Rationalism in schools

Apr 16, 2014


Discussion by: emmacwilliams

Are there any other teachers on here? If so I'd like to get a discussion going about being an atheist/humanist teacher and what problems or positives people have experienced.

29 comments on “Rationalism in schools

  • Be ready for the head teacher to ask you to take the RE class and attend the daily religious service if you’re in a secular state school in England. There’s a shortage of Religious Education teachers and attendance at the religious service is required to supervise pupils, even if you just pretend to pray and mouth the hymns..



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  • I was a supply teacher for several months in a what was then called a Secondary Modern and had to take the classes for any absent teacher. One day I had to take the RE class but as luck would have it, they had been learning about Moses in the bullrushes. So I managed to morph the lesson into a discussion of Thor Heyerdahl’s boats made from papyrus and his attempts to cross the Atlantic.
    I also avoided the morning assemblies along with a few others. However, one morning the headmaster appeared and ordered us to attend. I didn’t participate but it was interesting to observe the hypocrite lead the service. That was the only assembly that I attended.



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  • In the multicultural school I attended and later taught at, the question of a teacher being an atheist/humanist or deist of some kind did not arise. Each teacher taught his/her subject ( science, mathematics, music etc ). Once a week RE was taught. Pupils were divided in groups according to their religious inclination and each was taught by the appropriate “visiting” priest, imam, guru etc…It would be unthinkable to have a subject teacher assigned to take an “RE class”. In exceptional cases, a teacher could hold the fort in others ‘absence, but then he/she would certainly keep out of any religious subjects. Just e.g.give an essay to write, or launch a debate on , say, ” what do you want to do as a career/profession”.



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  • 4
    Alexinpessac says:

    I’m a teacher in France and so have it easy !! (Well, at least for RE et al even if the kids are rather indisciplined…) In schools in France RE is strictly forbidden and there is an official declaration of ‘laïcité’, or secularism, so the problem never arises. Separation of church and state etc. (What’s more, if a teacher is absent another teacher never replaces them, the pupils go to ‘permanence’, or a big room where they revise, so we never teach anything but our specialist subject). Religion is a thing that NEVER crops up in my teaching career. Other countries such as my native England could learn from this.



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  • I’ve been away from the coal-face for a good few years, though I certainly wouldn’t expect the subject to come up in a school setting. For the last ten years I’ve been teaching adults English as a Second Language. In this case the topic is far more likely to surface, though this depends very much on the nationality of the student. Some of my students would be crushed if they suspected for one moment that I had no religion.

    It takes a great deal of fancy footwork to avoid the topic while still celebrating festivals and events in the calendar as themes for discussion. I know it seems really dishonest not to state my position from the outset, but you have to understand the depth of their commitment!



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  • I’m a mathematics and science teacher in secondary school in Norway. It’s really not an issue.

    I’ve had a few pupils ask me if I believe in god, and I’m hardly their only teacher to state in unambiguous terms that I don’t believe in a god. Though I refrain from getting into discussions about religion with my pupils – there’s a time and place for that, and it’s not in either math or science classes.

    Fun fact: A group of my pupils did a survey of their classmates’ beliefs and superstitions (those pupils are awesome!), and roughly half of the pupils answered as believing in some kinda god. Also, a similar percentage said they believe in ghosts and iron man. Let’s just say that there’s a certain error margin in these surveys…

    Anyhow. I’m rambling. It’s no biggie to be an atheistic teacher in Norway. There might be some religious RE teachers at my school… but I’ve yet to meet them – though there are several atheistic RE teachers.



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  • 7
    Reckless Monkey says:

    In reply to #1 by aldous:

    Be ready for the head teacher to ask you to take the RE class and attend the daily religious service if you’re in a secular state school in England. There’s a shortage of Religious Education teachers and attendance at the religious service is required to supervise pupils, even if you just pretend to…

    I would love to teach RE I start with the commandments to keep slaves, marry rape victims, commit genocide, give them to me for a term and I’ll give them a very good education.



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  • 8
    CdnMacAtheist says:

    In reply to #3 by catphil:

    Once a week RE was taught. Pupils were divided in groups according to their religious inclination and each was taught by the appropriate “visiting” priest, imam, guru etc.

    Hi catphil.

    Surely being indoctrinated further into your parents’ cult is Religious Infection rather than Religion Education?



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  • 9
    emmacwilliams says:

    My school is officially neutral, so I certainly don’t face any of the problems predicted by Aldous in #1. However numerous colleagues are super-religious and I sometimes feel that this influences their teaching too much. I run the Citizenship programme and have had one lesson on morality queried, in which the students are invited to read the 10 commandments, discuss whether and if they think any of them apply as decent morals for them, and rank them in order of importance. A Christian colleague objected although happily the Head ignored her. I have also had some problems because I have updated the Citizenship programme to reflect gay relationships in a positive light alongside straight ones, and some Christian colleagues have objected to this.



