Things I Plan To Teach My Kids

As my daughter Joy, currently 8, is growing in understanding as well as curiosity, and as I myself am becoming increasingly aware of the deficiencies in the education that any child in America will receive, whether in a private or a public school, it’s becoming quite clear to me that I should begin to look to supplementing her education, with things that she is unlikely to hear elsewhere, but must know.

The Bible. An atheist teaching the Bible to his children? What on earth!

As much as I’d be happy for our society to be rid of all superstition and myth, the fact is that the Bible and Christianity are an intrinsic part of American culture (though it is waning); she should at least be able to get references to Noah’s Ark, Adam & Eve, etc. Besides that, I think the person most at-risk of falling prey to Evangelical persuasion, is the one who has no preexisting knowledge of the Bible; and given that it’s a virtual certainty that she will encounter attempts at persuasion by Evangelicals, it’s wise to arm her with knowledge.

This past Christmas, some readers may be surprised to discover that I purchased DVDs of Superbook and The Flying House at Amazon for my kids for Christmas. These are Christian Japanese animations from the early 1980s, promoting an interest in the Bible and biblical stories among children. Both series (by the same creators) feature a girl, a boy, a robot, and a professor, and traveling through time to experience (grossly simplified) biblical events. I bought them as much for my wife and I, who’d grown up on them and were feeling the twinge of nostalgia when we purchased them. But I had little fear that brief exposure to a Christian children’s TV series would undo our efforts to promote critical thinking in our children.

Indeed, no worry was warranted, as Superbook actually wound up being a small tool for critical thinking about the Bible, rather than a source of indoctrination. I was gratified to discover that among the stories covered in the first Superbook DVD, is the story of God telling Abraham to kill his son Isaac. How wonderful, when my children then turn to me with the “WTF?” look on their faces, that I am not compelled to explain that God was merely testing Abraham’s absolute obedience to Him, and that Abraham did the right thing by choosing to obey God and murder his son; I can simply shrug my shoulders, return a bit of the “WTF?” look right back at ’em, and tell them why the Bible (as opposed to I) thinks Abraham’s response was just super.

No atheist or anti-Christian indoctrination needed, here. The only difference necessary for installing a healthy skepticism of the Bible in my children, in contrast to the daily Bible readings I was offered as a child, is that I need offer no defense on God’s behalf, to explain away His righteously horrific acts. “Daddy, why did God tell Israel to kill all the children and babies in the city, too (or, in some cases, keep the young virgin women only, and haul ’em away)?” Shrug and give the “WTF?” look. “Daddy, why is humankind being punished for a sin our ancestors committed?” Shrug-and-wtf. “Daddy, why is it justice, rather than blind vengeance, for an innocent person to be given the death sentence, rather than the actual murderer?” Shrug and… you get the picture.

Glory be, and “thank God” for the freedom to not be compelled to pretend things make some strange sort of sense, when in fact they don’t make any at all.

Intelligent Design vs Evolution. Believe it or not, I’m all for teaching Intelligent Design as an alternative viewpoint to Evolution (provided it’s done objectively). Because, despite the fact that it doesn’t even begin to qualify as science, and spends virtually no time at all attempting (and far less succeeding) at actually building a case for Intelligent Design (choosing instead to attempt to tear down Evolution, after which they’d still have to build a case for Intelligent Design), it’s an annoyingly pervasive belief in society, that my children will have to encounter/deal with, and suppressing false, insistent information isn’t nearly so effective as education about it. Besides, nothing demonstrates how ridiculous the arguments from the anti-evolution crowd are, like putting them up next to the mountain of solid evidence for evolution.

(Of course, the people who are vehemently arguing that ID be taught as an alternative “scientific theory” to evolution, have no intention of objectively presenting the arguments from both camps, if history is any indication: instead, they’ll present the arguments for ID (that is, rhetoric), and the arguments they pretend are what evolutionists present, just as they’ve always done. I’m not in favor of that.)

Critical Thinking. Something that was (naturally) quite lacking in my own upbringing, and is critically important to evaluating the truth of all claims, whether they’re made by the Bible, religious institutions, politicians, news media, or history teachers. This is actually, of course, my first priority, but I felt the other two would be more sensationalist interesting placed first. 😉

Among the tools I would like my children to have under their belt, is to be able to detect strawman arguments (as I hinted just above), by simply going and verifying that the claims being argued against, are in fact claims that are being made (and not just ones that have been either set up by the opposition for the purpose of being knocked down, or possibly grossly oversimplified versions of real claims, or actual but decades-outdated claims that no one makes any more). That alone certainly would have saved me a lot of anti-science BS when I was a kid.

Another extremely useful skill, is knowing how to properly handle “statistics” and “studies”, given that such a very large number of claims rest on these, and are built upon them in such a way as to demonstrate a severely poor understanding of how to use them. Checking everything from the reliability of the techniques used to collect the data, to how the presentation of the data is manipulated to sound more significant than it actually is, to deriving a particular conclusion when alternative explanations have not been considered. Understanding the difference between correlation and causality is an especially important and frequently-neglected tool.

