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Practical Homeschooling® :

Homeschool Supplier of the Year

By Mary Pride
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #47, 2002.

The biggest winner in our 2002 Reader Awards was Dr. Jay Wile's Apologia Educational Ministries—first place in all three relevant categories!
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Mary Pride

Dr. Wile proudly displays his 2002 “Homeschool Supplier of the Year” plaque. PHS readers voted him #1!
MARY PRIDE What kind of background did you have that led you to create your science courses?

DR. JAY WILE My original career plan right out of high school was to be an actor. I did a lot of theatre in high school, as a member of drama class, the Thespians, and community theatre, plus I played summer stock the summers after junior and senior year. I actually applied to college only as a backup plan. However, I decided acting was a difficult life, especially for a Christian. So I took the next logical step into nuclear chemistry.

MARY The next logical step?

JAY I was fascinated by the special effects in theatre, which are all chemistry-based. So if I was going to pick a science major, I liked nuclear chemistry best. It includes some of all the other sciences: physics, chemistry, and even biology in the form of nuclear medicine.

MARY How far did you go with your science studies?

JAY I have a Ph.D. in nuclear chemistry from the University of Rochester in New York State. I attended there both as an undergrad and a graduate student–about seven years.

MARY How did you pick the University of Rochester?

JAY I tried to pray through my college decision. Since I was a National Merit Finalist, they recruited me.

MARY After you graduated, what then?

JAY I took a position at Indiana U on the “professor track.” The way this usually works is you get a postdoctoral fellowship and work with another professor on his or her research. I did my research under Vic Viola, and was appointed an assistant professor so I could teach courses.

Ball State University (IN) then attracted me away with the offer of designing a special high school for gifted and talented students. This was in the fall of either 1990 or 1991. It was to be a publicly funded residential school. In sophomore year, students who were interested would take the SAT and fill out an application similar to a college application. Only this time they’d be applying to Indiana Academy for Science, Mathematics, and Humanities. If accepted, they would attend their junior and senior years. Indiana was the fourth or fifth state in the nation to do this.

MARY Why residential?

JAY To attract gifted and talented throughout the state. Instead of 30 magnet schools, they only needed one residential school.

I was promised “totally open debate” on differing points of view. I taught a class, “Fundamental of Origin Science,” which presented creation vs. evolution vs. panspermia vs. the “anthropomorphic universe.” Anyway, kids loved this class. Kids always love scientific controversy.

MARY So, why aren’t you still teaching there today?

JAY I did stay two years, and the class time was the best I’ve ever had. Most of my students were very eager to learn and of course quite gifted. But the opportunity for debate wasn’t nearly as open as those in charge had promised me.

What finally pushed me to leave was when a visiting parent, thinking of putting children his children in this school, asked me, “Would you put your child here?” I had to say I would not.

MARY So far your life has all taken place in institutional educational settings. How did you discover homeschooling?

JAY While I was at the Indiana Academy, I was appointed an assistant professor of chemistry at Ball State. When I left the Indiana Academy, I continued to teach chemistry, but the physics department also requested I teach a course also. That’s where I started experiencing home educated students.

One day, driving to work, I suddenly realized that my top three students at Ball State had all been homeschooled. So I started looking into homeschooling. For me, this means that I went to the library and searched for research about homeschooling. The research was pretty clear that homeschoolers are better prepared for college and diverse social situations than are publicly or privately schooled students.

I wanted to learn more, so I contacted the Indiana Association of Home Education (IAHE), They set up a couple of seminars for me to give to home educating parents: “How to Prepare Your Child for College,” etc. The basic idea was, “Here’s a college professor who wants to tell you some things.”

The first question these homeschooling parents always asked was, “What science curriculum do you recommend?” So I asked IAHE to send me information and I requested catalogs, just to see what was out there. I didn’t like much of what I saw. A Beka and Bob Jones are pretty solid courses, but they were designed for schools. Some other courses designed for the home I didn’t think were rigorous enough to be college prep.

