Weekend Diversion: Homeschoolers Anonymous

“Who is more humble? The scientist who looks at the universe with an open mind and accepts whatever the universe has to teach us, or somebody who says everything in this book must be considered the literal truth and never mind the fallibility of all the human beings involved?” -Carl Sagan

It's a challenging thing, to admit to ourselves how vast and mysterious this Universe is, and how small and ignorant we all truly are. It can feel daunting and isolating to think about it, and solace can be difficult to find, as Mazzy Star can maybe help you related to as you listen to their wonderful song,

Fade Into You.

But not everyone is given the same opportunity to honestly engage with the realities of existence.

Image credit: UMASS Amherst Physics Lecture Prep. Image credit: UMASS Amherst Physics Lecture Prep.

In many ways, I was very, very fortunate to get the education I did from a very young age, through excellent teachers, a wide selection of reading materials, a family environment that valued learning, and exposure to a wide variety of peers.

But there was something else that was an important part of my education that not everybody gets equally, and that some people don't get at all: a strong emphasis on figuring things out for myself.

Image credit: Nate & Tara of the Monarch Room, via http://www.monarchroom.com/. Image credit: Nate & Tara of the Monarch Room, via http://www.monarchroom.com/.

One of the biggest epiphanies of my childhood was when I connected this to science and math. It seems like such an obvious connection to an adult, but to a child, this was truly mind-blowing. Rather than reliance on what you're told by an authority figure, rather than memorizing something and reciting it back, rather than debate what you think might be the case, you can simply and definitively know.

Image credit: Genspace, of DNA extraction from a strawberry, via http://genspace.org/. Image credit: Genspace, of DNA extraction from a strawberry, via http://genspace.org/.

Have an idea? You can test it for yourself, and figure out what's true and what isn't.

Read something that someone else claims is true? You can test that for yourself, too.

And if you want to know something beyond your means to do the experiment for yourself? You can look up what's happened when others have performed them, and figure out the best, most fitting conclusions for yourself.

Image credit: Deb McAlister's blog, via http://debmcalister.com/. Image credit: Deb McAlister's blog, via http://debmcalister.com/.

That's the power of science.

And it isn't just for scientists; it's for everyone! An awareness and appreciation of what science is -- of what scientific knowledge, facts and theories are -- is one of the most powerful lessons an individual can learn in their life. It's empowering, it's humbling, and perhaps moreso than anything else, it prepares you to reckon with the Universe as it really is.

Image credit: Cory Schmitz, a.k.a. schmitzcory of flickr. Image credit: Cory Schmitz, a.k.a. schmitzcory of flickr.

But not everyone gets the same opportunity to learn these lessons. You'll often hear cringe-worthy stories about creationism in the science classroom, and that's in public school systems that are subject to state and federal oversight. But there's a much more terrifying story that isn't being told: the story of homeschooled children who aren't being educated in a proper sense, but who are subjected to indoctrination -- and in some cases, abuse -- in lieu of this.

(Note: In absolutely no way whatsoever do I intend to disparage homeschooling or parents who choose to homeschool, or to imply that any one of public, private, or homeschooling children is inherently better, overall, than one another. If you love your kids and want to prepare them to succeed in this world, you are -- and should be -- free to do so in the best manner you see fit. But you can't abuse them, and you do them a tremendous disservice in their quest to become successful, functional adults if you take science, math and scientific literacy out of their mental toolkit.)

Image credit: Third Grade Teacher of http://www.thirdgradeteacher.com/. (They're a band.) Image credit: Third Grade Teacher of http://www.thirdgradeteacher.com/. (They're a band.)

But I'm not writing this to rant about the evils of what some people are doing, but to share with you the existence of a community of support: Homeschoolers' Anonymous. There are over 200 personal accounts of young adults coming to grips with their own past, negative experiences with homeschooling, sharing their own stories with the world and offering support, healing, awareness and community to others -- both kids and adults -- who've had their own struggles. Here's an excerpt from one such account:

These children are to be trained in God’s original plan for the U.S. to be a Christian nation, and they will grow up to invade all levels of the U.S. government and society and reclaim the U.S. for Republican, conservative Christianity.

