CBC Reports Atheist Parents Are Making Life Miserable For Educators

CBC Reports Atheist Parents Are Making Life Miserable For Educators December 13, 2018

I woke up this morning to my province raging over a couple of atheist parents on Bowen Island. The CBC was reporting that,

An atheist family whose child was not allowed to re-enrol in preschool after her parents fought against classroom Christmas and Hanukkah celebrations has been awarded $12,000 by the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.

Now, before you nod your head in support of the parents, I think you ought to hear the whole story. Sure, their win with the tribunal is understandable. The child should not have been blocked from re-enrollment at the Bowen Island Montessori School. I agree with this part. It’s how we got there that has become the problem.

First, there was the request from the atheist parents to include a Christmas tree ornament with the Twin Towers, a plane and the words, “Atheists Don’t Fly Airplanes Into Buildings”. There was also the worrying display put on by the atheist father in the administration office as he sang “Oh, Canada” and performed the Nazi salute. The heathen parents also demanded that no talk of Santa happens near their child and that the school should refrain from observing such holidays as Valentine’s Day and Remembrance Day, as well.

Ultimately, the parents appear to have been requesting that no religious symbolism, traditions, decorations or talk be tolerated at the school.

As an outspoken atheist mom who is absolutely ready for the world to be rid of religious dogma, I have to say, these parents appear to have completely lost the plot.

I left a comment on the CBC’s Facebook post,

"I certainly hope that there will be no discussion of Santa Claus…. I am absolutely against anyone blatantly lying to my daughter."

Posted by CBC Vancouver on Thursday, December 13, 2018

Now, I’m a skeptic, so I know that there is a good chance we’re not hearing the whole story here. There’s every possibility that the version of the story told by Gary Mangel and Mai Yasué, the atheist parents, is wildly different from this report from the CBC. I’ve tried to find how to reach Gary and Mai to hear what they had to say, but I was unable to find them. So, until such time as I hear their version of events, I have to base my opinions on this CBC report and based on this CBC article, I have to say, WTF, heathens? Why you gotta make the rest of us look bad?

As atheist parents, we hope to raise critical thinkers most of all. We want our kids to grow up being able to decipher between reality and fantasy. We want to protect our kids from the limitless garbage out there that has no basis in fact so that they can protect themselves, their health and their world using tools that we’re sure exist.

You can’t raise critical thinkers in an echo chamber, though. You must let them explore ideas so that they can learn to question them. One of the easiest ways to introduce your child to critical thought is with Santa Claus. Sorting out on their own that the jolly fat guy is not a real thing is an excellent way for them to learn how to be skeptical. Another simple way to teach your child how to question everything is to teach them about religion. Not one religion, but several religions. Show them that there are many, many myths out there that people believe. Explore the similarities between them all. Talk about the differences. Your child will see that no one idea has any more evidence than the next and that what you believe tends to be tied very closely to where you were born. Your child will see the holes in the stories and pry open the cracks.

On the other hand, if you shelter your child from these ideas, you’re doing precisely the same thing religious people do. You’re telling your child what to think, rather than how to think.

As a Twitter follower, @hansjelbert1, said this morning,

Religion alienated me from others. Atheists shouldn’t do same.

The Bowen Island Montessori School says this on its website:

A child is offered an introduction to physical and cultural geography through the use of wooden puzzles/maps of the Earth and its 7 continents. Through the focus upon specific continents or countries, a child will be presented with culturally significant objects and snacks from each particular area, international and cultural celebrations will also be recognized and honoured as we cover the world map.

This does not appear to be indoctrination. The school isn’t teaching the children that Christmas is a time for revering Christ and thanking him for saving us. Rather, they’re celebrating Christmas to teach the kids about a cultural tradition that dominates our part of the world this time of year. They’re not teaching kids that the Torah is true when they bring a Menorah into the classroom, rather, they are teaching kids about the tradition and the culture associated with it. If they were celebrating Ramadan, they aren’t teaching the kids to praise Mohammad, instead, they’re teaching that a great many of our fellow earthlings celebrate this tradition and what it’s all about.

