Author Curious About Atheism in K-12 Education December 6, 2009

Author Curious About Atheism in K-12 Education

Katherine is a writer who is working on a project about the Religious Right and their impact on public education (before college).

Topics she is covering include: after-school evangelizing “clubs”; “student-led” prayer in high school athletics; distribution of religious literature on public school campuses; and debates over evolution, sex education, and the teaching of American history.

She sends this message to readers:

I’m writing a book about public education and the Religious Right. If you or your kids have been excluded or targeted for harassment in the public schools because of nontheism, I would love to hear your story. I am happy to speak anonymously or off-the-record. [Contact info deleted on 6/23/11.] I would be happy to tell you more about my project and answer any questions you might have.

All the best,

I know several of you have stories that seem perfect for this. Telling those stories is one way to help other atheists who may be in your situation and don’t know what to do.

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  • You probably wouldn’t want to use my testimony because this happened to my sister, not to me….but when my sister was in the 11th grade at our local high school, her Marine Biology teacher ran a video about evolution; right before it started, she gave a speech about how “we all know evolution is wrong and how god created everything, but I’m required to show this video, so we’re going to watch it.” And all throughout the video, she would pause it and offer half-assed “counterpoints” to all of the scientific facts presented in the video, sometimes just settling for, “oh, and that’s wrong, and that’s wrong, and that’s wrong.”

    Basically, she was telling her class that everything she was required to teach them was a lie, but she was going to teach it anyway, and then she tried to “correct” the curriculum with her own “facts.”

  • I think it’s great that you are doing this. It’s something that desperately needs addressing. We have not been targeted specifically, but my son gets weird looks because we don’t have a Christmas tree or believe in Santa.

  • @Tim D.
    How does someone gain enough knowledge of biology to teach it without realizing that evolution has some semblance of logic and evidence behind it? Can people really keep their minds so closed?

  • MG

    I would contribute if I could, but my story contains nothing more than random insults from random people at random times.

    Good luck Katherine!

  • Zoo

    @Hazor: A public school biology teacher (at least in my part of the country), might not learn enough about biology to get to that point. It’s extremely sad. Besides that, yes, yes, yes, people really can keep their minds that closed.

  • Beyond the occasional invocations at ceremonies, the biggest thing that stands out in my mind is athletics. I bounced from sport to sport in school because I wasn’t really good at any of them, and one thing that was universal was that before any competitive event, we always circled up and said a prayer. This was usually for the safety and success of everyone, but I remember one incident in particular. The football team I was on was top in our division and we knew that a team we were preparing to play was going to be a pushover. In fact they were; I even got to play one down at the end of the game. Anyway, before the game, we all circled up and listened to the quarterback pray for our safety and success. Then he said “Dear Lord, please let us beat this team by at least fifty points. Amen.”

    I kind of looked around at that point to see if anyone else noticed, and in fact the coach was looking right at me. I guess he noticed I never close my eyes during the prayer.

    Anyway, that’s pretty tame, and I must say that throughout my education in many of the southern states, I didn’t experience much religious talk in school.

    p.s. I finally did find a sport I was good at, but it wasn’t football. 😉

  • Q-Squared

    Sorry, most of my stories are from when I was wishy-washy-not-really-having-a-position-christian-who-loves-god. They revolved around the teachers and students hating me for being weird and daring to ask about a few (still stupid in my eyes) rules designed to “prevent Satan from creeping into our souls” through children’s games.

    Actually, I should send the teacher who made those rules a thank you note- that teacher sort of helped me on my way to atheism by developing my bullshit detection system. 🙂

  • Kaluthir

    I didn’t become an atheist until my senior year in high school but even in the short time I did go against the norm (did I mention I went to a public school in Texas?) I had teachers and students consistently proselytize me.
    That being said, I had enough good friends and was popular enough that I was able to escape the brunt of the religious discrimination (the sports team I was on prayed before competing in meets but nobody gave me a hard time for standing upright and not closing my eyes). I had friends that weren’t so lucky and were constantly harassed for their lack of religion.

  • Does it still count if I wasn’t an atheist yet when this occured? It’s a story about how the teaching of Xmas carols at school affected a Jewish family: mine.


    In Grade Five a Christian group came to my school and everyone got a Bible. In grade eight my teacher taught against abortions and using medicine. And of course Xmas songs for the Xmas play. That’s the extent of official Christian views in my school experience. In grade three one kid stole my swing in the name of Jesus. At the time it hurt, but now I laugh at it. I mean, really, why would Jesus want my swing? LOL

  • muggle

    Must write her. There were conflicts large and small the whole time my daughter was growing up from religious spelling lists on up. Every year I had to protest something.

    But the incident that comes first and foremost promptly to mind was in middle school. I protested when a teacher told the kids the story of David and Goliath so loudly that it made the teacher cry. (Apparently it never even occured to him that some parent might find this objectionable.)

    But that’s not the end of it, when her history class covered the Scopes Monkey trial, they stuck her out in the hall. I yelled even louder how dare they? I said I protest religion taught in school and you respond by segregating her from a crucial point in our history? In what turned out to be a large victory for nonbelievers? They apologized but the damage was already done. I’d have sued if I wasn’t worried about reprecussions from my “good” Christian neighbors. I did not want to worry about bricks through windows or needing a gun at the ready. Obviously, I took the opportunity to teach her about it myself but, at that point, I wasn’t home-schooling.

    Hugh, you’re from Albany, NY? We’re neighbors! And, yeah, I had a Jewish friend harrassed in middle school. I’ve always thought December must be a tough time of year to be Jewish in America.

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