Humanists in Education

One thing that a lot of humanists like to get worked up about is education. I don’t know if it’s the terrifying thought of all those little kiddies being brainwashed in faith schools or what, but something about it makes our blood boil. But as one of the key functions of the state, the education system is something secularists of all types like to concentrate on.

This year education has become a big feature of Scottish humanism. The Humanist Academy has been slogging at the issue for a while under the enthusiastic June Maxwell, and has a humanism course available for the national curriculum for 16 year olds in the Scottish education system.

Seeing her getting things done, the HSS have doubled their efforts to outdo her (for some reason I don’t fully understand the HSS and the HA don’t get along too well) and are making education their prime target, launching their education programme this weekend at Our Dynamic Earth (what a venue) which, as an officer of the Student Humanist Society, I’ve been invited to.

And whilst these two heavyweights battle it out, the rest of the humanists in Scotland sit back and reap the benefits. Magic!

Hopefully the BHA will get moving on it so these benefits can be nationwide. What they need is an arch-rival counter organisation right on their patch to motivate them. Maybe we should start a fake one just to annoy them. We’ll call it… the People’s Front of Judea! Even better, the Judean People’s Front! Maybe not.

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18 Responses to Humanists in Education

  1. Clare says:

    Consider yourself tagged! Hope the work is going well and your ear gets sorted out soon.

  2. Stuart Ritchie says:

    Well, let’s hope they don’t get in each other’s way or confuse the government’s education department by both advancing slightly different proposals about what they want in schools…

    And you didn’t update us about your ear! Is whatever it was out of there yet?

  3. grammarking says:

    The ear, I haven’t got a clue anymore. The doctor said he couldn’t see anything there anymore, and gave me some eardrops. All I know is, I can hear again and it doesn’t hurt anymore. That’s all I care about.

  4. Rags says:

    According to the HSS’ new materials, atheism – and, by extension, humanism – is a “religious stance” and the Golden Rule “must be a good rule because it is used in so many religions”. I beg to differ!

    As a Scot who only recently started to consider himself a humanist , I can’t agree that humanists will reap any benefits from this new venture. In fact, it’s the final straw for me and I’m binning my application to join the Society and sticking with plain atheism.

    I’ve only known about the HSS for a matter of months but my impression of that organisation has been generally unfavourable for several reasons, not least a badly written email from the Education Officer in response to an enquiry about humanist education materials and the fact that, in spite of inviting suggestions for improving the website to be posted in their guestbook, these are censored so it seems they only want praise, not criticism. Nevertheless, I was looking forward to seeing what they came up with and having now done so, I’m appalled. The content is, at best, patchy and the presentation is dreadful. It’s badly written in places and there are countless errors or all kinds including some important factual ones and some howling spelling errors.

    I’ve never heard of the Humanist Academy but if this is the website it is unobtainable.

    http://www.humanist-academy.co.uk/

  5. grammarking says:

    I agree that some of it could need some work, but since when do teachers take their curriculum notes into lessons and read from them verbatim? Humanism could be said to be a religious stance in that it is a stance about religion. The material also specifically says that it is not a religion. And the quote about the Golden Rule, that was from the primary 1 material, you can’t expect them to go into such detail as to explaining why it’s good quite so early.

    Not joining the HSS doesn’t mean you’re not a humanist. Of course I don’t agree with everything they do (what humanist would?), but overall I think the HSS are a good force for humanism, and noone else is doing much for atheists/humanists in Scotland. People can sit around and talk all they want but if we want action, big organisations like the HSS and the NSS are the way to do it. Lots of members means lots of disagreements.

    As for the material itself, it should be viewed as what it is; a starting point. Whether you like this specific material or not, what you need to ask yourself is whether you think a secular view on so-called “religious issues” should be taught in schools or not. The content will be fine-tuned, and put up for comparison against any other material of its type, but there isn’t much to compare it against. We’ll see how successful it is, but the whole idea shouldn’t be scorned because of a few niggles with one piece of material. You’re obviously interested and passionate about it. If you don’t like it, rather than throwing your application for in the bin and ignoring the issue, why not try and help and make it better? The HSS is a volunteer organisation, it’s only as good as the people within it.

