From Luke's Inbox: Sonlight and Sex and Swearing

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I just read the blog post Appalled that I bought utter filth & gave it to my children. She has daughters who are more sensitive than my high school/middle school boys, but this is still disconcerting. I ditch several books a year, but do miss some. Perhaps "questionable content" should be added to the book descriptions online? I give my boys the manual and they take off with it -- I need to be able to trust Sonlight!

I had not yet seen that blog post. Thanks for passing it along. Unfortunately, this blogger and I simply disagree as to what is acceptable and what is not. Sonlight is clearly NOT a good fit for this family. I regularly urge people to read the 27 Reasons NOT to Buy Sonlight article; if you want to avoid offensive content at all costs, Sonlight is not for you. Sonlight carries books that some homeschoolers won't touch. I think we have completely valid and beneficial reasons for doing so. But if you disagree, please find your curriculum elsewhere! As I often say, I'm far more concerned with you loving your homeschool experience than I am with selling you curriculum packages.

We've had a number of requests that we give greater detail as to what "questionable content" means for each title we carry. And some day we may figure out how to do just that. We absolutely want to better serve homeschool families. The difficulty arises when people have such wildly different tolerances. For example, anyone who has attended the high school up the street from my house has already been exposed to even filthier "forms of foul language and sexual content" ...and those words typically came from the mouths of Freshmen trying to prove their "maturity." If we can't be around such things, how can we bring these kids God's grace? Christ was a friend of sinners; may we be the same.

Frankly, the sexual content in Sonlight's titles is hardly shocking if you've read your Bible. What if all the men in a city--young and old--surrounded a house demanding to have sex with the male travelers within? That happens. Twice. Incest? Yep. Not to mention rape, public sexuality, and other despicable things. And these are passages in Scripture! Clearly there is benefit to reading such accounts. So I'm open to there being benefit to reading such things in your homeschool materials as well.

But you know your children better than I do. If they are not yet prepared to handle this kind of thing, please do what is best for them! Sonlight is committed to helping you raise enthusiastic, life-long learners who are motivated to follow God wherever He leads them. But depending on what you mean by the word, you may not be able to "trust" Sonlight. I'm reminded of an oft-quoted passage from Narnia:

"Is he--quite safe?"
"Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good."

If I could be so bold as to draw a comparison: Sonlight's curriculum isn't safe, but I believe it is good.

As always, I'm open to more discussion. Please feel free to share your thoughts! And, remember: You know your children, so do what is best for them. The world is a disconcerting place, full of evil and desperate need. May we be those who, guided by the Holy Spirit, bring Christ's redemption to even the darkest places of the world.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

P.S. I have written similar responses to questions about socialism and the occult which you may also be interested to read. Sonlight does things differently, and I believe we are better for it.

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  1. I totally support Sonlight's stance on this and appreciate their honesty that this might not be the curriculum for everyone. I found it ironic that the blog post in question was followed by definitions of mercy and grace, since little in the post was gracious.

  2. The blogger doesn't say, but I don't wonder if some of the shock might also be due to putting younger children in higher grade levels. I have a pretty high tolerance for trash in the upper grades (within reason - no shocking just to BE shocking, yk?). Often what is difficult or objectionable content for a younger child is something you really MUST speak with an older child about, whether he is ready or not.

    I see your mom is speaking in Cincinnati soon; we will be at the MPE conference at the same time. :)

  3. Sarah

    Luke, I'm dying of curiosity... do you have any idea what title is being objected to here?

    Personally, I love what Sonlight says about inoculation. Teaching about the evils of the world, but doing it from a safe location of home, where we can talk about the book and the implications, etc. When I was in high school, we were assigned a number of novels (I won't call them literature) with graphic scenes of sex and violence. These books had no real depth, point, or redeeming value. They did not give us valuable insight into a time period of history or the way people live in a certain part of the world. They were not "literature," they were novels.

    My kids are still young, so we haven't really run into many "questionable"books in Sonlight yet, but we have gotten to a few books that had maybe slightly mature parts, and we really enjoyed the discussions these provoked. Some of the topics I might not have thought to bring up with my kids yet, but I'm glad I did, because we were able to discuss and consider these issues in a safe environment, and I think that the kids really benefit from that.