To this end, all aspects of a homeschooled child’s life are to be tailored to this vision. Every effort is made to ensure that the children become full-fledged advocates of this viewpoint. You see, many conservatives fear one thing almost more than everything else, including Bill Clinton and abortion: that their kids will grow up and disagree with them. There is an enormous apparatus in place to prevent that calamity. There are books, videos, seminars, and camps dedicated to keep kids in line with their parents’ ideology.One of the most talked about and feared statistics every year is how many kids gave up on their parents’ beliefs once they go off to college. This statistic will go viral everywhere. It will terrify parents, reinforce their mission, and inspire them to push and brainwash harder, faster, stronger. You don’t want to be that parent — the parent with the bad seed, the apostate.

It can be a major embarrassment and shame or alienate parents or families out of their long-trusted circles. “The family that has the atheist kid?” Or, “The family that has that girl who got pregnant?” “Surely they raised their kid wrong. Let’s not associate with them anymore.”

It kills relationships.
But once I finally took a stand, I realized — sometimes, someone just needs to have the courage to say what others have been hoping to hear.

I think, for a lot of us, we are afraid to say what we feel, to say that we have changed. A lot of our subculture’s message to us was to shut up and get in line. That makes us, even as adults, fearful of a former community’s backlash. We have stuffed our questions and our seeds of discontent for so long that remaining silent has become a habit. Even as adults, we have that inner child who is terrified of saying, “Hey, I’m don’t want to be like that. I want to grow up. I want to have my own beliefs. I want to be my own human being.”

The fact is — I am my own human being. And I always was. I just was raised to not think that way. And I have witnessed with my own eyes, ears, body, and heart so much pain that comes from not acknowledging I am my own person. And I have heard of so many others’ pain. So I cannot keep silent any longer. I will no longer keep my mouth shut and I will no longer play the games of this strange world.

Bottom line: it's your life, it's your mind, and no matter what anyone tells you, it's your Universe too. Its story and its secrets are there for all of humanity to discover, and whether you've been looking your entire life or you're starting for the first time right now, you're always welcome to take part in the journey. And no matter where you came from or where you are right now, you don't have to do it alone.

(Discovered via Dan Savage.)


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Excellent post, a must read for all science minded open minded folks out here.

Well balanced and fair.

And I must say, I did not know.

Based on what an American couple (now naturalized Australians, who relocated to Sydney from the US) had to tell me, they home schooled their three children simply because the only public schools available in their area were completely dystopian. Apart from no learning worthy of the name ever being possible within them, they felt that the lives and well being of their children were in danger.

They are not religious types and they are delighted with the quality of the high school their children now attend in the western part of Sydney. Perhaps you should have mentioned that there can be reasons, other than those involving an urge to indoctrinate, to home school children in at least some parts of the USA.

I did a little research on the web and found that high percentage of home schooled children did very well on college placement tests. I' m not sure what percentage of home schooled children were included in the count. I know that there are a lot of reasons to home school. I even recently found out that dedicated dance students are frequently home schooled so they can structure their school around their dance, instead of the other way around. However, there are a lot of people who home school for just the reasons that you mentioned.

By Bill Gill (not verified) on 08 Dec 2013 #permalink

Re. Alan L @ 2: Yes, there are instances where smart science-minded parents might want to homeschool their kids. For example if the local school system has been taken over by religious extremists, or is infested with crime/gangs/bullies, or is a pathetically bad school system, or if your kid is "on the spectrum" and would be abused by peers as a "weirdo."

This is the paradox of homeschooling: On one hand we're tempted to want to outlaw it entirely, to free abused kids from abusive parents. On the other hand, we want the option open for instances such as (above). But there should be a way to require a standard curriculum that includes e.g. science & math, and has the kids tested twice a year in a classroom (so their parents can't fill out the tests for them).

