Thursday, July 09, 2009

Birthday Wish 1: Atheist Schools

I have another birthday coming up.

As I have done in the past, I want to spend the week talking about what I want for my birthday. If you would like to get me a present, please consider one of the things on my list.

The first thing that I would like to have on my list is a set of atheist private schools.

We have religious schools all over the place.

We also have public schools that are supposed to be secular. Yet, a student cannot attend such a school without being surrounded by signs that say, “You can’t be one of us unless you trust in God” or being pressured into pledging allegiance to “a nation under God”.

It appears to me that this type of psychological abuse – the constant reminder told to a young child that a person who does not believe in a God is inferior to one who does not – does lasting psychological damage. The reason why atheists are so politically impotent in spite of their numbers is due, to a large degree, to this psychological abuse which tends to make those who suffer from it passive and subservient.

A school without these abuses would be a good thing.

It would be a school where science is respected would be a good thing. This would be a school that actually teaches evolution – rather than hides from it because some parents might be offended. It is a school where a geology teacher does not have to suffer a moment of hesitation before talking about events millions or billions of years ago. A school where the teacher can say, “God did not do it,” without fear of a lawsuit.

It would be a school where the teachers could teach a logic class using real-world examples of both sound and unsound reasoning. In this school, the students would take transcripts current speeches made by current politicians and analyzes them for logical consistency. Where parents may disagree with what a child is being taught, the solution will not be to censor the teacher but to provide some option for people to express why they accept one position and reject the other. One of the problems with these types of schools is that they tend to isolate and segregate students. However, the public school system is not a healthy alternative. It allows students to mix with other types of students, but prohibits any type of education on different beliefs and belief systems. Have a high school social sciences teacher give a course on Islam and watch the parents go into convulsions. We demand silence on the part of public school teachers – but silence is the antithesis of getting an education.

So, the school that you can help to create as a part of my birthday present would not be silent on matters of religion. Nor would it present a one-sided mockery of religion. Rather, it would invite or even require students to be exposed to the major religions in an environment that is not hostile to those religions. It would invite or even require students to attend church services, to interview others about their beliefs, to read religious texts, and require that they show an understanding of the belief systems of the people they are going to have to share the world with as adults.

I want there to be a school like this in every major city across the United States.

Of course, it need not start off as some huge project if somebody does not have the means to build a full-fledge school. Though, clearly, if religious institutions having significantly fewer members are able to build multitudes of schools, atheists should be able to gather the financing for one or two to start with.

While religious schools might train their students to go out and be warriors for Jesus or Allah or whatnot, this school would not seek to create a group of atheist preachers. Its purpose would be to create a student body who can go out with an understanding of science and logic and save the world. They will be the people who can design better ways to predict hurricanes, cure diseases, improve crops, create more efficient generators of renewable energy, design a more effective drug abuse treatment program, understand the mentality of terrorists so as to better prevent people from becoming terrorists in the first place and stopping them from being effective in the second place.

In short, they would be students who will make the world a better place than it would have otherwise been.

That’s the first thing on my list.


anton said...

Happy Birthday! I would like to suggest that your curriculum include an honest approach to History. US America is not helped when, from the earliest age, students of both present systems are subjected to a faulty and inflated view of its past. If "Santa Claus" will be absent from your school, so must historical propaganda be eliminated. I suggest that Ronald Wright's What is America? be a selected history text.

Matt M said...

Sounds like an almost perfect school to me.

On exposing children to various religions - this is something I've tried to convince other atheists (who wanted it completely removed from the curriculum) of in the past. At primary school (England) I had to sing Christian hymns in assembly and was occasionally read parables from the Bible. Along with RE classes, this has left me with an understanding of Christianity that has been extremely helpful when I've debated religious believers. I only wish that I had similar insight into other religions as well. Exposure not only leads to greater comprehension of religion, but also encourages us to think of religious believers as individuals, rather than just as a faceless block.

I would like to suggest that your curriculum include an honest approach to History

As something of an amateur history buff, I'd suggest that the best way to teach the subject would be to focus purely on facts (event X happened in year Y) while simultaneously teaching students about the methods used to ascertain these facts. This way, they come away with a decent overview of history and the ability to gain deeper knowledge themselves if they so wish.

Anonymous said...

Sounds "heavenly" in theory.

In practice, alas, I suspect that such a school would become a hotbed of anti-religious fallacies, propaganda, and bigotry.

Thom Blake said...

Having gone to Catholic primary school (in the US), I'm always amazed that the 'secular' public schools don't teach religion. World religions were a part of the regular curriculum. Frankly I think future atheists would have a much easier time having come from a Catholic school than the current public ones, though ymmv.

Anonymous said...

Alonzo> "Nor would it present a one-sided mockery of religion."

Would a fair and balanced mockery of religion be okay?

Naug said...

Sounds like public school here in Sweden. Are teachers in america really that squelched by angry parents? Weird =/

Mike said...

Is your wish not for an atheist school, but rather an agnostic one? Would the school charter address the proposition that "At least one God exists?" as 'false' or as 'inconclusive?' Surely, it must address the question in some way for it to stand separate from religiously influenced school cultures.

Anonymous said...

What you have so eloquently described in this post is the very sentiment that caused me to give greater thought to the negative impact of fundamentalists on the US education system. What, essentially, got me out of the closet as an atheist.

Anonymous said...

This school already exists in every state and almost every country if you really want it bad enough -- it's called "homeschooling". Question: Why would any parent whose beliefs (regardless of what they are) are the most important thing to them, trust other people who probably don't have their same set of beliefs (even if they claim to be part of the same group)to educate their kids the way they should be educated? It is not anyone elses job to make a school that fits your desires, or mine. So, Happy Birthday Sir, my gift to you is that you consider, even for a moment the homeschoolig option!