  4. Sometimes I wonder what parents expect their upper high school student to go on to do once they graduate? If the books in Sonlight are objectionable, they are in for a rude awakening when their darling goes off to college.

    She mentioned a few books in her blog: "Brave New World" and "A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich." There is no part of Brave New World and the world that Huxley paints that enticing me to follow their example. I find it interesting that A Day in the Life's introduction discusses censorship for writers, artist, well, everyone in Russia during that time. The book itself, if I remember correctly, was banned, and yet that is the book that has everyone up in arms over a few curse words. Should our student not be more enraged and horrified by the injustices depicted within its pages?

    When my daughter started A Day in the Life, I asked how it was going and what she thought. Her response? "A real book, with real language. That is how they would talk, mom, and I find it refreshing that the book portrays that." Yes, I would be lying if I didn't say I was proud of her perspective. (Full disclosure: I have not finished the books yet. I have a little bit left.)

    Thank you Sonlight for putting books in our path that we wouldn't have picked up otherwise.

    I agree, if she is concerned about these books, then Sonlight is the not the curriculum for her.

  5. Whittney

    I vividly remember Brave New World, Metamorphosis and stories of war and captivity flaming my love of books and learning. Although I only have a 4 year old, I look forward to the day I can introduce her to these gems.

  6. Sarah

    I have yet to find anything offensive in any Sonlight book! I am an educator with a masters degree in education. I have high academic standards and high moral standards. I do protect my kids from as many bad influences as possible. But, I think Sonlight has it right: it is vital that we teach our kids about our world, the real world, not a sugar-coated version. That doesn't mean we condone immorality or poor choices, but we don't turn a blind eye either. We take the opportunity to teach our kids to think.

  7. JR

    I haven't found "questionable" books from SL yet, though we are still fairly new. What we have found, however, has been rewarding and very enriching. A few books have used the name of diety in a way that MY family prefers not to hear, but in a way that most others do use. So, for us, in those books, we simply make them a read-aloud and I substitute the words with terms more appropriate to our family culture.

    Looking forward into the high school years, I do expect certain "themes" in the books (like "The Scarlet Letter"). However, I would prefer not to ask my children to read books with the "f" word or with graphic sexual content and would greatly appreciate a "guide" for those categories.

    If SL is looking for a way to provide a "glimpse" into books with any sort of questionable content, may I direct you to one of my very favorite sites for an example?
    If I am in the market for a book to read (for myself), I will often peruse her site in search of something that fits my standards. More often than not I am reading teen lit, but at least I know ahead of time that the book is "clean". :)
    The above mentioned site provides a "grading scale" of content. What I may find tolerable may not be to another individual, and her site breaks it down into categories....much the way does with movies.

    If SL could somehow team up with the Literate Mother, I think you'd have a winning combination! :)

    All in all, the book selections have been fabulous and I am grateful that you have done much of the leg work for families like ours. Thank you!

  8. JR

    I should add that there are already a number of SL's picks on :)

  9. Debbie

    Luke, I agree with you!
    I have had several people question my choices on the books I let my kids read or that I read to them. Yup, we read the Bible, so I am not concerned. I would rather sit on my couch and talk about difficult subjects, than for my kids to learn about them on the street. Or in my case the neighborhood. My 11 year old son has had porn magazines shown to him by neighbor kids. Recently, my 9 year old was talked to about sex at a birthday party with her peers.
    Both kids came and talked to me about their experiences. They weren't shocked. They didn't understand the implied "taboo." I was able to tell them that their parents did not talk to them about how God designed men and women, so they had a curiosity that needed to be quenched. Unfortunately, the information they had and were sharing was not healthy or glorifying.
    I would like story this story with you. My 8 year old (artistic) daughter was sharing her art books with a family friend. She happened to pick out a beautiful Table Book of Michelangelo. The friend is a urologist and a Christian. You should have seen his face as she was going thru page by page explaining the pictures to him and telling about Michelangelo's life and works. He now will tell the story to others explaining just how uncomfortable he was, yet how confident she was. Finishing his story with "I AM A UROLOGIST." He, at the time, just couldn't believe that she wouldn't have been bothered by the pictures. This same doctor and wife have since then taken my oldest to India on 2 medical missions trips. (starting at age 14) He allowed her to be in the surgery room. Remember he is a urologist. Had he not had that experience with my youngest, he would not have had the confidence to bring the older into the surgery room. My oldest is now applying to nursing schools and will be making her third trip to India this fall.
    Thank you for adding those questionable books to your reading list. BTW we blame Sonlight's Eastern Hemisphere and the Passport to India for my daughter's passion for India, but that is another story!