Given the comments of Alan L. and G, I'd like to mention something. Homeschooling is an option in South Africa. All scholars (including homeschooled ones) are required to write exams.
In 201, the homeschooled students had a disastrous year. A large number failed.

By Julian Frost (not verified) on 08 Dec 2013 #permalink

In the USA schools are screwed over by the mantras of "individualism". That means: the schools are paid out of the wealth of the catchment area. Which is considered right and proper "because why should I pay for someone else's kids to be educated?" is seen as a virtue, not a vice.

So if you can't afford a house in an expensive area, you can't get a school that's well enough funded.

And lack of funding will lead to poor materials, poor school infrastructure and poorly performing children.

Moreover, since schools are also dinged by "doing poorly" (though they won't normalise for the revenues to the school per child) by having more time wasted "instrumenting" their success and failures, leading to less teaching AND having money withheld until they buck their ideas up.

Leading to a bit of a death spiral.

A far better idea than homeschooling your children because of the poor schools in your area, and better than going into hock to afford a better rental area, is to reform school funding.

As a homeschooling parent myself, I have come to know a wide range of other homeschooling families who run the gamut from very religious to very secular. Everyone has different reasons for wanting to homeschool and different approaches in doing so, most of which benefits the child much more than if the child were in today's schools with their large classrooms and emphasis on testing rather than learning. I think it is true that a sizable fraction of homeschool families do it because they perceive science such as evolutionary biology as a threat to their religious beliefs, so they opt to teach their kids what they think is a "better" way, often involving creationism. As a staunch proponent of secular life and education, I find this personally appalling and agree with you that it does the kids a disservice. However, I am grateful to live in a country that values individual liberty in such matters, so they have a right to do so. In our case, one of the factors that led us to homeschool besides the extremely poor state of the local public school system was the fact that nearly every school in Hawaii has allied itself with a church, allowing the church to meet on school grounds every week, displaying signs for the church on school property, and otherwise making it seem like the state is endorsing religion. I cannot tolerate this blatant disregard for the tenant of separation of church and state and do not want my kids growing up in a school system so tied to religion. Nothing beats the one-on-one instruction and freedom to explore concepts in depth that homeschooling can offer students. My kids learn at a rate that is vastly superior to their peers in regular schools in a fraction of the time and effort. Keeping this up, they will be several years ahead where they would be had they been shackled by the dysfunctional schools in Hawaii.

By Brian Shiro (not verified) on 08 Dec 2013 #permalink

I was very interested in chemistry as a kid. I'll never forget my chemistry teacher in elementary school. In the 7th grade she came and said "This year we won't be doing any experiments because I get headaches from fumes.".... so we didn't.. and we came to hate chemistry and her.. going to high school, I still had a huge gap in chemistry knowledge because all we did was write formulas in elementary school without any practical things or fun.

That's how bad teachers can screw all your childhood interest in science.

By Sinisa Lazarek (not verified) on 08 Dec 2013 #permalink


How about teaching your kids how to laugh at the religions? How about teaching them to show respectful refusal to "play ball" with the school on the idea of religion? And backing them up?

1) Your children will learn more than you can give them
2) Your children will learn how to deal with two wolves telling the sheep what's for dinner
3) Your childrens' peers will not be indoctrinated

moreover, if the church is a genuine one, rather than a tax dodge for the local egotist, where the priest really DOES care about the welfare of others, they will want children to learn, question and then, IF THEY STILL HAVE FAITH, to have faith. A genuine priest would be unhappy at someone not having or losing faith, but they would much prefer to have someone lose faith than merely mouth what's expected.

Note too, Brian, that you can teach your kids after school. It doesn't have to be during school time.

And you may learn something you never knew. And learning together will help your child learn how to learn.

In 201, the homeschooled students had a disastrous year. A large number failed.

Sorry, that should be "In 2012..."

