Saturday, January 31, 2009

A change of interpretation on CHEC

Due to some private correspondence, I was inspired, as it were, to go back through what little correspondence I have related to the Sonlight and CHEC situation. And, as hinted at in my response to the 40th comment on that post (go to the comments screen and do a search for "John Holzmann"), I have begun to think become convinced there probably is a different interpretation to be placed on the facts of this case. [Strikethroughs and bolds because the view I was beginning to form as I first started writing this post has now--just a couple of hours ago--been confirmed . . . as you will see.]

I think the question I raised in my original post (about who controls your thinking) still remains. But I am beginning to think now convinced there is "something more" going on than what I suggested in my original post. And I agree with the commenter to whom I replied: I, too, find it "odd that [CHEC] wouldn’t just come out and say this when [we] asked for clarification."

Or maybe not.

Maybe it's not that anyone at CHEC is was attempting to do anything nefarious. Rather, there is was, possibly, some real disagreement on the part of those who are were making the decisions at the very top. [And, as I have become convinced, now, as I prepare this post for posting, the organization was still working through its philosophy and approach throughout the time that Sonlight was "caught in the riptide," as it were. --You can now read the historical narrative contained here, or "simply" jump to the last-quoted letter from January 28th and see the conclusion.]

Before I begin, I should note. In going back through my correspondence, I discovered my memory of chronology, as expressed in my January 20th post, was off. The Sonlight banning first cropped up in December of '07. That was after I had tendered my resignation to Sonlight, but before it became effective. [And perhaps I should add: we felt a tremor about six months prior to the outright banning. Despite Sonlight having paid for and been confirmed that it had three booths at the convention, when the Sonlight representative arrived at the 2007 convention, she found she had been downgraded to two booths. Moreover, at some point during the convention, a representative from CHEC came by and told her she was not permitted to display certain Usborne books. "This is a Christian organization and you may not display those books in our conference hall." --Our representative didn't tell me about those conversations until mid-January last year. But, she noted, those incidents "should have told me Sonlight was in trouble."]


My first follow-up letter to CHEC's executive director, Kevin Swanson, was as follows:
From: John Holzmann
Sent: Wednesday, December 19, 2007 6:11 PM
To: Kevin Swanson
Subject: Strange letter . . .


. . . Our conference coordinator, Jessica Brown, forwarded me a letter she received from Mike Cheney. It seems to communicate some rather serious concerns about Sonlight Curriculum--either the company, the curriculum, our behavior at last year's conference, or something. Yet Mike says, "It is our policy not to provide . . . precise [information]" regarding matters about which the committee has concerns.

In other words, it appears, we are not to be granted the opportunity to discover our failures, repent of any wrongdoing, make right anything we have done wrong, or to seek mutual understanding if and to whatever extent there may have been some kind of misunderstanding that led committee members to the opinions they hold and the decisions they have made with respect to Sonlight.

Because of Mike's apparent inability (based on the committee's unwillingness) to discuss these matters, I figure I have no alternative but to communicate with you to see if you may be able to shed some light on the deeper issues so we might fix what is wrong and do better in the future.

Mike gave no indication that he had sent a copy of his letter to you or to anyone else at CHEC, so I would like to copy it here for your benefit. [NOTE: The letter included no date.]

of Colorado

Sonlight Curriculum
Jessica Brown
8042 S Grant Way
Littleton, CO 80122

Dear Jessica,

The vendor committee reviews all current vendors who have placed a deposit for next year's conference considering a variety of factors, such as:
  • The overall worldview represented in the product(s) or service(s) offered,
  • The suitability of the product/service for the homeschooling market,
  • The creativity, originality, utility, and professionalism of the product offering.

This process is challenging and requires much prayerful consideration as we try to balance the vision of direction of CHEC with the needs of you, our partners in ministry.

Unfortunately, at times we are lead [sic] to the realization that a partnership we have had in the past is not the best fit for a partnership in the future. The vendor committee has determined to deny your request to be a vendor with us at next year's conference. The vendor committee's decision is final. Our decisions are made by a volunteer committee. The members provide an opinion individually and together they arrive at a consensus on each vendor applying for the hall.

It is our policy not to provide the precise reasons for the rejection. This is because those on the committee may have different rationale [sic] for their vote.

Although these letters are always difficult to write, the vendor committee was unanimous in their decision.

Please be aware that CHEC provides other avenues by which you may showcase your product or service to the homeschool community in the Rocky Mountain region, via advertising in the conference program, the hand out bag, and CHEC's Homeschool magazine, the Update.

