Some days most of the news is about atheism vs. faith, and I suppose today is one of those days. But this time the news is good. According to the Guardian, mandatory lessons that include instruction in atheistic thought will soon begin in Irish primary schools:
In a historic move that will cheer Richard Dawkins, lessons about atheism are to be taught in Ireland’s primary schools for the first time.
The lessons on atheism, agnosticism and humanism for thousands of primary-school pupils in Ireland will be drawn up by Atheist Ireland and multi-denominational school provider Educate Together, in an education system that the Catholic church hierarchy has traditionally dominated.
Up to 16,000 primary schoolchildren who attend the fast-growing multi-denominational Irish school sector will receive tuition about atheism as part of their basic introduction course to ethics and belief systems, including other religions.
From September 2014 children could be reading texts such as Dawkins’ The Magic of Reality, his book aimed at children, according to Atheist Ireland.
Do note the gratuitious mention of Dawkins. He’s not the only person who will be cheered!
Well, I suppose this is good news, although I’m in favor of this only if it avoids indoctrination, that is, if such instruction is part of a general course in the diversity of religious belief. And that’s what it appears to be. I know Dan Dennett is enthusiastic about such courses, but I’ve always worried that it would be difficult to teach religion even in a “survey” course, for believers could easily squabble about how to present the the “essential doctrine” of their faiths (imagine Sunni vs. Shia Islam, for instance). But if they’re teaching religious thought, then they should teach nonreligious thought as well. On balance, it’s good.
Now before you get all excited, note that 93% of all primary schools in Ireland are run by the Catholic Church, where this curriculum won’t apply. Nevertheless, according to Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland (who, along with his organization, deserve kudos for pushing this through), even Catholics will have access to the materials:
But Michael Nugent, Atheist Ireland’s co-founder, stressed that all primary-school pupils, including the 93% of the population who attend schools run by the Catholic church, can access their atheism course on the internet and by downloading an app on smartphones. He said these would be advertised and offered to all parents with children at primary schools in the state.
I doubt that the Catholic nuns and priests who teach in these schools, or Catholic parents, will rush to make the materials accessible to who are offensively called as “Catholic children.”
Here’s how the system will work:
“There will be a module of 10 classes of between 30 to 40 minutes from the ages of four upwards. It is necessary because the Irish education system has for too long been totally biased in favour of religious indoctrination. And if parents whose kids are in schools under church control want to opt their kids out of learning religion (as is their right these days) then they can use our course as an alternative for their children to study,” he said.
Nugent added: “Religion isn’t even taught properly as an objective subject with various religions and their origins examined and explained. The teaching is to create faith formation first, not objective education. We see our course as a chance for young Irish children to get an alternative view on how the world works.”
The upshot: it’s a good start, though the opportunity for de-brainwashing “Catholic children” will be limited. What surprises me is that this is taking place in Ireland at all.
Here are some fun facts about Ireland’s schools from the Guardian piece (my emphasis):
- The Catholic church’s near monopoly of influence in education means that the ultimate power in each school is the local Catholic bishop.
- In Dublin the city’s archbishop, Diarmuid Martin, is patron of about 470 primary schools. He is responsible for the management of the ethos of those schools, for senior appointments and is the one who can be sued when legal action takes place.
- The Irish taxpayer, and not the church, pays the bills for all the schools the hierarchy controls.
There will be a palliative cat later.
h/t: Rev. Al