Secular Parenting and the Problem of Indoctrination

Author Dan Arel

My focus is on the religious attack on science and the ill effects it has on our children, particularly in our educational system. Proper scientific education through free thought and critical thinking is key to our future. | @danarel

The fear of teaching ones children to be atheist is a fear known by many atheist parents. Most believe atheism is a place you should find on your own; critical thinking, knowledge, logic and other means of rational thinking lead people to reject the idea of man made gods and consider themselves atheist. This is not something atheist parents wish to indoctrinate into their children.

How though, do you instill these values as an atheist parent without force feeding your children? The answer should be rather simple; Education. Parents must teach their kids about questioning assumption and social norms, showing their kids how to think critically and be a skeptic of claims that sound too good to be true. Instill logic and how to apply it to life’s problems, and claims made by those around them. Teach them about as many religious beliefs as possible, and also about disbelief. Explain why Christians believe in Jesus, Muslims in Mohammad, teach them what Buddha believed. Explain how God and Allah are the same, how different parts of the world and different types of religions think about the texts differently. Explain creation myths, but at the same time, instill scientific truths.

Contrary to the religious claims, teaching your kid that evolution is a scientific fact is not indoctrination, no more than teaching that 2+2=4. Explain the big bang, how stars and planets formed, and compare those to stories from world religions. Do not shy away from calling these stories myths, especially if they are, as in creationism. Again, teaching your child the scientific truth to the origins of life is not indoctrination, it’s education.

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If you child is young enough, you can bake cookies in the shape of religious symbols, the cross, star of David, the Islamic star and crescent. Explain what these symbols mean, why they are important to some people. If they are older, you can read to them, or they can read on their own. Books such as Richard Dawkins’ The Magic of Reality, which offers great scientific stories and compares them with myths from around the world.

By telling your child about these beliefs, stories, and myths, you will expose them to the world we live in and allow them to ask questions and reflect on what they have learned. These tools will allow them to make informed and educated decisions about what they believe.

Let them explore these beliefs, even if they do not align with your own. This does mean you need to let them foster hateful beliefs; if you see that their beliefs are leading to bigotry and intolerance, as any good parent should, this is when you should intervene. But allow your child to read and learn about beliefs and religions they may find interesting, be there to answer questions for them. Foster their curiosity.

You must also teach them about science and the scientific method. You do not have to be a scientists or even understand all of the theories and laws that make up our universe, but show them how to trust, and at the same time question science. Show them science versus pseudoscience, how to tell the difference, and why people make pseudo-scientific claims. Teach them about the beauty of evolution, the wonder of the big bang and just how massive and undiscovered much of our universe is. The truth about the wonders of our universe are far greater than any mythological story you can conjure up from any religion.

Every parent instills his or her beliefs, values, and morals into their child, and it is important that parents do this, but the lessons do not need to come from a book or a higher power. As atheists, secularists, and or humanists, we know these morals come from empathy, understanding, and the desire to increase happiness and reduce suffering. The most important thing you can do is teach them your beliefs and values, while making sure they understand as they grow, they do not have to be their beliefs and values. One of the most important things a child can do is to grow up and question their parents beliefs. They may or may not come to the same conclusions as you, but this is okay, many do not share all of their parents values. This is how society and cultures evolve and hopefully, improve.

So teach your kids who you are, and how you became who you are, teach them about others and what others think. Educate them to the fullest, so they are not sheltered from beliefs that would be otherwise foreign to them. This alone will instill critical thinking and lead to better logical reasoning. This will give your child the skills they need to make informed decisions throughout their life and you can rest easy knowing they have these tools at their disposal for whatever challenges life brings their way. Most importantly, teach them to be curious!

Each parent will find their own path on this road, but these are tools to help light the way. If you have suggestions or ideas, please comment below and share. Atheist and secular parents need to be in constant dialogue and growing this community.