Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Help give kids a choice about belief

Dear reader, our blog has moved to a new address.

Do come on over (and change your bookmarks accordingly): rationalist.org.uk

This is a guest post by by Ian Horsewell 

I didn’t need to read The Young Atheist’s Handbook to become an atheist. And I’m sadly no longer young. I’d never believed in gods, presumably because my parents never tried very hard to take me to church, and this was only confirmed when I started learning about science and history.

But I had the option to choose. Not everyone can "drift" into agnosticism or atheism. For many people religious belief is instilled at a young age by parents, often seen as inseparable from cultural identity. It’s interesting that the Church of England is now explicit about their intention to use their position as an education provider to indoctrinate, an approach used by many academies and free schools.

So it’s a very good time to read Alom Shaha’s book. He admits early on that it’s not a traditional "handbook", no twelve steps to recovery or detailed philosophical arguments against the existence of god(s). It’s better than that. The book is easy to read, evocative of an upbringing I never experienced. Like many others, I think I may have taken my freedom to choose my own beliefs for granted.

Alom tells how his own childhood, when he was taught to recite words in Arabic that he did not understand, led to teenage years when doubts became more established. His journey is fascinating; from imposed beliefs, through persistent questions, to accepting that he did not believe in what he had been told – and the consequences for him saying that publicly. As I told people at the time, I wouldn’t want to write or say too much because I couldn’t do justice to Alom’s words.

And while I was recommending the book to a friend, I had an idea.

At the time there were campaigns running to provide a copy of Mark Henderson’s The Geek Manifesto to politicians. I liked the idea very much, although horrified that it might be necessary. My thought was that many children are exposed to religious instruction – as distinct from education – either at home or in school. There is no easy or politically acceptable solution to this; many of us are horrified by the state intervening in our home life, a ‘solution’ arguably worse than the problem. Instead, could we provide another viewpoint? Not against any specific religion, but for personal freedom of choice. Could we help to make a copy of this book available to every young person?

Just before Christmas we launched the campaign to get a copy of The Young Atheist’s Handbook into every secondary school library in England and Wales. We’re about a quarter of the way to the target of £32,000, which is a wonderful start. This isn’t about politics, making a profit, or making children read the book. It’s about giving a choice to young people who might otherwise miss out. Like Alom, I’m a teacher who really believes that one of the most important jobs in the world is to help a young person start to think for themselves. If you’d like to get involved, then you get to help them too.

Read Alom Shaha's piece for New Humanist 

Website: http://yah4schools.org.uk

Follow Ian Horsewell on Twitter Hashtag: #yah4schools
blog comments powered by Disqus