We regret that we cannot accommodate your product offering in our vendor hall this year. We did not charge the credit card number provided at the conference for your deposit.

Mike Cheney
Conference Coordinator

10431 South Parker Road, Parker, Colorado 80134 * 720-842-4852 * 1-877-842-CHEC *
I hope you can understand not only how strange, but distressing such a letter might sound to a company such as ours that has taken pleasure in its 17-year history of serving hundreds of thousands of (primarily evangelical Christian) homeschoolers the world over, including thousands of evangelical Christian ambassadors . . . who are working in some of the world's most difficult contexts.

Knowing our history, our commitments and our clientele, I (and we, as a company) seriously wonder: What could Mike possibly mean when he says the committee has been led [by God? Through "much prayerful consideration"] to "the realization that a partnership [with Sonlight] is not the best fit for . . . the future"?
  • Somehow our "overall worldview" has become unacceptable according to CHEC's doctrinal standards?
  • CHEC has deemed Sonlight no longer suitable for homeschoolers?
  • We've somehow lost our touch and are no longer creative, original, useful or professional enough? . . . (????)
  • Something else?

We are completely undone!

More confusing: How is it possible that the committee has "realized" that "a partnership we have had in the past" with our company--a company that must be failing substantially in one or more areas "such as" those highlighted in Mike's letter . . . --How is it possible that the committee can "realize" a company is failing so thoroughly that it can no longer exhibit at the CHEC convention, yet that same company is still "good enough" to be featured in the conference program, hand out bag, and/or CHEC's magazine?

Also: What should we make of the unanimous and (apparently) blanket rejection into "the future" alongside the (apparently) more limited statement about the committee's inability to "accommodate [our] product offering in our vendor hall this year"?

I hope you can understand the confusion this letter has caused us. Should we figure the committee has cast us into the outer darkness forever, so it is a waste of time even to apply in the future? Or . . . (???)

And in terms of our ability to re-forge a "partnership" with CHEC: How might we go about proving our renewed (possible) worthiness to the committee? And/or when might you suggest we could expect it would be reasonable to think we might be forgiven by the committee for whatever errors we have committed or wrongdoings we have perpetrated?

Thanks for any insight you may be able to offer.



John Holzmann, Co-Owner
Sonlight Curriculum, Ltd. - "The way you wish you'd been taught. Guaranteed."
His reply:
From: Kevin Swanson
Sent: Wednesday, December 19, 2007 8:19 PM
To: John Holzmann
Subject: Re: Strange letter . . .


This is the first I've heard of this. I will look into it and get back with you.

Thanks for the heads up.

Kevin S.
Two days later he wrote,

From: Kevin Swanson
Sent: Friday, December 21, 2007 1:26 PM
To: John Holzmann
Subject: Re: Strange letter . . .

Dear John,

I was surprised to see this move on the part of the vendor committee.

Typically, our volunteer vendor committee works independently and makes their often politically-sensitive decisions independent of myself and the board of CHEC. Believe me, I didn't know they were moving in the direction of the present action. As CHEC is a large volunteer organization, I allow a great deal of independence and leeway in decision making.

What you received is a standard form letter sent to those that are rejected. At this point, I need to do some digging, meet with the committee, find out some more of the specifics, and get back with you.

I plan to bring the CHEC board in on this as well, as I'm sure most if not all of the board members were unaware of this action.


Kevin Swanson
Sometime about January 22 of 2008, I was informed some representatives from CHEC would like to meet with me and so our general manager and I met with CHEC's executive director, Kevin Swanson, their president, Bill Roach, and Kevin's right-hand apprentice--Kevin's son--at the Sonlight offices on Saturday, February 2, 2008.

At that meeting, Kevin and Bill said they felt they needed to review our materials. So we gave them what we thought were representative samples of our program, including a couple of Instructors Guides and a few of the books we publish.

On Monday, 3/17/08, I wrote the following:
From: John Holzmann
Sent: Monday, March 17, 2008 1:05 PM
To: Kevin Swanson
Subject: Sonlight and CHEC


. . . My staff and I would very much like to know how your review of our materials is going. I also thought I would share "the latest" I have heard. . . .


One of our customers, apparently, wound up talking with someone "higher up" in CHEC about why CHEC seems to have problems with Sonlight.

Among other things, she said, she was told,
Sonlight has 5 books that are of great concern to the conference board. Apparently one of the books is very anti Christian because it is about a girl author who lies to her parents by writing and having published her works under a pseudo name. At the end the mother finds out the truth and said since it was her daughter it was fine. There were no notes in the IG about the deceit and lying.

