Teach kids atheism at school, say academics

The people in charge of the school curriculum should look up from “minutiae” such as volcanoes and the First World War and focus on “big ideas” such as atheism, two academics say.

Michael Reiss and John White, both of whom teach at the Institute of Education in London, complain that there is “no curriculum pigeonhole for an idea as big” as atheism.

The academics, one of whom is a member of the British Humanist Association (BHA) and another who is ordained in the Church of England, say they want education to be “more engaging, more relevant and more suitable for the 21st century”.

In an article for The Independent newspaper, they write: “It is a laudable aim of the current National Curriculum that pupils ‘know about big ideas and events that shape the world’.

“But one of the biggest of these is too infrequently studied in schools. We are thinking of the growing loss of faith, over the past two centuries, in a religious picture of the world.”

They add: “The school curriculum is not only to do with the workings of volcanoes, the use of the future tense in French, calculations about triangles and the causes of the First World War.

“Educators and curriculum planners should look up from such comparative minutiae, important as these are in the right place.

“They should raise their eyes if not to heaven, at least to a more global picture of what education should be about.

“An understanding of non-religion, like an understanding of religion, is a vital part of this.”

In April the National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies (AHS) announced plans to launch a recruitment drive this summer. It planned to encourage children to undermine the role of Christian assemblies and the way RE is taught.

In March, a new GCSE Religious Education syllabus came in for criticism after it emerged that Bible texts had been sidelined in favour of Druidism, Rastafarianism and the “rise of atheism”.

Commenting on the plans, Anastasia de Waal, of the think-tank Civitas said: “We seem to be so desperate to make things relevant – to pander to popularity – that our kids aren’t being taught the underlying knowledge they need to succeed in the world. We are doing a huge disservice to our young people.”

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