22 August 2012

Answer to Education and Children

This comes from a friend of mine who is South African but currently lives in Germany. I thought she gave me some good advice and so I wished to share it with you guys who feel like I do in the Education and Children post:

"Read your blog link regarding the school and religion...Am not a parent, but from the perspective of myself as primary school kid, i.e. your daughter's current position, my answer to "what is a parent to do" would be:

Don't waste time and energy trying to fight the school into changing all that religious crap. You are not going to win, because as you said, they cannot see it, so what dragon’s head you cut off today will grow back somewhere else tomorrow. Except if they target her directly and try to "convert" her or something, then of course you have to step in, but in the case of participating in a religious song that no one thought twice about including, it is sadly a matter of majority rules, and the majority of parents probably did not mind...

Caitlin herself is the point where your vigor should be focussed. Of course teachers and peers can do loads of damage, and lots of things happen that are outside your sphere of influence, but the more solid the education she gets at home in these matters, the less susceptible she will be to the outside.

I believe all a potential freethinker needs is someone to tell them „It is OK to think free“. Hey, you and I both went through all that crap at school and at home and turned out good fine atheists, didn’t we? But if someone had told little me that the fact that she thought everything they said at Bible Studies and in the church sermons and in Sunday school sounded utterly unlikely is perfectly OK, it would have saved me a lot of soul-searching and feeling lost, alone and different. I went to Kinderkrans from around 3-years old and my parents were both Sunday school teachers. As a pre-schooler I wasted no thought on religion, it was just nice stories, I don’t think my mind made much difference between Maya the Bee on TV and the story of Noah in the Bible. In primary school and Sunday school that changed, now we had tests on that stuff and had to listen (and believe). And it never really rang true to me, and first and foremost I found it utterly boring, whereas everyone around me seemed to be so enthralled... I believed if I prayed really really really hard to God to come into my heart, the way they said in Sunday school, it will all make perfect sense next week and I will have as good a time as the rest of the starry-eyed bunch.

Nope, didn’t happen. Next Sunday I still thought the preacher talked bollocks. I can more or less put an age on it, cause in third grade there was a contest where you could win a Bible, you had to collect small change from friends and family for charity and the kid who brought in the most got the Bible. I thought if I did so dilligently, God will finally come into my heart. I did not get much pocket money but all I had went into that donation tin. And I got the Bible. And instead of feeling more religious or believing in it all, I was just very relieved, because I knew my winning would blind my parents and teachers into believing I was an excellent young Christian for a good while, so for a while I could worry a tad less about someone noticing that I am not one of them. But I wouldn’t call myself an atheist at that stage, I guess I did believe in God, I just thought he did not want anything to do with me... The thought that perhaps he is simply not there and that it could be OK to think that never crossed my mind. Even all through high school, the Bible never made sense but I always believed the problem was on my side, because surely if everyone around me including all figures of authority believed in it, it must be true and there must be something wrong with me?

Actually it was only as I reached film school that I realized not everyone bought the whole Bible thing lock, stock and barrel. Not that there were much discussions about it, but a comment here or there made me realize „I am not alone“. And then of course coming to Europe and living my ex’s family who were also not religious opened my eyes to a whole different world, one where it is simply not an issue. And I would have loved to have that as a child.

You are in the position to give your daughter that. Of course she will experience some confusion when her teacher tells her something else, or her peers go all „Jesus this and Jesus that“, but you have the power to tell her that those things are as imaginary as any of the fiction books you read to her. That is is just stories. That some people believe those stories are real, but other people believe other stories (here you can introduce some other religions and their anecdotes, including that religions come and go – see Greek mythology, Egyptian gods, etc.). Maybe you can find some age-appropriate introductory books to archaeology – I knew I was always riveted with the idea of all those people who lived so long ago – and was very confused about the topic of their gods, cause if you go by the Bible, they lived somewhere between Adam and Eve and us, so why did God let them believe in their „heart of hearts“ that those other gods were real if he could’ve „saved“ them too by letting Jesus make his visit to Earth a tad earlier? Your Daughter has the priviledge of being raised by someone that can introduce her to all those scientific topics without raising a bunch of questions that are just brushed off with „God’s ways are mysterious to us humans“. 

Give her the relaxed atmosphere of it being a non-issue, instead of having to cringe every time her mommy has a go at the teacher for doing something religious – that might put her in the spotlight in her class in ways she would not like or might not be able to handle well. Would you mind her performing a song from Lion King or mind her taking part in a performance of Little Red Riding Hood? Fairy tales etc. usually have some kind of moral or important „lesson to learn“ in them, like „don’t run off with strangers“ – you can also teach her that the stories in the Bible have morals that can be good to follow – like helping others, or whatever, but that just as „not talking to strangers“ is not limited to big, nasty wolves, the morals in the Bible that are worth following do not come parcelled with having to be religious and believing you have to do them because God will punish you, but because they are good common sense. And if she knows that the religious song is just as fictitious as the one about Humpty Dumpty or whatever, she can dance and sing along without being harmed by its indoctrination.

If she has questions as to why it is like that at the school, and why they have to do all those things if they are fictitious, you can tell her something along the lines of „when in Rome do as the Romans do“ – If you guys had lived in a Hindu area, where all schools involved some Hindu teachings, and the only options were no education or going along with those rituals, she’d had have to do those things. Am not suggesting raising her to believe she has to conform all the time, that it is wrong to be different – not at all. But if she goes to one of her soccer games, she has to go certain things that go with the game, like kicking the ball with her feed instead of grabbing it and running with it like in Rugby – even though she might feel like running with it. And she has to wear the appropriate soccer uniform, even if she might feel like wearing some specific dress that day or might not like the colour of the uniform. So in all those small and little things, we all conform to get a certain result that we want – either to have the fun of the soccer game, or in the case of school to get a good education. In all that, she is still free to prefer wearing clothes in other colours when she is home, and in spite of not making a great issue out of not believing the stuff her teachers say, she is still free to think whatever she wants... I think when explained with analogies like that, children her age are perfectly capable of understanding the difference between playing along with the „rules of the game“ and losing your own identity by conforming.

If you give her that relaxed atmosphere and confidence that she can ask you anything about religion when she is puzzled by her friends and teachers, I believe the school can’t do much harm. And if in spite of that thorough preparation, the religious activities at school are enough to turn her into a „true Christian“, then there really is nothing you can do about it, then it is her choice – but it will be an informed choice, not like the childhood we had.

I thought this was great advice from someone who knows what our schools are like, and one of the few atheist friends I have. I will try my best to relax about this issue, and try to follow this advice

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