in South Korea at age three, Adam’s first set of adoptive parents surrendered him to the state of Oregon after years of abusing him. His second set of adoptive parents “choked, beat and burned Adam; the physical, emotional and sexual abuse of Adam and his foster siblings was so severe the Crapsers served jail time for 11 counts of child abuse.” [1] While Adam was sixteen, drifting in and out of homeless shelters in Oregon, he returned to the Crapser’s home to retrieve his Korean Bible and a pair of rubber shoes he’d worn at the orphanage. The court considered this burglary, and Adam was sentenced to twenty-five months in prison. [2]

The Crapser parents withheld the adoption paperwork and documentation rightfully belonging to Adam, something that’s not uncommon in abusive situations. In 2012, Adam finally obtained his own adoption documents from the Crapsers and began the process of filing for a green card, in an attempt to straighten out his legal status.

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But his initiative was not taken kindly by immigration officials.

To the Department of Homeland Security and to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, it does not matter that Adam was a victim of abusive parents who failed to ever file the paperwork necessary for him to become a naturalized citizen. Immigration officials do not care that Adam was already a legal adult by the time the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 automatically enacted automatic naturalization for adopted children under the age of eighteen. They do not care that Adam took it upon himself to file for legal status, something his parents never had.

To immigration officials, Adam Crapser is a simply an illegal immigrant non-citizen with a criminal record, and they can’t wait to get him out of this country.

On February 8th 2016, he was taken away from his wife and children by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), and placed him in the Tacoma Detention Center, where he waits to find out if he’ll be deported to South Korea.

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I want to say the threat of deportation is unfounded.

I want to say it’s unlikely that he’ll be deported.

I want to say Adam Crapser’s case is an anomaly, an aberration.

But the truth is, adoptees have been deported before. [34] Thanks to immigration reform in 1996, any adoptee whose parents failed to file for citizenship is view as a non-citizen immigrant, and if a run-in with the law results in a prison sentence — even for non-violent crimes — they’re subject to deportation. (Remember Adam’s twenty-five month prison sentence for burglary, a.k.a. retrieving his Korean Bible and shoes from his parents’ home?)

Kairi Abha Shepherd’s adoptive mother died, never having filed for her to become a naturalized citizen. Kairi was deported to India. [5]

Jennifer Edgell Haynes’ adopted father sexually abused her, and never filed for her to become a naturalized citizen. Jennifer, who has multiple sclerosis, was deported to India. [67]

Joao Herbert’s adoptive parents didn’t file naturalization papers until he was seventeen, and the process wasn’t completed in time. Joao was deported to Brazil, where he was murdered. [89]

John Gaul III’s adoptive parents also didn’t file in time. John was deported to Thailand, and can never enter the US again. [10]

Rudi Richardson was born in a German prison. His birth father was a U.S. serviceman. He was adopted into an American family, but they never filed for him to become a naturalized citizen. Rudi even served in the U.S. military, but age forty-seven, he was deported to Germany. [11]

Monte Haines a.k.a Ho-kyu Han served in the U.S. military, too. But his adoptive parents never filed for him to become a naturalized citizen either, and he was deported to South Korea. [12]

These are all complex cases — and sadly, there are so many more. But they all have one thing in common: irresponsible adoptive parents who failed to file the paperwork necessary for their children to obtain U.S. citizenship. Over 18,000 adoptees from South Korea alone still aren’t U.S. Citizens.

These children are victims, not perpetrators.

And in the case of Adam Crapser, he has been a victim many times over. Not only did his adoptive parents — both sets! — neglect to file for citizenship, they also horrifically abused him. And now the United States, the only country whose language he knows, is ready to boot him out forever, separating him from his wife and children. Won’t you join me in standing up to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, and let them know you  STAND WITH ADAM?

Demand that Adam Crapser be removed from deportation proceedings.

Demand that “Adam and all international adoptees adopted by U.S. citizens should be granted U.S. citizenship immediately.”




We can’t sit back and do nothing as Adam’s human rights are violated. We can’t do nothing as his family is torn apart. This is no time for apathy as immigration officials life is destroyed even more.

This is happening on our watch, and we must act.


For more information on the Adoptee Rights Campaign organized by the NAKASEC (National Korean American Service & Education Consortium), click here.

