Presenting Atheism to Middle School Students

Earlier this month, a 7th-grade teacher emailed the Secular Alliance at Indiana University. She was doing a unit on world religions and she was hoping some of the students could present on atheism.

It’s good to be included in the mix — demographically speaking, anyway, non-theists rank near the top of “religion” lists. And the teacher couldn’t have picked a better group of people to talk to.

Jessika Griffin was one of the presenters and she shares her experience at the SAIU blog:

The “major leaders” section was a bit more tricky. In religion, not only is it clear who the leaders are, but those leaders have a very important and authoritative role in the lives of religious people. I presented on a Friday and knew that the students just had four days of presentations on religion, I wanted to be careful to make the distinction. If someone who is considered a leader in atheism makes a statement, not only will [everyone not] agree, there will be plenty if people outright challenging that statement or idea. This is quite different from a religious leader.

I love the section about the Q & A :) Especially the part about Reddit.

Oh! And we can’t forget this poster, made by a couple of the students:



About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • CanadianNihilist

    Should any theology or lack of be taught in the 7th grade? 
    *gets old man voice ready*
    Back in my day!…. If you wanted to study religion or atheism you did it on your own damn time! Or went to university when you got older and took a comprehensive course on it.

    • Mej

      I think you’re mischaracterizing the lesson, here.  As part of any social studies or world history class, religions and philosophies will arise; they have always been motivators for sometimes historical actions.

      Therefore, while we certainly shouldn’t teach religions *as truth*, we certainly need to know about their tenets to understand them and the mindsets of their followers.  And it’s reasonable to include atheism among a survey of religions in this manner.

    • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

      You didn’t have units on world religions in public school? We did, starting in sixth grade with Greek mythology, heading to Roman mythology in seventh and eighth grade, and then starting World History proper in ninth grade. By the end of high school, we’d learned about pretty much every religion. One of my term papers was on Hinduism. I don’t recall discussing much about them in the present day (as this class seems to be doing), but we went at least through the 19th century.

    • Reginald Selkirk

       1) Heman (surprisingly) didn’t mention whether this was a public or private school. If it was a private school, no issues.
      2) Handing public school students one line of theology and presenting it as truth would be wrong. Showing them that various religions exist, and giving them a test of those various religions by having presentations from various adherents shouldn’t be an issue. You’re not teaching the kids that Theology A is true (which is a faith claim), rather you;re teaching them that various competing brands of theology exist (which is unquestionably true).

    • Renshia

       Yes and in your day sex ed was probably taught in the hayloft. Thank god, we as a species evolve.

      Religion has held back humanities progress for thousands of years. I think it is damn well time, to teach people about something that has had such a profound effect on the development of our society. Especially when it is so obviously ludicrous and billions of people are using it as a platform to guide their lives by.

      A little critical examination is in order I think.

      When so much of our lives are effected by something it is only right that a look at the larger picture is in order. Doing this when they are young and in school to learn about things that will help them through life, is the perfect time to educate them on that decision. Maybe we wouldn’t have such a messed up society if a little critical examination would have been taken sooner.

  • Fang

    This is great!  I kind of wish our smaller school could have done that, but we never even had something akin to this or anything.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bernmutt Bernie Dehler

    “Eric Hovind vs. 6th Grade Atheist”
    http://youtu.be/HhDPrP-tpeo
    Last night this video had 300 views, and now over 8,000

  • Marco Conti

    I find this uplifting. I remember studying world religions in school (can’t remember what grade, but I was young, probably 13 or so) and while no one discussed Atheism, we went over several of the major religions and mythologies.
    The reason I still recall it is because it confirmed to me that if there were so many religions and each proclaimed to be the only true one, anyone with a brain would have to conclude that very likely none of them were. 

    I am now waiting for some really bad, backwards news coming from some other school to offset this one.

  • nakedanthropologist

    You made me smile, Hermant.  This is very encouraging, and that poster totally rocks!

  • ecolt

    I wish more schools would cover atheism as a valid viewpoint!

    Since some people seem to be confused, most schools in the US do have some type of world religion lessons. Not in a “preach to the kids” type of way, but to teach what other people around the world believe and how that influences their culture/history/etc. For far too many kids this time in class is the only exposure they have to any religions and traditions other than what they’re being raised in.

    I agree with the earlier comment that, for me, actually learning about religions in school was one thing that really helped steer me toward atheism. Realizing that billions of people had different beliefs and yet weren’t necessarily horrible, miserable people made me think that maybe belief in a god wasn’t the most important thing about humanity, and that a lot of belief is based on whatever is dominant where you happen to be born. I just found it very hard to believe that a majority of people in the world would be damned just because they’d been brought up to believe something different. Learning about other religions helped me see that, really, they were all essentially the same.


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