JT Eberhard is a Campus Organizer and High School Specialist for the Secular Student Alliance.
He recently gave a talk at the American Humanist Association conference about the unique challenges facing high school atheists.
It’s an incredible talk — JT’s a fantastic public speaker (and he’s available to speak to your group! And he wants to speak to your group!) — and it’s an issue you probably haven’t heard much about in our community. Bloggers don’t write much about it, New Atheists don’t write books about it, and the media rarely covers it (the recent New York Times article is a notable exception).
Around the 6:00 mark, JT says that when he took the job back in January, there were only 12 high school groups. And two of those groups’ leaders had to lead in secret because their parents couldn’t know. That meant no packages from the SSA could be sent to them. (Just FYI, there are currently 22 high school affiliates.)
Around the 10:00 mark, JT talks about the difficulty of finding a high school faculty sponsor — in some cases, the sponsors are told by administrators that taking on that role would be a “bad career move.” (He later explains why you don’t always need one.)
Actually, there are several more highlights, but I really don’t want to give away the whole video. Go see it. You’ll appreciate it. I watched the entire thing last night thinking, “Why hasn’t everyone heard this message yet?” They need to.
I should also add I have an obvious reason to watch this video: I work in a public high school. I want to help alleviate this problem.
As it turns out, a couple weeks ago, a student asked me if I would sponsor a Secular Student Alliance group at our high school. It’s something that I had to think about because I want to be sure my private life (all the atheism stuff) doesn’t get in the way of teaching math (my career). I also thought about many of the things JT talks about in this video — things he’s talked about for months now.
When I considered all that, how could I say no?
I signed the paperwork last week.
The group hasn’t been approved yet, but I have yet to hear otherwise. The responsibility of running the group would still be on the students — I’d only be the faculty sponsor — but I’ll be able to help guide them during their meetings and that’s a role I’d relish. If approved, the group would probably not form until the beginning of next school year, but I hope we can say at that point there is a safe haven for atheists on our campus.