Atheism to be taught to Irish schoolchildren

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Up to 16,000 primary-school pupils in non-denominational sector will get tuition in atheism, while the rest will be offered courses on the internet and on smartphone apps

In a historic move that will cheer Richard Dawkins, atheists in Irelandhave secured the right to teach the republic's primary schoolchildren that God doesn't exist.

The first ever atheist curriculum for thousands of primary-school pupils in Ireland has been drawn up by Atheist Ireland in an education system that the Catholic church hierarchy has traditionally dominated.

The class of September 2014 will be reading texts such as Dawkins' The Magic of Reality, his book aimed at children, as well as other material at four different primary levels, according to Atheist Ireland.

Up to 16,000 primary schoolchildren who attend the fast-growing multi-denominational Irish school sector will receive direct tuition on atheism as part of their basic introduction course to ethics and belief systems.

Written By: Henry McDonald
continue to source article at theguardian.com

47 COMMENTS

  1. Interesting. How does one teach atheism though? I wonder if this means teaching about atheism in addition to teaching about various religions. Or does it involve education in critical thinking as applied to religious beliefs? I hope it doesn’t mean just dictating to children that there is no god.

    • In reply to #1 by Archaic Torso:

      Interesting. How does one teach atheism though?

      I know a few good text books.

      In reply to #6 by RDfan:

      Fuck teaching atheism. There isn’t much to teach. Atheism 101: there is no god or gods;…

      Lesson 102 onwards,

      teach critical thinking; cognitive biases; logical fallacies; evidence-based reasoning; statistical analysis.

  2. Does this mean students also get instruction in religion, or is atheism now privileged?

    For adults you might talk about the illusion of a designer, the history of how the belief in god came to be.

    What would you tell little kids? Basics of evolution?

  3. Fuck teaching atheism. There isn’t much to teach. Atheism 101: there is no god or gods; the end. Anything else is just the History of Atheism — which, in itself, does not necessarily disabuse someone of irrational thinking.

    Rather, teach critical thinking; cognitive biases; logical fallacies; evidence-based reasoning; statistical analysis. Many, if not most, will find their way to atheism as a result.

  4. I see several poster have commented in this vein. I am puzzled.

    Just how does one go about teaching non stamp collecting?

    ” In a historic move that will cheer Richard Dawkins, “

    Better to ask Professor Dawkins if this will cheer him rather than just stating it.

    • In reply to #7 by Neodarwinian:

      I see several poster have commented in this vein. I am puzzled.

      Just how does one go about teaching non stamp collecting?

      ” In a historic move that will cheer Richard Dawkins, “

      Better to ask Professor Dawkins if this will cheer him rather than just stating it.

      First rule of Guardian Club: You do not talk to Richard Dawkins about his opinions before printing his opinions

      Second rule of Guardian Club: You DO NOT TALK TO…..

      [edit] apologies to Tyler, didn’t see you there. I can’t do voices

      I think it’d be better if they at least stated “Richard Dawkins was not available to comment but maniacal laughter was heard to be issueing from his underwater lair”

    • In reply to #8 by godsbuster:

      Wow, leave it to the rdfrs commenters squad to look this historic gift horse in the mouth and immediately commence to rip out its teeth.

      But gift horse teeth make for the best homeopathic remedies!

  5. I don’t mind if they teach students that there is no god as long as there are also religious classes as well. Are all the parents of those kids that will be taught atheist? cause if they are not then that is an infringement on the rights of those who are religious.

    • In reply to #9 by bjchiaro50:

      cause if they are not then that is an infringement on the rights of those who are religious.

      How so ? Nobody is saying the children have to be atheist they are just learning about it. Just like my kids are learning about religion at school.

      Michael

    • In reply to #9 by bjchiaro50:

      I don’t mind if they teach students that there is no god as long as there are also religious classes as well. Are all the parents of those kids that will be taught atheist? cause if they are not then that is an infringement on the rights of those who are religious.

      So teaching about reality must be balanced with teaching lies? Sounds like a creationism in school argument to me.

      How is it an infringement of religious rights? Children aren’t religious. No one is saying that their parents aren’t allowed to tell them what they believe or send them to Sunday school, but that is a parental decision.

      • In reply to #38 by Zhap135:

        So teaching about reality must be balanced with teaching lies? Sounds like a creationism in school argument to me.

        Have a look at “The Magic of Reality”. (Get one from a library if you don’t want to make a purchase.)
        It teaches about creationism and creationist myths, but from a whole range of religions, not just Genesis or the Quoran! Teaching children about a whole list of contradictory creationist myths, prepares them much better to tackle proselytisers selling one exclusive myth-set, than leaving them in ignorance of other cultures.

        http://store.richarddawkins.net/products/the-magic-of-reality-hardcover

        Magic takes many forms. Supernatural magic is what our ancestors used in order to explain the world before they developed the scientific method.
        The ancient Egyptians explained the night by suggesting the goddess Nut swallowed the sun. The Vikings believed a rainbow was the gods’ bridge to earth. The Japanese used to explain earthquakes by conjuring a gigantic catfish that carried the world on its back—earthquakes occurred each time it flipped its tail. These are magical, extraordinary tales.
        But there is another kind of magic, and it lies in the exhilaration of discovering the real answers to these questions. It is the magic of reality—science.

