This is the second half of an interview with Christina Somerville, one of Tapestry’s first students, about whether or not Tapestry of Grace is a worldviews-based program. (To read the first half of Christina’s interview, in which she defines what she means by a worldview and explains her parents’ background in worldviews studies, see Part I.)
I sometimes wonder if people miss the worldviews emphasis in Tapestry precisely because it is so deeply ingrained into every aspect of the program. After all, fish aren’t aware of the water they inhabit! By “ingrained,” I don’t mean just the fact that we have a row of reading assignments labeled “Worldview” in every week plan, or that we have a Philosophy elective for high school students, or that worldviews analysis forms part of almost every Literature class plan written for students at the high school level, or that you can hardly get through a History class discussion without being asked to explain and evaluate a worldview belief. It goes even deeper than that.
When writing Tapestry of Grace, my parents deliberately chose books in every subject that present a wide array of worldviews beliefs and interpretational slants, often including works by secular authors. They rejected the easier option of presenting the humanities via authors who wrote only from the Christian perspective, so that students are never required to peep through anybody else’s pair of lenses. Rather, after opening up the terrifying and confusing vistas of unbiblical thought to mature readers, my parents carefully and patiently wrote helps for parents and students to, together, untangle, understand, and biblically evaluate differing worldviews. History, philosophy, church history, literature–whatever the subject–we students were never permitted to make quick assumptions or hasty judgments.
You might say that Scripture was a land to which we Somerville children were brought as baby emigrants, but that we were not allowed to take that marvelous place for granted as we grew up. We were encouraged to ask hard questions because our parents firmly believed that Truth would stand their test, and faith would become stronger for the struggle. We often took trips to other lands, being invited to compare and examine, to ask ourselves whether we wished to seek a better country. We always found that no country was better, because none had so good a King. I remember that this was especially true in Tapestry Year 1, where I had my chance to visit every major religion under the ancient sun. I was struck then by the way Tapestry‘s history and literature studies demonstrate Yahweh’s supremacy over all rivals. I believe I fell in love with the Old Testament at that time.
Those trips to foreign places were excursions in which we very usefully had to look through other lenses. I remember that as a 16-year-old I had a working acquaintance with the Qur’an, which proved a great help to me when I befriended a Muslim theology student later on. I have had conversations with my parents about magic, which made quite a difference when I was working beside a Wiccan. I had studied human sexuality in Scripture, history, and literature, which helped me when two of my dearest friends turned towards sexual sin as a lifestyle. I had wrestled through the question of God’s goodness with my mother in history class as a seventeen-year-old, during that horrible week when we both studied World War I and watched the World Trade Center crumble. I came out of it more firmly convinced that God is beyond my comprehension, but that He is, nevertheless, both all-powerful and good.
I arrived at college not quite knowing how to put together a bibliography (everybody has some gaps in their education!), but I had two skills that were already much-honed by my Tapestry education: the abilities to 1) carefully understand and 2) biblically evaluate worldviews. I also felt that I had already explored most of what the world had to offer, and I was convinced that none of it compared to Christ.
It is hard to quantify, further than I already have, how this happened in terms of readings or lesson plans. I cannot tell you which week of which year-plan convinced me that God is who He claims to be, and that my whole understanding of reality must bend around that belief. I think that Year 1 (the study of the Ancients) had most to do with it, though my greatest crisis of faith came in Year 4 (when studying the 20th century). What I can say for sure is that the program so faithfully engages with each worldview that there was hardly a week out of the four years which did not somehow reinforce the truth that human history is a tapestry of grace, woven by a God who is both to be feared and adored… and that all other explanations of reality are ultimately lies.
As you may know, Tapestry presents an integrated plan of study. This means that the various school “subjects” are interwoven such that one studies many of the aspects of a slice of time from various vantage points. A careful study of worldviews is found not only in Tapestry‘s history discussions of a given era, but also and perhaps even more explicitly in our Literature class plans. For instance, while studying the ancient Greeks, we read the Iliad. Worldview studies were present in the way we study Achilles’ experiment in living and his quest for glory. Discussion questions and outlines display to students that ancient Greeks believed glory was the only path to immortality.
