Education by well-meaning religious individuals

Hello everyone

I’m new to these forums, but my goal and meaning are clear: I do not tolerate the brainwashing of children by adults who feel that they have the (unconscious or deliberate) right to do so. Nor do I tolerate the nebulous ‘rights’ that South African ‘law’ ascribes to parents and institutional organizations to tell children what they ought to believe.

I do not have children of my own, which perhaps makes me all the more sensitive to what happens to children, since they hold the future of our planet in their hands; yet they have no say in what adults tell them. In this respect I am in thorough agreement with Richard Dawkins.

However, Richard Dawkins probably doesn’t count for much in South Africa …

In the past two months, I have given astronomy lectures to groups of (mostly) Grade 7 children from schools in the northern parts of the Western Cape, notably Klawer, Vredendal and Koekenaap. If you think that you have reached out to children who come from severely disadvantaged backgrounds, think again.

You don’t know what you are talking about.

These children know about mandrax; they know about dagga; they know about police arrests; they know about killings in their neighbourhoods; they know about their father beating up their mother while both are in a drunken stupor, in their pathetically small dwelling called a “hop huis”.

There is, for example, a youngster aged 12 who has killed an innocent peer with an axe, simply to obtain R5; he smiles upon it because the ‘law’ entitles him to freedom. This particular youth has been given the freedom to return to school; it so happens that my wife teaches at that school.

He repeatedly tells my wife that he will kill her.

How does one handle this?

Don’t give me your academic view …

At one presentation, I asked the children what they saw outside earlier in the evening. I was met with blank stares. I picked out a child who was sitting near the door, and asked him to go outside and come back to tell me what he saw (it was 1st quarter Moon). He came back and told me that it was dark outside…

The person who organises these ‘sky-aware’ sessions on his land as part of an environmental awareness programme, has a religious agenda: after every astronomy presentation he embarks on a religious diatribe that drives the children to sleep (thank goodness!) and drives me insane!

What’s the use? We need to get to the adults, not the children …

If your family’s safety is compromised, I have to question the wisdom of returning the young axemurderer to class, especially in the light of his continuing threats. Can’t he be kicked out of school at all?

It is shockingly sad when kids prematurely lose their sense of wonder like that. One always takes comfort in assuming that all kids are born scientists and little explorers, and that their interests will be catered for by a society that is only too willing to indulge their children. But clearly this cannot be true everywhere, and the ideal maybe applies only to a privileged handful. I suppose poverty and crime will soon erode young minds to mere survival machines, leaving no time for luxury persuits like examining a plant leaf. They were robbed of something very precious. I don’t know if it can be replaced without taking them away from the poverty, drugs and the murder. But what can one do but keep trying.

Can you instill a feel for scientific thinking during your already heroic efforts to teach astronomy? Maybe pose questions that will lead to discussion and rekindle curiosity once more. What keeps the moon in the sky? Why is it round? Why don’t we see stars during the day? These are all questions the kids should be asking anyway. Maybe they just need a bit of extra prompting. If the kids can be equipped with some analytical thinking skills, perhaps it will also help them make the right choices in other terrains in life.

There is no easy answer, because after the presentation, the little guys will be off to an environment of poverty and crime once more. Hopefully they can take something away with them that will equip them better to their challenging surroundings. It really is heartbreaking.


PS Welcome to the forum :slight_smile:

I hessitate to add this, but re the religious teachings agenda that accompanies the sky evenings, I’ve read somewhere (not the way reference should be quoted, sorry!) that religion may be comforting to marginalised societies. It may play a role in lifting spirits for one thing.

Perhaps you should just put up with it for now, hoping that it will do more good than harm in this case.


Yes, Mintaka, you are right.

After every presentation I return home with the hope that I have opened a window in some child’s mind. Of course, I will probably never know. But if it does happen, then at least I will have achieved something very worthwhile.

Perhaps a practical way of reaching that 1 in 100 is to support projects to provide computer literacy and free internet access to marginalised communities. Hell, just electricity will help.

From personal experience: access to a library. I would bet my bottom dollar there is nothing in the area except a completely inadequate, underfunded and badly run govt department, just far away enough as to make it a null concept in terms of reaching the community.

I have seen how thirsty some of these kids are for knowledge, they are completely “thunderstruck” when they pick up the first book, and then the next, and the next…

My Goodness, Astroguy! How you shocked me. An axe murderer in your wife’s class and nothing is done? I honestly find it very hard to believe… not that I doubt what you say. Are you young people? I have no words… Except the following: Is poverty REALLY the cause of all this? I understand that poverty leads to all sorts of deprivations, mental deprivations among them. But dammit, there’s only one moon out there, and if a child doesn’t see the moon at night, what does he see? Does he have eyes? Is he so hungry that all he sees is “pap”? I ask this in all honesty and lack of knowledge and experience about this: Didn’t he realize that the class, or lecture, was about the moon and the stars? Didn’t he know that to make teacher happy he should have looked up?
I tell you, you’ve tied my stomach in knots. I mean we were children too, once, and some of us were extremely poor and hungry as well, but we always saw the moon, you know.