Question of the Week – 6/29/2016

Jun 28, 2016

This week our question comes from Paul K.

Paul asks, “Your children must attend mandatory classes…the school within its own legal right, offers only Christian or Islamic studies. The idea being if you are with God you will act ethically. As a parent, how does one handle another authority figure, not only instilling religion in the young impressionable minds of your children, but also conflicting with your parenting encouraging learning through reason and science?”


The winner will receive a  copy of A Brief Candle in the Dark by Richard Dawkins.

And please don’t forget to send in your submissions for Question of the Week! You can suggest a question by emailing us at QotW@www.richarddawkins.net. Please remember this is for “Question of the Week” only, and all other comments should go to their respective threads under the Question of the Week itself. Thank you!

16 comments on “Question of the Week – 6/29/2016

  • This week our question comes from Paul K.

    Hi Paul,
    You do not say if this is a hypothetical question, or if it is a situation in a particular jurisdiction.

    Paul asks, “Your children must attend mandatory classes…the school within its own legal right, offers only Christian or Islamic studies. The idea being if you are with God you will act ethically. As a parent, how does one handle another authority figure, not only instilling religion in the young impressionable minds of your children,

    First I would check to see if the classes were actually mandatory, or whether this was just a rumour or a school mission statement.

    If there is another school in the locality which gives a non proselytising study of a range of comparative religions, or does not have time designated to a particular religion on its timetable, choose it as an alternative.

    but also conflicting with your parenting encouraging learning through reason and science?”

    I would also want to know about the curriculum and the quality of the science teaching.

    A lot depends on what local facilities are available.
    There are of course the other options such as home-schooling (using internet courses and resources), or moving house to another area where appropriate schooling is available.



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  • I do believe that a society has the right to have expectations about the education of its youth.

    Though I am happy I could support my child through misbegotten ideas taught in class (I’ve had enough of that), I would become political about the issue canvassing for a change based on evidence and reason and an upgrade to civics and moral philosophy as the more moral and edifying grounding needed at this age. I would in the interim insist that my child is taught alternately both and urge it on all others as a necessary interim choice.

    Finally, if the situation were unsustainable I would find a decent society to live among and emigrate with the greatest noise and fuss I could manage.



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  • 4
    rob.robson.391 says:

    Part of the solution could be to teach your child to question all authority figures, including yourself.

    Nobody knows everything and I think it’s useful for a child to be aware of that. Asking questions is the best way to learn.

    Probably the best place to start is by questioning their science teacher. A good scientist should welcome the challenge and be prepared to back up any assertions with evidence and solid reasoning. A very good scientist will also not be afraid to say “I don’t know”.

    Your child should soon start to see the difference between the scientist’s open discussions of facts and frank admission of ignorance and the theologian’s replies that it’s just true because it’s true or that “God did it”.



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  • Well, as Dennett already pointed out, you may supplement the doctrine of the school with the other religions, and point out that every religion is 100% true.
    Add to that some life origin stories from, say, the aboriginals and Krishna, and the whole thing becomes a laughing matter to a reasonably intelligent child. In other words, beat them at their own game.



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  • Hi Paul,

    Comments 1 to 4 are all excellent advice.

    I will add: I had to engage in a similar battle though not at school. My Wife insisted that (voluntary) Sunday School was essential. My answer is: Don’t worry.

    I let my Daughter go, I let it quietly be known that I am an atheist and then I bided my time.

    I realized, from my own experience, that there would be questions, all I had to do was wait for the questions. It took a lot longer (age 16 I think) than I thought. I prepared by using The Invisible Pink Unicorn (PBUH) for inspiration.

    I was also assisted by a class or two of comparative religion at school. Phil’s comment #3 is an excellent way to cover this with your child.

    Then a day came when I could see that the opportunity was there – so I asked an innocent question about some passing remark my Daughter made. She responded by asking (in the sense of: she wanted to confirm) if I am an atheist. I, of course, responded: “Far from it, I’m very religious, I’m a follower of the IPU”

    From this beginning I was able to have a five minute conversation with my believing-but-not-entirely-convinced Daughter where we compared notes, IPU to Christian God. I kept a straight face and I made it clear that (and here I took a different line from many IPU followers) I simply believed my IPU faith to be more rational and justified than her ideas about God – I may have smirked once or twice, but mostly I tried to keep it serious.