I asked Sarita what whoever-it-is could possibly be referring to. She immediately guessed: "Oh! They're complaining about The School Story! . . ." And when she got me the book, I remembered having read it myself. And I have to confess: both Sarita and I are astonished at the alleged complaint.

The story is about Natalie, a middle school-age girl whose mother is an editor in a major children's book publishing house. Natalie has written a novel. Her friend Zoe sees the manuscript and says, "You've got to get this published!" . . . And Zoe decides to act as Natalie's agent. Since both girls are well-familiar with Natalie's mom's employer, Zoe decides she has to get Natalie's book in front of Natalie's mom's employer . . . without the employer (or Natalie's mom) suspecting that Natalie might be the author. (After all, being related to an employee of a company like that could cause problems one way or the other: EITHER they'll reject the book outright for possible conflict-of-interest OR they will face real conflicts-of-interest as they push it through.) . . . So Zoe has the manuscript submitted under a pseudonym . . . and she herself goes to some trouble in order to come across as someone with far more gravitas than a 12-year-old would normally have in the business world. . . .

In the end, the publisher does accept the book for publication and the girls' subterfuge isn't revealed to the publisher (and Natalie's mom) until the publication party at which the author is to be feted. . . .


Ay-yi-yi! . . . Let's see. What kinds of notes should we include?


Oh. Our customer was told one more thing, she says. Supposedly,
All Sonlight has to do is replace those 4 or 5 books and it will be allowed to submit next year and start back at the bottom.
???!!! . . . Assuming any of these things are true, it is really too bad we haven't heard any of these things from CHEC! . . . And it sure would be nice if we knew which "4 or 5 books" those are!

At this point, however, I think I should note: Sarita is now deeply troubled about the idea of doing business with CHEC in the future.

"For what are we going to be called on the carpet next?" she asks. "The fact that we carry Amelia Bedelia?" (One of our [former] customers returned her curriculum for exactly that reason. The Amelia Bedelia books, she said, "mock people with learning disabilities." . . . Uh. Not really. But how do you respond to such charges? . . . )


But honestly, Kevin, based on our conversation, the real, underlying issue has to do with Sonlight's supposed failure to uphold "young earthism," doesn't it? And if so, I would like to make a formal complaint about how CHEC--and the CHEC convention committee--is handling this issue.

I looked again this morning. There is nothing in CHEC's Statement of Faith about a commitment to young-earthism. Nothing. So if the committee really has no such basis for judging Sonlight on this ground, does it? Or, if it does, then shouldn't these doctrinal commitments be stated publicly, so all the world can see?

But, please, if CHEC is determined to narrow its faith statement so much, may I challenge you--an OPC pastor: Consider carefully how far you are willing to permit this kind of thing to go. Will CHEC next ban anyone who fails to uphold adults-only baptism? Premillennial dispensationalism? Dresses only? Head-coverings for women? Quiverfull thinking? Not teaching your daughters how to drive? . . .

Where will this kind of judgment of its vendors' "Christian/biblical thinking" stop for CHEC?

If CHEC is going to ban Sonlight Curriculum, a company that serves--and has served--tens of thousands of evangelical Christians, including thousands of missionaries from many of the leading evangelical Christian mission organizations, it seems there is no end to where it will go in judging fellow believers and their apparent lack of discernment.


One last comment.

I have to confess: this whole "process" has left a bad taste in our mouths.

For your consideration, as the CEO of the organization: Is CHEC conducting its affairs in a Christ-like manner? Would Jesus condemn someone without explanation and with a specific demand that the condemned not attempt to gain understanding for the basis on which she/he/they have been condemned? Would Jesus show the kind of partiality it appears Sonlight is being shown (in which our materials are being reviewed in detail for whatever--it appears--committee members can find to complain about, while others seem to get a pass)? . . .

Thanks so much for listening to me!

He replied:
From: Kevin Swanson
Sent: Friday, March 21, 2008 10:05 AM
To: John Holzmann
Subject: status

Hi John,

. . . I have no idea who this woman talked to. We have in no uncertain terms instructed our staff not to speak to this issue at all, and to refer all questions to Bill and myself. Whatever she heard is definitively nothing I would recognize from the board/exec staff discussions. At this point, if people are not speaking to Kevin Swanson or Bill Roach on any of this, they are speaking with the rumor mill.

Now... to where I am... I have had an opportunity to look through some of the materials, and I'm still a little confused, and here's what's got me confused.

