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← What should be the goal of secular education?

What should be the goal of secular education? - Comments

SourTomatoSand's Avatar Comment 1 by SourTomatoSand

Having experienced the American school system, I think I would prefer the Spanish version. I do not recall ever being taught about human rights at all in school, ever (though, to be fair, I may not have been paying attention that day). It would have made my slow transition into Atheism significantly faster were I exposed to secular values earlier in life.

Sat, 06 Nov 2010 20:09:28 UTC | #543489

Tarantella's Avatar Comment 2 by Tarantella

Secular education sounds like a good idea.

Let's try it for 1500 years and see how it goes.

Sat, 06 Nov 2010 20:26:45 UTC | #543491

The Plc's Avatar Comment 3 by The Plc

despite protests from the Church, the current Socialist government has ended obligatory religious education in state schools and legalised abortion on demand in a drive to secularise.

The arrogance of this outburst from Ratzinger is astounding, truly gob-smacking. Despite protest from the Church? Despite protest from the Church? What right does the Catholic Church have to dictate public education policy to a sovereign nation state? What special right do they have to have their views listened to and met?

Sat, 06 Nov 2010 21:04:22 UTC | #543500

BLB's Avatar Comment 4 by BLB

Just teach children to think, above all, and never to stop looking for knowledge. Quite the opposite of what your man Ratzinger would like to see, but that's fine with me.

Sat, 06 Nov 2010 21:10:20 UTC | #543501

ZenDruid's Avatar Comment 5 by ZenDruid

In 2009, the Supreme Court ruled that religious parents are not entitled to conscientious objection against the State teaching human rights to their children.


Sat, 06 Nov 2010 22:23:26 UTC | #543521

Neodarwinian's Avatar Comment 6 by Neodarwinian

Teach skepticism and how to think ( not what to think ) and that should be secular enough.

Sat, 06 Nov 2010 23:00:28 UTC | #543532

biame's Avatar Comment 7 by biame

Hi Claudedeu, in a world where all parents of any society taught/teach their children the same moral values, I would have to say, moral values should be left out of the education system. Just not needed, as everybody is already educated down the same path. Memes passed along will be seen as normal and everybody has the same understanding.

Unfortunately we do not have this in modern societies of today. What we do have is a difference of moral thinking and values, brought about because people were allowed to think and choose for themselves under their own volition. What this in turn has done is produced societies with many different opinions pertaining to morals, values and ethics. On the streets and in the playgrounds is where the different ideals meet, which is a primary source of conflict, for those who cannot be, rational, reasonable and tolerant of other beliefs. We have the fuel, we have the oxygen, now all that is needed is the ignition source which will be provided by the human element.

Every country in the world should decide for themselves what moral values they wish their own society to have. Where they see themselves in the future, what sort of society do they want to be, and introduce a plan and a strategy to meet this goal. This can only be done by referendum, where everybody gets to have their say. Unfortunately where things like moral values are concerned, you are never going to please everybody at any time, for this reason alone, majority rule must come into play. The values as set by the people, for the people, should be the values taught in any education system.

This notwithstanding, no value should be set in stone. Over time, peoples attitudes and opinions to different things can change. These values should be revisited, and new referrendums held not exceeding a time period of half generational cycles (approximately every 10 to 12 years). Any adjustments determined by the people, addd or subtracted from the educational process.

People can either move forward in one direction, or each can go off in different tangents. It is up to any society to choose for themselves what sort of society they want to be, a combined, united force all working together, or a straggly group, each doing their own thing, and often competing against one another.

Sat, 06 Nov 2010 23:25:41 UTC | #543539

Pom's Avatar Comment 8 by Pom

I am of the opinion that the upbringing of children is primarily the responsibility of their parents. I oppose compulsory education, except for the 'basics' - the three R's - and even then I have some reservations.

What far too many schools, and teachers too, teach is diametrically opposed to the views, ethics and wishes of the children's parents. In some cases, the entire syllabus is destructive of the worldviews that a child's parents attempt to instill into their offspring. It is definitely NOT OK for some youth, fresh out of teacher training college and with absolutely no concept of reality, to try to teach 'values' to his or her charges.

Who said that five-year-old children should spend the next ten years or more in the totally unnatural environment of the classroom?