    As for the Humanist Academy, that was their website but it’s been down for at least a week or so now. They’re a very small organisation, largely a one-woman band, but like I say they have prepared a humanism course which should become available for 15-16 year olds this year. I haven’t seen the material.

  6. Roger Redondo says:

    Some info:
    1) The HA website will be up soon. We are working on that full steam (I am the Chairman of the HA). If you are a teacher, find Humanism at intermediat 1 and 2 through the SQA.
    2) The BHA has found its competitor in the Center for Inquiry London. Hopefully, as soon as personal egos are left aside, and people start working for Humanism instead of Humanist organizations, things will get even better. The BHA has a great website for education.
    3) The HA website will add links to HSS education and will ask to reciprocate in the interest of Scottish Humanist Education.

    Roger

  7. Maria says:

    It sounds as if Rags has more than a few niggles with both the material and the HSS.

    S/he – and anyone else who is interested – is welcome to register and join in the discussion here:

    http://www.thinkhumanism.com/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=16&t=1639

    I’m sorry Rags experience of organised humanism has been so bad but this isn’t a reason to give up on the philosophy of humanism and there is a great deal that people can do outside of the humanist organisations.

  8. Rags says:

    Thank you for your response. My last attempt at posting got messed up somehow so I’ll try again.

    “I agree that some of it could need some work, but since when do teachers take their curriculum notes into lessons and read from them verbatim?”

    I’m not sure what your point is here. I said the content was patchy by which I meant that a few bits may be suitable for use but since the documents have been secured so that bits can’t be copied and pasted, what good is that to anyone?

    “Humanism could be said to be a religious stance in that it is a stance about religion.”

    A stance about religion is not the same as a religious stance and if they want to be taken seriously, it behoves them to get it right. If you say you don’t believe God exists, would you call that a religious belief? Or would you say that you don’t have any religious beliefs?

    “And the quote about the Golden Rule, that was from the primary 1 material, you can’t expect them to go into such detail as to explaining why it’s good quite so early.”

    Did I say they should go into detail? My objection is to the statement that, because religions use it then it must be a good rule. It is not the fact that religions use it that make it a good rule. This is a fallacious argument and, I believe, a misrepresentation of the humanist position.

    That said, what would I know? I had thought that humanists were freethinkers but from the HSS educational materials I learn that the the humanists do in fact use a document to “decide what is right and wrong”: the UN Declaration on Human Rights is some sort of humanist bible, apparently. (See S1-3 pages 9&10)

    “As for the material itself, it should be viewed as what it is; a starting point.”

    Really? Where did you get this idea that it’s a ‘starting point’from? The HSS has presented these materials as the finished article. Sorry, but it sounds as if you are trying to defend the indefensible and on rather dubious grounds.

    “what you need to ask yourself is whether you think a secular view on so-called “religious issues” should be taught in schools or not.”

    Huh? Why do I need to ask myself that? I am already clear about the kind of education I want for my children and that is that they be taught about both religions and about non-religious philosophies in RME.

    “The content will be fine-tuned, and put up for comparison against any other material of its type, but there isn’t much to compare it against… We’ll see how successful it is, but the whole idea shouldn’t be scorned because of a few niggles with one piece of material.”

    I have more than a few niggles with this material – I think perhaps 75% is inappropriate and that it mispresents humanism and reflects badly on the HSS. The BHA, by contrast, produces plenty of very good educational resources and I see no reason why these shouldn’t be used in Scottish schools.

    Finally, I am already a member of the NSS and while your point about not being able to change anything from the outside may be a fair one, it’s also fair to say that to be motivated to join an organisation, one has to believe that doing so will be a positive and useful experience and not one fraught with disappointment and frustration and my experience of the HSS so far has been.