By Julian Frost (not verified) on 08 Dec 2013 #permalink

A far better idea than homeschooling your children because of the poor schools in your area, and better than going into hock to afford a better rental area, is to reform school funding.

I agree. It's worth noting that the traditional US system of funding local schools via local property taxes isn't written into the Constitution or (AFAIK) any state Constitutions. IOW, changing it just requires a will and the votes. Nor does it have to be an "all or nothnig" solution. Individual states could reform their school funding system at any time, without needing to wait for the federal government to act.

Homeschool Anonymous point out a very serious problem with homeschooling.

But in general homeschooling also provides an inferior education to even run of the mill U.S. Schools. Let us consider the evidence.

As to the reasons parents choose homeschooling (parents in US NCES study could pick multiple answers):
#1 - Can give child better education at home
(This is a self serving statement by the parent who chooses to home school. I mean is there any parent who would choose to homeschool their kids and would not say that they "Can give child better education at home." I don't think so.
What do you think?

So I ignore the #1 reason for home schooling as totally biased.

#2 - Religious reasons
(why am I not surprised. and "From 2003 to 2007, the percentage of students whose parents reported homeschooling to provide religious or moral instruction increased from 72 percent to 83 percent." wikipedia. I don't think that there is any bias in this reason.
What do you think?

"homeschooling has increased in popularity in the United States, with the percentage of children 5-17 who are homeschooled increasing from 1.7% in 1999 to 2.9% in 2007." wikipedia

And school districts lose money when they lose students. e.g. "The Maricopa County school district in Arizona, for example, had by the year 2000 lost $34 million due to the exodus of 7,526 home schoolers. In an effort to win some of them back, the district began offering à la carte services through satellite campuses at strip malls and other locations. Home schoolers there have attended weekly enrichment classes in such subjects as sign language, art, karate, and modern dance. The district receives one-quarter of each pupil’s government allocation for every student it enrolls in one of the classes." http://educationnext.org/home-schooling-goes-mainstream/
Look at that, I didn't see any enrichment classes in math or science. Wait a minute, I didn't see any enrichment classes in reading, history, either.

What is going on here? It seems to me that the enrichment classes are aimed at special needs kids. For example, "sign language, art, karate, and modern dance" are all things that autistic kids need enrichment in according to a friend who is a special education autistic teacher in NYC.

And then there are these things called home school cooperatives. "The most successful and developed cooperatives begin to look quite a bit like schools, with an adult teacher in the front lecturing to rows of students sitting quietly at desks, sometimes hiring experts to teach advanced subjects like calculus, foreign languages, or physics. Others carry a more free-flowing pedagogy into the new setting. North Star, a Massachusetts cooperative billing itself as “self directed learning for teens, ”was formed in 1996 by two disgruntled public school teachers. At North Star, no attendance is taken, no grades or evaluations offered. Students learn about whatever they want. In 2006, students asked for and got tutoring in Greek mythology, historical interpretation, Shakespeare, prime numbers, martial arts, culture and belief, electronic music, dance, historical fiction, and much more. Most students engage in apprenticeships and internships in the local community. Though the graduates receive no transcript or degree, a 2006 Teacher Magazine article reported that 49 percent of alumni had been accepted to college and 49 percent had secured full- or part-time jobs." OK, this sounds promising. Pretty good actually.

But "In October 2012, 66.2 percent of 2012 high school graduates were enrolled in colleges or universities, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today."
Oops, so your average run of the mill high school in the U.S. has a higher percentage 66.2% of graduates entering college than "the most successful and developed (homeschool) cooperatives.(49%)" Yikes!

Does anyone think that the stand alone homeschools (you know just mom and dad) have a higher percentage of graduates entering college than the "most successful and developed (homeschool) cooperatives"? I don't. Do you?

Yes, yes, yes, I know there are exceptions.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was homeschooled by his father. "In his early years, Mozart's father was his only teacher. Along with music, he taught his children languages and academic subjects." wikipedia.