I am aware of the historical necessity of compulsory education, but I also feel strongly that it has got WAY out of hand, with 'educationists' exercising far greater authority than they could possibly deserve.

Sat, 06 Nov 2010 23:52:21 UTC | #543544

Dhamma's Avatar Comment 9 by Dhamma

If what the OP wrote is true, then I think it's appalling the school tell them they have to tolerate homosexuality. This is not the mission of a school. If you want to dislike homosexuals, it should be your right. I will think you're a lousy human for not tolerating them, but I'd be far more outraged if you were forced to tolerate them.

Skepticism should be part of the curriculum instead. To become a critical thinker could be achieved in a few hours. My girl believed in ghosts all her life, and whatnot, but after a few months she's been saying she questions most claims people make.

I myself used to take things at face value, but I think becoming active in the atheist movement, where skepticism is common, made me think twice or thrice about most claims. I don't see any problem with this view, I'm even quite positive you've helped me save a few bucks on alternative crap I'd fall for had I not been taught by this community.

Thank you, skepticism.

Sun, 07 Nov 2010 01:07:43 UTC | #543556

jameshogg's Avatar Comment 10 by jameshogg

Comment 10 by Dhamma :

If what the OP wrote is true, then I think it's appalling the school tell them they have to tolerate homosexuality. This is not the mission of a school. If you want to dislike homosexuals, it should be your right. I will think you're a lousy human for not tolerating them, but I'd be far more outraged if you were forced to tolerate them.

I think there's a degree of truth in what you are saying. I don't think forcing children to take a moral decision is how you ought to be teaching morals. I don't think you can teach anybody to be moral by forcing them, to be honest. Because then it isn't genuine morality. It also could prime them to be more religious...

For instance, if someone told you they are good just because 'their parents said so', or 'their girlfriend wants them to be', or 'because God told me to', roughly translated that's like saying 'I am only being good because I am obligated, not because I want to be'. And you'd end up feeling quite uncomfortable around that person because their morality isn't sincere, or even honest.

If I get in a discussion about morality with a non-believer, who maybe perhaps has weak morals (e.g. too much in favour of violence), they often tell me that they can reveal something about religious people's moral conduct by asking them 'are you good just because God is telling you to be?' Then I ask them in return: 'are you good just because you don't want to be arrested?'

I'm nice because it's nice to be nice. Nothing more, and nothing less. This idea that you can teach morality by force, or by inflicting reward and punishment (a crappy system for teaching anything), is inefficient and redundant, because it relies on the beliefs of the teacher. Which isn't surprising, since its roots probably lie tens of thousands of years ago, where scientific and rational thinking was sparse and reward/punishment was an easy-to-imagine, cheap and convenient pseudo-solution.

There's a famous Psychological notion called Lawrence Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development, where there are three stages: pre-conventional, conventional and post-conventional. Roughly speaking, the first stage is the child-like stage where the motive is to listen to elders and avoid punishment, the next stage being the social 'conforming' stage, and the last being the independant thinking moral stage. It's a bit of a messy model, but I think there's some truth in the progression. If kids are forced into accepting homosexual people it may be bad for their overall process of moral reasoning, because they may have to consistantly look towards a higher person for direction.

Another study heading in this direction would be Diana Baumrind's Child Parenting Styles. If I remember, the study showed that the authoritative style of including reasoning alongside discipline resulted in a better lifestyle and moral conduct for the child compared to that based purely on reward/punishment (authoritarian) and little involvemet at all (indulgent/permissive).

I reckon there is a tendency for religions to keep people stuck in the first stages. God is the never-ending father figure that never leaves their lives and never gives people a change to truly grow up and start thinking for themselves. It would make a lot of sense.

The best thing you can do to teach morality to children is just let their innate sense of morality develop naturally by letting them look at all the information we've got and making the best decisions, as opposed to forcing them into a particular direction without any brainwork as to why it's the right direction in the first place. It's an important part of critical thinking.

I often like to say, if you think science is about listening to sceintists and believing anything they say, that's not science. Science is about evidence.

Sun, 07 Nov 2010 02:13:33 UTC | #543569

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 11 by Steve Zara

I absolutely agree that a school should not be telling children to 'tolerate' homosexuality. I think it's scandalous. Similarly, schools should not be insisting that children 'try and get along with' black people, or 'do their best to put up with' women being equal.