    After a short while the conversation came to a halt, and my Daughter took herself off in a thoughtful way. I can’t remember how much later the next step occurred but when my Wife confidently expressed her understanding that our Daughter was a Christian my Daughter surprised me by stating categorically that “I’m not a believer, sorry Mum”.

    That makes it sound too easy. I was pushing on an open door because I spent many years doing some of the things that are listed above. I didn’t directly encourage my Daughter to question my authority, nor her Mother’s, nor even her teachers – but I did encourage her from a very young age to ask questions and I tried very hard to answer her. Note: I didn’t always answer her questions directly. Sometimes it’s better to reflect the question back: Why do you ask that? Don’t you think a better question might be … X? Teaching your child how to ask questions is just as important as teaching them to expect answers.

    I also encouraged my Daughter, against her instincts, to study more science at school. Interestingly, today, she says she wishes she had studied more science. Although it’s not quite as good as teaching critical thinking directly, science is a wonderful way of introducing kids to critical thinking – because that’s how science works.

    Peace.



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  • I think it’s also important to address this concern from the perspective of the child who is actually undergoing this kind of schooling, while experiencing a more liberal environment at home.
    A constant juxtaposition of opinions and styles of thinking at home and outside can be exhausting for a child. There is a social component that is being disregarded. ‘Fitting in’ is what all children strive to do. The constant ideological differences can become a severe hindrance in this regard. However, this is not to say that critical thinking is not important. The child needs to be able to analyze these perspectives and think independently, while remaining unsuppressed mentally. This can be a difficult thing to master easily for a child. Thus, it is important to allow liberties in terms of the social expression of strong views by the child in case it hinders its social engagement.
    All of us atheists have had some experience of suppression and thus know the impact it can have on your ability to function peacefully.
    Thus, we must remember our experiences while making decisions for our children.
    The ideal situation would be that the school does allow some degree of freedom in terms of the expression of opinion and the child is able to freely express itself and function well.
    If this is not the case, then there can be a few options
    -You encourage the child to just abide by the rules of the school and not express its opinion (which I believe is not something most us will want to do)
    -Withdraw from the school if the suppression continues and is unbearable to you and the child.
    -If withdrawing is not an option, due to other circumstances/reasons there needs to be a balance in terms of how vocal you want your child to be, while maintaining a workable relation with teachers and peers.

    The reason for this concern being raised is understandable. Its out of a sense of caring and responsibility towards your child.
    And this very reasoning should be the basis of the approach used to deal with any situations that arise in such scenarios and the solutions that we come up with to deal with them.



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  • rob.robson.391 #4
    Jun 29, 2016 at 9:37 am

    Part of the solution could be to teach your child to question all authority figures, including yourself.

    Hi Rob,

    I think in addressing this question it is important to recognise the age of the child and the stages of child development. http://www.simplypsychology.org/piaget.html

    Nobody knows everything and I think it’s useful for a child to be aware of that. Asking questions is the best way to learn.

    Very young children learn a lot by copying and accepting what they are told by authority figures and school friends they trust. Asking questions is good but primary age children are not at the development stage to challenge adults.

    Probably the best place to start is by questioning their science teacher.

    In a primary school where much indoctrination can take place, there are usually no separate subject “science teachers”. The problem with creationism, is that by the time children reach the level of maturity (10, 11, 12,+) when they can reason in the abstract and meet specialist science teachers, they may well have been indoctrinated.

    A good scientist should welcome the challenge and be prepared to back up any assertions with evidence and solid reasoning. A very good scientist will also not be afraid to say “I don’t know”.

    Indeed so, but that will be happening manly at teen-age levels.

    At 13, many are rebellious anyway, but settle down to reason in a more mature manner in the following years.