  10. I agree with you. Harsh realities are a part of this world that we've been called to reach. Ask my oldest son, who spent a year in Afghanistan serving in the US Army infantry division. Ask my other children as we face each day with a special needs sibling. We are not "of" this world, but we are definitely "in" it for a reason.

  11. Erin L.

    I am a first year homeschooling mom- to my seventh grade son. I love Sonlight because it IS different than other curriculums I researched. I love Sonlight because there is a chance it might be scandalous and risqué. (Although we haven't encountered that in the seventh grade as much.) We chose to homeschool after I toured the middle school that my son would attend if he remained in public school. Um..... talk about scandalous and risqué.

    I know I can't always shelter my child from things such as this, but I love knowing that I have an opportunity to expose them little by little through the rich and diverse characters he meets through his reading of the Sonlight readers. And what about the characters he meets through reading the Bible???

    We actually have a funny story about that. We do the Bible readings from our curriculum together. I love hearing my kid's thoughts on the characters we encounter. (Have you read through the book of Genesis??? I can't imagine anything more scandalous, actually.) I noted out loud that I thought it was odd that Sonlight went straight from Genesis 18 to Genesis 20. (I am no Biblical scholar and in the moment didn't think to read ahead to find out....after all, it WAS the BIBLE.) My son, rather sarcastically, said, "Oooooooh......Is Genesis 19 too scandalous for my little seventh grade ears??"

    I, never wanting to miss an opportunity, responded, "However, WE are going to read Genesis 19."

    When we finished reading, we realized why Sonlight had left Genesis 19 out. (If you haven't read it, you'll have to read to find out what I'm talking about.) By the end, we were both beet red. My son, rather sheepishly, said, "I think the next time Sonlight leaves a chapter out we should skip it, too." I agreed.

    The conversation we had following this reading, though, was one I will hold close to my heart for a long time. We had one of the best conversations I have EVER had with my son about God's design for a relationship between a husband and a wife and the examples in Genesis 19 were FAR from God's design.

    We have had some really really tough days, but I am SO thankful to Sonlight for what they include in their curriculum and, now, what they DON'T include. We continue to pray for God's will in our future homeschooling endeavors, but know that Sonlight will be our first choice when choosing curriculum. As a homeschooling parent, my goal is NOT to shield my child from the sinful nature of this world that he will all too soon encounter, but to equip him with the tools necessary to face and combat them with the fruits of the Spirit. I would much rather him be exposed to the 'world' through the rich characters- the evil ones and the good ones- he encounters through reading Sonlight endorsed books while he is still under my roof. Lord knows, he WILL encounter them at some point.

  12. Thanks for your support, Chris.

    I'm sorry we'll miss you, Mrs. C! And, you are absolutely right. That's why I urge parents to keep content away that their children are not yet ready to handle. And may we never give kids trash simply because it's trashy!

    Sarah, absolutely. Being able to introduce these topics in the safety of your home is an incredible benefit! I believe the blogger updated with more specifics about the titles since I posted.

    Legume, thanks for sharing your story! That is very encouraging [smile].

    Whittney, I also really like Brave New World (but my wife hated it). I love that homeschooling allows us to revisit stuff years after we encountered it and discuss it with our children.

    May we do just that, Sarah: Teach our children to think, discern, and reach out in love to the hurting world around us.

    Thanks for the suggestion, JR!

    Praise God, Debbie! "My oldest is now applying to nursing schools and will be making her third trip to India this fall." Love this. Love it.

    Amen, Jennifer. May we extend God's grace in every situation we find ourselves.

    Erin, that story is hilarious [smile]. It is difficult to strike a balance, but I love how God can redeem even embarrassing and difficult situations. And I love this: "my goal is NOT to shield my child from the sinful nature of this world that he will all too soon encounter, but to equip him with the tools necessary to face and combat them with the fruits of the Spirit."

    Thank you all for jumping in here!


  13. Terrific post. I have always appreciated SL's honesty about this topic.

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