        Packed with clever thought experiments, dazzling illustrations and jaw-dropping facts, The Magic of Reality explains a stunningly wide range of natural phenomena. What is stuff made of? How old is the universe? Why do the continents look like disconnected pieces of a puzzle? What causes tsunamis? Why are there so many kinds of plants and animals? Who was the first man, or woman? This is a page-turning, graphic detective story that not only mines all the sciences for its clues but primes the reader to think like a scientist as well.

        Teaching ABOUT creationist myths, rather than teaching creationist myths, is not teaching atheism, but it may well lead to atheism!

        • In reply to #40 by Alan4discussion:

          Teaching ABOUT creationist myths, rather than teaching creationist myths, is not teaching atheism, but it may well lead to atheism!

          A distinction far too subtle for any of my RE teachers. They even “taught” us about Satanism, in a “know thine enemy” sort of way.

  6. Did those posting the negative comments about this even bother to read the full article? The info under the final heading ‘Religion, education and the Irish Republic’ gives an enlightening insight, given the catholic churches stranglehold, as to why this is an eminently sensible idea in Ireland particularly. It seems to me from the tone of the overall article the course will help students assess and challenge belief systems, it is not just a case of ‘there is no god’ end of story. Given texts such as ‘The Magic of Reality’ will be used I would think there will be plenty of material to put disbelief in the supernatural in its ‘proper’ perspective.

    The following quote from the article confirms this:

    “The class of September 2014 will be reading texts such as Dawkins’ The Magic of Reality, his book aimed at children, as well as other material at four different primary levels, according to Atheist Ireland.

    Up to 16,000 primary schoolchildren who attend the fast-growing multi-denominational Irish school sector will receive direct tuition on atheism as part of their basic introduction course to ethics and belief systems.”

  7. • Since the foundation of the republic, the Catholic church controls up to 93% of the state’s 3,200 primary schools.

    Be afraid. Be very afraid.

    Thankfully, this is changing with the new Educate Together schools, and a more formal move from the RCC out of primary education.

  8. The class of September 2014 will be reading texts such as Dawkins’ The Magic of Reality, his book aimed at children, as well as other material at four different primary levels, according to Atheist Ireland.

    Actually “The Magic of Reality”, does not “teach atheism”. It teaches how to use critical thinking when studying religions.

    In a historic move that will cheer Richard Dawkins, atheists in Ireland have secured the right to teach the republic’s primary schoolchildren that God doesn’t exist.

    Oh dear! Henry McDonald’s education was so neglected, that he can only think of ONE god, with “atheism” defined in his mind as the denial of THIS ONE!

    I suppose that’s Xtian “faith school” religious “education” for you!

    • In reply to #20 by Alan4discussion:

      Actually “The Magic of Reality”, does not “teach atheism”. It teaches how to use critical thinking when studying religions.

      Exactly. My memory of my Irish primary school is utterly dominated by religion and religious teaching, without any reference to evolution or critical thinking. This is great news.

  9. I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding what this is about – if it’s to merely present an alternative to belief in god, and explain to children the nature of myths and how and why these perpetuate; then I think that’s fantastic.

    There need be no ramming of either religion or atheism down the children’s throats, but to teach them about the alternatives. This is exactly what is needed. I’m just astonished this is in Ireland.

  10. regardless of people’s views on this, I’m sure we can all agree it will be worth it when the first fundie RE teacher is told they’ll be taking an atheist class. the kids’ll love it too

    • In reply to #23 by SaganTheCat:

      regardless of people’s views on this, I’m sure we can all agree it will be worth it when the first fundie RE teacher is told they’ll be taking an atheist class. the kids’ll love it too

      My reading of the article wasn’t that there will be a class just on atheism but that atheism will be included along with the major religions in the class on religion and ethics.

      • In reply to #30 by Red Dog:

        My reading of the article wasn’t that there will be a class just on atheism but that atheism will be included along with the major religions in the class on religion and ethics.

        Both religion and ethics should be taught from an atheistic perspective. Don’t see any reason to group religion with ethics unless it is to contrast them and I kind of object to atheism being grouped with religion.

  11. A welcome development but as others have pointed out atheism is nothing that can be taught. It is not a subject and how is something defined by what it is not? If there is going to be some recourse to thinking, developing arguments and awareness of reasoning fallacies etc then it begins to have some form otherwise it will be a bit like trying to teach non-stamp collecting or non-anything else that would be a non-thingy. This is a big leap for Ireland whose people and their way of life and thinking have been systematically thrashed and raped for centuries by the blind stupid fictional dogma of the evil empire.