Of course, "Mozart's father Leopold Mozart (1719–1787) was one of Europe's leading musical teachers. His influential textbook Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule, was published in 1756, the year of Mozart's birth (English, as "A Treatise on the Fundamental Principles of Violin Playing", transl. E.Knocker; Oxford-New York, 1948). He was deputy Kapellmeister to the court orchestra of the Archbishop of Salzburg, and a prolific and successful composer of instrumental music. Leopold gave up composing when his son's outstanding musical talents became evident.[citation needed] They first came to light when Wolfgang was about three years old, and Leopold, proud of Wolfgang's achievements, gave him intensive musical training, including instruction in clavier, violin, and organ. Leopold was Wolfgang's only teacher in his earliest years." http://www.wolfgang-amadeus.at/en/biography_of_Mozart.php

Well done Leopold Mozart.

Yes, there are many problems with schools, and one of them is the tremendous disparity between rich and poor neighborhoods due to the way they are funded by local property taxes. An even more fundamental problem with the compulsory school system overall is how it artificially institutionalizes learning and restricts free play and exploration, which are essential to deep learning and healthy development. Peter Gray's book "Free to Learn" and his associated blog provide an excellent primer on this subject, where he concludes that kids learn best through mixed age play with only general guidance from adults. Research by Sugata Mitra's "Hole in the Wall" project in rural India and other places bears this out:


Unless you happen to have an innovative school like a Sudbury Valley School in your area, homeschool is an attractive option for families wanting to provide the best educational opportunities possible for their kids. Putting homeschool in its historical context as well as illustrating today's homeschooling trends in terms of academic achievement, geography, cost, etc., I recommend this infographic from Top Masters in Education:


Also, as luck would have it, this article on how religion is no longer the #1 driver of homeschool came across my newsfeed today:


One of my friends growing up was homeschooled and offers an interesting case study in relation to Ethan's post today. Because my friend was free to learn at her own pace, she excelled well beyond almost everyone in regular schools, scoring a perfect SAT and ACT and going on to be a Rhodes Scholar and earn a MD from a top university. She now practices neurosurgery and research for Harvard. Even though her parents are religious conservatives, and she was brought up and educated by them, she was also taught to think for herself and approach life scientifically. She's not only one of the most intelligent and accomplished persons I know, but she is also one of the most liberal and secular. This illustrates how, when done right, homeschooling can be a tremendous opportunity to open one's mind to other worldviews rather than as a way to control or constrain kids to believe only what their parents believe.

Homeschooling is not for everyone. If both parents work full time, it's almost impossible to pull it off, for example. Each family makes the decision whether to homeschool or not based on their unique circumstances and priorities. I think the future for education will be bright if our policymakers realize that education is more than school and that schools need not be rigid institutions to churn out students who can regurgitate answers. Some creative school reform ideas are collected here:


By Brian Shiro (not verified) on 09 Dec 2013 #permalink

"An even more fundamental problem with the compulsory school system overall is how it artificially institutionalizes learning and restricts free play and exploration"

A view which I have no doubt whatsoever would have any less (or any more) validity than if it were applied to homeschooling.

It appears to be a view that only exists in movies about the "Mr Beeching" era of public schools, where latin and history was drilled into you by rote to be learned merely because those were the things that learning "meant".

However, even that is incorrect, merely the "path of least resistance". Look at the stellar learning of people like Kepler, despite being in a Jesuit school, despite himself being a teacher who "taught" by talking at the students.

I discard the claim utterly as being of no value whatsoever and being proposed as self justification for a predetermined mindset leading to a conclusion you had already decided was the only way.

Much like your caricature of schooling.

When you are taught your times table in kindergarden, you learn by rote because to learn the logic would require several years of schooling first, for something that you will never in your wildest dreams require for your life before the age of puberty.

You are taught "A is for apple".

But your teaching on these things at this time is a very *tiny* part of the day, and that time does not last long in your period of education.