These days, I’m a Tapestry teacher and author, and my area of expertise is Literature. During discussions of the Iliad, my students and I have thought together about a system of belief in which your gods don’t care much about you and have no intention of opening a way for you to join them in joy, unless you can impress them with your great deeds. We have compared that worldview to a Christ who covers our failures with His success at the cross, because He so loves us and wants life eternal for us. We also have seen God’s strikingly unique character revealed against the dark backdrop of our examination of the literature and gods of Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, China, the Americas, and Rome. In each successive culture, He only shines brighter and brighter!
At the other end of time, we Literature explorers have watched the way a 20th century British play (Waiting for Godot) revealed a futility and emptiness that seemed to come straight from the pages of Ecclesiastes, seeing again the meaninglessness of an experiment in living that exchanges the truth about God for a lie. In my handbook, Poetics, Tapestry students read a careful description of every major worldview in human history (based on Sire’s descriptions and our own research), then examined each in turn through literature.
First, we do our best to understand. Students are expected to find examples of particular beliefs in their Literature readings. Then, we biblically evaluate. We ask why the human soul would wish to believe such things, what the attractions of the alternates are. We talk about how our worldview beliefs become translated into patterns of choices, and how choice points become seeds that always result in harvests to be reaped, whether for good or evil. Often, we ask, “What does this mean for our own lives?”
Within the last few years, I have had several chances to talk to other Tapestry graduates about their experiences. You can read their stories in other posts on this blog. Not a single interview went by without some mention of ways in which Tapestry‘s emphasis on understanding and biblically evaluating worldviews has shaped a graduate’s own worldview and ability to engage with those of others. Yet this was so much a part of the whole Tapestry experience that few of the graduates I interviewed would have thought to describe it as separate “worldviews studies.” It was simply an essential part of their Tapestry lives: it was the water in which they swam, as it were.
Perhaps it seems a shocking thing to say, given all I have been explaining and urging up to this point about worldviews studies, but I think it is important to confess that I do not believe any education can guarantee a biblical worldview. I do not want to give any parent a false hope, or lay a false burden of responsibility on any teacher, to make one suppose that a student’s worldview is a thing one can make good purely by careful teaching.
This particular belief of mine has been painfully burned into my own worldview. Friends mentioned earlier who turned to sexual sin took the same Tapestry classes that I did all through high school, and from the same teachers. We attended the same church. We had the same peers. I learned that in some sense and on some level, the revelation of truth is something that belongs to God. If you are a sinner, you may examine your life and then choose to live a lie.
I learned that lesson again later, when I spent a year pleading with a class full of Literature students about the inadequacy of unbiblical worldviews as revealed in the modern American literature that we were studying, then watched several of them choose those worldviews anyway. Their families were my friends. I grieved and wondered whether I had failed them, as my mother must have wondered whether she failed my classmates. But then I had the great joy of seeing several of my students repent and return to God several years later. I understood then that it was for me to be faithful in helping them understand truth and lies—but that I could not choose a worldview for them.
Salvation is a grace, a gift–not a guarantee. That is a terrifying thought for parents and teachers, but it should not drive us from the battlefield. Rather, I believe it should lead us to intensify our love, listen more carefully for our Commander’s orders, and wait patiently with hope for what only He can give. Ignorance added to sin does not produce life-giving wisdom. I do not believe that my classmates or my students rejected the Gospel because they were presented with other options. I believe they rejected the Gospel (as I did, up until Christ saved me) because they (and I) wished to do it.
I also believe that the careful worldviews training that I was given, and that I have tried to faithfully give my students, makes it harder, not easier, to exchange the truth about God for a lie. If you are shown the empty falsehood of such a position, how much harder it is to go on worshiping and serving created things rather than the Creator! Because of that, I remain deeply grateful for the patient, gracious, balanced, careful, wise, and consistent emphasis that Tapestry of Grace places on the process of understanding and evaluating worldviews. It is an essential element of the curriculum, and I think it is impossible for any Tapestry student to complete the program without being deeply affected by it. Students may reject the Gospel after studying Tapestry, but it will not be because they are ignorant of its power, influence, and truthfulness as compared to all comers.