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  • In reply to #7 by Reckless Monkey:

    I’ll give them a very good education

    There’s a syllabus you’re supposed to teach. You could try to subvert it but, in England, it’s set out by the Church in religious schools and by a local authority committee, stuffed with clerics, in ‘normal’ schools.

    Education is always being fiddled about with, with new types of school proliferating and standards being ‘improved, so the experience of RE, both for pupils and teachers, is far from uniform, although where religious authorities are in charge, I’m sure they do their best to promote their brand of the faith.



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  • I am a retired teacher of Puerto Rico. There is officially separation of church and state, but it is violated daily, especially in the public schools. I would have to dance around the promotion of Christmas and Lent activities. At teacher meetings a prayer was always given. I would protest ,but was ignored. I was probably one of the most secular teachers in the system.The Pentecostal church has a lot of influence here, but secularists are gaining ground slowly.



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  • 12
    crookedshoes says:

    Hey folks,
    I am a Biology teacher outside of Philadelphia (in a public school). I have had random students start arguments with me after school. They wander in and give it a shot. It’s a bad bad idea. Anyway, I love what i do. i love where I do it! I literally start talking about evolution on day one and don;t stop for a moment.

    One year, an evangelical student (who has since gone to Liberty University), put a check mark in her note book every time I said “evolution”. The number was over 2000! i had no idea she was doing this. Anyway, at the end of the year we divided the number of mentions by the total number of minutes and the kids had t-shirts made up that read:

    “AP Biology….. Evolution every 5 minutes.”

    BTW, i still correspond frequently with the young lady. Yes, despite our beliefs being very different, we respect one another and have frequent discourse.



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  • 13
    David R Allen says:

    Early in my life in the 50’s I had to attend Sunday School with just about every other kid in my town. We were Methodists. The only meaning that held for me was the the girls wore maroon tunics while playing netball (basketball) for the church. Around 10 years old, for some unexplained reason I didn’t have to go to Sunday School anymore. Later I found out that I was a disruptive influence, constantly asking the teenage Sunday school teachers “Why” questions, for which their very poor training failed to equip them with the Jehovah’s Witness instant answer stuff. So on Sunday’s I could ride my bike, go bird nesting or kick the football around. I didn’t know it then, but I was an atheist. I didn’t believe in gods.

    At primary school, religious education was compulsory. But given we had around 40 kids to a class, I could wonder off into my imagination and not get kept in after school for asking questions. By the time I got to high school, they permitted parents to exempt their children from R.I. classes. When most of the school was locked up priests various, I and around 20 others got to go to a class room with Mrs McNaughton, the French teacher. I can mark these classes of the start of my attempts to think. Mrs Mac was in the French Resistance during WW2 and could always be tempted to tell a few “Waries”. She also gave us each a copy of the Medium is the Message. A radical book in its day. We were so cool at recess, talking about all these wonderful ideas we had discussed. The religious broke one of their ten commandments by being covetous of our fun. I now realize that the class consisted of the type of minds that now inhabit this discussion forum, 50 years later. People who think.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Medium_Is_the_Massage

    Emma. Being inspired by Mrs MacNaughton. When the kids leave your class, leave them thinking.



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  • In reply to #13 by David R Allen:

    You were extremely fortunate to be given the choice! As far as I know my high school had no such opt-out clause. If they did, no one availed themselves of the opportunity. My parents would have enrolled me in your rational thinking class ( which it really was) in a flash!

    By high school we had two options, all Protestant denominations were lumped together in Cof E or RC. The senior class was taken by our local minister. To this day I remember the lesson in which he rationalised the Tower of Babel story. He told thirty or so, bright girls that Germans were physically incapable of pronouncing the letter “w”! Not one person challenged his view though I doubt that anyone present would have believed such nonsense.

    Perhaps all those scripture classes had some value as I certainly know what I’m against!



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  • The biggest problem is the parents who will sue the school if their kid comes home and says they are now an atheist. Just as atheist parents do not want to expose their kids to unnecessary religion ideologies the same with parents who want their kids not to have critical thinking.

    It is sad nonetheless I think schools should be no religion oriented and religion taught elsewhere.

    I saw a disturbing picture on facebook , it was a meme with the image of hands holding a bible, and it said :

    “In jail it is encouraged for inmates to read the bible…”

    “If children were encouraged to read the bible in school they would not end up in jail.”

    I told that person that what they need to read in school are text books so they could get a job or start a business and avoid jail.

