Confessions of an Anonymous Coward

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Godless Teachers

One event that goes on at the Center For Inquiry that I don't think I've mentioned before is Cafe Inquiry, a get-together with a different speaker every month talking about some topic of interest to skeptics and/or atheists. To tell the truth, Cafe Inquiry wasn't something that was a high priority for me, and I'd forgotten all about it, until I heard that this month's topic was "The Challenge of Being an Atheist Teacher". Seeing as I'd worked in teaching myself, this sounded interesting enough I decided to go.

The speaker was one David Layton, who had written an article on the subject in a recent issue of American Atheist Magazine. The talk ended up spanning a wide range of subjects, but I think here I'll repeat the core: six common myths about atheist teachers. These are things that Layton gleaned from his experience teaching and from reading over many blogs both by atheists and by theists of various stripes, and he stressed that these are things that it seems many people do actually believe.

#1. There are too many atheist teachers.

In fact, Layton said, it seemed to him that, except perhaps in the sciences, the proportion of atheists in the teaching profession is about the same as in the general population; they're not overrepresented. Then again, to many believers, one atheist teacher is too many.

#2. Atheist teachers are poisoning the minds of the children.

Personally, I'm not sure this really belongs as a separate myth; I think it's maybe a facet or restatement of #3 and #5. But anyway...

#3. There are special atheist schools and other clandestine systems by which atheists indoctrinate children.

In fact, looking into the matter extensively, Layton was only able to find two private schools, both of which happened to be in Florida, that were founded on principles of secular humanism. There simply is not a widespread network of secret atheist schools.

#4. A majority of Americans are Christians, and the majority rules. Therefore, atheist teachers should just shut up.

Of course, what's wrong with the premise of this statement is probably already familiar to everyone reading this, and I won't go over it again here. But the conclusion itself is unnecessary, because by and large atheist teachers do "shut up"...on which more later.

#5. When atheist teachers teach, they are teaching atheism.

As Layton said, does this mean that when a Catholic teacher teaches he's inevitably teaching Catholicism? When a Jewish teacher teaches is he teaching Judaism? Is there a special atheist mathematics that's different from regular mathematics?

Layton's field of teaching is English, and he said he'd found that, far from teaching atheism, he often found himself, in a way, teaching religion. Many Christian students in his classes were completely unfamiliar with the doctrines they claimed to espouse, and in order for them to understand the works of authors and poets like Milton and Donne he had to teach them the religious doctrines underlying these writers' worldviews.

#6. Atheism is a religion.

This, again, is a myth about which enough has already been said I don't think there's much use in expanding on it here--though I don't quite see what it has to do with teaching, specifically, so I'm not entirely sure why Layton included it.

Anyway, Layton gave many anecdotes from both his own experience and news stories demonstrating the situation of atheists in the teaching profession. Although, as already mentioned, the proportion of atheists among teachers seems about the same as in the general population, the same does not seem to be true, Layton said, of those in administrative positions, among whom atheists are very much underrepresented. In any case, the preconceptions about atheist teachers are prevalent enough to jeopardize their jobs; many teachers have gotten in trouble because students who found out about their atheism complained to administrators that they felt threatened, and Layton has had one of his bosses tell him point blank, on finding out he was an atheist, that he wouldn't have hired him had he known that beforehand. Others have gone to extremes to try to "bring him to Christ". Layton said that about the best a teacher could do is just not to tell people about his atheism--but then, of course, what happens if someone asks him about it directly?

Fortunately, my teaching has been in the sciences, where these problems don't exist to this extent--atheism is much more accepted and widespread among scientists than among those in other fields. But it seems pretty clear that atheists are being discriminated against in the teaching profession. Then again, that's not a surprise; atheists are being discriminated against plenty of other places too--this is just one more example...


At 3/31/2007 10:19 AM, Anonymous Shelley said...

Personally, even though I am a Christian, I wish teachers who aren't would speak out. Yes, I hope teenagers and children decide to follow Christ. But how can it be a real decision if they've never been exposed to any other point of view?

At 4/02/2007 5:34 PM, Blogger An Anonymous Coward said...

Problem is, atheist teachers who do speak out jeopardize their jobs by doing so. That's not the way things should be, but that's the way they are...

At 8/07/2007 10:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've wanted to be a teacher for many years. As I begin training for this career, I find that you are absolutely correct. Even a statement that I am nonreligious seems to be a declaration of my intent to indoctrinate students.

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