    Advice on schooling needs to be very age-specific.
    Evaluations by parents also are somewhat dependent on parental education, abilities, and availability of their time to devote to educational matters, along with their standing in the community.

    Members of this site will know from earlier discussions, that I put a lot of time and effort into seeing that my children and the rest of the local community, got a very good primary school education – but not everyone can get themselves elected as chair of the board of governors by the time their children start school.



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  • 9
    hisxmark says:

    “Asking questions is good but primary age children are not at the development stage to challenge adults.”

    It depends on the child. At seven, when Sister Raymond Francis, preparing us for “first communion”, explained to us the concept of “original sin”, I was outraged by the unfairness of punishing everyone for Adam’s rather ridiculous transgression. Such a god, I decided, was morally unworthy of respect.
    When she went on to explain how Jesus, who was somehow both god and god’s son, had to die horribly in order for god to forgive us for a “sin” we hadn’t even committed, I was convinced that her omnipotent god must be crazy and stupid.

    I was smart enough to keep my mouth shut, learn my patter, earn a medal for leaning by heart the Baltimore Catechism from cover to cover, bow my head, bend my knee at the proper times, and even become an “altar boy”, but from the second grade on, I was apostate. When I was confirmed, I took the name “Jude” and there was some satisfaction when the bishop slapped my face and named me “Judas”.



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  • Hi Zoe [#7],

    I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed reading your post. Thank you for filling in a gap or two the rest of us missed.

    … the child who is actually undergoing this kind of schooling, while experiencing a more liberal environment at home

    We don”t actually know Paul K’s position, but I take your point. This is why I urge caution on these kinds of questions. We’re talking about a process that will take years to play out – perhaps even more than a decade. It is, in my experience (always a dangerous phrase, but it’s all I have at this moment), best to take the line that patience is still powerful.

    It is interesting to me, because I have made propaganda a lifetime study, that small, quiet, oft-repeated, messages work best over long periods. Please note that that this does not mean subtle – sofisticashun don’t ent’r inter it me-ducks.

    A constant juxtaposition of opinions and styles of thinking at home and outside can be exhausting for a child

    That’s certainly true if the child’s loyalty is constantly challenged, or their own self-worth is called into question. My personal example doesn’t include anything like that kind of friction … except after my Daughter’s comment about being a non-believer.

    My Wife and I love each other and, while we may have had two, perhaps three, lemon drop with pickled onion chats about religion … we’re civilized people and we recognize that we have different perspectives. We’re bridge builders.

    I appreciate that your comment also addresses the wider social challenges that children must tackle as they grow towards adulthood. Even so, my advice to Paul K doesn’t change. I confess that I may live in a more religious-neutral (secular) society than Paul, and my Daughter will have found it easier to talk about being atheist with her peers. But I grew up in a far more religious household, and a far more religious country, than my Daughter and the same ideas worked for me, and my Brother.

    … this is not to say that critical thinking is not important. The child needs to be able to analyze these perspectives and think independently, while remaining unsuppressed mentally.

    Yes! This is, I’m sure, exactly right.

    This can be a difficult thing to master easily for a child

    As I noted above, we’re discussing a process that takes years – let us not forget we’re discussing the children learning critical thinking skills, comparative religion and how to ask good questions – and expecting answers that meet that exacting standard.

    My Daughter and I have something in common here. We were, to all intents and purposes, lazy agnostics until we were challenged. In my case it was my Mother insisting I attend confirmation classes. In my Daughter’s case it was a Father, waiting with the patience that only a loving parent can have, for the right moment to grab her hand and pull her back from the edge.

    … it is important to allow liberties in terms of the social expression of strong views by the child in case it hinders [their] social engagement

    Agreed. In fact I will go further; providing your child demonstrates good reasons (even good emotional reasons, it’s quite hard to be a critical thinker full time. I know, I keep trying) for any decision then you should weigh the risks and let them make mistakes as often as possible. We learn so much more by making mistakes.