    Thanks for that very interesting link, Maria.

  9. Stuart Ritchie says:

    Rags, why on earth do you think trolling someone’s blog is going to make a difference?

    Your concern about the Golden Rule thing in the Primary material gets the point exactly backwards. The material is saying that religions use the Rule because it is good, not that it’s good because religions use it.

    What’s your problem with the Declaration of Human Rights section? After saying that most Humanists like to accept the Declaration as a good set of moral principles (which is, as far as I’m aware, true), it goes on to say that these rules came about through ‘reasonable discussion’ and that ‘people do not need to rely on god or religion for moral guidance’. Your objection?

    Yeah, maybe there are a few spelling mistakes (‘RIGHTS OF PASSAGE’ being my particular favourite). I agree that this is pretty poor, but it hardly means that ‘75% of the material is inappropriate’. In any case, it can be sorted before the material goes out to schools.

    Maria, your forum includes a contributor crying about the fact the HSS logo is on each page of the Education material. Some people, to use a cliché, obviously have too much time on their hands.

    What I saw at the Education launch event at Dynamic Earth (were you there?) was a bunch of enthusiastic, committed people who were excited about getting to share their philosophy with young people and reducing the poisonous influence religion currently has over many schools. Let’s support them – I hardly think that coming on here and gurning is doing humanism, or atheism for that matter, any favours. Can’t we all just… get along?

  10. Maria says:

    Nice one, Stuart. I’ve just realised who Rags is. I work with him and I’ve been trying to get him to register at the forum for ages but it seems it took your accusations of trolling and gurning to finally persuade him and he’s responded to your post there on the thread I already linked to. It’s unfortunate that through your own trollish comments you will have confirmed his poor impressions of humanists but thanks anyway.

    (grammarking – sorry I didn’t realise I was logged in as ThinkHumanism at my previous attempt to post – please delete)

    Maria

  11. Stuart Ritchie says:

    Sigh. Evidently we can’t all get along.

    I certainly didn’t intend to offend anyone (well, maybe a bit), but coming on and offering uniformly negative comments (uniformly negative comments for the sake of it = trolling) about something I personally am very excited about made me see red.

    I’m not getting into a protracted internet argument about this – I’d rather go along to the HSS Education training, get involved, make myself useful, and help make any changes that need to be made (e.g. spelling changes!). And I think that’s just what I’ll do.

  12. grammarking says:

    Wow, I leave the intarweb for a day and look what happens! I’ll reply paragraph by paragraph as Rags has.

    “I’m not sure what your point is here. I said the content was patchy by which I meant that a few bits may be suitable for use but since the documents have been secured so that bits can’t be copied and pasted, what good is that to anyone?”

    My point is that although some of the wording etc may be a bit out, it’s not going to be quoted verbatim so it’s not as important as you’re making out. In my experience teachers read around the subject more than the material put in front of them by the National Curriculum. You said yourself, the copy and paste problem is easily solved.

    “A stance about religion is not the same as a religious stance and if they want to be taken seriously, it behoves them to get it right. If you say you don’t believe God exists, would you call that a religious belief? Or would you say that you don’t have any religious beliefs?”

    See above. It’s a linguistic error, not a factual one.

    “Did I say they should go into detail? My objection is to the statement that, because religions use it then it must be a good rule. It is not the fact that religions use it that make it a good rule. This is a fallacious argument and, I believe, a misrepresentation of the humanist position.”

    How else do you explain to a 5 year old without going into detail? It’s evident that it’s good because many religions use it, they wouldn’t use it otherwise. Makes perfect sense to me.

    “Really? Where did you get this idea that it’s a ’starting point’from? The HSS has presented these materials as the finished article. Sorry, but it sounds as if you are trying to defend the indefensible and on rather dubious grounds.”

    From what was said at the launch. Bob McKay made it more than clear that we were at the start of a long journey.