POETRY & WORDS :: On the Epiphany, Dirty Bathrooms, and Hallowed Ground

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I’m in her bathroom, sighing at the wasted toothpaste carelessly squeezed from the sticky tube,  the splashed water, the dozen unclipped plastic barrettes dropped near the container, the towel on the floor. I don’t see the shaft of light, the breakthrough, the miracle. I only see the stony ground.

But from the living room, I hear her singing the catechism. Her voice soars, light, innocent, and the winged notes swirl and pierce into my blindness, my preoccupation, my heart complaining though manna is raining all around.

I too often see only wilderness with my blinded eyes, but these rust-colored tiles and this lumpy berber — this can be hallowed ground.

The light does not require a perfect vessel in order to shine bright.

I fold the towel over the rack and wipe off the faucet and bend down closer to the earth and she sings, “Can anyone hide in secret places / so that I cannot see him? / Do not I fill heaven and earth / declares the Lord?”

Here, earth. He fills this place.

This can be hallowed ground.

I stoop to retrieve the dropped towel.

She is still singing, “The eyes of the Lord are in every place / He sees their every step / His eyes are on the way of man.”

And I lower my eyes. My heart takes it all in. He is already here. He is waiting, standing next to me always, just patiently waiting for me to turn my eyes to Him and sing His truth.

How often do we, in our self-centered, blind-mole ways,  invite God into our presence, when the opposite should be true? Our lives would be transformed if we stopped repeating by rote — “Lord, be present here” — and turned around and looked up and stretched out hands to the waiting Savior and said, “Lord, open our eyes to your constant presence.” It’s not “Lord, lead us”, as much as it should be “Lord, open our eyes to your leading.”

Make us willing to be led, for You are always willing to lead.

I turn off the bathroom light, ignoring how sticky it is. I think of how we are to be like children if we are to enter His kingdom. (“Where is His kingdom?” she asked me yesterday. “Here and heaven, right, mumma?”) I walk past the last vestiges of Christmas — a strand of lights I’m not yet ready to put away — and I think of how poetess Luci Shaw is always reminding us that infancy was only the beginning of incarnation. We celebrate the infancy with pomp and circumstance, forgetting that it leads to Good Friday, and we mourn Good Friday forgetting that it leads us to the Resurrection.

Redemption does not end at the manger, thank God. The earth-rending story of redemption — begun long before — was brought into view there, set into motion, changing everything forever.

Epiphany reminds us of that. Epiphany, the dramatic appearance. The manifestation. The precursor to the second glorious appearing, which would be rendered powerless without the first. Yet like the travelers on the road to Emmaus, we miss it sometimes. He is in our midst, resurrected, incarnate, hands outstretched, and we look past Him.

Epiphany reminds us that God is flesh. God with us. God is among us. God appears as is His Son, born to be king, born to be pierced, born to die. The Man Jesus acquainted with grief, no stranger to sorrow, rejected by so many. Born to be Light Eternal not just for the Jewish people in that Middle Eastern town, but to be my Redeemer, my Light Eternal too.

And then Epiphany reminds me, too, that he grew.  He stood in the river and spoke to John.  He showed up at Cana, and how could they forget that?  Those who walked shoulder to shoulder with Him, those whose sandals were streaked with the same dust and the same splashes from the River Jordan, they missed Him too. Even when God sent a dove, opened the heavens, and said “Look! Open your eyes. It’s HIM. You’ve been waiting. This one here. He’s the one. Don’t miss Him” — even then, some still missed Him.

And we miss Him, over and over and over and over again. Like the wanderers in the wilderness, like the once-rescued, twice-forgetful, like the disciples, we are stumped and we don’t know where He is and we ask Him —

“But Jesus! Did we ever see You?”

And He says, “When your world was rocking and you were sure you’d drown, I was asleep, right near you, in the very same boat on the very same sea.

And it was I, underneath that dove, in the river, when you were craning your neck elsewhere, searching for Messiah.

It’s Me every time you read, Word-made-Man.

It was Me at Emmaus.

It was Me in the other room, waiting to take your weary burdens, when you were making yourself sick with stress over preparations.

It is Me in the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, the fatherless, the ones with no voice, and the ones with a voice to which you’ve turned a deaf ear.

It was Me, this morning, in your living room, when you were grumbling about the dirty bathroom and your daughter was singing, head tilted toward Me, face up against the veil, in my presence, kneeling on holy ground.

It was Me.

I am.”

And I put away my cleaning rags, and lay down my pride, and walk into the living room, and ask that I, too, might see.