Each spring, as homeschoolers begin to explore curricula, many people ask us whether or not Tapestry of Grace is a worldview-studies program. The short answer is, “Yes! Worldview studies have always been at the very heart of Tapestry of Grace! We can’t think how one could raise Christian apologists without them, and at Tapestry of Grace that’s our core reason for existing: to help parents raise Christians who can argue effectively for the faith to which they have been called.”
Tapestry of Grace’s very structure (first two years cover 6,300 or so years of history, while the last two years each cover only 100 years of history) was designed as it was because the ideas that are most often encountered by our children as they enter the “real world” after homeschool were birthed in the 1800’s and bore fruit in the 1900’s and early 2000’s.
For younger students using Tapestry, worldview studies begin with becoming acquainted with the people, places, and things that comprise the history of the human race. In the middle-school (dialectic) years, students form categories for and connections between the facts they’ve learned and the ideas (worldviews) that people have had down through the centuries. In high school, we offer discussion outlines that support Socratic discussions, enabling parents to encourage their teens to talk out their evolving worldviews in light of what they are learning about the world, and informed by biblical truth.
We’ve been around for about 18 years and, in recent years especially, we have noted a new surge of interest in worldview studies among homeschoolers. It’s exciting to see so many folks asking about this aspect of home education!
We have answered this question many times in the past, but this year we decided to ask one of our grown-up “Tapestry kids” for her perspective. Christina Somerville was one of those original nine students who studied history using the then-embryonic Tapestry approach with Marcia Somerville (“Mom” to her), beginning when she was fourteen. Currently aged thirty-one, Christina is now a Tapestry teacher and author, who considers herself privileged to have experienced this curriculum from both sides of the classroom.
Christina has a degree in the liberal arts from Patrick Henry College, a college that emphasizes both classical education and worldviews engagement. She has a special fascination with worldviews, and has now spent a total of sixteen years studying and writing about the Great Books of Western literature.
As it turned out, Christina had so much to say on this topic that we split her interview into two parts! This post is Part I, which includes her definition of “worldview” and her perspective on Tapestry authors Scott and Marcia Somerville’s background in worldviews studies.
In Part II, Christina comments on Tapestry as a worldviews-studies curriculum, on its effects on her and other graduates, and on what she believes about whether parents can guarantee their students a biblical worldview through a program like Tapestry.
One of the things I learned from my Tapestry studies was that defining your terms is a necessary preliminary in any discussion. So, if you’ll come along with me, let’s begin by defining what we mean by “a worldview,” and then let’s talk about what we mean by a “worldview-studies curriculum.”
James W. Sire is a Christian and author of the bestselling worldviews catalog, The Universe Next Door. This book has been widely studied on Christian and secular college campuses alike because it has clear and balanced descriptions of several major worldviews.
Sire describes a worldview as a “commitment” and a “fundamental orientation of the heart” that has certain characteristics. It is a commitment that we make at a deep level to see things a certain way: to hold certain beliefs to be true. We might call it the colored lenses through which we see the world.
According to Sire, a worldview can be expressed. We can learn the “color” of others’ “eyeglasses”—their conscious or unconscious assumptions and beliefs, through which they view reality—and we can become more aware of our own.
Sire also wrote that a worldview can be expressed as one of two things: a set of presuppositions or a story. A set of presuppositions or assumptions, written out, will put forward statements about what a person believes. It is an expository type of writing. A story will express the same statements by embodying them within itself, usually in the form of concrete images and examples of personalities, events, etc. This is an imaginative type of writing.
Whichever way they are expressed, suppositions will have what logicians call a “truth value.” One’s assumptions may be completely true, partially true, or completely false. Also, the one who believes them may not know that he believes them (he may believe them consciously or unconsciously) and may not even believe them in any sort of consistent way (he may have two presuppositions that contradict one another).