    That includes, of course, the possibility that your child may decide to become religious at some point. I don’t actually know, but I strongly suspect, that if you asked my Daughter today she would say that she is a non-believer, or skeptic. She would probably be shy of calling herself an atheist. If she were asked, and if she were to say that, in her heart-of-hearts, she is a little agnostic well that is the position of the true skeptic – a truly open-minded individual.

    If my Daughter said that then I would know I have nothing left to teach her about religion, or about thinking skills, or about finding truth in a wicked World.

    Peace.



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  • Dear School,

    We want you to know we appreciate your efforts to educate our child, however, there are some things you need to understand regarding our educational philosophy. We consider the parent as the primary educator.

    We will oversee and encourage our child to study and prepare all lessons in time for collection in class.

    Our family, as a whole, will review, disassemble and discuss your daily lessons, particularly those of a religious nature; accepting what we feel are meaningful moral lessons and rejecting those which we feel are inappropriate myths.
    We accept science and reason as the main determining factors when choosing to accept truths and rejecting that which is not.

    Regarding moral conduct, our continuing teachings at home encourage consideration for and acceptance of others, exemplifying appropriate moral conduct and self-improvement.

    We look forward to working with you in the education of our child.

    Sincerely,



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  • 12
    fadeordraw says:

    I raised my kicks to have an existential view of life; they would have heard me say I’m raising them as heathens, though not the correct term. My focus was actually on language develop, and reading to them and, perhaps too soon, them reading to us. And with the ritual of evening dinner and each reciting of the day, any spiritualism taught at school was gently ridiculed. Nothing to do with me, though perhaps my wife, my kids learned how to diplomatically deal with those who believe in the supernatural or incredible 3,000-2,000 year old histories. So Paul, my answer is to be who you are with your kids, help them with their language development, read to them and allow time for them to read to you and, have daily dinner rituals by which they tells you how their day went; reinforcing that you want to grow with a smile and gently snipping out the otherwise.



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  • For a while my kids went to a school that taught about myths and legends, I’m not sure what they called the subject, but they learned about Thor and Loki (and not from the Marvel comicbook versions) as well as Noah’s Ark and other stories from the (christian) bible. I did quiz them a little about the different stories, to see if the teaching was at all biased in presentation — were the Norse legends presented in a different light to the Middle Eastern ones — and it seemed that they weren’t. All were presented as stories that had held the interest of various populations for a very long time. Background knowledge, if you like. I don’t know if they got on to Krishna before they switched schools (for unrelated reasons). Anyway, they developed a broad taste in stories, and no faith in any of them specifically.

    If the only choice is Christian or Muslim studies, going week-about to them would seem the simplest solution to the dilemma.



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  • I could not make a comment because I was choked in anger at the acceptance of the phrase:
    “the school within its own legal right, offers only Christian or Islamic studies.”
    In what country or universe is the school “within its own legal right” to offer only Christian, Islamic,
    or any other religious studies and have the power to mandate attendance??
    I’m sorry to say that it is in America. I am VERY sorry to say that it is in America!
    To paraphrase: RAGE! RAGE! AGAINST THE DYING OF OUR RIGHTS!



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  • I’ve been a member of RD website for quite a while and get the summary by email.

    This subject caught my attention, as I don’t always read everything nor participate in discussions. But it’s a subject that involves me personally.

    I too, as the previous poster – Jack – felt very upset that this hypothetical question was put, and wondered which country it referred to. I thought the UK, but Jack seems to think it’s the US. Is this the case ?

    I would say, easy solution, move to France 🙂

    But there must be several other countries, probably in Europe that don’t have religion taught in schools.

    I am 66 yrs old born in the UK, and suffered this religious indoctrination in my schools, and in the family. I trained to become a teacher, and in my training college I had to learn how to teach religion in primary school.

    Lots of your replies seem very sophisticated, and ‘agonizing’ at this ‘dilemma’, and I agree with ‘Alan4discussion’, as it’s common sense.

    Children learn by copying and by authority figures that are parents and the school. If both are teaching about religion, obviously the child simply does what’s expected of him. If it’s half different, the kid will learn to juggle with it, but won’t be able to really work it out.