It would seem that these parents, Gary and Mae, are attempting to shelter their children from all religious talk, imagery and tradition. The thing is though when you shelter your kids from the real world around them, it always backfires in some way or another. When you stick your kids in a tight-fitting box, eventually, they’re going to resist it. They will wriggle and kick until the box gives way and Gary and Mae, if this story is accurate, may find they’re working really hard to produce devout and faithful believers.

I remember when the private Montessori school I sent my son to taught him that Jesus started the first food bank. I know, I thought it was just as ridiculous and the only source for this nonsense I could come up with is the fish and loaves tale which, of course, is complete tosh. I didn’t freak out at the school. Instead, I saw it as a learning opportunity for my son. I talked to him about it, asked him questions and helped him come to the conclusion that some people believe this stuff, mommy does not and whether or not he wants to believe it is entirely up to him.

Years later, and he still does not believe.

We live in a world with many different cultures and traditions and values. That is reality. Atheism is a way to value reality which is why it’s so shocking to me that godless parents might go to this length to hide it from their kids. If you ask me, it’s about the least “atheist” thing a parent could do.

What do you think? Is the parents’ reported behaviour out of line? Did the school handle it well? Let me know in the comments!

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  • You can’t raise critical thinkers in an echo chamber

    I absolutely agree. I think the parents seem way too protective of their kid’s psyche for his skeptical good. The way you describe exposing kids to a wide range of beliefs and traditions, so they can assess and question them in an informed manner, makes a lot more sense to me.

  • Michael

    People should just stop having children.

  • Elizabeth A. Root

    I think the Nazi salute while singing “Oh, Canada,” would have put me off if I were the school. But was he saying that Canada is already fascist, or that it ought to be? I think he’s looking like someone who likes to pick fights, and I can understand why the school wouldn’t have much patience for putting up with his grandstanding. Is the school in the habit of liturgical celebrations for Valentines Day?

    I agree that realizing that there are many religions, with some widely different ideas, for which the adherents all claim direct instruction from deities, is a good way to become skeptical. Why should I think one is true and the others are making things up?

    Definitely let us know if they have been misrepresented.

  • adhoc

    “The thing is though when you shelter your kids from the real world around them, it always backfires in some way or another.”

    Bingo. Sunlight is a good disinfectant for stuff like this.

    The parents are robbing their child(ren) of the chance to ask questions. Critical Thinking is a skill that needs exercise.

  • persephone

    People who are always looking for a fight ruin everything. They don’t prove anything except that they’re jerks.

    We still celebrate Christmas, even though my kids are adults. It’s a day where we’re all home together, open a few presents, have a nice relaxing meal (I don’t do fancy, but steaks and fries and veggies are easy and special), maybe watch some TV, play new games, etc. Having a day together is the best part.

  • Otto

    If this is an accurate representation of how they handled the situations they acted like jerks and they are not doing their children any favors.

  • Jim Jones

    Yes, this guy is a dickhead. There was plenty of opportunity for accommodation.

    I have a pop up nativity and sometimes I open it on the fireplace mantel. For old time’s sake.

  • David Miller


    I see no indication in the story as to whether this school is a public school, a private school getting public money, or a purely private school not receiving tax money. Seems to me that makes a difference, at least legally.

    If we accept the CBC report at face value, it does seem clear that the parents were not reasonable. When my kids were young, I would not have wanted an authority figure telling them that some particular religion was true. On the other hand, simply telling children that some people hold certain religious beliefs and have certain religious practices.. well, it is obviously neither desirable nor even possible to prevent that.

    On the great “Santa question,” it should be pointed out that it takes a good deal of concerted and coordinated effort on the part of adults to convince kids that Santa is real. If parents simply treat Santa the way they treat Winnie the Pooh or Harry Potter, kids will know he is make-believe (and, yes, make-believe can be fun). We do not, after all, explicitly tell kids that Winnie the Pooh or Harry Potter is make-believe, but neither do we go to any effort to pretend they are real.

    Kids pick up the distinction between make-believe and real automatically, unless adults actively try to deceive them.

