Official Statement Regarding Sourcing
On February 23, 2023, it came to our attention that a direct competing curriculum company had created a nearly hour-long damaging video condemning us for our most recent US History unit. Even without the use of our name, it was immediately clear that they were speaking of our company and many people started emailing in. The video called into question the credibility not only of our most recent US History 6 curriculum, but our credibility in general. In response, we have received angry, offended, fearful, and questioning emails and comments from our customers, demanding a response. The fact that our credibility had been called into question and that our customers did, in fact, deserve a response, prompted us to sleep on it, pray about it, and then release a public statement. Jonathan and I went live on February 24th, 2023 to address the concerns, but it seemed that to many, this was not considered good enough as they wanted specific rebuttals to some of the examples submitted in the competitor's video. We are aware of the fact that we are not going to convince everyone, but we thought a written response may be more clear for those who are still doubting our credibility based off the damage that has already been done.
Please note that we welcome criticism and we thank God for this opportunity to re-evaluate how we can make Gather 'Round even better. While I will give some context and understanding about our sources below, we are committed to excellence and, in an effort to restore confidence, will make sure we include even more of our cross-references in the future.
What makes a good source?
This is such a debatable question. Everything has bias. Everything has opinions. This is something that we talk about in detail in US History 6. In fact, in lesson 15, students are encouraged to see if they can find the author's bias in their Gather 'Round book! No history book, even a primary source, is written without a perspective. Where there is an author behind a piece of writing, there is an opinion—it's just a matter of how veiled it is. My greatest challenge with this unit was to thoroughly understand both extremes and present all the angles leaving room as much as possible, for you to come up with your own conclusions rather than me being the “trusted source” that just told you what to believe with guided facts—the true definition of propaganda.
Just because something ends in .gov or .edu doesn't make it a trusted or reliable source—even if that is what a college or university would look for. Part of the reason that we homeschool is that much of our educational system and the verbiage of our society and even much of our government and the overall system is left-wing and progressive, often not making it the highest or most unbiased source of information. Each source must be, then, questioned, tested, and considered. Just because someone was “there” in a primary source, does not mean that what they write is accurate. As such, we must look to multiple sources, and often history is most understood long after it has been judged, all sides considered, and carefully assessed by secondary sources, professionals, intellectuals, and yes, even the common man with no degrees on their shelves.
What sources does Gather ‘Round use?
Not every piece of information that is in our materials is sourced. Sometimes we hire researchers with PhDs or degrees. Where possible, we write from experience and our own knowledge on a topic, and sometimes things are common knowledge and do not need to be cited. We never include anything (even our own experience or knowledge) without cross-referencing every piece of information to make sure that what we publish is reliable, up-to-date, and trustworthy. On top of our due diligence, we pray over every lesson we write, submitting it to God and asking Him for the truth to be revealed.
We do have a policy of using .gov and .edu sites wherever possible, and where not, we have our fact checkers corroborate facts and information on at least 2-3 other sites to make sure that what is written is accurate. Do we get every single detail right, every time? No. I wish that were possible, but what I can tell you is that when an issue is brought to our attention, we listen with humility and do our best to act swiftly when something needs to be corrected. As an extra layer of accountability and accuracy, we also often subject our units for review to outside opinions.
You used CNN, YouTube, and other untrustworthy sources?
Some of the sources that are used (particularly in our US History 6 unit) are things such as media articles, YouTube videos, or even opinion pieces. Some of these videos or articles that are referred to in our units are from historians with degrees who have channels or blogs that teach people about their areas of expertise. Others (such as the case in a few in US History 6) are watched simply to gain an understanding of some of the extremes, and yes, opinions that the public has in order to clearly express two different viewpoints or perspectives on the matter and paint a broader picture of how history is interpreted by the people in general.
Please note that US History 6 is primarily current events, meaning that some of the sources are the news. Furthermore, Gather 'Round has always had a value system of looking at both sides of the story in order to give a clear account not only of what happened, but what people say about it on both sides of the coin—leaving you as the parent to decide and discuss with your children. This is an approach in many of our units that you will find. It is my belief that the mindset of “spoon-feeding” facts to our kids and never discussing the controversies, opinions, or debates that surround those facts, is everything that is wrong with education. As such, this is the unapologetic approach of our curriculum at large and this is something that will not be changing, as we believe in raising children that can identify and be sensitive and discerning to the nuances and layers of meaning behind those facts, how they impacted people, and come up with their own convictions that are balanced, true, and strong.
As to the claims about "many, many, many mistakes and misinformation" in our books. I will outline a few of the examples below.
1. The video opens by exposing a typo in the curriculum about Jimmy Carter. This had already been submitted by one of our customers privately and has been edited and revised in both our print and digital formats.