Your philosophy statement in the catalogue is excellent. I couldnt' (sic) have written a better one myself. Education is not neutral. Either it will be taught in the fear of God or it will not be taught in the fear of God.

Yet, as I read through the Biology 1 syllabus and workbook that you sent down... I'm not seeing a God-centered metaphysic weaving through it. (I'm certainly willing to be corrected on this perception, John.)

What I see is a verse at the front of it, that seems sort of like a post-it note at the beginning. I see a short summary of Russell Humphrey's view on the age of the earth.

But as far as the content of it... We read Rachel Carson's book... and I'm wondering whether Rachel fears God. Does Rachel maintain the right metaphysic throughout, and if not, does the student ever notice it? Is God missing? Why does Rachel want to preserve the earth? Why do we want to preserve/take dominion over the earth?

At the end of each book, does the student understand both the creation and the providence of God, and is he/she pressed to worship God? In fact, I only found 1 or 2 references to God in the entire syllabus, which seemed strange when the books appear to be written by those of a materialistic/naturalistic mindset.

Now, I know that nobody does any of this perfectly. I can see that Wile tries to include references to "Creation" throughout his books. You see references like "God has designed each living organism's. . . " or "Symbiosis is an incredible testament to God's forethought in designing his creation..."

I know that you like to use books written by materialists/naturalists for their engaging content. But I wonder how you intend to weave the fear of God and a God-centered metaphysic back into the course? If you could just share a little bit on how you intended to do that in the Intro to Biology course, I think that would be helpful for me.

Thanks John. I hope you don't find this too burdensome. I'm trying to assess what is a Christian vs. a secular curriculum, and to tell you the truth I haven't really spent a whole lot of time thinking about it (esp. in the implementation phase.) It's one thing to philosophize, it's a lot harder to implement!

Yours in Christ,
Now, looking back on this, I see something I had not noticed before. All of a sudden, instead of this being a matter of the vendor committee and the vendor committee's issues in which Kevin maintains a hands-off stance, it became something very much more personal for Kevin. And I understand something that transpired a little over a month ago. But I'll get to that in a moment.
First, here's how I replied to Kevin's email:
From: John Holzmann
Sent: Wednesday, March 26, 2008 5:15 PM
To: Kevin Swanson
Subject: RE: status

Dear Kevin:

Thanks so much for taking the time to respond to my email! And for the detailed comments. Please forgive my slow reply. I was away at a conference in California over the weekend through Monday evening, and I've been pretty buried trying to catch up.

In response to your email in general, two things strike me:
  1. Your comments are wonderfully thought-provoking and challenge us to do WAY more and WAY better than we have in the past and/or up to the present in terms of, as you put it, “[weaving] a God-centered metaphysic” through our curriculum. Indeed, speaking very candidly, I will confess you have, as it were, “caught us with our shorts down” . . . and I appreciate your pointing that out so as to challenge us to do better.

    As we had intended to begin our science curriculum revision within the month, this is perfect timing!

    To push this one step further, however (partially in order, potentially, to receive some further clarification on what you may have in mind): let me say that I don't think Sonlight Curriculum provides in the science program you're reviewing answers to questions such as those you have asked:
    • “Does Rachel [Carson] maintain the right metaphysic throughout?” [No. Her metaphysic, as you call it—a word which no average American Christian would ever use— . . . Her metaphysic is non-Christian. ]
    • “Is God missing?” [Yes.]
    • “Why does Rachel want to preserve the earth?” [Because the world is less beautiful, less pleasant, the fewer species there are. . . . ] “Why do we want to preserve/take dominion over the earth?” [For the glory of God; to advance His Kingdom; because He commanded us to. . . . ]

    --I have few doubts: virtually all Sonlighters doing the course in question (parents and students) could answer these questions as well as I have.

    I get thinking, however: does one’s ability to answer such academic questions have much of anything to do with changing students’ hearts? (I doubt it.) So, then, what do we gain by asking the questions (that they could answer if they were asked)?

    Moving on:
    • “At the end of each book, does the student understand both the creation and the providence of God?” [I don't know. But, in most cases, since Sonlight has left that up to the students’ parents—much as “the” evangelical church, in general, has left far too much education totally up to [woefully uneducated] parents—I expect not. We could certainly speak more forthrightly and directly to the subject. And I believe Sonlight ought to do such a thing. . . .]
    • “Is he/she pressed to worship God?” [Sonlight Curriculum does not take it upon itself directly to press either students or parents to worship God.]

    You made a few additional comments:

    “I wonder how you intend to weave the fear of God and a God-centered metaphysic back into the course?”

