By Renée Gotcher
Last week our homeschool group took an interesting field trip to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. It was interesting because although these days most museums, zoos, performance halls, and the like have no problem hosting homeschool groups as they would any other school group, our presence on this day wasn’t exactly welcome. It reminded me of a feeling I’d experienced many years ago. Let me explain…
The general perception of homeschooling has come a long way since I was a homeschooled high school student in the late 1980s. Back then, nobody we knew had ever heard of homeschooling, support groups were few and far apart — even in a heavily populated state like California — and there were certainly not “open arms” welcoming or even beckoning homeschoolers to participate in local museum and zoo tours, community parks and rec programs, etc.
In fact, I remember my mom was very deliberate about where we would go “in public” during weekday school hours so we wouldn’t draw unnecessary attention and questions. Looking back now, I can see how hard it must have been for her — with eight children in tow — to handle the inquisition she received when asked more often that not why we were all “out of school” during the day when we did attempt a field trip on our own. I remember the questions, the stares, the whispering among employees. At home, we weren’t allowed to answer the phone or the door, or play in the front yard, until after 3pm. Homeschoolers were under a lot of scrutiny, and it was easier to just stay “under the radar.”
Today, it’s quite different. Almost anyone I meet who learns that we homeschool knows exactly what I’m talking about, and usually says something like “Oh, I know a family (in my church, down the street, on my soccer team…) who homeschools. That’s great!” Homeschooling families in populated areas usually have more than a few local homeschool groups to choose from based on their faith, curriculum style, location, and more. And anything offered in the community for educational enrichment is easily accessible to homeschool groups, usually free or at the same discount that traditional school groups receive. Some programs are even specifically marketed to homeschoolers.
So you might be wondering: What happened at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science? For starters, we didn’t take a tour provided by the museum. We received a tour by an outside guide — via a company called Biblically Correct Tours. I had never heard of such a thing, but as it turns out, this service has been around — and causing a bit of a stir (more on that later) — for quite a few years. Based in Colorado, BC Tours provides six different “biblically correct” tours of local attractions such as the Denver or Colorado Springs Zoo, Garden of the Gods, and Dinosaur Ridge.
Our guide started out by making it very clear that he was not with the museum, and that our tour was “unofficial.” He gathered the children close and explained what would be different about our tour. You could tell the kids were feeling a charge of excitement over the idea that we were unofficial — secret agent stuff! He then gave the kids four critical-thinking questions to pose if someone wanted to discuss some of the information found on these walls, such as “How do you know that?” and “If I were to give you different facts, would you be open to changing your mind?”
Great questions! I wish I’d heard such questions when I was a kid studying the “latest and greatest” scientific interpretations of the day, most of which have since been rewritten and revised many times over. This is going to be an interesting experience.
We proceeded to enter the “Prehistoric Journey” exhibit and display after display, examined the information presented on the museum walls side-by-side with some contradictory information that is conveniently left out. The kids asked more great questions, and it was refreshing to see them so inquisitive and at the same time, so evaluative. They weren’t just nodding their heads in agreement, they were thoughtful, critical and thorough.
Then came the feeling: The feeling that we weren’t just another group taking a tour, blending in with the other school groups bused in that day. I realized that our little “BC” tour was starting to stand out from the crowd. I had noticed that museum employees were hovering just behind us, listening, whispering to each other, and trying to get the attention of other museum patrons nearby so they could be pulled over (and out of listening range of our tour guide) and given an “official” explanation of each display.
It reminded me of the “old days'” of homeschooling, when my homeschooling family always stood out in a crowd.
At one point we were interrupted by an old gentleman with an official green museum vest who was pushing around a cart of “touch and feel” fossils (most were actually replicas). I wasn’t sure if he simply didn’t realize we were conducting our own tour, or if he didn’t care and actually wanted to get in the middle of it. Either way, he started in on his speech about what the kids “should know” about the amazing fossils in his cart.
Our guide let the museum employee finish his bit and then gently guided the children on to the next display. There was no uncomfortable confrontation, we simply moved on. Our guide later told the kids that “there’s a time and a place” for everything, and that this wasn’t one of those times to create a debate.
It reminded me of times that I would watch my mom respond to homeschooling questions with a gracious smile and simple answer, then take us by the hand and walk away. I know she wasn’t unfazed by the comments and criticism, and that there was indeed a time and a place when a debate of homeschooling was completely appropriate. However, in those moments, she just wasn’t going to let it ruin her day. And that day, neither were we.
But the truth of the matter is that even if the practice of homeschooling has become more acceptable in our society, genuine faith in Christ will always stand out in a crowd. That day, we didn’t stand out because we were homeschoolers, we stood out because we were Christians choosing to study God’s creation from a biblical point of view.
And as Christians, we won’t just stand out: We’ll be criticized, ridiculed and even hated. That is, if we’re living out our faith in plain sight, rather than trying to blend in. Jesus said: “If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” — John 15:19
The BC Tour guides are not trying to blend in. In fact, they have been picked apart by the media many times over the years for presenting a creationist perspective (see links below) — even though there’s still plenty of dissenting views and unexplained problems with evolution being debated in the scientific community today. However, while the scientists continue to deliberate, Colorado’s BC Tours continues to operate. The guides continue to draw support from families like those in our group, and they continue to draw critical attention from those who are simply “tolerating” their presence — for now. They are willing to stand out in the crowd.
That day, I was reminded of a feeling I’d felt many years ago. And I was thankful for that reminder. We may not stand out much anymore as homeschoolers, but I certainly hope I will stand out as a follower of Christ. And I pray that through these learning experiences, my children will gain the confidence to stand firmly as well.
It’s time to get uncomfortable.
— Renée Gotcher is an entrepreneur, writer, wife & home-educating mother of three daughters: Audrey, Claire and Elise. Renée was homeschooled during her last two years of high school and started homeschooling in 2010. She currently resides in Castle Rock, Colorado.
BC Tours in the News:
“Because the Bible Tells Me So?” — ABC News, March 19, 2008
“The Bible as Museum Guide” — The Denver Post, June 11, 2008