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Categorized | Personal, Politics, Science, Society

A secular humanist teacher’s dilemma (Part 1)

By Pecier Carpena Decierdo

Being a teacher is a heavy and sacred burden. Sometimes it can be daunting. Sometimes, it’s just frustrating. This is the reason why I find it difficult. And this is the reason why I love it.

Well, I also have other reasons for loving being a high school teacher. For one it keeps that pesky disease called Adulthood at bay – teaching kids is like having unlimited access to the Fountain of Youth. And it also puts me in a special position where I can share not only what I know, but also what I think. And this is where my dilemma begins.

Here’s the dilemma. The school where I teach in, while not exactly a Christian “school” (thank FSM), is not the type of school where you can preach progressive values and not fear for your job. (Well, is there such a school in this damned country of ours?) The school has a list of subjects that is almost perfect (it’s an arts and sciences high school, so it has subjects ranging from voice and drama to calculus and investigative research), except for one catch: it has Bible class. Also, there’s this awkward clause in the school’s constitution that says every teacher in the said school must believe not only that there is a God, but that this God directs the course of human history. (The exact wording was far worse.) Of course I asked my superiors right away if it’s okay that I am an atheist, so they said fine, just don’t proselytize. What’s to there to preach regarding atheism, anyway?

And then comes the second part of my dilemma. Indeed, atheism is a negative philosophy. In fact, it is not a philosophy at all, so there is really nothing to preach regarding atheism. Atheism is just a critique of theism, a negation of its central claim. But aside from being an atheist, I am also a secular humanist, and secular humanism is a positive philosophy, a distinct and well-defined worldview; and a worldview incompatible with Christianity and mainstream religion in general, to say the least. A secular humanist tends to have a certain stand on a host of philosophical, political and social issues, issues which are sensitive, issues which people have strong feelings for. Issues like homosexuality and gay marriage, premarital sex and sex in general, relationships, love and lust, contraceptives, abortion and euthanasia, issues which are close to the hearts of curious and confused youths, and issues which their parents and other authorities have very strong opinions on.

So, should I be open about my secular humanism to my students when I know well that my opinions will bear the seal of a teacher’s authority? After all, am I not a math and science teacher, not a social science teacher? Can’t I just be silent about my opinions, wear the robe of neutrality on sensitive issues and get on with science education? After all, a good science education is an avenue to progressive thinking, is it not? Perhaps there’s no need to use my influence as teacher to “preach” secular humanist values. Perhaps I can just teach science well and let the brightest among the kids find their own way to secular humanism. After all, we won’t talk about premarital sex and gay marriage in science class, are we? No, we’re going to talk about the theory of evolution by means of natural selection, the biological facts of sex, the big bang theory, stuff like that, stuff which are not sensitive at all (unless of course you live in the Bible Belt).

I’ll teach science, no more, no less. We’re going to talk about how the universe works, so perhaps we are going to touch on the existence (or rather nonexistence) of a disembodied, cosmic overlord who governs every single event in the universe. But that’s just theism versus atheism, which is, I dare say, not as sensitive as traditional religion versus secular humanism or conservative values versus liberal ones. That’s the least that I would do for secular humanism as a teacher.

That was my stand at the beginning of the school year. Never mind the fact that the other teachers can be nauseatingly open about their religion in class (one Math teacher begins each session with a Catholic prayer, an English teacher is popular for chanting the line “God is good… all the time,” all the time, while one music teacher is even in the ministry). Never mind the fact that there’s even a Bible class while there is no philosophy class. Never mind that many of the guidelines on student behavior are downright “Christian” (or should I say Victorian?). I won’t stoop down to their level, I said to myself. I won’t use my authority to influence my student’s opinions on things that have nothing to do with my subject matter. That’s it.

Well, was that it? Nope. But the second part – the better part – of my story is for another time.

[This article is reposted from the author’s personal blog, Physics, Philosophy and Phantasmagoria.]

DISCLAIMER: The opinions in this post do not necessarily represent the position of the Filipino Freethinkers.