    My response: ????

    If it were up to me, I'd write everything in a manner similar to how I wrote my Introduction to Biology book, or my Incans, Aztecs & Mayans book (in the Core curriculum). . . . But I'm afraid a steady diet at that level would quickly kill off any young- to middle-elementary child’s desire to continue learning. . . . Personally, I think a few doses, here and there, is probably strong enough medicine. I don't think we need to hit kids (or parents) over the head with our metaphysic at every turn. . . . ]

    And then you asked/suggested: “If you could just share a little bit on how you intended to do that in the Intro to Biology course, I think that would be helpful for me.”

    Again I reply: ????

    The question itself confuses me, Kevin. Are you writing to me personally, as a friend? Functionally, as a brother in Christ and/or an ordained minister of God? Formally, as the president of CHEC?

    I am delighted to think that you might ask me such a question as a friend, as a brother in Christ, and/or as a minister of God. But if I assume (as I think I ought) that you are asking this question as the president of CHEC, I am uncertain how to respond and to what end. How would I be helping you? And toward what end do you think I should be seeking to help you?


    Well, I have gone very deep in expressing my first “thought.”

    Here is (or was) my second “thought” upon reading your email:
  2. I think there is little question Sonlight is being singled out.

    As I wrote to our management team, Kevin:

    I think, on the one hand, we should seek to make the Sonlight science program SIGNIFICANTLY more biblical/Christian than it is at present. I think, on the other, it is legitimate for us to cry "foul" about how we are being treated by the CHEC convention committee and/or CHEC’s board.

    If you-all want to ban Sonlight from your convention for the kinds of failures you appear to be hinting at in your email, then it sounds as if CHEC needs to shut down its convention, period, don't you think? Because I can't imagine half of the vendors at your convention could answer to the satisfaction you seem to require from us questions about maintaining a “right metaphysic” [or even being concerned about their metaphysics] in their products and services:

    • RightStart Mathematics?
    • Mathetes Solutions?
    • Classics for Childhood?
    • Drills, Skills & More?
    • BooksBloom?
    • Good Things Company?
    • NEST Family Entertainment?
    • Miller Pads and Paper
    • Thetford Country?
    • Christian Writers Guild?
    • The Family Baker?
    • R & D Educational Center?
    • Progeny Press?
    • Edu-Track Home School
    • CollegePlus! ?
    • Generation Joshua?
    • Exploration Education?
    • Colorado State History by A Helping Hand?
    • Bright Ideas Press?
    • Heart of Dakota Publishing, Inc.?
    • The Critical Thinking Co?
    • Classical Conversations?
    • Math on the Level?
    • Write Minded Education, Inc.?
    • Excellence in Writing?
    • Dragonfly Innovation Inc.?
    • Math-U-See?
    • Teach4Mastery?
    • Rainbow Resource Center, Inc.?
    • Auralog?
    • Jim Hodges Audio Books?
    • Total Language Plus?
I think, in the end, Kevin, I am concerned, simply, that you-all should not only openly state your grounds for making decisions (“Agreement with our Statement of Faith,” for example) but then make your decisions consistently with those standards. I sense, at this time, that CHEC has done, and is doing, neither.

So time passed. Finally--I believe someone at Sonlight pushed for the final get-together, but I may be wrong--on Wednesday evening, 12/17/08, we had a big pow-wow at which Sarita and I along with two of our key employees, Wayne Griess (general manager) and Tim Heil (product development manager) met with Kevin, Bill Roach (CHEC president), Chad Roach (Bill's son and Kevin's assistant), Brenda Kelly (I believe she is head of vendor relations for CHEC(??)), Arthur Miller (current chair of the convention vendor committee) and Steve Vaughan (a regular member of the convention vendor committee).

Sadly, Arthur didn't arrive until long after the meeting began. Indeed, the tone of the meeting was so bad, Sarita and I, both, had objected to feeling we were being brought before the Inquisition. (More on that in a moment.)

What I found strange and disconcerting--beyond the inquisitorial feeling--was how completely out-of-sync with one another were Kevin and Bill's questions with what Arthur said when, after he arrived, he was finally asked for his perspective.

Prior to his arrival, the vendor committee members said very little. Instead, Bill and Kevin took a strong lead. Bill more or less launched the discussion with several leading questions:
  • "Would you agree that . . . ?"
  • "Shouldn't . . . ?"
Bill: "Wouldn't you agree that a Christian curriculum should be written by Christian authors?"