    The one thing we did have to warn our own kids of is that if they actively told their friends that Santa was make-believe, then they might anger their friends and would surely anger some of their friends’ parents. I think the only person they actually chose to anger was their cousin, who is two years older, and, frankly, really had it coming! (We gave them a similar warning about religion, of course. They actually participated for several years in a local Baptist church’s Christmas festival and had great fun, and, no, we never deceived anyone about the fact that we were not believers. We do live in California, where the Baptists are perhaps a bit more mellow than some other states in the USA.)

    Generally, we found that the “Santa question” is a much bigger matter for adults than the kids. Kids are, thankfully, perfectly capable of having fun with make-believe even when they know it is not real.


  • David Miller

    The very outspoken atheist philosopher Dan Dennett has written about how he likes to participate in a group sing of classic Christmas carols (i.e., written way before “Silent Night”): see Appendix D of the 2015 “expanded and updated edition” of his Caught in the Pulpit.

    And Richard Dawkins has written that both Brits and Americans should know more than they do about the Bible because of its cultural and historical significance.

    There is a good case that the Gospels themselves were originally conceived as entertaining and edifying fiction, a bit like the children’s book The Littlest Angel, a book which was never presented as literally true. Indeed, some of the non-canonical Gospels — e.g., the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter — are so obviously fiction that it is hard to imagine that anyone ever viewed them as anything but fiction.

    “Unto us a child is born… and you shall find him lying in a manger… the Prince of Peace…” Really not a bad story, if only we could strip away some of the later parts of the story, such as eternal hellfire and all the rest.


  • wolfypuppy

    Wow, completely out of line. You can take the fundamentalist out of religion and they’re still fundamentalists.

  • Kevin K

    I, like you, think there’s probably more to this story than has been presented. Cuz as presented, my conclusion is that the parents are kooks.

  • “I think he’s looking like someone who likes to pick fights…”

    My thought, exactly.

  • Yup. I was thinking that if these people ever became Christians, they’d be really aggravating ones. Or maybe that’s what they were in the past. Seems like often when people convert from one religion to another, or from religion to non-religion, or the other way around, who they are simply gets amplified. Jerks become bigger jerks, and nice people become nicer.

  • Please go and read the full ruling on this matter. It is a very concerning decision for many reasons. http://www.bchrt.bc.ca/shareddocs/decisions/2018/dec/281_Mangel_and_Yasue_obo_Child_A_v_Bowen_Island_Montessori_School_and_others_2018_BCHRT_281.pdf

  • Wesley Brock

    Yeah, reading the court transcript puts things in a different perspective from the CBC story. Especially those exchanges between the administrators and the parents. It seems like the admin while claiming to do more then celebrate Christmas were actually only making token efforts while primarily celebrating Christmas with more then a little Christ in it. Maybe all the inflammatory behavior described in the CBC stems from this early interactions.

    In fact the family mentioned in the article weren’t the only ones with issues according to the transcript.

  • Elizabeth A. Root

    I read the court transcript. I still Mangel has serious problems in dealing with other people in a constructive manner. His wife, Dr. Yasoue, was more reasonable, and I think the school should have seriously considered some of her suggestions for additional celebrations. I apologize if I misspelled her name, but I’m on my phone and I don’t want to risk trying to hop between websites. I think that the Court’s concern that the child is being punished because of her parent’s action is unrealistic; at her age they are a package. These are Canada’s laws, however, so I’m not addressing the matter from that perspective.

  • Elizabeth A. Root

    It’s a private school. The court transcript mentions failures on the school’s part to be clear that part of the problem was Mangel’s behavior. Canada has its own laws, so I will not speak to them, but I sympathize with the school’s being fed up with Mangel. I think they should not have offered to admit Child A if her parents, and only her parents, signed a letter, but simply declined admission to the child. I find the Court’s ruling that Child A was being punished for her parents’ behavior ridiculous when speaking of a three- year-old. At that age, the parents are part of the package. But that’s my opinion, and Canada, of course, makes its own laws.

    In fairness, we were discussing Christmas at breakfast, and a Jewish member of our group said that to Jews, nothing about Christmas celebrations is secular. People raised as Christians see it differently. I will admit that if I, although raised as a Christian, sometimes feel a bit oppressed by the sheer relentless of the season. One friend said that there should only be religious cards; I told her that since everyone else is dragged into Christmas willy-nilly, we do need to be allowed our secularism’s.

