Friday, December 07, 2007

Questions from ye' ole mail bag.

Nikome asks... Hi from Russia. I read your blog per day.
In America do you have religion education in school?

Hi, Nikome!! I have always wanted to visit Russia! The answer to your question is multi-layered. There is a great deal of choice regarding education in America. I would say that most children attend public schools. These are schools that are funded by local and state taxes, with federal subsidies, to provide all children with a K-12 education. Kindergarten begins at four or five years of age (depending on the birthday of the child). 12th grade is the last year of public education. Because this is a state run education system, there is no sanctioned religious education in the sense that one religion is promoted above others. There are classes and units in social studies classes where the teachers present basic tenets of all faiths and discuss the impact of those faiths on people.

There are also private, religious schools. The Catholic education system in this country is widespread and evolved out of the Irish potato famine in the 1800's. Irish immigrants wanted their children to be educated in a way that wouldn't contradict the Irish-Catholic belief system, so they created a huge system of Catholic education. Generally, these schools are funded out of parish coffers or monastic orders, with additional tuition fees. Catholic schools will not turn away any student or any faith, though. There are other private schools that have different affiliations. In these schools, religious education is usually covered on a daily basis. My husband and I both have experience in parochial education.

There is also a movement, in America, involving home schooling. There are a few readers of this blog who are atheist and homeschool. So, I'll let them explain how they handle religious education (if they handle it at all). However, I would have to say that the majority of home schoolers are using a faith based curriculum.

I may be missing an option,...

Nikome continues... Your Constitution does not allow this?

The U.S. Constitution attempts to separate church and state. Thus, a state funded school should respect the establishment clause and refrain from pushing one religion above others on the students. However, the argument emerges when different definitions of "pushing" come to light. I think someone else might be able to answer this better than I.

Yersinia said... Don't you ever feel bad for not giving your kids
religious comforts of community?

I'm not sure I understand your question. I think you're asking if I feel bad for denying my children a chance to build a community of friends in a religious setting. If that is your question, I don't. Tell me what benefits a child can get from a religious community that they can't get from a community of people, regardless of faith, who bond together to help provide a child with a sense of inclusion and support. Atheists build attachments and friendships in ways similar to theists. Churches aren't the only places where people build communities. My kids are members of a few different "communities"; family, school, friends of ours, scouting groups, activity based groups (like band and drumline), and secular circles of friends. ---- I feel like I'm missing something or not answering your question. So, please post here and ask further questions.

Barbara Jo says... Your kids are adorable. I have a four year old and was wondering if you do Santa Claus. I'm a recent atheist and this is the first Christmas where we aren't doing stuff about the birth of Christ.

I'm planning on making a post, soon, about what we do for Christmas. And, I think we're going to cover that in this months podcast. So, for details, please listen. :) But, the short answer is: we sort of "do" Santa. We don't get into intricate detail about the Santa myths. But, we try to emphasize that the IDEA of Santa helps us remember to give and be generous with our love and affection. We focus on the idea that this season is the time to give whatever it is you have to give to make your family and friends happier or better off from your involvement in your life. In past years, we've struggled with the material aspects of Christmas: now we're trying to have the kids focus on their unique abilities and how they might use them to help someone else. Does that make sense? Of course, there are presents under our tree and we do hang stockings. And, we do cheat a bit and do this traditional reindeer food thing. But, for the most part, I try not to lie to the kids -even when it comes to stuff like this. Instead, I preface talks about Santa and Rudolph with the explanation that these things are fun, fictional traditions that have deeper symbolism. Thanks for writing in.


Stan said...

We always told our daughter that Santa was just a story. A fun story, but just a story. Just like the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and God.

Vamp DiVerL said...

Oh man, I just blew the tooth fairy TODAY to my 10 year old. She had put her tooth under her pillow last night, and I forgot and went to bed.

She caught me this morning, trying to stick some cash under the pillow, when she told me he didn't come.

Oh well, my baby is growing up.

Dave Salyers said...

My wife and I are atheist homeschoolers. (Actually I think the inclusive, secular homeschoolers are becoming the largest group of homeschoolers, but the religious right fringe is the most vocal.) In terms of "religious education" we focus primarily on critical thinking and ethical decision making. We include Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in our discussion of comparative mythology.

floridamom said...

As another atheist homeschooler, I have to say I agree with Dave. We are becoming more vocal because we're tired of people automatically assuming we're fundamentalists Christians as soon as we say we homeschool. There's a large community of secular homeschoolers both online and in many local areas.

We don't do religious education,obviously; but we cover religion as history or when studying different cultures. I think it would be hard to understand Western Civilization if we completely ignored the influence of religion (especially Christianity).