I answered: "I would expect the instructors guides would be written by Christians. But it can certainly use books written by non-Christians!"

Bill: "But shouldn't the majority of the books be written by Christians?"

"Not necessarily. . . . "

There was more, but this little interchange certainly gives you the flavor.

And then Kevin came in with comments and questions about a Christian metaphysic and how Christians need to be incorporating a Christian metaphysic and a Christian ethic into all their teaching. . . .

At the time, I had completely forgotten what he had written back in March. I made no correlations at all. I remained of the opinion that the real issue with the vendor committee was Sonlight's failure to toe the young-earth party line. And I continued under the thought that it was the vendor committee we had to satisfy, not Bill Roach and Kevin Swanson.

Now I realize I was almost certainly wrong in my assessment.

But in the midst of the conversation as it transpired, I objected to the vocabulary Kevin was using in his question, because, in context, it sounded as if he expected us to use words like metaphysic within our curriculum itself . . . even, potentially, at the first and second grades (since it was to our early elementary curriculum that I understood there had been objections). I objected that, though I understood what he was talking about, and I believed that, in fact, Christian Sonlighters do, no doubt, teach their children a Christian metaphysic and ethics, " most people don't use that kind of vocabulary" and we don't either. At least not generally!

I attempted to demonstrate how someone might teach Christian ethics and metaphysics by use of just one of my personal favorite books from the Sonlight K program, a Newbery Honor book, The Hundred Dresses.

As I noted above, through all of this "inquisition," a dialog that lasted, as I recall, for about 40 minutes, Arthur, the current chairman of the vendor committee, was absent. When he finally arrived, I figured maybe we could get down to "real" business. After all, according to Kevin's comments from a year ago, he and Bill and the board had nothing to do with Sonlight's having been banned.

I wish I could remember what the specific question was that elicited the one key comment from Arthur after he arrived. But his answer, I thought, was telling. It was exactly along the lines of what I indicated in my blog post of January 20th: Sonlight includes certain books that present evolution in an attractive light and some child might pick the book up on his or her own (after all, the books are attractive and are meant for consumption by children!) and the child might thus become corrupted by the book. . . .

Kevin wrote me a gracious email later that evening--particularly gracious considering the tone of the meeting (the meeting became quite heated at a couple of points . . . with a Sonlight representative or two definitely expressing some . . . uhhh . . . shall we say . . . frustration at the way the meeting was being conducted):
From: Kevin Swanson
Sent: Wednesday, December 17, 2008 8:16 PM
To: John Holzmann
Subject: Thank you

Dear John, Serena [sic], and Wayne,

Thanks for the time Wednesday night to discuss Sonlight's philosophy.

Despite the apparent difficulties in our discussion, I think it was healthy for our volunteers who work the vendor committee to hear your clarification of the curriculum. I apologize that it came off like an "inquisition." The tension wasn't helpful. We were however, able to get some of our questions answered to our satisfaction, and will seriously reconsider having Sonlight back into the vendor hall. We need a board decision on this, and I will press for it right away (instead of waiting for our next board meeting in February). There is by no means a unity of opinion on the matter amongst us, but I sense some desire for concession on the part of the people who were there.

My hope is that we can listen to each other and humbly consider what is said in Christian love and thoughtfulness, as we all know nobody has complete monopoly on truth here. I trust the sentiment is mutual.

Grace and peace,

Kevin Swanson
Executive Director
I replied the next day, with copies to Wayne, Sarita, and Bill Roach:
From: John Holzmann
Sent: Thursday, December 18, 2008 2:24 PM
To: Kevin Swanson
Subject: RE: Thank you


Thank you for [your] gracious email.

I forwarded your email to Wayne and Sarita so they could "hear" your message as well.

Sarita has drafted a response. I thought I would like to take a very different approach than did Sarita in her reply which, I expect, you should receive sometime in the not-too-distant future.


You said you hope we can listen to each other and humbly consider what each one is saying.

I would like, first, to note that I believe I heard what you affirmed early on in our conversation last night: Neither you nor Bill had anything to do with Sonlight having been banned from the CHEC conventions. Instead, it was the vendor committee--of whom Arthur is chair and Steve is one among several other committee members.

I would like also to note that, while Bill suggested that we--CHEC and Sonlight--may have to agree that we have had to part ways (the final decision is yet to come), he would like us to agree that our parting is "simply" a result of a philosophical disagreement.

And, clearly, over the course of the meeting, as you and Bill raised questions, the discussion certainly sounded "philosophical."

