Answering the Richard Dawkins Foundation’s inbox

Sep 24, 2014

By Dan Arel

The Richard Dawkins Foundation posted an email from their inbox today on Facebook. The email read:

I have a 1 1/2 year old little girl, and me and my wife are atheists. But the local school is amazing yet a church school and requires us to attend church to get our daughter in when it comes time to apply.

My wife says that getting a good education takes priority over our principles. But I don’t agree. She wants to start taking our daughter to church and I know it’s going to drive us apart. But I’ve run out of ways to reason it; and I’m not willing to change my principles and start going to the place that wasted my childhood and fed my head with nonsense. Any ideas would be very much appreciated.

My first thought is that his wife is correct in one sense, that getting a good education sometimes does trump principle. An example being that I am against Charter Schools, but would I be right to send my son to an underfunded public school if he can go to a well funded Charter and get a better education? Should my ideological beliefs hurt my child’s future?

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22 comments on “Answering the Richard Dawkins Foundation’s inbox

  • I had the same dilemma with my children. I went the private education route in the end and chose a school with the least religious classes. I kept my children fully informed about my atheism and sat and talked to them about the stories they were taught in school and that they were not expected to do well in those lessons. They are 21 and 19 now and it seems to have worked out just fine.

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  • Those who have been posting here for some time will know that my children went to an English Local Education Authority (LEA) school.
    Not everyone could do this, but I became its chair of the board of governors before my children started attending.
    It very quickly became one the the top rated schools in the area, and well above the RC School up the road.
    This does require time, effort , some expertise, connections, and having the confidence of the other governors to become elected to the chair for seven years in a row.

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  • I am an atheist. Both my children have turned out to be atheist. But I sent my children in primary school to an Anglican School where they got immersed in the full religious deal. In high school, they went to a private Lutheran school. I made both decisions based on academic results. The local government schools were behind in academic results and resources by a long margin. It cost me a fortune in fees but it was worth it. But I voted for the academic results plus access to a greater quality and variety of resources.

    Like Olgun, we discussed everything around the table. No subject was taboo. If it was raised, it was discussed. My son on graduation was proud of his C- for religion. My daughter on the other hand was dismayed to get an A for religion. When asked, the teacher said she liked the way my daughter questioned everything and took nothing for granted. This A for religion still comes up with great mirth.

    The students were allowed to bring material to religious education classes for discussion. My son tried to bring Life of Brian. The RI teacher thought he would view it before showing it to the class and only watched the first 20 minutes and was horrified. “Let’s go to the stoning”. My son thinks this held him back to a C-. Yes. Yes. Yes.

    Both my kids can quote from Life of Brian when a situation arises and one of the many quotes is apt in response. Beats the bible hands down. Makes me proud, my kids. Both have achieved professional academic and societal success and are nice people to boot. So take me now lord. My work here is done.

    So send the kids to the church school and show them re runs of Life of Brian. That teaches them everything they need to know about religion.

    P.S. Or, you could move to Australia where church schools don’t particularly care whether you go to church, as long as you pay your fees on time.

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  • David. I think my daughter would have gained an A for religion as well in much the same way that she would have gained an A for advanced studies in Father Christmas or the complexities of Easter Egg hunting. As there was no parental backup I think she saw it as ‘just one of those useless disciplines’. Actually, I think I would have gained an A as well! On the other hand my son would have probably scored a fail, as it was an area in which he had absolutely no interest.
    I think parental involvement is crucial, though even this is no guarantee of successful indoctrination.

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  • Nitya.

    I can recall my own time in rural Australia, Sunday Morning. Every kid in the town went to their brand of Sunday School. Our teachers were usually young teenagers from the church community. I can recall enjoying these classes and spent a lot of time in conversation with the Sunday school teachers. I can also recall them being somewhat “Annoyed”. I didn’t have a clue why.

    When I was about 10, I didn’t have to attend Sunday School anymore. It turns out I was “Confounding the Elders” asking “Why” questions that were too difficult for the teachers and disturbing the rest of the flock. To channel Star Wars. “The force is strong in this one.” Born atheist.

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  • It’s obvious we have our ongoing disagreements on this website, but that said, in fact a fortiori, I can only commend what you have done here.