How DARE anyone say that gay people should be 'tolerated'? We aren't like a bad smell, or a skin rash that you should not scratch, we aren't annoying but basically harmless. We are full and equal members of society. If anyone tries to tell me that I'm to be 'tolerated', they are going to find there is more than just my gayness to put up with!

Any child who shows the slightest sign of prejudice against gay people should be treated like any child who said or wrote something racist - it should be pointed out immediately that such attitudes are unacceptable, and words should be had with the parents.

If we can sort this out, they may even start to insist that children 'accept' that atheists are human too.

Sun, 07 Nov 2010 02:29:23 UTC | #543574

TuftedPuffin's Avatar Comment 12 by TuftedPuffin

One of the basic functions of state-run education is civic. This goes back to Dewey. Children must be given what they need to become competent voters and citizens in general, and this means understanding one's rights. If Spanish Law forbids certain forms of prejudice against homosexuals then insisting that schools not teach this fact is incomprehensible. It's the law. If you don't like it, change the law, but don't misinform children into unwitting civil disobedience for a cause they didn't sign up for.

As for ethical education in general, no such thing exists. Schools can fabricate consequences to actions, as Catholic schools do in the case of Hell. They can equip students to investigate and critique moral claims, as a decent education in philosophy or critical thinking should. They cannot teach values, however.

Sun, 07 Nov 2010 02:53:16 UTC | #543581

Roedy's Avatar Comment 13 by Roedy

What I would hope from a secular education:

1) valuing doubt as a virtue. Teaching examples of how often people who out of respect for authorities were stupidly wrong, and who ignored evidence or refused to look for any.

"I think we ought always to entertain our opinions with some measure of doubt. I shouldn’t wish people dogmatically to believe any philosophy, not even mine."

~ Bertrand Russell 1872-05-18 1970-02-02

2) valuing curiosity as a virtue. Teaching examples of great rewards people in history accrued through following through on some incidental curiosity.

3) debunking myths about supposed massive inherent differences in different populations of homo sapiens. Debunking such claims. Explaining why such differences could not be maintained. Tracing family trees back with DNA analysis.

4) explaining that homosexuality is a garden variety variant of human sexuality. Exposing the various superstitions about it. Teaching how it expresses in other species.

5) teaching about deception and fraud. We send our children out into the world with a very naive view, especially of religion and politics. Motives, techniques, including faith healers, shamans, advertisers, con artists, logical fallacies in debate, techniques of demogogery, techniques used by cults for mind control, use of stage magic to fake the supernatural, graft.

6) teaching about the progression of sperm/egg to adult human, all the various landmark changes at what ages. Then people can develop a more intelligent view of abortion and a greater tolerance for other views.

Sun, 07 Nov 2010 03:59:05 UTC | #543592

jameshogg's Avatar Comment 14 by jameshogg

Roedy: If I could only pick one from that list, it would be number 5. Everything else falls into place when you learn how easily your brain can be tricked:

  • You naturally have doubts (reasonable!) about what you believe and you are not eternally bound to your beliefs because they are subject to change.

  • You tend to be curious about alternative explanations that challenge your ideas, and helps you to see if you are being tricked.

  • In other words, knowing about deception will make anyone open-minded. It has to.

    It is the easiest thing in the world to assume your senses are invincible, and make up correct theories about the world every time. But you just need to see a magic show to know that isn't true.

    Sun, 07 Nov 2010 04:09:52 UTC | #543594

    kzoframe39's Avatar Comment 15 by kzoframe39

    If the distinct choice is between teaching skills or values, it is obvious to me that it should be skills. The primary skill to be taught would be scientific reasoning. The emphasis should be on open inquiry, burden of proof, and predictive results, exactly the methods RD uses in the book I just read.

    Values will derive from the skill of scientific thinking, and the values the parents wish to inculcate into the children at home. There may be and probably will be conflict if children are taught to think and arrive at value decisions based on reason while their parents are using a dogmatic approach. This is a natural process which the tool of scientific thinking will accelerate. It is my opinion that values based on a rational approach will 'win out' in the end, because science is valid, and dogmatic values are arbitrary and less likely to produce successful results. All of this is straightforward rational thinking.

    Teaching values directly is merely another dogmatic approach, albeit one sponsored by the state and derived from it's version of rationality.