The biggest problem is your insistence that this is a problem with compulsory schooling, with the implication that homeschooling, or even just "the schooling you gave at home" does not have that problem.


All schooling has to have an element of this, since you cannot converse with authors' musings until long after you've learned your ABCs.

And if it all relies on your knowledge, then that's a circumscribed curriculum.

And even in the case of your assertion being merely your teaching of your child being free, neither we, nor you, can attest to that.

And your child won't be able to until after they get a second education to see what you didn't or couldn't include, and then test the learning against independent life years later.

I've been seeing complaints about the overweening role of sport in public schools in the US.
There's also the problem that, for ideological reasons, kids get their lessons in classes where all ability levels are present. This can be very frustrating for brighter kids: in fact it's as good as criminal to deliberately hold them back in the interests of equality of outcome.
In the UK, at least, there's a fair amount of left-wing brainwashing goes on in the municipal schools.

By Peter Dugdale (not verified) on 09 Dec 2013 #permalink

Aaand here we have the UK's version of Brian's assertion. From the Daily Mail, as opposed to Fox News, but functionally the same thing.

Depressing, isn't it, that the "left wing" brainwashing, so effective on everyone else and their kids, hasn't worked with ol' Pete here, despite being so simple and so obvious that all that was needed was to state its existence.

Nice, now we can to hear this Wow character drone on about yet even more he is expert at. Must be pretty boring for you sir, you know literally everything. All there is to do is explain (incessantly), droning on and on (Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez would be proud of the length of your diatribes). Thanks Ethan, Portland must be a great place to live, you guys there are great at crapping all over Christmas. Stick to science, its what you are good at, nothing worse than a scientist who suddenly discovers its up to him to change everybody's mind or lecture about the inadequate education of the poor folks that are indeed happy with themselves, even if they don't know or care to know the wonders of what must be your great life. Its funny, bunch of smart guys in here, would probably stop at nothing (if they had the power) to make it all right for the masses.

By copernicus34 (not verified) on 09 Dec 2013 #permalink

Ah, coppers. What a load of nicus.


Seems to me like everyone here is falling for the old 'smoke and mirrors' trick again. The real issue isn't homeschooling, the real issue is religion. No one wants to discuss this, but superstitious parents are going to pass their superstitious beliefs onto their kids. This happens when the superstitious homeschool it is true, but the superstitious among us have a very long tradition of also creating private schools and sending their kids to those schools for a supposed 'education' also. It isn't the method of schooling that is at fault. It's the fact that superstition and mythology is alive and well in the United States and accepted as 'truth' in lieu of rational thought and scientific evidence. The real issue is religion.

By Judith Arnold (not verified) on 09 Dec 2013 #permalink


Obviously, you are not a regular reader of this blog.
Otherwise you would know that Ethan talks intelligently about a wide rangel of topics, not just science. As does Wow.
Yes Ethan and Wow's discussions on science and other topics shows intelligence; even when I disagree with them.

Whereas, copernicus34, your discussion shows a great deal of ignorance, arrogance, and inappropriate anger. Clearly you have no respect for civil and intelligent discussion.

And you copernicus34 get no credit for intelligent discussion by expressing insults and inappropriate rage. So far on this particularly important post, only your comments are inappropriate, abusive rants.

copernicus34, perhaps you do not know; that it is the norm for intelligent people to hold diverse opinions. And knowing that, intelligent people try to bring something civil to the table of discussion.

copernicus34, nobody here is trying to change your mind or anyone else's mind; that is decision that we each must make for ourself. The only decision that we must make is are we open and honest enough to partake in an intelligent discussion or not.

So far, copernicus34, you have shown disrespect for freedom of speech and intelligent discussion. It takes emotional effort to join in, but try to bring your best ideas to the table of intelligent discussion; try to bring something civil to the table of discussion for starts.