MARY And that was when you branched out into curriculum writing?

JAY I decided I would try and write for home-educated students in a co-op I’d been asked to teach in Indianapolis. I told them that instead of teaching in the co-op, I would write a course chapter by chapter and send it to the parents to teach chapter by chapter. They could teach it themselves, and they could ask me questions.

I had no intention of marketing this thing—I was just writing it for these folks. I lecture from very sparse notes, so I thought it would be fun to see what I teach.

Even before the course was completed, friends of the participants were calling to request the course.

MARY What was this first course like?

JAY It was nothing fancy, just desktop publishing with holes punched in it for a 3-ring binder, I kept sending my course out to people who requested it. I told them, “If you like, send us a check, If not, send it back.” The chemistry course was selling for $90 because desktop publishing is so expensive.

MARY That’s true. The hurdle every new publisher has to jump is making the transition from Kinko’s to a real printer.

JAY The physics course came next. As a professor, I was just doing this on the side for fun. I thought physics and chemistry would be it and I would be done.

Then parents with younger kids wanted me to write a biology course. I had never taught biology, so I teamed up with a co-op teacher, Marilyn Durnell, who’d been using my chemistry course in her co-op. I wrote the book, she wrote the labs, and she reviewed all my stuff. She also set up the layout of the course. It was a true team effort.

At this point, I decided it was time to take this really seriously and started thinking more along business lines: going to more conferences, doing a little advertising here and there. Finally we made the “Kinko’s to printer” transition!

MARY Are you still teaching at Ball State?

JAY I left the university in 1995 or 1996. One reason was that we had adopted a 15-year-old girl. When you do college teaching right—doing research and involving your students in research—it’s a very demanding job. I got a job in the private sector working for a medical diagnostics company, automating several processes.

MARY Whoa! That sounds more like an engineering job!

JAY Well, as a nuclear chemist, to prevent radioactive exposure you’re isolated in another room from your equipment, so you have to be familiar with robotics and automation.

I worked for this company three years full-time, but only 40 hours a week, doing the homeschool business on the side. Our daughter also got involved in the business and we were homeschooling her not too long after we adopted her.

Eventually I was able to cut back to four days a week (still working 40 hours), then to two days a week (20 hours), then on January 15, 2000, I graduated to just being a consultant. I still get occasional calls, but now my main focus is my company, Apologia Educational Ministries.

MARY Tell me about your other courses.

JAY Physical Science came out in 1999, the year after Biology. At that point we had enough customer base. All we had to do was advertise we were writing a new course. We kept this idea of writing the course while students were taking it. I would write the course module by module and send it to our “curriculum testing group.” They’d let me know any problems they were having—if an experiment didn’t work well or if they were having trouble understanding any of it—so it could be rewritten before final production.

MARY Did they get some special discount?

JAY They were willing to pay as they went, just because they were so anxious to get the course as quickly as possible. I thought that was a good way to produce it. The Biology testing group had 140 students in it. The Physical Science course had over 100 students using it as it came out lesson by lesson.

After Physical Science, we wrote what’s designed to be the first course you take with us, our General Science course. That should be taken in seventh grade. We recommend Physical Science for eighth grade. We would like to see students get one college-level course under their belt before they finish high school. So this is the sequence:

  • Biology in ninth grade
  • Chemistry in tenth
  • Physics in eleventh

Choose the science you like the most and do a second year of that in twelfth grade: Advanced Biology, Advanced Chemistry, or Advanced Physics.

MARY Are they all available?

JAY Advanced Physics is currently being written. It’s due out sometime during the 2002–2003 academic year. Like our other Advanced courses, it will cover the full AP curriculum.

MARY Any new projects?

JAY Our next project will be college-level biology from creationist perspective. I’m hiring three college professors to write the book. I’ll also write a little bit of it.

MARY Who’s going to use this?

JAY Christian schools who want to teach biology from a creationist viewpoint. The way Christian colleges do this now is to use an evolutionary textbook and argue with the author.