    Happy Holidays!

  • Shura

    This is a great article and I couldnt agree more. I have started a gofundme to help to school cover their legal fees. Its a very unfrotunate outcome to this extremly lengthy tribunal case. Hopefully everyone can move forward from this point and let the teacher get back to what she does best teaching and nurturing these kids!! ❤
    Shura https://www.gofundme.com/help-the-bowen-island-montersorri-preschool

  • Brianna LaPoint

    Was this satire? if not, i can understand why some people do not like most atheists. Because yes, there are people that take things too far.

  • Brianna LaPoint

    I like Atheists, even though i do not agree with them. Its called respect, and unfortunately, some people have no tolerance for what they perceive as bullshit, But perceiving bullshit can go either way, because some people trying to get what they want without compromise does NOT fly well and will make things difficult on both ends/

  • Amber Barnhill

    This sounds sketchy. The ‘background’ the author provides about these particular parents I find hard to believe. Even if it were true, they sound like an anomaly. I’m a atheist parent who has complained on multiple occasions, but nothing at all like that and I don’t know a single other atheist parent who would behave that way. That’s just weird and I’ve never heard of any situation like that. That being said, I’m confused that this supposedly skeptic author is attempting to start malicious rumors feeding on negative stereotypes about atheists in general based on one very odd example. It’s all just a little fishy to me.

  • Murigen

    I was reading along, agreeing with some of what you were saying…until you used heathen as an insult.

  • MelloYello

    Stifling fantasy for children removes the color, imagination and FUN from life. Teach them the difference between fantasy and reality but don’t kill the fun. I know a very unhappy toung girl who gets so angry when we talk hunting fairies, super heroes, or if i say i have magical powers. She misses out on all of the fun we have, then complains no one does anything fun with her. The kids I tell that I fly on a broom around the full moon KNOW I don’t, they CHOOSE to play along and have fun with make believe . Her parents did her a disservice .

  • Elizabeth A. Root

    I don’t know, Amber, I can think of some atheists who I can see acting like this. Some of them aren’t parents, so they wouldn’t be involved with this subject, but they can get very belligerent when someone doesn’t agree with them. One of them specialized in explaining to people what was wrong with them, and I think she managed to insult the political, religious, and ethnic affiliations of just about everyone she knew. She always acted like she was doing them a favor, or perhaps believed that they wanted to know what she thought.

    I should have added that I am an atheist.

  • Maxine Godfrey

    never censor knowledge. the more you know, the more fodder you have from which to draw. i once wrote an essay on how to use the Santa myth as a teaching moment — not just for the irrationality of Santa, but for all kinds of things connected to the myth. for instance, reindeer don’t fly, so that’s an excuse to explore such concepts as the Bernouilli principle and go to air shows. the unreality of the time involved for Santa to reach every (deserving) child brings us to the subject of Time, then Physics. you see how deep you can go, if you’re prepared and the child is willing? any child of the Why? question age is usually if not always willing, and both receptive and skeptical — as it should be — so it’s a wonderful opportunity to learn about more than is dreamt of in the Santa philosophy.

  • Turbokai

    A little o/t, but still relevant to the
    general theme. It reminded me of an incident during the 2016 presidential election when my 9 year old daughter started bashing Trump out of the blue.
    To be clear, I think DJT is a gross insult, down to every single photosynthesizing organism that provides his oxygen, but her outburst was disturbing in the context that just happens to be the very crux of this article. We don’t have cable, and my husband and I rarely hash out anything political in nature outside of bedtime (for no other reason than that has always been our time of day for more in-depth discussions/conversations for any topic.)

    So I asked her why she felt that way, which led to nothing of substance beyond “he just sucks.” It was a great segue into explaining the importance of independently forming HER own judgement and/or opinions through research, rather than simply parroting those of anyone else, INCLUDING her parents.

    It circles back to what has always been one of our biggest priorities in raising our children, promoting strong, independent, and critical thought that will hopefully be second nature by the time they are fledgling adults. (Accompanied by a finely tuned bullshit meter.)