Most school teachers and administrators do their best to meet the needs of their diverse student body, but sometimes they don’t understand the perspectives of nontheistic families. Often by communicating with teachers and school officials nontheistic parents can resolve problems at school. Here are some resources for educators, and some suggestions for parents who are looking for help solving a church/state related issue in their child’s school.
Resources for Educators
- The Secular Student Alliance produces an excellent brochure called “Nontheistic Students in Your School” as part of their educator resources. This brochure is aimed at teachers and school administrators and explains who nontheistic students are, and how schools can better support those students. You can request copies of the brochure, or download it and print your own.
- WordviewEducation.org — A great resource for teaching about religion in history and social science classes in an objective, accurate, and balanced manner. This site includes “dos” and “don’ts” for teaching about religion in a neutral way that avoids indoctrination. It also offers curriculum materials for teaching about religion, including the “Different Drummers” curriculum for including freethinkers, nontheists, and skeptics when teaching about different belief systems and world religions.
- The James Randi Educational Foundation is producing curriculum modules for teaching critical thinking, skepticism, and the scientific method. Their first module, which guides students through an activity where they can test for ESP, is available here.
Suggestions for Parents Facing a Church/State Problem at School
Over the years we’ve heard stories from a number of Camp Quest parents about issues they are struggling with in their children’s schools. From science classes that promote creationism, to children being punished for not saying “under God” in the pledge of allegiance, there are a number of issues that freethinking families may be facing. Here are a few suggestions for taking on these issues:
- Choose your battles carefully. There is a great chapter in Parenting Beyond Belief called Choosing your Battles. In it, Stu Tanquist argues that you should think carefully before taking the issue on, and consider what the effects of stepping in will be on your child’s experiences at school. Check out Stu’s list questions to consider here. Sometimes the costs may outweigh the benefits, and the best thing to do is to talk with your child at home about the issue, and leave it at that.
- If you do decide to take action, start by talking to the teacher directly (or coach or other adult who is directly involved in the situation). Don’t immediately go over their heads to an administrator. That automatically puts the person you are dealing with on the defensive. You can always go to an administrator if your conversation with the coach or teacher doesn’t achieve your goals.
- Speaking of goals, what are your goals here? Make sure you know what you want to achieve before starting the conversation. Make sure you keep those goals in mind throughout the process.
- Do your research. You want to make sure you know what really happened, know the context, and know the relevant school policies and regulations.
- If talking to the person directly involved doesn’t achieve your goals, talk to an administrator and enlist help as needed. There is a list below of organizations that can help.
For more discussion of how to handle this process, check out Dale McGowan’s series of blog posts on challenging creationism in his son’s science class.
Where to Find Help
There are several organizations that help parents who are struggling with church/state separation issues in their schools. If you are having problems with creationism creeping into science class, faith-based sex education programs, or prayers over the loudspeaker in your public school, here are some places to get advice and assistance.
Science & Evolution
- The National Center for Science Education is an amazing organization that is an excellent place to turn for help with issues in the science classroom.
Science-Based Sex Education
- The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), has great information about abstinence-only sex education curricula in their Community Action Kit, including reviews of abstinence-only curricula commonly used in schools.
- Planned Parenthood has excellent resources for educators, for parents, and for teens.
- Many Unitarian Universalist congregations offer an excellent comprehensive sexuality education program called Our Whole Lives. If your child isn’t getting comprehensive sex education in school, this is a great way to get them the information they need.
General Church/State Issues
- Americans United For Separation of Church and State includes religious and non-religious Americans, and works on Church/State issues at all levels of government through both legal cases and lobbying.
- The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a Church/State watchdog group. They have a form to report a Church/State violation on their website, and will provide confidential assistance.
- The ACLU focuses on first amendment issues, including issues of religion & belief.