    Until the importance of a religion education is minimized , and considered secondary to scholarly subjects such as science, it is an up hill battle to even try to teach evolution. Nutters want to add creationism to the science curriculum. Maybe it should be allowed just so it forces discourse and then teachers can be left to teach and parents can deal with the results.



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  • 16
    emmacwilliams says:

    Just have to say in reply to #15, phenomenally unlikely in the UK. Not only do we not randomly sue people for things, the case would get laughed out in our courts.



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  • 17
    canadian_right says:

    Please, give us some hint where you live when posting questions.

    You question is a non sequitur in many parts of the world where all schools are secular.



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  • In reply to #17 by canadian_right:

    Please, give us some hint where you live when posting questions. You question is a non sequitur in many parts of the world where all schools are secular.

    Good idea but is it really the norm for the state school system to be non-religious? On secular principles, religious groups can set up private schools for parents who want to pay for their children’s education. There are many private schools in England with religious affiliations. Notice that I say England. A complicating factor is that the UK is a federal state, composed of four different regions. Education information is about England and Wales, with Northern Ireland and Scotland having their own state (public) educations systems. A third of state schools in England and Wales have religious connections. Even the non-religious schools, the other two-thirds, are required by law to have religious education and religious worship.

    The United States is the notable example of the separation of church and state. That’s why religious organizations are always trying to sneak their way in. As in demands for Creationism to be taught in science classrooms, for example. Yet, I suspect that the extent to which the United States keeps religion out of the classroom is exceptional.



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  • 19
    canadian_right says:

    In reply to #18 by aldous:

    In reply to #17 by canadianright:_

    Please, give us some hint where you live when posting questions. You question is a non sequitur in many parts of the world where all schools are secular.

    Good idea but is it really the norm for the state school system to be non-religious. On secular principles, r…

    In most of Canada public schools are strictly secular. There are private religious schools, but they have to teach the standard syllabus – they can add whatever religious studies they want. I believe parts of Quebec still have Catholic schools that get government funding

    In the schools I attend all religious teaching were gone by 1976, and prior to that it was limited to saying the Lords Prayer at the start of each school day. Evolution was taught, and not a single student found it controversial.



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  • 20
    AtheistAviator says:

    I’m not a teacher, but as a student, I most definitely have more respect for teachers that are willing to teach evolution and keep God out of class.



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  • In reply to #16 by emmacwilliams:

    Just have to say in reply to #15, phenomenally unlikely in the UK. Not only do we not randomly sue people for things, the case would get laughed out in our courts.

    In the USA it is part of the culture… I would not say that suing a school for teaching yec-ism is a random thing people sue for. Or teaching something considered controversial by those who send their kids to that school. The problem gets bigger when the school is a public school receiving federal funds to teach nonsense or wants to consider what are real subjects. I would sue them for not giving my child the education they deserve instead of a religious education… There was a parent who sued because his child was forced to recite the oath which contains the words god etc. People are starting to get really tired of this junk and they should use any resource available.



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  • 23
    emmacwilliams says:

    In reply to #17 by canadian_right:

    Please, give us some hint where you live when posting questions.

    You question is a non sequitur in many parts of the world where all schools are secular.

    My profile does actually say “United Kingdom.”



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  • 24
    mmurray says:

    In reply to #17 by canadian_right:

    Please, give us some hint where you live when posting questions.

    Click on her avatar/picture on the left of the comment.

    Michael



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  • 26
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  • 27
    Alan4discussion says:

    In reply to #15 by GFZ:

    I saw a disturbing picture on facebook , it was a meme with the image of hands holding a bible, and it said:

    “In jail it is encouraged for inmates to read the bible…”

    “If children were encouraged to read the bible in school they would not end up in jail.”

    This is a classic example of “irrational faith-wish-thinking” devoid of any researched data!

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2012/03/29/what-percentage-of-prisoners-are-atheists-pew-forum-offers-an-answer/

    Inmate Religious Affiliation

    Christian

    • Protestant – 50.6%
    • Catholic – 14.5%
    • Morman – 0.8%
    • Orthodox – 0.4%

    No religious preference – 10.6%

    Unknown 5.0%

    Obviously, nonreligious means atheists, agnostics, and people who just don’t subscribe to organized religion — we don’t know the breakdown. But 11% overall is much more than anyone has ever said before. Even if it’s accurate, those (likely inflated) results are significantly smaller than the 32% of nonreligious people who make up the general population.

    Clearly Bible-reading in school or anywhere else, does little or nothing to keep people out of jail, and may well have the opposite effect!