That may be the issue, but like, for example, misogyny in the workplace, reasons for it is given and if they are reasonably taken to be valid reasons that actually exist (again, in this example, women being biased against in the workplace because they have 9 months+ maternity leave, which isn't a risk with men), then maybe addressing those problems will help.

1) Those without the option to buck the trend get a benefit
2) If the reason WAS as provided, then the need for this problematical activity is gone
3) If the reason was rationalisation instead, then the culprit's nefarious purpose is laid bare

I'd go further than Ethan and say that the problem is not parents that are afraid of their children thinking differently, but parents who are worried they're wrong and afraid that their children will think differently. And therefore avoid their error, putting that error in stark relief.

It's not just religion, mind (or at least not something defined as religion). The Old Boy's Club that gives every persistent failure of a CEO from the Country Club Set a golden handshake and another non executive board placement is exactly the same thing, IMO: If a chap becomes poor, then that puts into question the right of the rich to be the rich and the poor to have deserved it by bad genetics, therefore a chap will help another chap out because obviously a chap would only be destitute by some wrongness in others, not themselves, otherwise that chap would not be a chap, do you see?

I hesitate to digress. But #20 Judith Arnold raises a worthy point.
However, I disagree somewhat.

"It’s the fact that superstition and mythology is alive and well in the United States and accepted as ‘truth’ in lieu of rational thought and scientific evidence. The real issue is religion."

To me these two sentences are about two different things.

In my mind, the problem with religion is that it denies that its important area of activity is in the realm of myth (which is different than superstition). Most religious minded people deny theat the stories of their religion are mythologically true; they demand that they are literally true (i.e. scientifically true).

The the myths of Santa Claus, Christ, or Prometheus are powerful psychologically insightful stories; worthy of pondering as myth. But religions want their Christ, Muhammed, Abrahams stories to be literally true. And that defending of myth as literally true (and more literally true than even scientific observation), is the superstition and the problem.

Furthermore, it is essential for normal child development (and adults ongoing development), to have a rich world of imagination, fairy tales, stories and myths. If man is anything he is story teller.

In my mind all fundamentalists are well harmful extremists in one way or another. And that includes what I call atheist fundamentalists. I recall on atheist fundamentalist saying that of course his children are not allowed to believe in santa claus or the easter bunny because these stories are lies. well I felt sorry for his children.

My children have been raised to decide for themselves what they believe in or not. And when and if they want to no longer believe in something or not. Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, reincarnation, heaven and hell. And until they were sixteen or so, I seldom told them what I believed; rather I asked what do you believe. And I only argued and disagreed with them when I felt that what they believed was harmful. Otherwise, my children and friends are free to believe whatever they wish.

In my mind, the mark of a fundamentalist (religious, atheist or scientific) is that they do not believe in freedom of the individual to consider the evidence (which is always conflicting) and decide for themselves what they believe to be true.

I've asked many fundamentalist the question, "do you believe in freedom of religion?" They all say yes. Then I ask, "In particular do you believe in freedom of religion for the most important people in your life, your wife, your husband, your children." Usually at this point, they stop talking to me.

Finally I might add that myths are a necessary product of science, as well as all human activity. I don't just mean Einstein the myth; but also the big bang myth. But science like religion is uncomfortable with the idea of myths. Scientist, especially fundamentalist ones, want science to be literally true.

Scientist are uncomfortable acknowledging the uncertainty of their believes. for example, I recently criticized Ethan for saying, "“So the Universe isn’t just going to end in ice; it’s going to end in ice in the fastest way possible! ”

My criticism is not that his statement is not one of the credible scientific hypothesis. It is. My criticism is that it is a very uncertain scientific hypothesis and the statement does not acknowledge that uncertainty.

And in my mind, uncertain scientific hypothesis are value; if the are valuable at all, precisely because they are myths (they are not facts) that suggests behavior of scientists (clarifying experiments).

To busy to write more and more clearly. Sorry I must away.

"I recall on atheist fundamentalist saying that of course his children are not allowed to believe in santa claus or the easter bunny because these stories are lies. well I felt sorry for his children."