MARY Do you have any add-ons to your existing courses?

JAY A couple. Students can contact us whenever they’re confused. We have a toll (not toll-free) phone number, an email address, and a knowledge base on our web site you can search for FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions). We always get back to curriculum-related questions within a business day.

Two full-time teachers teach our Apologia courses online. The school we teach through is called The Potter’s School (www.pottersschool.com). We’re basically their science department.

MARY Are these courses synchronous (real-time) or asynchronous (do it at your own pace)?

JAY It’s synchronous teaching with videoconferencing, webcam, whiteboard, and a web touring feature. The teacher inputs a website and everyone in the class goes there.

Our teachers teach 14 sections each. A section is a 90-minute class that meets once a week. There are 15 students per section. If you sign up for Biology, you pick a class time.

MARY Are these full-year or semester courses?

JAY It’s a full-year course. You start right after Labor Day and finish at the end of May.

Both of our teachers have taught in the public schools and consider this a much better situation. Students taking these courses need to be extremely deadline-oriented, because there is little to no grace for lateness or special situations.

MARY I hear you’re also working with Classical Free Academy (CFA).

JAY CFA envisions several levels of teaching. Our level is the “monitor” level. There’s a forum that you post to, and our two teachers and I watch that forum and post answers. We’re not teaching classes or grading papers with Classical Free. We’re doing that with Potter’s School.

MARY What do those Potter’s School courses cost?

JAY I believe this year that junior high is just under $300, and high school is $330. It’s all through Potter’s School and they set the prices.

MARY Do you have an idea how many students are using your courses?

JAY It’s hard to say. We have about 50,000 courses out there.

MARY What has the reaction been from colleges when homeschool students present these courses?

JAY I can tell you what students who are at college say about their preparation. What we’ve heard . . . of course, you wonder if we’d hear the negatives . . . is quite incredible. We’ve heard from two chemistry students who’ve won Chemistry Student of the Year awards from their universities. We have several who have written saying that their peers are coming to them for tutoring. I’ve had students write me telling me that they used one of my courses in high school. Now that they’re in college, they’re having their parents buy the other courses, to use alongside the incomprehensible college course. One such student raised his grade from a 70 percent to 100 percent after using our book.

MARY What are the prospects for repurposing your courses for college?

JAY The Apologia courses are designed specifically for the home. If I were to write a textbook, it would have to be completely different, because an independent study course and classroom course are completely different.

A textbook is primarily a reference tool. It is not a teaching tool.

The textbook is designed to be read before you come to class and the teacher fills in the holes. The textbook, by definition, is supposed to cover significantly more material than the teacher does in class.

I would never purchase a textbook for a classroom that only covered the material I’d cover in class. It limits your academic flexibility.

When I was writing my courses, I said, “Here’s what a student needs to cover in a year to be solidly prepared for the college course.” If I were to write a textbook for a class, I would essentially cover the entire AP course.

MARY Tell me more about the difference between “textbooks” and “courses.”

JAY Parents are expecting A Beka and Bob Jones to be courses, but they’re not . . . they’re textbooks.

Take BJUP Biology, the older edition that people were buying four years ago. Give that whole book to the average homeschool student and he’ll choke on it. It’s an AP Biology book. It covers everything a college course would cover in a year. But the average high-school student can’t do that in his first look at a course. You need, as his teacher, to pick out what should be concentrated on.

MARY I’ve never seen what you just said in print anywhere.

JAY These are trade secrets! [laughs.]

The whole purpose of a textbook is to present much more than the teacher is going to teach, so he can pick and choose. “I’ll choose this, this, and this, because this is what I like and am enthusiastic about . . . or this is important.”

MARY What’s the proper way to use a textbook?

JAY The proper way to use a textbook is in the classroom setting. The student reads whatever is going to be covered in class before he gets to class. The teacher teaches from this area of subject matter and lets the student know, “Here’s what I’m covering, and here’s the portion of what I’m covering I’ll hold you responsible for.” The student highlights and studies these areas.