History. When we take a day off to celebrate Columbus’ discovery of the Americas, but remain mum on his documented and vicious abuse of the natives to America; when we condemn Cuba for its totalitarian Communist regime, but neglect to mention the role our own despotic presence played, suppressing and squelching any and all power that the elected Cuban president, or autonomy that the nation, possessed; when we gloss over the facts of modern history as it’s being made, by pretending that WMDs was actually a viable reason for invading Iraq, or that it had something to do with the 9/11 terrorist attacks, or that (most importantly) we didn’t completely botch nearly every possible aspect of the war military action; that’s when it’s clear that my child is not going to learn everything she ought to know from government-funded (or private, parent-pandering) academic institutions.

I never liked History/Social Sciences as a kid; I always found it excessively boring. Perhaps because most history texts are scrubbed clean of any of the controversial bits (and therefore, of most of anything that’s interesting). But now, as I’m an adult, and I continually discover the wide disparity between common knowledge and the truth (at least, as apparent by the actual available documentation) about our role throughout history, and indeed our role in the present-day world, I can’t help but find out more about the truth, as I can find it. And naturally, I want my kids to know the real truth (such as is available) as well.

(Such disparities have ever been my downfall: as a fundamentalist Christian, I got into the Harry Potter series of books precisely because there was an obvious disparity between the truth, and the misrepresentations that had become so very widespread in Evangelical Christian circles.)

5 thoughts on “Things I Plan To Teach My Kids

  1. Pingback: » More to Teach My Kids

  2. Nathan R

    Hi Micah. I’m Yelowrose from #atheists. Nice blog! I have a niece on the way, so similar thoughts have been going through my head. And with that in mind, I saw this children’s book on evolution in one of my issues of American Atheist magazine. I haven’t read it yet, but it looks good.
    What do you think?

  3. Brandy

    My daughter is 7 yrs old, and we (unfortunately) live in the Bible belt. Her friends are “educating” her about god and the Bible. I did not want to tackle this problem for another couple of years or until she realized that Santa, the Easter bunny, and the tooth fairy don’t exist. Yes, we celebrate Santa and the Easter bunny, but in the sense that they are magical and reward good behavior, and left out information that they are connected to a religion. We are being bombarded by her friends and her grandparents! What do I do??? I don’t want to raise a child that thinks she believes in god. I even caught her “praying” yesterday. I understand that it does not help that we have Santa brining presents to her on December 25th, but we did not want her to feel completly different from her classmates. What do I do???

  4. Micah Post author

    Hi Brandy, and welcome!

    I don’t want to raise a child that thinks she believes in god.

    Well, I can only speak for myself, but I don’t feel that it’s my job to tell my children what to believe. I’ll be disappointed, of course, if my children choose to believe superstitious hogwash, but it really is their decision. Otherwise, I’m really not any better than the millions of Christian parents who brainwash their children to their own belief system.

    What we can do is give them the tools to make rational choices with regard to their beliefs. I am to do this, and this article covers some of the ways I plan to do it.

    For comparison to your own daughter, I should point out that my 8-year-old has currently decided that she worships “trees and people”, and does not hesitate to share this with anyone whenever the topic of beliefs come up (thus ensuring my embarrassment before both my skeptic and my Christian friends 🙂 ). My 5-year-old son sometimes prays; I think the 8-year-old may sometimes do so as well. I don’t hassle them about it; I usually don’t even say anything. They know what my thoughts on God and prayer are.

    My perspective is that they are simply too young to be informed enough to make such decisions, so I shouldn’t be too concerned with whatever temporary belief-state they may currently find themselves at. In the meantime, I think the best things we can do for our kids is to teach them skeptical and critical thinking, and especially, to teach them the Bible. I agree with Isaac Asimov when he said that “properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.” I am convinced that no amount of family-and-friend-induced indoctrination can stand up to exposure, from an early age, to the many problems, inconsistencies, and atrocities enacted in the name of God that permeate the Bible. Therefore, I am not bothered by the many various insinuations that the influence of Scripture has had on my children (including, as mentioned in the article, some that I myself have exposed them to). I don’t believe that the various claims of Christianity are remotely substantiated enough to threaten rational thought, when presented side-by-side; rather, they eradicate alternative viewpoints through the use of exclusive indoctrination from an early age. So long as more reasonable perspectives are made available to your children, I think they’ll end up alright.

    Living in the Bible Belt, where they’ll get a bit more consistent bombardment with Christian dogma, you may need to put a greater focus on presenting alternative views to your children, and emphasizing that Christianity is not the only way of thinking, than I will; but I’d encourage you not to try to direct your children’s choices for what they will believe; they need to have the freedom to choose. And what they choose to believe now is not nearly so important as what they determine to latch onto when they have grown up to live their own lives. I think the tools to recognize rational and irrational beliefs are more important than the beliefs themselves, at this young stage in life.

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