    • In reply to #25 by Vorlund:

      A welcome development but as others have pointed out atheism is nothing that can be taught. It is not a subject and how is something defined by what it is not? If there is going to be some recourse to thinking, developing arguments and awareness of reasoning fallacies etc then it begins to have so…

      Of course you can have a class on atheism. Its an idea that has a long intellectual history. If you want to define atheism as nothing else but just a negative, that atheism is just non-theism then I agree there isn’t much more to say about it. But if you broaden the definition to include the various intellectuals (David Hume, Bertrand Russell, Nietzsche, countless others but those three are my favorites along with RD of course) who have opposed religious dogma and put forward arguments that show how vacuous it is then there is a lot to say about it.

  12. We will be working with Educate Together to develop Ireland’s first ever course about atheism for primary schools. The lessons will be based on the Toledo guiding principles and will be taught in an objective, critical and pluralist manner. They will teach about atheism, not teach atheism.

    Description of content.
    1. The variety of world views in modern culture, including their origin
    2. The scientific world view – at odds with religion? The question of creation
    3. The technological view of the world and the person
    4. Challenges to religious experience (such as materialism, individualism, etc.)
    5. Apathy and religious indifference.

    Atheist Ireland

    Mike

  13. Whoa why all the negative comments. This is Ireland, the country where the religious still protest not just against abortion as a right per se, but abortion as a necessary procedure to save the life of the woman! This is a country that needs to have atheism as an alternative actually pointed out.

  14. Screw teaching Atheism. Damn, what would that take, one sentence? Including it with religion makes the case that it is a religion. Using Dawkins’ book is a great idea — embed it in an Evolution class!!!

    How about doubling up on some science classes? Or a critical thinking class? or logic? or debate? or even Latin????

    Education should have the child in mind; and not have to appease the warring factions of adults.

  15. The original text has been heavily edited, from the text shown here.
    This note has been added to the article:
    • This article was amended on 27 September 2013 to clarify that pupils in multi-denominational schools will learn about atheism as part of the wider curriculum covering ethics, beliefs and religion. Atheists will not be teaching children that God does not exist, as originally stated, rather, children will be educated about atheism, including the atheist belief that God does not exist.

    • In reply to #34 by Mr. Stick:

      The original text has been heavily edited, from the text shown here.
      This note has been added to the article:
      • This article was amended on 27 September 2013 to clarify that pupils in multi-denominational schools will learn about atheism as part of the wider curriculum covering ethics, beliefs and r…

      The new version makes much more sense than the original one. The “tuition in atheism” that was mentioned in the original version conjured up some strange visions in my mind: “Sunday services consist of sleeping untill 11 AM, but atheists with small children are excused from this unholy duty…”

    • In reply to #34 by Mr. Stick:

      Atheists will not be teaching children that God does not exist, as originally stated, rather, children will be educated about atheism, including the atheist belief that God does not exist.

      Urgh! They still got it wrong.

  16. I must agree with those that question the phrase “teaching Atheism”. How does one teach a lack of belief. I would call it a “critical thinking” class but let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth…..Whatever that means.

    • In reply to #43 by Docbrew:

      I must agree with those that question the phrase “teaching Atheism”. How does one teach a lack of belief. I would call it a “critical thinking” class but let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth…..Whatever that means.

      I don’t see what is so hard about this. if you are giving an overview class of western intellectual tradition you are going to cover things like the enlightenment, the scientific method, etc. And one thing you would want to include would be significant contributors to the literature relevant to atheism. This idea that there is no such thing is just wrong. The ideas Dawkins summarized so well in The God Delusion didn’t all just spring into his head and I’m sure he would say the same thing. He was building on an atheist tradition going back at least to Hume.

      If I were to teach the class I would start with Hume, then Nietzsche, then Bertrand Russell and then of course the grand finale Richard Dawkins. Hume’s writings about miracles and his brilliant refutation of creationism without even utilizing or knowing about evolution. Nietzsche for “God is dead” in Zarathustra and his critique of Christianity as a slave religion. And of course I assume you know the things Dawkins has written.

      Or you could come at it from the standard of philosophy of human ethics. Some of the same authors above as well as people like John Stuart Mill and Sam Harris.

      • I concede your point. In reply to #44 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #43 by Docbrew:

        I must agree with those that question the phrase “teaching Atheism”. How does one teach a lack of belief. I would call it a “critical thinking” class but let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth…..Whatever that means.

        I don’t see what is so hard about this. if you are…

  17. “How does one teach a lack of belief?”

    Short answer is you don’t, you don’t replace one form of indoctrination with another, no matter how well intentioned, it is sufficient to introduce children to alternative views and simply describe what those views actually are, many adults have preconceived ideas about “atheism” we have all encountered them, it would be nice if children were given a fair, concise and honest definition of what atheism is and perhaps more importantly, what it is not.

    All this talk of philosophy misses the point, critical thinking is extremely important and should be taught, but it is a subject in its own right, younger children should be taught to question, curiosity encouraged and rewarded rather than stifled, Professor Dawkins has never said that religion should not be taught in schools, only that it should be taught comparatively, if the only outcome of introducing atheism to the curriculum is that children become aware that there are those who hold a different world view and why, then that would be a good thing.

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