By the way, 90 percent of the F’s I gave in college were to students who didn’t have that science course in high school. That’s why you need science in high school. Then when you get to college, some of your college course is review of what you already learned in high school. It’s much easier for a student to fill in the additional material that’s added in the college course than to learn it all for the first time.

MARY How are textbooks misused by teachers and students?

JAY Often the teacher doesn’t let the student know just what he’s accountable for. Then the student is overwhelmed by all the material in the textbook and notes.

Often the teacher gives extraneous material with nothing to reference. The teacher gives material that is not in the book, but does not provide written reference material. A good teacher always gives something in print that covers the subject.

MARY Isn’t that why students are supposed to take notes?

JAY Students take notes, but their notes are often incomprehensible and don’t cover the subject properly . . .

In my opinion, the teacher should never diverge from the book. The teacher should always find a book that covers everything the teacher wants to cover. Of course, I’m only talking about science.

The way students misuse textbooks is that very rarely do you find a student who reads the text before coming to class. When they take their notes, they don’t have a reference frame to put their notes in, so when they study, they will have a plan for marking up their book as a reference. It’s like trying to use an encyclopedia as a reference: what part of the “ants” lecture is in the “ants” section, and what part is in “cellular biology” section? Etc.

One reason my homeschooled kids were so much better than the average kids was that they were used to reading the book. They transferred this to college and it works really well. Remember your homeschool experience, and keep reading the book, even though you have a teacher teaching it.

For homeschooled kids who are currently using science textbooks: Don’t get all wrapped up in worrying about remembering every detail in the textbook. It’s not designed for you to read and remember every bit. Don’t even think of trying to complete that book in a year unless you’re a superstar student. Most students aren’t like that!

If I were using a textbook in a homeschool situation, and didn’t know which subjects were or were not in important, my goal would be to do 70–75 percent in a year. In a chemistry book, the hard stuff is at the end of the book. A lot of colleges don’t even cover those last few chapters any more.

MARY Where is the current homeschool movement headed, in your opinion?

JAY It’s certainly expanding. Some of that is good, and some of that is bad. As homeschooling becomes more popular, you get folks who aren’t doing it for the right reason anymore.

There is a class of homeschooling advocates who think everyone should homeschool. I’m not one of them. It’s probably the best option for the student, if the parent is motivated. Some people get mad at the school system or principal and say, “I’m going to pull my kid out!” Someone who’s serious about doing it right will study about it long before they decide to do it. . . .

Years ago, parents would agonize over the decision, read books, talk to other people, etc. We see that statistically in that there is now a higher number who pull their kids out for a year or two, homeschool them, and put them back in. It can harm a student to flounder for a year or two. . . .

The good side is that since the homeschool movement is growing, more people are finding out it’s a viable option. When someone 10 years ago may have thought it was illegal, or didn’t know who to contact, now it’s so much more accessible.

MARY Any other changes you see?

JAY There are more secular homeschoolers today, and it sets up a tension. I see this at conventions. Long-term, I expect that Christian homeschoolers will gravitate to Christian conventions, and secular homeschoolers gravitate to secular conventions.

I was speaking in Saskatchewan. Eighty percent of the homeschoolers were Christian. They wanted me to talk about science and also about creation/evolution. The secular people said they would walk if creation/evolution was included. So I gave those talks on Sunday in a local church.

I expect to see more balkanization of homeschool groups into purely secular or purely Christian. More secular resources are being written for the homeschool movement. I’ve already talked to one homeschool curriculum provider who is a Christian but did not want to put Christianity into his materials for fear of losing the non-Christians.

MARY For Christians, isn’t this shooting ourselves in the foot?

JAY It’s the most insane idea in the world that we can be neutral about the existence of God. If the existence of God is never mentioned in my school, I’m teaching the student that question isn’t even important. “I’m spending eight hours a day learning about chemistry, history, and math, but not about God, so God is not important.”

The best way to be neutral is to provide the opposing views: a Christian context, Buddhist context, atheist context. Tell the student, “A lot of people are interested in these questions and here’s how some people answer them.”

