In the early 1990s, a homeschool group asked a local college chemistry professor to teach a co-op class. He had no idea what they were talking about. When they explained it, he turned them down. Instead, he proposed an alternative: He would write them a chemistry program to study at home, and they could call him if they had any questions. To make this happen, the families paid a few dollars each month to cover copying costs.
Jay Wile didn’t start out to be an author in the homeschool market. Instead, the books came looking for him. After he earned his PhD in nuclear chemistry at the University of Rochester, Dr. Wile taught chemistry and physics at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. That’s where he first encountered homeschooling, talking with one of his students who was “head and shoulders above the rest.”
“I told him he should get a PhD in chemistry,” Dr. Wile said, and asked him where he’d gone to high school. The student replied, “At home.”
Dr. Wile didn’t know what to think about that news. He filed it under “Mysteries He Didn’t Have Time to Investigate.”
“It was really providential that I was teaching at Ball State,” he says. Ball State’s open admissions policy had created “a critical mass” of homeschoolers at a time when many colleges made admissions difficult for the home-educated. Driving home one afternoon, he realized the top three students in his classes were all homeschooled. That told him it was time to investigate this phenomenon a little further.
Dr. Wile contacted the Indiana state homeschool association and offered to do presentations on getting into college. They welcomed him with a quick question about what science curriculum he recommended. Dr. Wile discovered that the most popular science textbooks at the time assumed that a trained science teacher would present the material. To make it more practical for homeschoolers, Dr. Wile wrote his chemistry program to be self-explanatory. When word got around about his chemistry “book,” he created Apologia Educational Ministries to handle the demand.
Many of his first customers tried Apologia because they were struggling. “The desperate ones had tried to teach science and just couldn’t do it,” he says. “Apologia gave them hope.”
Soon there were requests for a textbook on physics and then a biology textbook written in collaboration with Marilyn Durnell. “We thought that would be all,” he says. “I did the desktop publishing and my own crummy graphics, and we sold it in a three-ring binder.” It wasn’t slick paper or colorful diagrams that sold the book; it was the new approach to science education that made the difference. Soon Apologia was exhibiting its textbooks at homeschool conventions.
Part of Apologia’s success in the years that followed was the result of the books’ unabashedly Christian worldview. The Greek word apologia
is a legal term the apostle Peter used when he commanded Christians to be “ready to give a defense” to inquirers about the faith (1 Peter 3:15). Apologia textbooks have helped families defend the faith by holding to a solidly creation-based worldview. At the time, other Christian textbooks often just added a veneer of Bible verses over a basically secular curriculum. But Apologia textbooks represented a fresh approach inspired by James Clerk Maxwell, one of the founders of modern physics, who started every lecture and every experiment with prayer. Maxwell approached science with an attitude of “Here’s how the Creator did it” rather than “Here is science—let’s see how it fits with Scripture.”
Even so, both Christians and non-Christians used Apologia textbooks because of their straightforward pedagogical approach. The lab work in an Apologia course required a minimum of specialized equipment and chemicals, making it more practical for homeschooling.
Apologia grew into a complete science curriculum, and in the process, developed into a bona fide ministry by making parents comfortable teaching science. In 1999, Dr. Wile’s wife, Kathleen, went to work full time with Apologia, and Dr. Wile left the university.
While Apologia was expanding, Dr. Wile realized the business was becoming a burden to him. He was aggressively uninterested in the business side of things and had no desire to run a publishing house. He and Kathleen discovered that their only daughter, whom they adopted as a teen, wasn’t interested in running the business either.
“I needed an exit strategy so I could retire,” Dr. Wile says. The problem was how to maintain the unique ministry of Apologia while finding someone to take over the business operation. Providentially, a couple of veteran homeschoolers in North Carolina were looking for a business they could take on as a ministry.
It was crucial for new owners to maintain the distinctive strengths of Apologia. The company couldn’t exist as a typical “big box” publisher; it required people who were trained to address the different needs of homeschoolers. Davis and Rachael Carman were the perfect fit.
In late 2006, long-time homeschoolers, Davis and Rachael Carman, parents of seven, found themselves at a crossroads in their lives. The couple was in their second decade of homeschooling, and Davis had spent several years as a vice president of their state organization. He was a successful general manager of a private manufacturing facility, but several years of involvement with the homeschooling movement had convinced him to seek work that was closer to his heart. His wife, Rachael, a full-time homeschool mom and a published author with Focus on the Family, shared his dream of a family-owned and family-centered company where they could integrate their home life with business and minister to others.
Their friend Zan Tyler, former editor for a large Christian publisher, knew that Apologia was looking for a buyer who had a heart for homeschooling. She helped bring the two parties together. Davis had met Dr. Wile at a North Carolina homeschool convention, and when he called, the two of them made an immediate connection, as though they had been discussing the idea for months already.
That call started a twenty-month saga of business discussions, visits to Apologia’s facility in Indiana, and many, many meetings with potential lenders. Davis compares the initial work of securing a small-business loan to a long roller-coaster ride, complete with objections to the Christianity and creationism in the textbooks, which nearly resulted in a religious discrimination lawsuit. The spiritual battle convinced Davis that God wanted him to persevere because this was a fight worth fighting.
Davis recounts how he was leading the family in a study of James at the time this whole journey began. “
We referred to those passages many times to give us strength to persevere through this adversity to the better place God had in store for our family,” he says, referencing James 1:2–4:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Eventually, Davis started over with a different bank and, in June 2008, officially took ownership of Apologia Educational Ministries. What did the family study soon after the acquisition? Providentially, they began reading the book of Joshua and the transition of leadership in Israel before entering the Promised Land.
God seemed to open up the floodgates as Davis began implementing his vision and business plan. Zan Tyler joined the company as its acquisitions editor with the goal to add new lines of inspirational books, non-science textbooks, and practical materials such as planners.
Other new initiatives included starting an online academy, organizing Real Refreshment Retreats for homeschooling moms, and expanding into other curriculum subjects including Bible and Language Arts. They signed several top authors, including Michael Farris, Debra Bell, and Sally Clarkson. A partnership with Summit Ministries resulted in the award-winning What We Believe series of biblical worldview textbooks co-authored by David Webb and John Hay. Even the core science curriculum was expanded with the addition of new courses, notebooking journals, MP3 audiobook CDs, student notebooks, and video instruction DVDs.
Like any good company, Apologia has grown with the times to interact with customers through social media and a strong digital presence. We call this community Apologia World. You can find us on Facebook
, and YouTube
. We also have an active blog
where you can read helpful and engaging stories and articles about how to succeed in this adventure of a lifetime. You can sign up to receive our monthly Apologia World e-newsletter
From 2008 to 2015, God provided a host of new team members, many of whom are homeschooling parents who work out of home offices all over the country. Davis says the timing was perfect for this kind of remote business model. The entire team gathers once a month for an online web meeting, and everyone comes together physically for a summer picnic and Christmas party.
Today, Apologia is poised to stay in close touch with homeschoolers and serve them effectively in the years to come.