But, I have to confess, when the person whose perspective makes all the difference--Arthur--opened his mouth, it was clear that Sonlight's having been banned had nothing to do with philosophy. It was, at minimum, all about a major--major--misunderstanding of Sonlight's product and methodologies and/or, at worst, a refusal on the committee's part to permit vendors onto the floor who don't utilize a particular (unspoken) methodology or approach to teaching about matters of controversy.

Reality: there is no way that Sonlight promotes or teaches or advocates for or believes in or recommends Darwinism or Darwinian evolution.

"But," I can imagine Arthur or someone else on the committee complaining, "someone could read [small portions of] certain ones among the hundreds of books you use in your curriculum and see, on those [few] pages, presentations that are blatantly Darwinian!"

And our response: Yes. We use books that include such passages. We use books like that "even" at the kindergarten level. And, as I mentioned (possibly before Arthur arrived, but, possibly, after he came), we deliberately refuse to schedule some of those pages (and usually explain why), and/or we schedule those pages along with copious responsive notes.

The point being: We believe, if we are to help train the next generation to reply to presentations of false doctrine, then we should let the propagators of falsehood speak for themselves . . . and then demonstrate--for parent and child alike--how we would respond.

Talk about discipleship! We are trying to disciple parents and, through the parents, children.


I don't remember who it was who said this--as I recall, it was either Steve or Arthur (or possibly both). Whoever it was, he said he didn't think it was appropriate to broach the topic of evolution at the kindergarten level.

Fair enough. That's his opinion. It's his prerogative to make those determinations for his own children.

But we have found many parents--Christian parents--who disagree. They want to teach their children about these kinds of fundamental controversies "even" at the kindergarten level. Not in-depth. But at a level appropriate, in their eyes, for what their children need to hear. And they appreciate that someone--in this case, Sonlight--offers materials (including, most particularly, our Instructor's Guide notes!) that deal with these issues in age-appropriate ways.

I would hate to think that CHEC, in unwritten, private policy decisions, will permit the preferences of those who prefer not to discuss certain matters at certain times to overwhelm the preferences of those who would prefer to pursue different paths.


Finally, I would like to note that, despite Bill's plea for peace, having a group that calls itself Christian Home Educators of Colorado ban you from their convention is not exactly a peaceful action toward a company that is undeniably Christian, that is fully engaged in home education, and that is based in Colorado! "What part of 'Christian,' 'Home Education,' and 'Colorado' does Sonlight fail to match?" The mere fact that Sonlight has been banned raises these questions in many people's minds.

Bill said that Sonlight's presence at the CHEC convention has raised questions in (some) people's minds (or, perhaps, it has raised some people's blood pressure). It is striking to me that we have never heard of such distress before. We have never heard of their questions or concerns. We have "simply" been banned. On the testimony of two or three witnesses? With no one permitted to respond to their specific charges or concerns?

As I fumbled to express last night: What changed in the last year or two, that a company that had attended CHEC conventions for upwards of ten years suddenly finds itself "on the outside"?

Kevin: You and Bill have said you don't want to overrule those under your oversight.

I believe there comes a point where leaders must, sometimes, step up to the plate. I believe this may be such a time. It is time you stood up for principle and either
  • Vouch for Sonlight as obviously meeting all the legitimate requirements CHEC has established for its vendors and, therefore, it is inappropriate for the committee to bar Sonlight from the CHEC convention.
  • Change CHEC's charter, its statement of faith, its policy statements, or something that will permit it (CHEC) and Sonlight--and any other interested parties--to see and understand what it is that makes a company like Sonlight no longer welcome at CHEC conventions.
Or, perhaps,
  • Change CHEC's name to make its true character better known:
    • Fundamentalist Christian Home Educators of Colorado.
    • Christian Young Men's Apprenticeship, Mentoring and Entrepreneurship League of Colorado.
    • Or some such.
    • Something more "narrow" than the moniker "Christian home educators" implies and something by which . [--Oops! I never finished this sentence! And I have no idea, at this time, what I might have intended to say. --JAH, 1/31/09]
Because if you let the committee's decision stand, it seems that the name "Christian home educators" doesn't fit. Not when you're willing to let your vendor committee ban from your conventions a professedly, avowedly, openly, structurally--in every practical way possible--Christian Home Education company, a company that, without reservation, is able to sign your statement of faith, that has abided by every "rule" laid down by CHEC, that serves a significant portion of the Colorado Christian home education community, and that "even" has its headquarters in Colorado. . . .

Thank you.

