Nearly a year ago, I wrote a post at Tangled Up in Blue Guy about my real hometown of Lancaster, Minnesota. A science teacher was fired for teaching evolution because the school board was largely made up of Creationists. The situation was a real mess of “small-town values,” politics and other chicanery that had to do with sexual misbehavior.
A student who graduated from Lancaster High School recently contacted me and promised to get me more details, because I was basing the story on the details provided by my dad. I will update that story after he gets back to me. The interesting and ethical question related to this post is based on a comment he sent me in an e-mail:
The crazy thing was that it wasn’t the kids from that covenant church that had the problem; it was their PARENTS! Some oversaw the homework they were doing and then one mom talked to another mom at their women’s church night and before you know it something like this happened. The kids who led the protest of Mr. D not being hired back by the schoolboard was actually the kids of the parents who caused the biggest stink about it. Thats what you do for your kid, get their favorite teacher fired.
Okay, Mr. D wasn’t fired but his contract was not renewed. The question I have been turning over in my ethical mind is the question of the responsibility of parents to raise their children in the best way possible to give them all of the tools they need to live happy, productive and intellectually- and emotionally-rich minds.
Of course, this subject is going to touch on religious education. My parents raised me in the Catholic Church because even though she had been brought up as a Lutheran, my mother had agreed to raise us in the Catholic religion. It was a stipulation of marrying a Catholic.
Richard Dawkins took a lot of flak for suggesting that the raising of children in a religion is a form of child abusre. The question sensibly raises quite a furor among the religious and the atheists alike because of society’s conflicting values over who “owns” children. I am a parent now, with one child out of the house and two teenagers who are intellectually rebellious (yea!) Actually, all three of our children have been taught to question authority and to “speak truth to power.” (Except when the Power is Mom discussing chores and homework that need to be done.)
I am divorced and the kids are being raised in their mother’s home. I am an atheist and their mother is an active pagan. We try to balance our beliefs in regards to the children, giving them the opportunity to participate in our activities but not forcing them to do so. When they have questions we give them our best answers. We sent them to a Catholic School because of the reputation that Catholic Schools provide the strongest educational opportunity (unfortunately, this didn’t turn out to be the case,) and also to give them exposure to Christianity untainted by our own biasees. Both their mother and I had been raised Catholic.
We want our kids to interact with people of other religions so that they don’t fear the people who hold other beliefs, and I have to admit that sometimes I say things in their presence which could bias them against Christianity. So, they also need to learn the perspective of other people because as they grow into adults they will have more of a grounding in religious belief when they start to think about how they approach religion as adults.
Most people I know are in the same religion as they were when they were children. They are not necessarily in the same Church, or Jewish tradition, or even the same Mosque, but their core beliefs are still the same. Because we live in a “Christian Nation” most of them are still Christian. Sure, they may be evangelical where they were raised liturgical, but in the case of Christianity their core beliefs on religion are still based on the salvation issue, even if the specific teachings differ quite wildly from the church of their youth.
My cousin was raised in an atheist family, and he and his brother adapted a fundamentalist faith when they went on their own. My aunt and uncle were dismayed, but still loved their adult children. One of my cousins has backed away from the fundamentalist faith he tried, but the other is now a sincere Jehovah’s Witness. His parents still love and support him, and he has an understanding that he is not going to try to evangelize his famly members. Raising children in an atheist household is no guarantee that they will always be atheists despite our best hopes.
I think parents of all religious positions need to take a step back and examine how much contriol they should have over their childrens’ minds. I maintain that the best we can do for our children is to make sure that as they grow they should be taught critical thinking skills so that as they approach adulthood they have the tools to make thoughtful decisions about the directions of their lives. As adults, our kids need to own their own miinds.
Since the creationism-evolution debate is not a scientific one, it really is a cultural debate over how we educate our children and the reaction of creationist parents is a religious one. If children are taught about how evolution works, they will abandon religions which insist on a literal belief in a Genesis-creation myth. While there are large numbers of people who homeschool because they have better intellectual tools than the public schools provide, a much larger majority homeschool because they don’t want their kids exposed to evolution. They think that evoluton is a threat to their children’s (read their own) religious beliefs, and that their children will turn to atheism if they find out how natural mechanisms account for the diversity of life. They are afraid that their children will lose their chance at “salvation.”
I want to open this up for discussion, and I want to know what the readers think:
1. Do parents have the right to thought-contril of their children until those children are grown and on their own?
2. Does society also have a role in shaping the way that children learn to think? is this too redolent of socialism?
3. For religious parents, is the question of choosing one’s own religion too dangerous when eternity is at stake?
4. For atheist parents, is it mush-minded to allow your children to participate in religious activities?
I would also appreciate any other questions and answers in this thread.