    Sun, 07 Nov 2010 06:54:33 UTC | #543612

    Stevehill's Avatar Comment 16 by Stevehill

    Teach, don't preach. You can be a newly graduated, wet-behind-the-ears teacher and still communicate facts: the world contains religions, and this is what their adherents believe; the world contains gays, and human rights, and algebra.

    Don't tell them what they must believe. They can work it out for themselves. If they try to pretend there is no algebra in the world, they won't last long.

    Spain seems to have got it about right: I wish the UK would do the same. Maybe I'll emigrate before my kids start school. Better weather too.

    Sun, 07 Nov 2010 07:55:35 UTC | #543623

    iain399's Avatar Comment 17 by iain399

    I suppose a basic education of literacy and exposure to geography and history would naturally include a summation of all religions, not just one, and an explanation of how they influenced subsequent thinking, for better (structure of society, for example the seven day week, various evolving codes of ethics) or worse (inquisitions, crusades, superstition, etc). This would naturally lead to a discussion of science, then atheism and the reasons behind it, the biology behind evolution, and also pure materialism with its own inevitable squabbles and wars.

    And rather than give a so-many-millions number representing the glorious dead, it wouldn't do any harm to show photos of the still living, disfigured faces from the wars, or the Hibuki, the pitiable survivors of atomic bombs who were skinned and roasted alive, or those born deformed from agent Orange in Vietnam, to start to remove all thoughts of glamour from human conflict.

    But whatever is taught, society would surely be well served if the huge energy, focus and enthusiasm which all toddlers display at the start of life for exploring the world, not even wanting sleep to interrupt their experiments, was somehow preserved in adulthood, rather than dissipating all this focus by an institution resembling a heavy stone around the child's neck, causing them to grow in some deformed way.

    The aim of this institution at present seems to be to pressure the extremely sensitive brain by stuffing it with fact after fact after fact, forcing it to shine on exams and other tests of memorisation like some firework, from the tender age of 4, to satisfy status-conscious parents, and emerging 18 years later burnt out and disillusioned, or addictive or suicidal, or with massive debts, with 40 years of pushing paper and constant distraction from telephones and emails to look forward to.

    Sun, 07 Nov 2010 08:52:19 UTC | #543630

    X. Claudedeu's Avatar Comment 18 by X. Claudedeu

    Can anybody amend text of the discussion? I wrote s.27(3) and it's 27(2).

    Thank you.

    Sun, 07 Nov 2010 11:06:03 UTC | #543648

    X. Claudedeu's Avatar Comment 19 by X. Claudedeu

    By the way, thank you all for your answers. It's interesting to see that people in the Anglo-Saxon world tend to favour freedom over state control. In Spain, our impression (I'm generalizing) is that no matter what skills you teach, you'll always teach --implicitly-- values. So we've decided that our system should encourage children to be democrats and law-abiding citizens. That is the political explanation. Does it actually work? I have no idea...

    Sun, 07 Nov 2010 11:17:07 UTC | #543650

    iain399's Avatar Comment 20 by iain399

    You sound very sensible and law abiding, so I would say yes, it does work!

    Sun, 07 Nov 2010 11:21:43 UTC | #543653

    Dhamma's Avatar Comment 21 by Dhamma

    To be law abiding, is that a virtue? I find it only sensible to abide laws if the laws are sensible.

    I don't think I mind educating children in most topics, but to encourage them to take a stand for something is a very different matter.

    Teach them about various political systems, and let them make up their own minds. If they don't find democracy sensible - great! Perhaps they will be more free and creative in their minds to make up a better system.

    Sun, 07 Nov 2010 12:31:42 UTC | #543668

    Stevehill's Avatar Comment 22 by Stevehill

    Reading the BBC report you referred to, I have to say - yet again - the Pope is being completely outrageous:

    Pope Benedict XVI has warned of an "aggressive anti-clericalism" in Spain which he said was akin to that experienced during the 1930s.

    He arrived in the pilgrimage city of Santiago de Compostela at the beginning of a two-day visit to Spain.

    "The clash between faith and modernity is happening again, and it is very strong today," he told reporters on the plane, quoted by AFP news agency.

    He is due to celebrate an open-air Mass and then travel to Barcelona on Sunday.