    In my youth, we had a ‘Brethren’ neighbour family. (Scotland). The poor girl of my age, could never participate in any of our usual youth life, no outings, no dances, no cinema, they only sang hymns as entertainment. Yet strangely, their father was a maths teacher in my high school.

    This simply shouldn’t happen today. No country should be teaching religion to children, for me it’s a crime against humanity, it’s stealing children’s brains. It’s simply brainwashing, that we know today from science, but that was known aeons ago.

    It’s religions way of keeping it going for generations. Parents think their children should be ‘baptised’ or taught religion at the earliest age because it will ‘put them on the right moral path’…

    How this can still be believed in the most advanced western countries boggles the mind. Why is this still even an issue ?

    Why is America still so religious, why is it taught in schools in Britain, why is islam taught in public schools ?

    As for ‘Stephen of Wimbledon”s post, it boggles my mind how calculating he is, all those years of waiting till his daughter finally shows some critical thinking… That crazy thing about a pink unicorn… wow, what on earth is going on in Wimbledon apart from tennis ????!! :((

    It’s true that around 16 is the age when a youth might become more thinking. I decided that god didn’t exist at 16, but was influenced by my classmates.

    But, I realized that the damage was done by that age,.. many years later, because even if you decide that you don’t believe in your childhood god and stories, you can get drawn into lots of other irrational beliefs.

    In my generation it was the ‘new age’ stuff, oriental exotic beliefs, aliens, the supernatural, pseudo therapies or medecines.

    When you’re brought up to believe in irrational beliefs it wires your brain to be gullible, credulous, unless you have a solid scientific education, that isn’t always the case.

    Why SHOULD atheists have to battle with a society that still imposes religion ? I’m even seeing how atheists are becoming less and less militant, less imposing, because religion, whether islam or fundy christians have become more prevalent in the last 30 -40 years. Islam has radicalised from the sixties… till now, see what’s happening. But people have been told to tolerate it all. Atheists are now becoming a target, and enemy, it’s crazy.
    And you’re all trying to find solutions to such a question, going round in circles to try to ‘adapt’ to this mandatory religion in school. Why accept it at all ?

    A real secular society that doesn’t impose religion, has no ‘official religion’, that doesn’t have politicians praising god in every speech, that offers a good general education as in France with science, philosophy critical thinking, logic, doesn’t need these agonizing problems for parents, (unless they are themselves religious, but that will give far more freedom for the kids to choose), because the child simply won’t have these choices to make.

    My son born in France is only interested in religion vaguely because I talk to him about it, a bit, and from a geopolitical side, to understand what’s going on in the world that’s so obsessed with religion and causing such conflict. Otherwise he isn’t interested, nor any of his generation, they certainly aren’t worried about ethical things, their parents aren’t hassling them about ‘always asking questions’… They just learn it at school, its part of the general education, to question and work out things. It’s never related to religion. It simply never enters their minds, nor the teachers, to even deal with it. They might have certain subjects that deal with religion from a historical Pov, like in history classes or in French subjects. The might have classmates who are muslim, jewish or whatever, but they aren’t allowed to wear veils or show off their religious dress or symbols, in school they’re just kids, not a representative of their parent’ religion. They have the space for a day to be like all the others. Not like in Britain where kids can wear their religious dress. Or even the teachers…

    It’s only in immigrant dense schools mostly muslim that teachers have a problem..

    So when will all the atheist supporters simply say ‘no’, be more militant, and resist, and impose their secular desires ? Richard Dawkins is considered a militant atheist, that even many of the far left don’t like, why ??? Because they’re wrong too, they want ‘ cultural diversity’, whereby religion is seen as a ‘cultural right’, they don’t care about the children who will be brainwashed for life.



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  • Oliana #15
    Jul 11, 2016 at 7:44 pm

    I don’t always read everything nor participate in discussions.

    Gee Oliana, what have you been waiting for?!! Nice post!

    I would say, easy solution, move to France

    Is it as easy as all of that? If so I’m in!! I’ll need a little help with my residents visa paperwork though.



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