Both my parents have been fundamentalist Christians since before I was born. As far back as I remember my father worked as a part-time preacher, and my mother spends most of her time working for the church while raising my younger sister and I to be good little Christians. Every day revolved around church attendance and bible reading and as a family we were pretty tight-knit.
Despite the years of church and religious indoctrination I realised around age 16 that religion was a scam. From then on Christianity, or rather my lack of it, has remained a wedge issue between my family and myself. These days when I visit my parents I do my best to maintain a ceasefire ignoring their frequent and transparent comments about how prayer solved some problem they had, how god spoke to them, or how the bible trumps science. But within a couple of days we usually end up in a heated religious debate that goes nowhere. For this reason I try to bite my tongue whenever the topic of religion comes up (which is often!)
It might have continued like this indefinitely, except that in 2010 something happened that made me realise I could no longer sit by silently.
When growing up my sister fell particularly prey to the childhood indoctrination we were both exposed to. Her Christian fundamentalism took an even sharper turn to the right a few years ago when she emigrated to the United States with her part-time preacher husband and her 4 year old boy and 5 year old girl. I suppose I had come to terms with the likelihood that she and her husband would be indoctrinating their children, however, I was not prepared when they announced in the Summer of 2010 that they would not be sending their children to school and instead homeschool them. Now, I know homeschooling is a very common choice in the US, especially among religious sects, and in cases of very remote locations or disabled children parents have no choice, but consider these facts:
- Homeschooling is illegal in several countries including Germany, Netherlands, Sweden and Spain where it is recognised that no parent has the right to deprive a child of a proper education.
- My sister who will do the ‘teaching’ left school at 16 with virtually no qualifications. I have a Bachelors and Masters degree in science, and a second Masters in science journalism, and yet even I would think twice about homeschooling my own children (should I one day have any).
- Homeschooling study materials in the US are virtually monopolised by publishing arms of extreme religious organisations. Many of these materials are full of lies and religious propaganda, often prefacing every section with bible verses and treat the bible as a science text book.
- Failure to be exposed while growing up to children from other backgrounds, religions and ideas that are different to ones own particular dogma has been shown to lead to fear, distrust and intolerance of others.
- Statistics on qualifications of home-schooled children are extremely sparse and highly self-selected (i.e. parents only submit their children to tests if they are convinced they will pass). It would therefore seem likely that there are is a large pool of homeschooled children with no qualifications and severely limited career prospects (except maybe as a street preacher).
- Some evidence suggests that homeschooling handicaps students at the college and university level.
At first I tried to honestly express my concerns to my sister but she rapidly became hostile at my questioning and sadly we have hardly spoken ever since. Then a few months later in December 2010, I learned during a phone conversation with my mother who had been visiting my sister for two months that the science curriculum the children are being taught is pure young-earth creationism. This included the world is 6,000 years old, most geological phenomena was caused by Noah’s flood and that evolution by natural selection is false. Their favorite (and only) books are all of a religious nature and the only other children they are exposed to are from their local evangelical church.
As their uncle I feel partly responsible for my niece and nephews education, especially in science. However, my sister avoids speaking to her heathen brother, and nowadays only listens to our mother. It was for this reason that I decided for the first time to intentionally break the ceasefire and try to convince my mother that creationism is just plain wrong and teaching it to her grandchildren is abusing their minds. That’s why I created this blog to publish, email by email, all correspondence between my creationist mum and me, her atheist son. I know this is probably futile but feel I must keep tryng for the sake of the minds of my niece and nephew.
I suspect this could take a while!
A Few Extra Notes…
All emails are published unchanged and include any and all gramatical and spelling errors that appear in the originals. There is no censorship except in cases where names are used or information supplied that could lead to identification of members of my family.
Rob Reich (Stanford University) http://www.stanford.edu/group/reichresearch/cgi-bin/site/2011/01/05/home-schooling/
Robert Kunzman (Indiana University) http://www.indiana.edu/~homeeduc/three_crucial_points.html
Wikipedia article on Homeschooling http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homeschooling