Sire says that this set of presuppositions tell us what a person believes about “the basic constitution of reality”; that is, what is real and what form or shape reality takes.
Finally, and most importantly, Sire says that our worldviews give us the foundation on which “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). We see nothing that is not filtered through our lenses, not even a blade of grass. That is why the “color” of our “glasses”–the way they show reality–or, our worldview, has a profound influence over what we do and think.
Every human being has strong reasons for wanting to believe what is true about reality and live accordingly. Who wants to live a life based on lies, especially if one is ignorant of it at the time? As Socrates said, “the unexamined life is a life not worth living.”
In a way, worldviews training happens naturally in your home, without any conscious direction. When you respond to your child’s conflict with a sibling, asking him to consider the Apostle James’s observation that fights and quarrels come from the selfish desires of his heart, you are teaching him what is true about the reality of his inner life. You are shaping his worldview!
Sermons at church, interactions with friends, choices about what to watch or read or hear, questions that arise at the dinner table, overheard comments on the President’s policies or the operations of our nation’s government–all these are worldview training. In one way or another, all academic subjects are steeped in worldviews. What you communicate to your children about the processes of scientific discoveries, or whether you represent mathematical patterns to them as part of God’s language of creation, affect the way they come to view reality. Even the lightest brush with history, philosophy, literature, or theology, will put your student in contact with a multitude of beliefs that have been held dearly and acted on decisively by people through the ages.
So, one might ask, “Why worry at all about whether or not students are getting ‘worldview studies’? Isn’t that something that will happen naturally?” The answer is yes… and also no!
Remember, according to Sire’s definition above, our beliefs can be held unconsciously, inconsistently, or partially. It takes time and conscious effort to learn truth, plus more time and effort to remind ourselves of truth. A pastor once pointed out that Christians in their daily lives are often “functional atheists.” We forget, for moments or for hours, that God exists—and when we forget, we act like He doesn’t.
Besides the tremendous investment needed to widen and deepen our own worldviews, there is also the mandate to understand other people’s worldviews. More time, more thought, more prayer, more of the Holy Spirit is needed to help us discern between the lies and truths that others tell and believe, and to teach us how to apply truth skillfully in loving other people. Therefore, and commendably, many Christian educational programs place an emphasis on conscious, focused worldviews instruction. A semi-conscious brush is not enough. We must study and engage deeply with worldviews as such if we are to understand them well and evaluate them wisely.
Now let’s consider what we mean by a “worldview-studies curriculum.” One might say that any humanities program is based on worldviews studies, because it is centered on the study of human beings, and human beings are constantly acting out of worldviews. However, as we also said, extra time and effort must be devoted to thoroughly understanding and biblically evaluating worldviews. These aren’t skills to be practiced once, but many times over a period of years.
Marcia and Scott Somerville understood both the importance of, and the time required for, worldview studies. When they met at Dartmouth College, each had already had one and a half full rotations of classical education. Marcia had been raised in a secular home and attended a classical preparatory academy. Once arrived at Dartmouth College, she found herself attracted to Communism, but then was dramatically converted to Christianity. Scott, the son of a pastor and social worker, with a rich family history of faith and love of Scripture, had likewise spent his high school years in a classical academy and was now finishing his degree in philosophy at Dartmouth.
As married twenty-year-olds who became parents in their first year of marriage, Scott and Marcia were already keenly aware of worldviews. They had already experienced six years of classical history, philosophy, and literature. Scott had studied both theoretical and practical theology under his father. Both had had to confront the living God as adults.
Fifteen years later, when sitting down to write weekly history lessons for her own children, Marcia was looking to equip her teenage sons for those late-night and potentially life-changing conversations in a college campus dorm room. Scott was equally passionate: his focus was exploring with his children the mind-dazzling truths of Scripture, and applying them to the philosophers’ Great Conversation about reality. The result was this: the Somervilles together wove a passion for understanding and evaluating worldviews into every facet of Tapestry of Grace.
In Part II of this post, I’ll explain what I mean when I say that, and how their program affected me, as well as other students whom I have met since I graduated.