    “Huh? Why do I need to ask myself that? I am already clear about the kind of education I want for my children and that is that they be taught about both religions and about non-religious philosophies in RME.”

    So you’ve already asked yourself and answered yes. At the moment what you want isn’t taught. This is one solution that will enable it to be.

    “I have more than a few niggles with this material – I think perhaps 75% is inappropriate and that it mispresents humanism and reflects badly on the HSS. The BHA, by contrast, produces plenty of very good educational resources and I see no reason why these shouldn’t be used in Scottish schools.”

    75%? I read through at the launch and I’ll agree some of it shouldn’t be there and other parts could be better, but 75%? Nah.

    Presumably the BHA’s materials will also be available for contrast, and if they’re better, they’ll be used. That’s the main point of my earlier response, and it was said many times during the launch. These materials will go up against anything else on the market, so to speak. If something better is out there, it won’t be selected. There’s your massive issue reduced down to next to nothing.

    Maria, always a pleasure. On the contrary though, I think Rags’ response was overly aggressive and was on the border of trolling and gurning. Stuart’s response to that was proportionate IMO. If Rags knows anything about humanists, it should be that they’re very individual people and what one person says isn’t a reflection on any other, I’m sure the lovely posters over at thinkhumanism will persuade him otherwise.

    Roger, hopefully a collaboration on Education will produce better materials and an end to this ridiculous political charade.

  13. Stuart Ritchie says:

    Always good to have some controversy on one’s blog, isn’t it!

    I really should get a blog. Maybe after these exams…

  14. grammarking says:

    Oh Stuart you’re online!

    I don’t know about the training day. Thing is, Bannockburn (or wherever it is) is pretty far away, and as much as I’d love to go, I’ve got my hardest exam on the 8th and I go home on the 10th. I might have to wait till their next one after I get back here in late August, and in the meantime get involved with the Liverpool humanists! Certainly though, that’ll be more helpful than yacking about it online.

  15. Stuart Ritchie says:

    Yeah, to be honest I’ll have to wait till the next one too – I have an exam the day after. And the day after that. And the day after that. Do you know if there are others over the summer? If not, we can both go when you’re back.

  16. Marc Surtees says:

    Hi Guys,

    I only check in on this blog occassionally, so I am a bit late to this debate.
    But…. as a parent and a Christian, I would like to know what is the difference between faith schools indoctrinating children and humanist(s) (schools) indoctrinating children.

    Marc

  17. Stuart Ritchie says:

    Nobody’s talking about Humanist Schools. They’re talking at Humanist materials, along with materials about other religions, in normal state schools.

  18. grammarking says:

    Hey Marc, good to hear from you,

    It’s a fair point, and although Stuart’s post answers it partially, there remains a wider issue.

    Part of my answer would be a look at what Humanism and Christianity (and equally other religions) are. Whereas religions are sets of beliefs (or faith positions, if you like), Humanism is a way of going about deciding what your beliefs are. So whereas Christian ‘indoctrination’ is “this is true, this isn’t, this is”, humanist ‘indoctrination’ would be more like “here’s the evidence, what do you think?” or “we think this, and here’s why”. I put indoctrination in inverted commas because I don’t like the word that much. It’s inaccurate when describing humanist education, and it paints a much more sinister picture about Christian education than is true, certainly the one I received, anyway.

    I don’t actually have a problem with Humanist schools. In what I like to call its “Lowest Common Denominator” form, humanism is merely a philosophy based on reason and compassion. There may be other things that many humanists believe (such as the non-existence of a god), but this is an end-product of the humanistic process rather than as a prerequisite for being a humanist. If there was good evidence in favour of the existence of God, then I’m sure the majority of real humanists would believe.

    Getting back on track though, who could possibly object to a school based on the very universal principles of reason and compassion?

    Stuart, I’ve edited your comment very slightly. If you do get a blog it should be called “The Not At All Friendly Humanist” 😛

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