I also sent an email to all the attendees, with copies to the key players from Sonlight as well:
From: John Holzmann
Sent: Thursday, December 18, 2008 2:26 PM
To: 'Bill Roach'; 'Brenda Kelly'; 'Arthur Miller'; 'Steve Vaughan'; 'Kevin Swanson'; 'Chad Roach'
Subject: Thank you for attending last night's meeting

Lady and gentlemen:

I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for taking your valuable time to meet with us last night.

I have to confess, on the one hand, my great disappointment that Arthur was unable to be present for the major portion of our conversation. As he expressed his/the vendor committee's concerns, it struck me that they came from a very different perspective and for very different reasons than those implied by the questions raised by Kevin and Bill, both of whom openly disavowed having anything to do with Sonlight having been precluded from attending the CHEC conventions.

Having heard Arthur express his (and the committee's?) concerns, I would like to write you, Arthur, directly, so that you can be assured that Sonlight in no way promotes, advocates for, believes in, or in any other way "stands for" what you-all seem to believe we support. We oppose Darwinianism, purposeless/directionless/chance evolution, and all such philosophies. Let me go further: let me state unequivocally that we do not promote old earth creationism, either, despite allegations on the part of Mr. Ham to that effect. But, as I said, I will make that case--to you and to Steve, as members of the vendor committee--in a separate email.

It "just" seriously disturbs me that we may be being banned not because of substantively real issues, but because of someone's prejudiced failure to consider what Sonlight really teaches and its methodology.

I think there is little doubt we, personally, and most of you who visited us, personally, disagree about many things related to homeschooling. But I imagine that is the case, too, between you and many other vendors whose goods you permit to appear at your convention. I think it is a travesty of the name Christian Home Educators of Colorado, however, that you would permit personal preferences to force a vendor out of the hall, meanwhile suggesting that we should view it as a matter of "philosophical differences"--especially if and when the one potential philosophical difference the chairman of the committee identified is completely unfounded.

With that, I "just" want to say, once more, I--and we at Sonlight--are grateful for the opportunity you afforded us to "hear your hearts."

Thank you.

A week later, I then sent the letter I had promised to Arthur--with copies to all the other attendees as well.

I don't sense that is as relevant today as it was then. (Consider some of the things I've written over the last week and a half.) At the time, I had not even begun to read Haarsma or Glover and so I said some things in my email to Arthur that I'm sure I would not be able to say today. Or, at least, I would not say them the way I expressed them back then. (Sonlight Curriculum itself is the same; but my own perspectives on--how might I best express this?--the potential "awfulness" of evolution have obviously changed.)


Just this morning--a couple of hours after I began writing this post--Sarita opened and showed me a letter from CHEC that was sent on January 28th:
January 28, 2009

John and Sarita Holtzman [sic]
Sonlight Curriculum Ltd.
8042 S Grant Way
Littleton, CO 80122

Dear John and Sarita,

Thank you for meeting with us and providing dinner.

After meeting with you a second time, we concluded that the meeting did not go well.

Part of the fault may lie with us and part of the fault may lie with you. We sense that there is a lack of agreement and unity in our perspective of Christian education. We may not be communicating well or there may be fundamental philosophical differences. Our question remains, "Is there an appreciable difference between Secular Curriculum and Christian Curriculum, and what is that difference?"

We are still uncomfortable moving ahead, unless we can make further progress in our discussions.

We are open to having further meetings with you if they would be more profitable than the last one.


Kevin Swanson
Executive Director

Bill Roach
Based on this letter, I would say my impression was correct that "evolution" or "young-earth creationism" is, at this point, hardly the basis for CHEC's objection to Sonlight. There is a very much more fundamental difference of opinion. Indeed, a whole slew of differences of opinion--about the kinds of books a Christian curriculum should use, the emphases of such a curriculum, etc. And Sonlight is clearly on the "outs" with CHEC's current/newly developed (and, perhaps, still developing) vision.

It will be interesting to see how CHEC works out its philosophy into the future. Will they, indeed, begin banning all the other vendors who fail to weave a God-centered metaphysic (as CHEC would define that term) into their products?

(Actually, now that I look at their list of approved vendors for 2009, I see that they seem, indeed, to be doing that pretty consistently. There are still a few companies that are not explicitly Christian in outlook. Saxon Homeschool, Rosetta Stone, Highline Vision Center, National Driver Training Institute, and a few others stick out in that regard. But all the other publishers clearly and unequivocally claim "biblical" and "Christian" roots.)


And still it hurts that this company that clearly and unequivocally claims "biblical" and "Christian" roots is banned.
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