A few weeks ago, Kevin, an agnostic atheist member of the Filipino Freethinkers, posted on his blog about his frustrating experience with a substitute teacher in his Values Education class. He wrote:
Our regular professor was out so we had a substitute. The lesson for that day was about different personalities. He showed us a diagram:
- Wise - someone who is god-fearing and is able to recognize mistakes.
- Foolish - someone who doesn’t love god or someone who denies him and his orders.
- Mocker - someone who rebels against god and mocks him.
Being a secularist, this set off alarms in Kevin’s head, and after raising his complaints and delivering an extensive explanation of his objections to his teacher…
He then went on saying, “Yes, okay. We understand that. But you still have to participate in this class. You have to understand that Values came from ‘God’. He is the root of it all. And we are defining personalities according to biblical terms and definitions.”
Read the whole article here
It’s bad enough that this happened in a school that was purportedly non-sectarian, but perhaps it was just a fluke. Maybe it was just this one teacher who was, after all, just a substitute. Surely their regular Values Ed teacher would be much more aware and sensitive of religious diversity and secular morality, right?
Wrong: How You’re Doing Education
Even with their regular teacher, the same thing happened again, only this time it was much worse. Aside from forcing everyone in the class to write “the goal of my life is to make God smile”, she reacted mockingly and condescendingly towards Kevin’s explanation of his stance, spouting the usual nonsense, such as “atheists are just rebelling against God for their hardships and pain in their sad life”. I find it quite appalling that this kind of force-feeding, where dissent and diversity are brushed aside or unthinkingly dismissed, currently masquerades as education. And all this, after a lecture that was supposed to enlighten the students about differences of belief. Such a performance deserves an award of sorts for its incredible display of sustained ignorance. Gee, I don’t know, maybe something like…
The Slowest Clap Ever
Fact: even their regular teacher exhibited a grave lack of perspective and competence in teaching a supposedly secular Values Education class. The question now would be: Is this a cause for alarm?
My personal experience would say yes. In my (public) high school, some teachers would have students lead prayers. Back then, however, I was still a theist and not yet aware of the principle of secularism and how holding prayers in class (or any school event, for that matter) was a violation of it.
It’s even worse when your school’s dormitory has a built-in Christian chapel. Others would argue that it’s fine if the school didn’t pay for its construction, but the fact remains that government space is being used and that not all people in the school would benefit from such a “facility”. It would be much better to have a multi-purpose “quiet area” that can be used by people of all/no religious beliefs for prayers, meditation, and/or reading.
However, this is all anecdotal speculation. I have yet to find numbers about how secular our Values Education programs are (at least for non-sectarian institutions) and how well-versed educators are in tackling morality from a secular standpoint. This is one study that I’d like to see, although my instincts tell me that I probably won’t be happy with the figures that might come out.
Could You Point to the Part on the Doll Where He “Taught” You?
Given that these incidents do happen on quite a regular basis, the problem then turns into “How do we prevent it?”.
The most obvious thing we’d need is a systematic review of curricula to ensure that secular schools stay secular and that enforcement is carried out accordingly. Many Values Education programs out there include mentions of faith in (a) god and other tenets incompatible with secular morality. Values Ed programs in particular are susceptible to mentions of a deity given how the majority of our population base their morals upon Roman Catholic doctrine.* However, note that it’s ultimately up to the teacher to decide whether or not to uphold secularism in the classroom, meaning any teacher in any subject could potentially use your class time to indulge in his/her personal religious rituals.
Another important thing is the courage of individuals to voice and follow through with their dissent. I mentioned earlier that I used to be unaware of how prayers in class were a violation of secularism. I am curious however, as to how I would have acted if I was already conscious of these things back then. It’s one thing to recite your opinion in class, and it’s another to escalate and go against an entire system if the educators themselves turn out to be incompetent at recognizing their incompetence. On the part of students, this would take a lot of courage and a strong conviction that what you are fighting for is worth the trouble. And with the growing public awareness regarding secularism, I’m hoping to read more stories of students standing up for this principle and serving as a vanguard against religious domination.
Do you have a story to share about a similar experience in school? We’d love to hear about it in the comments section!