Monday, March 11, 2013

Freethought Festival 2: Secular students

This weekend I attended Freethought Festival 2, a free conference in Madison, WI put on by Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics at UW-Madison.  Read about the "Science Friday" talks, Saturday's "Fight back" talks, and the atheist pride parade to get caught up.  Search #FTF2 on twitter.

Sunday's Theme: Secular students

Since I went to the conference social at the Union on Saturday nightstayed out past my bed time, and lost an hour of sleep due to daylight savings, I didn't make it to the first two talks on Sunday.  Part of the reason why I chose to press "snooze" was because I knew all of the talks were being recorded and would be online shortly.  So I'll watch them as soon as they're up, but the two were: "Creating inclusive campuses for atheist students" by Kathy Goodman and "Atheist students on the rise" by Jesse Galef.

Katherine Stewart

The fundamentalist assault on public education

Katherine Stewart, author of The Good News Club: The Christian Right's Stealth Assault on America's Children, talked to us about The Good News Club (I'm going to abbreviate it as GNC).  This after school elementary program, sponsored by the Child Evangelism Fellowship, is a bible study that has pushed its way into the public schools.  Whether you're religious or not, GNC is detrimental to children and absolutely does not belong in the public schools.

I found this Good News Club website, which shows how the club is harmful to children.  It has specific lesson plans with word-for-word language from the Good News Club's student and instructor books.  Here's a quote from the site's home page:

But the snacks, games, prizes, songs, and fun activities mask a dark message of shame and fear indoctrination. The Good News Club curriculum stresses Old Testament narratives of a retributive God who must punish sin, warns children that they will suffer an eternity in Hell if they refuse to believe, and stresses complete obedience as the supreme value. Meanwhile, salutary themes such as the “Golden Rule” are almost entirely absent from the curriculum.

Katherine went undercover for four years, attending trainings and conferences put on by GNC.  Some of the things she's witnessed are quite disturbing.  Here's a sample lesson that's taught to four, five, and six-year-olds in the club, about how Saul is at fault for having spared a few lives when he was instructed by God to kill all of the Amalekites.  He should have obeyed and killed everyone - the lesson teaches - all men, women, and children.  So GNC teachers are instructed to teach that genocide is okay if God tells you to do it?  This material is not suitable for elementary children!  I strongly encourage you to take a few minutes and read Katherine's article about these lessons, or watch her speak about them in the video below (9:42 - 12:35).

I found the above 36-minute documentary about the Good News Club on youtube while researching some more on the topic post-Freethought Festival 2.  It reminds me of Jesus Camp, and is upsetting.

If you don't have time for the whole 36 minutes, the other part I recommend is 5:16-6:00.

I was curious as to whether or not there were any of these clubs in Wisconsin schools.  Unfortunately I found that there are Good News Clubs in schools in Adams-Friendship, Baraboo, Cambridge, Janesville, Madison, Sun Prairie, and Whitewater.  I will be following this issue and seeing if there's any way to get involved.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention - you may have been wondering: Is this even legal? What about state/church separation? How is a bible study meeting in public schools? Answer: In the 2001 Good News Club vs. Milford Central School District case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that not allowing a religious group to meet on public schools was in violation of free speech rights.  They interpreted religion as speech from a certain viewpoint/opinion, and said that schools must not discriminate against speech based on viewpoint.  The court also ruled that allowing GNC in public schools did not violate the Establishment Clause.  I really don't understand how this case ended with this outcome, but it's what allows GNC to continue to spread.  

Atheism for Dummies
Atheism for Dummies cover
Dale McGowan

20 things I learned about atheism while explaining it to dummies

Atheism for Dummies, written by Dale McGowan, just came out last week.  Dale talked about 20 things that he learned while writing this book.  I liked hearing tidbits about the actual writing process, especially since he was writing for a series.  Dale said there are over 1,600 books in the "Dummies" series.  Believe it or not, Farmville for Dummies and eBay for Canadians for Dummies were both written before Atheism for Dummies!  Dale said there was a fast timeline for this book, and he actually wrote it in four months.  That fact made my head spin, as I thought about all the research that went into each section.  And all of the writing.  The other aspect about the writing process that I found interesting was that the book contract was quite long, between 60-70 pages.  Since this book is part of the "Dummies" series, Dale needed to follow their stylistic rules.  One of these rules was to never use the word "we," and not to begin sentences with "it".

Debbie Goddard

Debbie Goddard
Debbie Goddard

The student movement: past, present, future

Debbie adjusted her presentation since Jesse's presentation earlier in the day had covered some of what she was going to share.  Debbie spent a good portion of her talk in story mode, telling us about her childhood and stuggles with religion.  Her mother was Catholic; her father, Jewish; and she attended a Catholic high school on a scholarship -- until one of the Sisters took it away.  I would recommend watching this part of Debbie's talk; it's personal, engaging, well-told, and there are some funny parts too!  Hearing about Debbie's 8th grade confirmation and hiding her atheism from the Sisters at school reminded me a lot of my middle and high school days.  Some days and events I'll never forget, like one of the confirmation retreats I had to go to or the day I cried the hardest I have in my life, but other parts are fuzzy.  I'd like to go through old journals the next time I'm at my parents' house and see what I can piece together from these years.  Anyway, Debbie ended by profiling many youth that are highly involved in the freethought movement today, all around the world.  My notes for this talk end with "Make an impact!" that I wrote in big letters taking up about half a page.

Successful second Freethought Festival

I think the weekend went really well - the speakers were tremendous, the conference was well organized, and the price was unbeatable (free!).  It was without a doubt worth having taken the weekend off of work.  A big thank you to all of the speakers, the organizers, and the sponsors (ASM, SSA FFRF).
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