Nickelodeon, a channel for children, recently aired a faith-focused episode of Nick News.
Host Linda Ellerbee did a fantastic job of introducing kids to what a variety of people believe — and debunking the falsehoods we often hear (like the notion that we’re in any way a “Christian nation”). It’s almost too balanced — they have Pat Robertson spewing bullshit, but at least they also interview Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State to set the record straight.
There are also lots of young people from various faith backgrounds sharing their stories.
The episode is called “Freedom to Believe… or Not”
The “Not” in this case is Duncan Henderson, an atheist in junior high school who’s having trouble starting a Secular Student Alliance group at his school (his segment begins at the 14:17 mark).
For being so young, he admirably represents the atheistic viewpoint — and his father is *so* incredibly supportive of what Duncan’s doing… how refreshing is that?!
I asked Duncan if he’d write a guest post regarding the show — What else do we need to know about his story? What was it like getting interviewed for this episode? What are his plans for the future? — and he graciously sent this back:
I’m Duncan and I was recently interviewed for Nick News with Linda Ellerbee. Hemant asked if I would give everyone some insight on everything that has happened with our group here in Auburn.
I’ll just start off with talking a little bit about our group. Here in Alabama, I (with the help of a few friends) have been trying to create a secular student group at our junior high school.
When we first put in our request near the end of the first semester, we were informed that we could not have a group like this on our campus.
A week later, we sent our administration a copy of the laws that say we have a legal right to secular student group. This time, we received a slightly different response: “Well, you can have this group if you get a sponsor.”
So we did. The teacher we asked ended up having to back out of the sponsor position because of some “problems” (I don’t know enough about them to elaborate). We waited for another sponsor to come along — I even sent a letter to every teacher in the school — but no one spoke up.
At this point. we had nearly run out of confidence and ideas. Just as we starting to give up, Nick News came to the rescue. They had sent out a request looking for students to interview for this particular episode, and Dale McGowan, the author of Parenting Beyond Belief, suggested they speak with me.
I must say having a large camera sitting right in front of you is pretty intimidating for the first few minutes. The guys who came were a lot of fun and really helpful. The first thing they did that morning was take a lot of pictures of my dad and me.
When the interview began, I answered all the questions they asked and made sure the crew heard exactly what I wanted to say. I remember the three main questions they asked me: 1) “Is this a christian nation?” (Of course not.) 2) “What is an atheist? and 3) “How does being atheist affect your life at school?” Altogether, the interview lasted over two hours. As I write this, I haven’t seen the final product, but I hope that it sheds light on people everywhere that atheists are normal people and that you shouldn’t be scared to be outspoken about your beliefs.
In case you’re wondering, my parents are fine with this attention — like I said, my dad was even interviewed for the segment.
My group still hasn’t been formed yet, but I hope that will change soon. I don’t know if it’ll be any easier, though. But the people I know who are going to watch it are quite excited and the episode is creating a positive buzz throughout school.
Even if Duncan doesn’t get a group started this year, I have no doubt he’ll get one started in high school (and beyond).
If there’s anything I didn’t like about the piece, it’s the ending in which several kids (age unknown) say, “I’m a(n) [fill-in-your-religion] and I’m an American.” It’s a nice idea in theory, but having children say “I’m a Scientologist and I’m an American” just brings to mind Richard Dawkins‘ consciousness raising about labels applied to the young. Are all those children in the segment old enough to really understand what they believe? (That goes for the non-theists, too.) At the very least, I hope they came to those decisions on their own — there are non-theists in the bunch — but you have to wonder how many of them are just pushing the beliefs their parents taught them without thinking critically about it.