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  • 28
    BillDixon says:

    As a teacher of science in a Roman Catholic school. I am not in a position to challenge openly the many things I come across daily in the school, but I like to think that I am spreading a virus of enquiry and curiosity which is taking hold in the students’ minds. Doing simple things like looking at the structure of a plant, observing pond-water under a microscope, or finding the moons of Jupiter with a telescope create a sense of wonder which I can only hope will displace some of the hocus-pocus.

    But the onslaught on rational thought is a subtle one: I mentioned to the school’s teacher of religion that I would not be pulling any punches when it comes to teaching evolution. I was caught on the back foot with “Oh, Catholicism is not at odds with evolution.” I was rather startled. The expected vigorous debate did not happen, and then I realized that the apparent reasonableness of the statement had achieved its purpose, namely to block the possibility of discussion.

    The Enemies of Reason use reasonableness, plausibility and a pseudo-polite feigning of doubt as a fall-back position when their attempt to block the advance of knowledge looks like failing. Here is what I found out about the Catholic stance on evolution on their website:

    http://www.catholic.com/tracts/adam-eve-and-evolution

    “What is the Catholic position concerning belief or unbelief in evolution? The question may never be finally settled, but there are definite parameters to what is acceptable in Catholic belief.”

    “Concerning biological evolution, the Church does not have an official position on whether various life forms developed over the course of time. However, it says that, if they did develop, then they did so under the impetus and guidance of God, and their ultimate creation must be ascribed to him.”

    “The Church has infallibly determined that the universe is of finite age—that it has not existed from all eternity—but it has not infallibly defined whether the world was created only a few thousand years ago or whether it was created several billion years ago.”

    There is a combination of grudging acceptance of evolution, but note how “develop” is used in place of “evolve”; mock wisdom- “The question may never be finally settled..The Church does not have an official position….if they did develop,…”; one-upmanship- Hubble may have discovered that the universe has a finite age, while “The Church has infallibly determined that the universe is of finite age”; and bet-hedging. Holding open the idea that the earth was created only a few thousand years ago is hardly any better than saying that it actually was, given the evidence. And there is the clear implication that certain things could never be accepted, whatever the evidence now or in the future.

    But the next paragraph makes it impossible to see how the Roman Catholic church might genuinely accept belief in the evolution even of the human body:

    “When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains either that after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parents of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents.…. original sin … proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam ..which through generation is passed onto all….”-Pope Pius XII.

    Note how these contortions are all designed to preserve that old ghastly business of original sin. I cannot see how it is possible to insist on the literal existence of Adam as the sole male parent of all humans, and at the same time to accept evolution, that is with any real understanding of the term. The idea that Adam’s body evolved somehow without his having had a human father, or who was not one of a number of males in a population of the same species is just daft. And it is not possible to reconcile the continuous process of evolution with the following:

    “So whether the human body was specially created or developed, we are required to hold as a matter of Catholic faith that the human soul is specially created; it did not evolve, and it is not inherited from our parents, as our bodies are.”

    which amounts to saying that Adam was the first human being because, all of a sudden, God decided to create a soul for this particular human body, and all his progeny, but not his antecedents. So we are allowed to believe that our bodies evolved, but that there is a special extra something, the soul, which is beyond scientific investigation, which is what really makes us human, and which did not evolve. How neat! Incidentally, this would indicate that the soul and original sin were created at the same moment and in the same person, which seems rather counter-productive.

    But I have missed something, the big let-out, or should I say warning:

    “no real disagreement can exist between the theologian and the scientist provided each keeps within his own limits. . . .” Of course, I should have known. Silly me.

    Finally, there is this:

    “Methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things the of the faith derive from the same God.”

    -a quite delightful and, I am sure, unintentional proof by reductio ad absurdum.

    Bill Dixon



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  • 29
    NoKiddingMan says:

    I am not a teacher, but I have a major concern as atheist/humanist: Education is obviously very important. In my interactions with young students, as well as with few of my own fellow atheists, I realized that the way a claim is presented is not always evidence based (which is not unusual when it comes to younger individuals). I feel that kids should be taught the difference between hypothesis and theory. They also should be taught the difference between opinion and evidence. Unfortunately, as mentioned above, I even experience this problem with few of my fellow atheists. At times, it is obvious to me that questions are presented as claims. Or, claims are presented as evidence. It appears to me that personal feelings affect few of my fellow atheists’ objectivity in their discussions.

    Kids should be taught how a phenomenon is considered a fact, what is the process or method to reach such conclusion. In addition, We, as rationalists/atheists, should ensure that every single element of our discussion is objective not subjective. If it is subjective, we should clarify it. Nothing is wrong with discussing opinions. Questioning everything is very important, while our questions remain questions until answers are found in an objective manner.

    I hope this is the right place for my comments.

    Cheers to all, and happy new year!



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