Atheist Ireland to develop first Irish course about atheism for primary schools

by Michael Nugent on September 21, 2013

Atheist Ireland will launch two important initiatives at our AGM today, Saturday 21 September, in the Harbour Hotel in Galway, from 10 am to 5 pm.

We will be working with Educate Together to develop Ireland’s first ever course about atheism for primary schools. The lessons will be based on the Toledo guiding principles and will be taught in an objective, critical and pluralist manner. They will teach about atheism, not teach atheism.

And we will be launching the Dublin Declaration on Secularism Empowering Women, that was drafted at our international conference on this topic in June. This Declaration is part of an international policy on secularism, alongside the Dublin Declaration on Secularism and Religion in Public Life which was adopted at the World Atheist Convention in Dublin in 2011.

Atheist Ireland is now almost five years old, and we have established ourselves as part of the social and political discourse on religion and secularism in Ireland and internationally. We promote atheism and reason over superstition and supernaturalism, and we promote an ethical and secular state.

Next week we will be speaking at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw, where we will be highlighting the discrimination faced by atheists in Ireland and throughout Europe from religious oaths, religious education, blasphemy laws and other discriminations.

Ireland’s first primary school course about atheism

Our most exciting project for the coming year is financing, developing, designing and piloting Ireland’s first primary school course about atheism. We will be working with Educate Together to coordinate this project, with information provided by us and developed into lessons by professionals.

The initial project will involve a set of ten lessons for one age grouping, to be decided (either Junior and Senior Infants; or 1st/2nd class; or 3rd/4th class; or 5th/6th class). Ultimately we would like to develop it into four sets of ten lessons, one for each of those four age groups.

The lessons will be 30-40 minutes in length. Professionals will be employed to write lessons, and a co-ordinator will be employed to manage the project.

Our lessons about atheism will be based on the Toledo guiding principles and will be taught in an objective, critical and pluralist manner. They will teach about atheism, not teach atheism.

The lessons will be piloted in Educate Together schools. Feedback will be gathered and the lessons amended accordingly. The lessons will then be formally launched and promoted throughout the Educate Together network.

We also hope to make course material available for parents whose children are in denominational schools, and who want material for their child to study while they are opted out of the Religious Education / Faith Formation classes.

We will be launching a fundraising campaign specifically to help finance this project.

Atheism in the State curriculum

The State curriculum does not teach about atheism at primary level, and at Junior Cert secondary level it only ‘acknowledges’ the non-religious interpretation of life.

These are two of the aims of the Religious Education Course at second level (this is from the NCCA): To appreciate the richness of religious traditions and to acknowledge the non-religious interpretation of life; and To contribute to the spiritual and moral development of the student.

Atheism appears under the heading ‘Challenges to Faith’, along with such topics as materialism, individualism, apathy and religious indifference.

Objectives

As a result of studying this section, the students should:
1 have an awareness of the variety of world views in today’s culture;
2 understand the challenge posed by some of these views to religious belief;
3 be able to identify points of conflict and points of contact between the scientific and religious world views of creation

Key concepts
Reflection
• world view
• experiencing God
• atheism
• agnosticism
• secularism
• materialism
• fundamentalism
• creation

Description of content.
1. The variety of world views in modern culture, including their origin
2. The scientific world view – at odds with religion? The question of creation
3. The technological view of the world and the person
4. Challenges to religious experience (such as materialism, individualism, etc.)
5. Apathy and religious indifference.

Atheism in the Catholic Church curriculum

The Following is from the Catholic Church part of the course, or in other words the Guidelines for the Formation and Development of Catholic students.  Schools with a Catholic ethos integrate the following into the state course under ‘Challenges to Faith’.

Faith does not keep itself outside human progress

The Gospel message interprets challenges to the faith, as does the teaching of the Church.

Christianity transcends every advancement of culture.

Scientific research complying with moral laws does not conflict with faith since science and faith derive from the same God.

Agnosticism/atheism/religious indifference can be interpreted as flight from the ultimate question of existence, that is, God.

(jn 1:9) (Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 159)
(Guardium et spes, pars. 4, 36, 57, 62, Vatican II)
(Fides et Ratio, pars. 64-74, John Paul II)

Atheism in Educate Together schools

The Learn Together ethical education curriculum is taught in place of religious instruction in Educate Together schools. There are four strands in the Learn Together, detailed below.

However, the Learn Together curriculum does not include details about atheism, or events to highlight atheist celebrations, in the way that they do for the various religions that their pupils’ parents identify with. Our new set of lessons will be the first to bridge that gap.

The Learn Together Mission Statement is to promote a philosophy of education in which no child is considered an outsider; which promotes the fullest development of ability irrespective of gender, class or stereotype and which encapsulates this ethos in a democratic partnership uniquely combining the involvement of parents with the professional role of teachers.

Strand 1: Moral & Spiritual
The general aim of the strand is to help develop in children a critical knowledge, understanding and awareness of right and wrong and a heightened awareness of social, ethical and moral standards through reflecting on the meaning and purposes of life. The strand should encourage and develop the individual on the journey to inner discovery and empower the child to make informed moral decisions.

Strand 2: Equality & Justice
The general aim of this strand is to develop in children a critical knowledge, understanding and awareness of issues relating to human rights, equality, culture and diversity, social justice and social inclusiveness and to empower them to make a difference.

Strand 3: Belief Systems
The general aim of this strand is to develop in children a critical knowledge, understanding and awareness of the teachings of religious and non-theistic belief systems and how these systems relate to our shared human experience. The emphasis will be placed on an exploration of the infinite variety and richness of humankind through nurturing a respect for a person’s right to hold and practice individual belief systems and through creating spaces where values can be articulated and critically examined.

Strand 4: Ethics & the Environment
The aim of this strand is to develop in children a knowledge, appreciation and respect for their environment and to empower them to take an active role in its stewardship.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Scott Reilly September 21, 2013 at 8:18 am

Wow! I can hardly believe this. What brilliant news if Atheist Ireland can pull this off.

So, do I have this right: The course on Atheism will be adopted by state run secondary schools and Educate Together primary schools?

I imagine it being somewhat difficult to teach this course without causing some offense to the faithful. Surely the question of why atheists don’t believe will be asked and, in my own experience of answering that question at least, it can be difficult to give a (truly) honest answer while not insulting the listening.

Anyway, many thanks to Mick and everyone at Atheist Ireland for the brave and fantastic work!

2 Ric Bowers September 30, 2013 at 4:59 am

Atheist Ireland… really? What could a course about atheism possibly consist of? After reading this article I am absolutely convinced these people have no idea or even care what atheism actually is. There is so much wrong with this I don’t know where to begin.

“They will teach about atheism, not teach atheism.” – In case you missed it, yes you did, the meaning of the term atheism is simply a ‘lack of belief in a god’, nothing more, nothing less. So, you can see the problem then, it seems they are simply going to teach about notable atheist wags and the error of their ways rather than discuss atheist ideas. But then they say they will ‘include details about atheism’. Isn’t that actually teaching atheism which you said they weren’t going to do? Make up your mind, now they are going to present atheist details… well, hold on to your hats because the world view of an atheist is one that aligns with reality and evidence which is best explained by science, completely contrary to religious belief which is based solely on faith and best explained by an ancient book written by old men with the education and moral understanding less than that of a modern eight year old. Wouldn’t the best approach be to present a case to school children for ‘implausible religious thinking’ versus ‘plausible scientific prediction’? Why not simply jetison the traditional religious bullshit and impress the children with reality.

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