2. A specific example that was brought up was the paragraph about Osama bin Laden, see below from our unit:
"Some felt that President Clinton did not take the threat of terrorism seriously enough. In fact, when the Sudanese government became aware that Osama bin Laden was in its country, it monitored al-Qaeda and offered to give its members over to the United States along with the history of all its activities there. The Clinton administration refused, saying it didn’t have enough evidence. The Sudanese government warned them that Osama would go to Afghanistan, but the US’s response was, “Let him.” What would have happened if the threat had been stopped there? What could have been avoided all together? One thing was for certain: the United States would never again have such an opportunity at its disposal, and its relationship with al-Qaeda was far from over."—Lesson 5 "The Rise of Terrorism" US History 6.
They go to the source: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2001/oct/17/afghanistan.terrorism3
Our unit states that "When the Sudanese government became aware of Osama . . . " and our accusers say that that is a misrepresentation of the source, which states that America had demanded that Sudan release all of their terrorists. However, after our team evaluated the paragraph above, we feel that this is a leap, as the curriculum does not say how they became aware, nor when. It simply states that they offered to give its members over to the United States, which is exactly what it says in the source: "Khartoum offered to hand Bin Laden over to Saudi Arabia, or, potentially straight to America, says el-Mahdi, the spy chief."—Astill, James. “Osama: the Sudan years.” The Guardian. Guardian News & Media Limited, October 16, 2001. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2001/oct/17/afghanistan.terrorism3.
This was, of course, cross-referenced with other posts sharing similar sentiments such as: this one, page 62 and 63 on this one (from intelligence.senate.gov) show that the situation was very convoluted and also confirm the base sentiment that were presented. Because sources vary (from primary to secondary sources), this was taught in a way that did not give direct facts, dates, or details. Rather stating what all the sources agree on: that Sudan went to America. The US had nothing on him at the time and so they said to send him away. Some feel to this day that the Clinton administration made a mistake. This is what any level of research reveals and what the lesson clearly states.
Please note, the paragraph about Osama bin Laden has a disclaimer at the beginning that “some say”. It is not taught as fact, it is taught as a perspective on history that some people have and ends with “what do you think?” series of questions. What is stated as "certain" is that the US government would never again have such an opportunity on their hands, which was true and is a verifiable fact just through living through history and knowing the events that would unfold in the search for Osama.
All the other examples shown are, in our opinion, subjective opinions and perspectives similar to the example above. The only actual error is the typo listed in point number 1 that was corrected. We continue, as always, to carefully monitor our units and feedback to make sure things are clear.
As to the claim about us using no primary sources.
This is false. There are many government websites that are used in the sources, in that lesson alone the sources list the FBI website as one of our sources used. Both primary and secondary sources were consulted in our research and fact checking.
As to the claim that Brittanica is not a trusted source—it is secondary and the accusation that its use proves that we are not credible or trustworthy.
I found many different examples of colleges and universities that accept it as a source. Where it draws concern is when it is an isolated source, as it does not give a complete picture and shows that you did not do complete research. In fact, one Brittanica article that was cited in the Jimmy Carter lesson was written by Jimmy Carter himself—a primary source about his presidency from the most primary source there is.
The video lumps Britannica into a similar category as Wikipedia and this is a misrepresentation. Wikipedia is open-source and unvetted. While Britannica and History.com type sources are vetted, edited, fact-checked, and written by identifiable and credited authors.
Yale says on their site that: "Any source can be used as evidence that someone believes the idea you quote. . . If the Harvard Crimson publishes a negative article about Yale's football team, you probably can't trust that it's an unbiased assessment. But such an article can still be cited as evidence that 'some people have negative opinions about Yale football.'" (https://poorvucenter.yale.edu/undergraduates/using-sources/principles-citing-sources/scholarly-vs-popular-sources)
In Summary: If you’ve done some of my units, specifically the ones I have written—you know me. You know my heart, you know that I write carefully, in a balanced way, and always with God in the center of it all. I research carefully and extensively. I will look up ten different sites on one topic to get a balanced view before I write anything about anything.
In our history as a company, we have had a few different writers, I didn’t write everything. And this is something we will definitely take into account and look at our units carefully for and make sure that if nothing else, we find and include more sources in order to restore confidence in the heart of our customers. However at this point, we will not be providing a list of sources for everything we have written, nor will we be releasing more samples of the unit for customer review. As is the case with any other publication company, you are welcome to buy the units and read them for yourselves to test the materials.
So where does that leave you? If you haven’t read US History 6 yet, I urge you to do that. Sit down before reading it to your kids and test it for yourself.
And may we, as the body of Christ, begin to grow in our discernment and confidence so that not every voice sways us one way or another. May we learn to stand on our own two feet, trust our own decisions and the things we have seen, and yes, my goodness, test everything with His Word!
If after testing, like our competitors, you have found us wanting, please, walk away. Do what is best for your children and don’t ever look back. But don’t listen to the voices: mine or theirs. Obey God. Do what He tells you to do, and walk forward with all confidence into the great calling not only on your life but the lives of your children.