    "Spain saw in the 1930s the birth of a strong and aggressive anti-clericalism," Pope Benedict said.

    The Catholic church was General Franco's main cheerleader (along with Hitler and Mussolini) in the Spanish Civil War, and the Vatican was the first "state" to recognise Franco's government after he had successfully deposed the democratically elected Spanish government.

    For the next 40 years Spain was an illiberal dictatorship and hundreds of thousands died under the Franco regime.

    The Pope seems to be advocating a repeat performance.

    A little humility and contrition on his part might do more to stem the understandable desire of the SPanish people to roll back the influence of the church, to ensure that such a repeat performance never happens!

    Sun, 07 Nov 2010 12:32:27 UTC | #543669

    T-Porter's Avatar Comment 23 by T-Porter

    I find it odd that the Vatican cheery picks history.

    What crimes as his position commited throughout history?

    Sun, 07 Nov 2010 12:48:11 UTC | #543676

    Blaine McCartney's Avatar Comment 24 by Blaine McCartney

    I suppose in a sense we should all be grateful for Ratzinger. If ever the atheist community (or indeed, the moral community in general) needed someone to point out, never mind display the absolute madness and corruption of the RCC, then we could not have hoped for a better candidate.

    As Hitchens said, those who invoke secular tyranny hope we will all forget two things: The connection of the Church to both fascism and National Socialism (the delicious irony in this instance being that Ratzinger has "smitten" both secularism and socialism, but above all, his own foot as per usual).

    Sun, 07 Nov 2010 13:38:36 UTC | #543687

    El Bastardo's Avatar Comment 25 by El Bastardo

    The first responsibility of any government should be the well-being of its citizens.

    Now, some would say "who ate they to tell me how to live my life, raise my kids," and so on, but lets face it, when a government "imposes" a law against sticking a knife in your child, that’s fine. When they pass a law against sticking your phallus in a child, that's fine, but when there's a law against pushing your hatred and bigotry on a child, then people get all up in arms.

    We can say that having a well educated and open minded populous would lead to a better society, they would say having everyone believe the same thing leads to a better society.

    Momma doesn't always know what's best, and you do not have the right to abuse your child and then turn them loose on the rest of us. though the governmetns should be getting involved, until some people can get it right, then governmetns will have to step in and correct certain mistakes. For a better tomorrow for all.

    Sun, 07 Nov 2010 15:03:51 UTC | #543712

    katt33's Avatar Comment 26 by katt33

    As I see it, it should teach all the basic academic courses math, science etc.... from a critical thinking, fact based point of view. Religion and such should be taught strictly as culture and sociology, so they can learn to critically analyze these cultural phenomena.

    Sun, 07 Nov 2010 19:08:19 UTC | #543802

    raytoman's Avatar Comment 27 by raytoman

    The Pope is one of the richest and most powerful men in the world. His Cardinals, Bishops and Priests live well off the backs of their followers. These followers need to be controlled and to focus on contributing to the "church" and must be prevented from "wiseing up". They need to keep procreating to outbreed the other religions, lest they reduce in numbers. They cannot be educated outside the "church" since they might question and leave.

    The RC Church has all of these paedophiles that have joined (arguably it is an organisation for paedophiles, lesbians and homosexuals - the latter two are legal but probably in the minority - rather than a religion) and the organisation needs a steady source of recruits to groom.

    What worries me is that the estimated number of protesters was dozens, or 200, depending on which news channel you watched. They allowed this creature, who was responsible for the process of protecting paedophile Priests and if necessary spiriting them to the Vatican to avoid arrest, try to recruit more victime and try to prevent education other than their RC nonsense. Don't they want to protect their children?

    My guess is that the Pope feels that most people hate Muslims currently and that he, and the Jews, can get away with anything. Apparently, he is right.

    He protected paedophile Priests, they became Bishops and Cardinals, the Cardinals voted him, an ex Nazi, as pope. Hmmmmmmm.

    Mon, 08 Nov 2010 01:59:22 UTC | #543996

    Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 28 by Alan4discussion

    Just to mention here that over the weekend in the UK, we have been setting off fireworks and lighting bonfires to celebrate the failed Catholic terrorist attempt to take over the country. Guy Fawkes and his papist friends were caught.

    Mon, 08 Nov 2010 17:37:12 UTC | #544217