Humanist EDge: What’s Wrong with Humanist Education in Schools?

Although humanism is becoming more widely recognized, humanist education is still a new concept to many both inside and outside the movement. When I tell people that I work in the American Humanist Association Center for Education I receive several follow-up questions and often get into long discussions. So I was excited to receive an alert that someone used “humanist education” in an article. The Bozeman Daily Chronicle letter to the editor stated,

But over the last fifty to seventy years public education has no longer become a public Christian education as it used to be. Remember that our country was founded on Christian principles. Now it has gradually changed into a humanist education.

Actually, our country was founded on religious freedom principles. Furthermore, what’s wrong with humanist education? Don’t we want our children to be guided “by reason, empathy, and our growing knowledge of the world”? Don’t we want them to become adults who respect the worth and dignity of every person? Wouldn’t the world be better if we all lived “informed and meaningful lives that aspire to the greater good”? Some Christian principles—love thy neighbor, give to the needy, serve your community—are inclusive and useful to teach in schools, but others—accept God’s word as truth, praise God—should remain in church, not the classroom.

The letter was a response to another letter written in opposition to an opinion piece supporting school choice in Montana. The guest columnist of the opinion piece, a Christian school headmaster, argued that homeschool and private school families shouldn’t need to pay taxes that go to public schools. He seems to be forgetting that public education is for everyone not only because all are welcome to attend but also because we all benefit from a more educated society.

The headmaster and other religious school supporters are pushing to have scholarships developed by the Montana tax credit program available to religious schools as well as their non-religious counterparts. The program allows individuals and businesses to donate scholarship groups in return for a tax credit. The scholarship money is given directly to the schools selected by students or their parents. While the Montana and federal constitutions both prohibit appropriations for religious organizations, they also both prevent religious discrimination, making it difficult for legislators to find a resolution. Similar tax credit and voucher programs are causing debates on money and religion throughout the country.

More humanist education in public schools would be the best answer. We are global citizens and must learn how to support each other to build a more caring, inclusive world. Children should be learning more about civics, social studies, critical thinking, and empathetic listening so they can develop into responsible adults—who can then raise more responsible adults if they choose to procreate. A well-rounded, educated population would be more fully prepared to improve our communities. Isn’t that what we all want? It’s certainly what our country needs.