The fastest-growing 24-hour service is Fox News. They try to be neutral by having both right-wing and left-wing on their show. Not to make the news antiseptic, but to include all the views.

JAY Would it not be possible to have a secular program in chemistry, and alongside it teach a Christian worldview, and still have it be Christian?

MARY If the subject matter itself does not have a worldview application, then I don’t see any reason to sprinkle worldview in there. But on the other hand I’d never say, “Don’t put Bible verses in your math course,”

MARY Any advice for homeschool students?

My first advice is, as long as your parents are willing: Stay in homeschool all the way through high school. A solid homeschool experience is significantly better than what you’ll get in public school or private school.

The second thing I’d say is that, if you’d asked me when I was teaching as a college professor, “Is there any hope for America?” I would have said, “Absolutely not. America will fall just like the Roman Empire.” If you asked me that question now, I would say, “The most likely outcome is still that we will fall like Rome, but new hope comes from the homeschooled students.”

Every homeschooled student needs to think about how to make that hope possible. Find a leadership position that matches your gifts. Homeschool your own kids.

MARY Any advice for homeschool parents?

JAY The first thing I’d say is, “Avoid charter schools at all costs.

MARY Your reason being?

JAY Charter schools attract you in with the idea that you’ll have a completely flexible curriculum and they’ll pay all your costs. Once you get hooked, they start tightening the screws. For example, the IDEA program in Alaska originally allowed homeschoolers to buy Christian materials. Then they decided just not to pay for explicitly Christian materials. They told me to retitle my book and leave out the word “Creation” and then the IDEA parents could buy it. Now, nothing that mentions God at all is allowed.

But unfortunately parents get hooked into this idea that the curriculum is free. Normally, homeschool parents start setting aside the money for their fall curriculum. But when they stop setting aside the money, they start saying, “No way can I afford to pay for my own curriculum.”

Even though getting free curriculum sounds great, don’t do it.

MARY Any other thoughts for parents?

JAY Number Two would be to thoroughly check out the curriculum you’re going to use. Since the homeschool market expanded, there’s a lot of material out there that doesn’t belong in a Christian homeschool.

Being able to read it all yourself will be difficult, especially since you’re not an expert in all the occult techniques and New Age views. Talk to other people you trust and look at reliable reviews. Since people know how to market things, they know how to make their material sound Christian when it’s not.

I’ve got a Christian cataloger who sells among other things a DK tape on birds. It has a section on “bird mythology.” This section refers to Christ’s resurrection as a myth.

Most people think if they’re shopping at a Christian convention, at least the materials there won’t be anti-Christian. But I see materials that I consider anti-Christian right there in the convention hall.

Certainly the frequency of anti-Christian material will be less in a Christian catalog or at a Christian convention, but it won’t necessarily be nonexistent.

MARY Any advice for other would-be curriculum writers and publishers?

JAY Don’t take out the Christianity just to theoretically provide a larger market for your books. Stick with your beliefs.

We’ve been asked time and time again to de-Christianize our Apologia science curriculum. We actually started to let one charter school do that, and we were so upset with how they started out that we pulled our curriculum from them.

Curriculum that accurately conveys the proper worldview is so much more effective. That’s what makes the difference between science that’s just OK and science that’s truly God-honoring.

On a practical level, the first thing you want to do is provide one volume for the student and one for the parents, so the user isn’t fumbling between a student book, a teacher’s manual, a solutions manual, a test bank, and so on.

Make curriculum help available. This is so crucial! We don’t hear from 80 percent of our students. The 20 percent we do hear from just contact us once or twice a year when they come to some sticky spot they can’t handle by themselves. If you give them the ability to clear those hurdles, it’s so much better for the students.

Getting out to the conventions was for me the most confirming experience I was doing the right thing. Hearing those words of encouragement face to face means a lot.

It’s a tough business to be in, and if I didn’t have all that confirmation, I don’t know how I could keep going.

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