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Promoting Humanism and Secular Values in the Classroom
Posted: 10 September 2011 12:55 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Let me explain something about my field first. I teach in a somewhat unique field, that of English as second or foreign language. In other words, I teach people from countries in which English is not the native language to speak English. Moreover, let me tell you something about this field. There tend to be two types who enter into this field, those who want to travel and see the world, and those religious zealots looking for a means to travel the world in order to spread their religious propaganda.

In consideration of this fact, I’ve been thinking for some time now about how, as an educator, I can promote humanist and rationalistic beliefs in the classroom without inadvertently stepping into the area of overtly proselytizing or preaching to the class, which I would deem to be inappropriate. I see no reason why this field should be surrendered to religion. Moreover, It seems to me that as a humanist, I am in a position to do people, who might not have been exposed to religious propaganda in the past, a huge favor by inoculating their minds against the nonsense they are likely to encounter from my colleagues who are pushing their religious nonsense.

I’m not certain how I should go about this though, and I was hoping that some people on this forum might have some ideas. I think it’s much more clear how one can promote humanism and freethought in a science or philosophy classroom, but things are much more sketchy in a classroom such as that which I work in. I look forward to hearing any ideas others might have.

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Posted: 10 September 2011 01:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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First, serve as a role model (which I’m sure you are doing.)

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Posted: 10 September 2011 01:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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You may want to use critical thinking fallacies and examples as part of your class’s reading.  The more people understand about and begin to use critical thinking, the more likely it is that they will begin to see the problems with theistic beliefs.  It should also innoculate them against some of the myths the evangelists spread.

Occam

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Posted: 10 September 2011 01:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Occam. - 10 September 2011 01:36 PM

You may want to use critical thinking fallacies and examples as part of your class’s reading.  The more people understand about and begin to use critical thinking, the more likely it is that they will begin to see the problems with theistic beliefs.  It should also innoculate them against some of the myths the evangelists spread.

Occam

I really like this idea, but I’m not sure what kinds I could use for this. Did you have anything specific in mind?

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Posted: 10 September 2011 01:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Yup, see the PM I just sent.  I find that kids love critical thinking fallacies at a much younger age than most give them credit for.  Almost as soon as children learn to speak, they enjoy word jokes, and they are all based on critical thinking fallacies. 

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Posted: 10 September 2011 02:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I don’t know, but as an English teacher teaching ESL you should teach English. I took an ESL and I am not a Humanist and I know I wouldn’t like being “offered” such an additional curriculum.

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Posted: 10 September 2011 02:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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You have a point, George, but as I see it, teaching Critical Thinking is an important part of using the language well.  I don’t see it as having a bias toward humanism.  I believe a rational theist can easily incorporate critical thinking into his beliefs.  The most intelligent christian I ever met was also quite logical.  He stated at the beginning that his belief in god was extremely strong, but entirely by faith because there was no way to prove or disprove god’s existence.  As such, I think this would not push them toward humanist ideas, but would help them avoid accepting lies no matter where they came from.

Occam

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Posted: 10 September 2011 03:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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I see critical thinking as a type of personality and I doubt it can be taught. I don’t think people have faith or are naive because they were not taught how to be skeptical.

[ Edited: 10 September 2011 03:43 PM by George ]
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Posted: 10 September 2011 03:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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George - 10 September 2011 02:03 PM

I don’t know, but as an English teacher teaching ESL you should teach English. I took an ESL and I am not a Humanist and I know I wouldn’t like being “offered” such an additional curriculum.

I usually tell people who ask that I’m a realist. What do you tell them George? (assuming they ask…)

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Posted: 10 September 2011 03:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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George - 10 September 2011 02:03 PM

I don’t know, but as an English teacher teaching ESL you should teach English. I took an ESL and I am not a Humanist and I know I wouldn’t like being “offered” such an additional curriculum.

As I said in my original post, I’m interested in promoting humanism and rationalism, not in implementing a humanist curriculum. Moreover, I was asking for advice from other like-minded humanists, secularists, and rationalists.

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Posted: 10 September 2011 04:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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traveler - 10 September 2011 03:45 PM
George - 10 September 2011 02:03 PM

I don’t know, but as an English teacher teaching ESL you should teach English. I took an ESL and I am not a Humanist and I know I wouldn’t like being “offered” such an additional curriculum.

I usually tell people who ask that I’m a realist. What do you tell them George? (assuming they ask…)

If they want to know what religion I belong to I tell them I am an atheist. If they wan to know more I guess I tell them what my profession, hobbies and interests are. I’ve never liked all these isms and ists.

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Posted: 10 September 2011 04:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Gallant Skeptic - 10 September 2011 03:53 PM

Moreover, I was asking for advice from other like-minded humanists, secularists, and rationalists.