    This does require time, effort , some expertise, connections, and having the confidence of the other governors

    I think the lesson here is that if we spend the time, if we put in the effort, we will gain the expertise, acquire the connections we need, and garner the confidence of those around us.

    As my Granddad might have said ” if a job’s worth doing, then do it”

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  • ‘Life of Brian’ was undoubtably a great help. I even got my eldest to read ‘ History of the world in 10 1/2 chapters’ by Julian Barnes at an early age. My youngest doesn’t like reading much (he’s a very naughty boy) but is getting better. I was a slow starter for reading also so I am not worried.

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  • I could never understand, at the time, why it was that my parents sent me to Sunday school, since it was obvious that they did not believe the tommyrot that was involved. Nor did I.

    It was quite some years later, however, that I realized it had given them some uninterrupted time, without my little feet paddling around outside the bedroom door, wink wink, nudge nudge.

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  • 10
    aquilacane says:

    An example being that I am against Charter Schools, but would I be right to send my son to an underfunded public school if he can go to a well funded Charter and get a better education? Should my ideological beliefs hurt my child’s future?

    It looks like you have a very good chance at teaching your child some fundamentals about principals and self respect or you can make sure she knows her times tables. Your ideological beliefs are actually rationally accepted principals. Charter schools are better funded, provide a better education, are majority religious and grow the gap between the haves and have nots. These are facts not ideologies. You want to teach your child something, teach them to think. Any school or no school will do just fine, once they can think. And if you want to ensure the survival of religious schools, send your kid there and be part of the problem.

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  • Plaudits to Alan. I dearly wish we all had the time, the opportunity, and the sheer gumption to do as he did. Goodness, this problem of insufficient secular schools would soon be resolved.

    But, until we are that pro-active I believe that kids should not be made to stand on their parents principles. They asked for none of this.

    In my experience the mostly mild religious infection inflicted on my two (at an “exceptional” school founded in the year when William Tyndale was burnt at the stake) was not only worth it but added to their experience of religious others, whom they would be less likely to meet otherwise and fit them with proper anti-bodies, clear in their task.

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  • I am a teacher in South Africa. The area in which I live has a few public high schools – which are plagued with gangsterism, drugs and ill-educated teachers with terrible work ethic. My choice of private school for my daughters – if I wanted them to have a decent education – either a local Catholic school, a local Anglican school, or a local charismatic protestant school which was known to be openly prejudiced against homosexuals and people who co-habited without being married (a category into which I fell!). The latter was out of the question. I could not afford the Anglican school, so they went to the Catholic school, where I got a job as a teacher too. The headmaster knew I was atheist, but said that wasn’t an issue. It has been an issue – because I teach children to question and think. I refuse to hang a cross in my class, and I do not participate in the weekly mass. I think they would love it if I resigned. But until my youngest daughter reaches her final year – they are stuck with me. As to my daughters, if anything, being at the catholic school has made them even more critical thinkers, even more steadfast in their opposition to organised religion and even more wonderfully ethical, moral humans! I think it boils down to what you teach and talk to your children about at home. Make sure they probe, question and reason. Make sure they read critically. Make sure they love and behave at all times as GOOD humans.

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  • I was very torn about sending my daughter, now 8, to the mainstream orthodox Jewish Primary School. I think it was overall the best choice but it still doesn’t sit well with me. She says she believes in the stuff they are taught in Jewish studies about the old testament but she knows that I don’t – she hasn’t made the connection in her mind, not knowing any different type of education, to ask, “well how come if you don’t believe that I’m at the Jewish school?”
    We all find our level and although I went to non-faith schools, I did go to religion school and I did believe at my daughter’s age. My parents, especially my father didn’t and don’t believe but for reasons of cultural continuance they ensured I had a barmitzvah. I still remember listing the the rabbi’s address to me in the synagogue on that day and only pretending when I nodded in agreement with what he was saying – by 13, I had “woken up”.
    I am still involved with the Jewish community and we are members of a reform congregation. I avoid services but maintain my involvement and do my bit by doing security duty outside services. The Reform movement’s rules about not driving one’s car or riding on a Sabbath are more relaxed and every week there are a number of mobility limited people who bring their cars into the synagogue carpark.
    That rabbi at my barmitzvah unintentionally did me a favour for life by turning me against the religion. On that otherwise exciting day, he refused to allow my wheelchair bound uncle to be wheeled into the service to proudly see me do my bit because it was against the Sabbath. That was back in 1980 and not one car goes through those gates without me recalling that occasion 34 years ago.
    So with my atagonism to the orthodoxy, I think my daughter will turn out OK.

