October 29, 2015

Atheist Mama: Would I care if a teacher told my child God was real?

A little background before I answer the question I've posed for exploration here:

In Katy, Texas, a seventh-grader came to her school board to say that she'd been forced to admit that God wasn't real in class. It's Texas, naturally people were up in arms. Breitbart carried the story of forced atheism in the school yesterday morning (it even pinged my Google alerts!), and it was a mess, with people calling for the atheist teacher to be fired.

Let's clear up a few things first.

First, the exercise did not require the child to admit that God wasn't real. It gave students a list of statements and asked that they mark them as "opinion", "fact", or "commonplace assertion". An opinion is something that someone believers, a fact is something that is objectively true, and a commonplace assertion is something that can't be proven or disproven, but that many people believe.

"God is real" is a commonplace assertion. I can't disprove it, you can't prove it, but many people believe it.

It's not the same as a myth, which is what the teacher was accused of calling God by the student. This is laughable, as the district has been quick to point out that the teacher herself is a Christian.

In discussing this story, I ran across this comment:

"You people would be up in arms if it was a teacher saying God existed."

I didn't respond, because I'm quickly coming to terms with what is and isn't worth engaging with in these types of discussions, but I did think on it. Would I care if a teacher told my kid God is real?

For me, it would really depend on the circumstances. What happened to bring up the conversation? How did the teacher broach it? There's a hell of a difference between "I believe God is real" and "God is real and you are going to Hell."

But at the end of the day, the truth is that the teacher in the example that brought about this equipment didn't claim that God wasn't real, so it's not an equivalent example. So let's even it up.

If my kid came home with this assignment, except instead of "God is real", it said, "God is not real," and he'd marked "commonplace assertion" and the teacher said, "opinion," would I be bothered by it?

No. That's the correct answer under the definitions for the three options provided. It's not a fact, because it's not objectively true. It's not a commonplace assertion, because even though it can't be proven one way or the other, it's not a dominant belief, especially if you allow for God to mean any of the many deities that most of the world believes in. It can be well described as an opinion, because it's a "view or judgement formed on something, not necessarily based on facts or knowledge".

But here's the real skivvy, folks: I am not relying on my kids' teachers to impart our values. That's my job. It's our job, as parents, to teach him about what we believe and don't believe, to instill morals and values, to shape his character. Yeah, part of that will be influenced by who he interacts with at school and the support he receives there, but the foundation will be laid here, in our home.

And when it comes down to it, I trust that foundation, and I trust my kid to be able to engage with comments that he comes across in an academic context, and to come to me when he encounters something he doesn't have the tools to deal with.

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