Fairness for Freethought in Education
< Why teach about freethought as subject matter?
Freethinking exists as an important factor both in history and in contemporary society. So, shouldn't schools teach about it? The religion realm, including dissent to religion, offers students some of the best examples of interplay between conforming and nonconforming thought in humankind.
Throughout history there have been those who have held to ideas and worldviews far different from, or directly confronting, the strongly held religious beliefs of their neighbors. Holding to an idea that challenges tradition or authority has seldom been easy. In authoritarian nations, it can be dangerous. Even today’s democratic societies can make things pretty tough for the different thinking citizen. The social processes and pressures with respect to religion, whether they occur in history or in the present day, make for particularly interesting study.
Well, in the U.S., it is supposed to be so. That is the civic promise of religious liberty the Constitution offers to every citizen. And, on the whole, present-day American society and law does grant us all considerable liberty to think and to believe, or not believe, as we wish. As a nation, we pride ourselves on being a pluralistic society that accepts all kinds of believers, even tiny minority religions. But longstanding societal biases are not readily overcome. Population minorities who think "too differently" (e.g., atheists) are not treated kindly by mainstream society.
The United States accords liberty of conscience to all its citizens. Constitutional guarantees of governmental neutrality concerning religion exist to enable the entire population to live amicably and to believe as they wish concerning religion.
Institutionalizing state-church separation into our laws (by way of the first sixteen words of the U.S. Constitution's Bill of Rights) was an enlightened and unconventional idea in western history. But, like other ideals, such as "equality," it is still a "work in progress." Even as our own nation loudly proclaims individual rights and freedoms for all citizens, certain “different notions” are not readily tolerated. Society presses toward a conformity—to recognize and acknowledge at least some sort of deity or force (a religious worldview). For an individual to do otherwise (i.e., to hold or declare a nonreligious worldview) is proscribed. As any nonbeliever can attest, society takes note of independent thinking that leads too far from mainstream notions.
Do you teach in a public school? If yes, then you are part of its "neutrality picture." The ideal of neutrality concerning religion has been a touchstone of Supreme Court decisions concerning public education since 1947. The neutrality ideal helps ensure religious liberty within the nation’s schools, for all the students, irrespective of their religious or nonreligious worldviews.
Even though religions will vary in general cultural legitimacy, U. S. public schools, being government institutions, aren’t to privilege one religion over another; nor are they to privilege religion generally over nonreligion. With respect to the diversity of possible personal worldviews, they stay neutral.
There would seem to be implied a curricular responsibility. To teach about religions, but not about freethought, would surely privilege the religious worldview over nonreligion as youngsters would not learn about the existence of freethought philosophies and life stance. They should know that there is an alternative to religion that "works" for a significant segment of the human population.
Instructional Systems, Fort Sutter Station P.O. 163418, Sacramento, CA 95816
Last Updated 5/15/2005
Supported by OABITAR (Objectivity,
Accuracy, and Balance In Teaching About Religion)