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  • 14
    alaskansee says:

    While A4D does deserve some praise for his foresight and dedication many, if not most, lack either the time or ability to do what he has done.

    If I was to grade the system that A4D had to live with it would be a clear fail. It is a pity anyone has to battle for something as fundamentally important as childrens education.

    One of my considerations, which was moot, would be whether my support for a charter/religious school was harming the real schools. propping up an artificial system that does long term damage to the real system would have been hard for me.

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  • 15
    alaskansee says:

    I know you’re in the same country as me but I can tell you that you are 100% wrong about charter schools in this part of the world.

    They are neither better funded or provide a better education, you may find one that does but it’s not based on it’s funding strategy. I agree we should teach children to think, but that’s why you should not tar all charter schools with the same brush!

    From a fundamental principle point of view I would hate to teach my kids that publicly funded schools are in some way inferior to private schools that use public money to make a profit. As a socialist and admirer of the fiscally responsible charter schools seem to break all the rules unless you’ve got a hidden agenda (Waldorf) or some ancient lies (religion) to tell.

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  • That rabbi at my barmitzvah unintentionally did me a favour for life by turning me against the religion.

    Here’s a clip of Billy Crystal talking to Bill Maher you might enjoy. He talks about his barmitzvah and how it started him down the road to disbelief. The relevant part starts at 1:38.

    Billy Crystal Bill Maher

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  • 17
    Claudia Odile says:

    I’m an atheist, I’ve always been one, raised by atheist parents and never had or have any doubts about it, which is no problem when you live in Hamburg/Germany, because the majority of the people here are not religious at all. But when I started school, a public school, my teacher, an old woman, turned out to be very religious and from the beginning she tried to indoctrinate the children, she even wanted us to pray every day and the other children did so, except me, they are so easy to impress. I was the only one who refused to pray. So you can’t be sure that your children will get a totally secular education even in public schools. Parents have to be attentive, like mine, they went to the principal several times and intervened and the teacher was stopped.

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  • Personally I wouldn’t want my children being taught religious nonsense, but as long as they were getting well educated in other aspects such as Science then religion should just be something like a history lesson rather than having any relevance to real life. Just buy some Richard Dawkins DVDs and books and get your children to learn from the master then hopefully common sense and rationality should rise to the surface in adult life.

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  • While not answering the issue of education taking priority over principles, I am convinced that a big part of me becoming an atheist is that I went to an RC school and to C of E Sunday School.

    No harm in learning about religion, how else can you understand the damage that it does?

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  • 21
    Bible Basher says:

    Alan4discussion, “even more effective if children learn about a wider range of religions beyond Christianity”,

    I fully agree, but I doubt the writer of the email to RD can find a combined Catholic, Jewish, Mormon, Muslim, Thor Worshiping school. I suppose they could move the child from school to school, but they might have a problem with the Thor bit.

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  • Bible Basher Sep 29, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    Alan4discussion, “even more effective if children learn about a wider range of religions beyond Christianity”,

    I fully agree, but I doubt the writer of the email to RD can find a combined Catholic, Jewish, Mormon, Muslim, Thor Worshiping school. I suppose they could move the child from school to school, but they might have a problem with the Thor bit.

    You did not say where you live, but while UK schools are required to teach religion with a Xtian flavour, and have religious representatives involved in drawing up the details, they are required to have a broader basis.
    Religious education in English schools: Non‑statutory guidance 2010

    Pupils should have the opportunity to learn that there are those who do not hold religious beliefs and have their own philosophical perspectives, and subject matter should facilitate integration and promotion of shared values.
    . . .

    The study of religion should be based on the legal requirements and provide an appropriate balance between and within Christianity, other principal religions, and, where appropriate other religious traditions and worldviews, across the key stages as a whole, making appropriate links with other parts of the curriculum and its cross-curricular dimensions.

    I think Thor would come under “History of Vikings”!

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