I wasn’t trying to give you an advice. I was criticizing your intention of teaching humanism in an English class. (If you don’t like to hear it you can put me on an “ignore.”)

What you are after is, IMO, as wrong as teaching creationism in a biology class.

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Posted: 10 September 2011 04:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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George - 10 September 2011 04:23 PM
Gallant Skeptic - 10 September 2011 03:53 PM

Moreover, I was asking for advice from other like-minded humanists, secularists, and rationalists.

I wasn’t trying to give you an advice. I was criticizing your intention of teaching humanism in an English class. (If you don’t like to hear it you can put me on an “ignore.”)

What you are after is, IMO, as wrong as teaching creationism in a biology class.

If you think it’s wrong that’s fine; however, I think it’s necessary for atheists, humanists, and freethinkers to oppose religious missionaries from spreading their doctrines of hatred and misinformation.

However, I didn’t start this thread to argue over the morality of promoting Humanism and atheism in classrooms; I really want ideas from other like minded freethinkers who, like me, think it is important for the secular community to prevent religious groups from spreading their lies.

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Posted: 10 September 2011 06:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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George - 10 September 2011 03:35 PM

I see critical thinking as a type of personality and I doubt it can be taught. I don’t think people have faith or are naive because they were not taught how to be skeptical.

  Well, George, as usual I try to give a balanced and moderate answer, so I’ll do so now.  YOU ARE DEAD WRONG.  For a number of years I was a teen advisor.  The kids met every Sunday evening and part of the time was spent with them discussing their social lives and problems.  Often they were based on or caused by sloppy thinking.  I usually kept quiet, but would kiddingly point out critical thinking fallacies with a few examples.  Invariably, the kids wanted to know more, so that was the basis for the list of 72 examples I collected. 

I was invited to a reunion, and I was surprised how many of them still had my list and commented on how it helped them in their college courses.  OK, that takes care of your first sentence.

I didn’t mean to imply that people have faith because they aren’t taught to be skeptical, however, I’ve seen many examples of people getting sucked into bad situations because they were naive. 

If your premise that critical thinking is a personality type (genetic? smile ) is correct, then it would appear that in the U.S. there are two distinct populations - those on the west coast and north-east coast,  and the others in the central and southern states.

George, I’m as much of a true believer in critical thinking as you are in genetics. LOL

Occam

[ Edited: 10 September 2011 07:00 PM by Occam. ]
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Posted: 10 September 2011 07:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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George - 10 September 2011 03:35 PM

I see critical thinking as a type of personality and I doubt it can be taught. I don’t think people have faith or are naive because they were not taught how to be skeptical.

I have to agree with Occam here. The only way to develop critical thinking skills is to learn them. Critical thinking is not the default state of mind for anyone.

[ Edited: 10 September 2011 07:44 PM by DarronS ]
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Posted: 10 September 2011 09:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Disclaimer: I’m a Humanist

I think its possible to teach critical thinking in just about any educational course. Of course, some would be much harder. What I don’t agree with, however, is blatantly pushing a particular worldview, including humanism, in a course that is supposed to be about something else. To a certain degree, I’m with George on this one. If its an English course, teach English. Don’t deceive me, and try to sneak in your views and opinions. Teach me the course that I’m paying to be taught. Christians try to do this, and I feel that we are stooping to the same nonsense when we try to do the same.

Having said that, it doesn’t hurt to develop and sharpen the critical thinking skills of your students in the process of teaching. Just don’t make it all about religion vs. skepticism/atheism/agnosticism. Focus on things that are non-confrontational and avoid things that are divisive. Just give them a solid foundation to work from, and let them draw their own conclusions when it comes to controversial issues like religion and politics. Of course, if they ask you, you can always give them an honest answer about what you think about an issue.

Trust me, you can train a person to be the next Socrates, but that doesn’t mean that the person will never fall into the trap of cognitive dissonance. If they want religion, they will have it, regardless of how “critical” they’ve been trained to be. When a person gives up on religion, it is purely up to them, and it will rarely be an intellectual issue. Its my firm belief that people don’t become “religious” because of intellectual reasons, nor do they abandon it for intellectual reasons. Religion is meant to meet a person’s needs, and if it still appears to be doing so, they will fight you to the bitter end to keep it, even abandoning logic or “critical” thinking, if that’s what it takes.

I didn’t really try the “outsider’s test” until I was burnt out, tired, and just plain fed up with religion (long story). Then, I was able to think more clearly. If religion was still making me happy, I promise you that I’d still be in it, going strong.

Speak publicly against injustices, pursue the happiness of yourself and others, avoid pressing your views on your neighbor, but willingly offer insight and wisdom to a receptive mind.

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