Well that's not atheism for a start: neither of those are gods.

This is more that someone doesn't get what lies are for. Give them "The Science of Diskworld" to read. They explain about lies in that.

And the refutation of lies isn't atheism any more than it is christian: there are some sects of christianity who believe ANY lie is abhorrent to God and will not condone it. Others think these two are pagan rituals and should not be condoned (they are pagan, by the way. There's no bunny in the Bible). In the USA Christmas was banned for being unholy and paganistic up until the 1820's, IIRC.

And not all atheists are nice people. This one sounds like a bit of a dick, really.

"Scientist are uncomfortable acknowledging the uncertainty of their believes"

Ah, well, here you're talking complete bullshit, OKThen.

The scientists' extreme bending backwards to accommodate the uncertainties of their claims are used by AGW deniers and christian evangelical fundies alike to ensure that the facts of science are ignored.

Just google "eric hovind fuzzy words" to see one such fundie moron do so.

So that statement isn't merely incorrect, it's bullshit.

Lastly, OKThen, theories are not facts and never were, except as strawmen representations.

Theories *explain* facts and produce predictions from the theory that can be verified by looking at the facts subsequently collected (called "the experiment").

They are no more facts than the cardboard box is candy.

Well yes#24, yes#25, yes#26

Now to agree or disagree with you more clearly.

Some scientific theories are literal true in the sense of a certain precision. e.g. E= mc^2, dxdp>h

Other scientific theories are true in the sense off being a true narratives myth.
"In fact, many societies have two categories of traditional narrative, "true stories" or myths, and "false stories" or fables. Creation myths generally take place in a primordial age, when the world had not yet achieved its current form, and explain how the world gained its current form.." wikipedia

The big bang theory (a.k.a. a creation myth considered true) is narrative scientific myths. Yes there are constraints on the big bang theory; but it is not a precise theory. The precision of the big bang theory comes from the subtheories that are plugged into it. The big bang is a meta-theory.

Thus the big bang theory (as metatheory or myth) has been flexible enough to accommodate a universe with or without dark matter and dark energy (yikes! + or - 95% of the universe); not so precise.) The apparent precision of the big bang narrative comes from the detail subtheories and experiments that are pugged into the narrative. And the plug ins change and are vigorously debated scientifically, e.g. eternal inflation or not and what it means.

Now in my mind, some religious stories should be categorized as fables and others as myths. Without going into detail, let me just say that the genesis creation story use to be a myth (thought of as true); but now is generally considered a fable (thought of as false or metaphorical).

As for this god versus no-god debate. I have said before that I am neither and both theist and atheist; a religious chameleon. To me atheism and theism are just two sides of the same conceptual coin; either way our being here is quite a mystery.

And Wow, who are you to say that the easter bunny and santa claus are not gods. (And superman and wonder woman as well.)

The narrative of the easter bunny goes back to the dawn of human herstory of mother earth, the fertility goddess. And the great fertility of the rabbit was a symbol of her fertility. And the waxing and waning of the moon was the moon becoming pregnant (i.e. a sign of fertility) which mysteriously corresponded to a woman's fertility cycle. And the easter bunny was a minor god that not only represented fertility of mother earth (the goddess); and not only was a lead character in the great annual rite (rituals) of spring; but the rabbit (as a minor god) ran around the moon leaving her footprints upon the moon (which for many millennium explained the markings upon the moon).

OKThen, I'm not arguing about your attribution of myth here.

I'm taking it as you're using words in a fashion to say what you see and what *I* see as the words' meaning is not what you see it as.

And Wow, who are you to say that the easter bunny and santa claus are not gods

The myths of them themselves say they aren't. Where else would one get the attributes and categorisation of a myth than in the myth itself?

The myths of them themselves say they aren’t.

Do they? I have no recollection of them being anything but silent on the matter. And that is hardly surprising coming from a Christian tradition where god =God, i.e. there is only one (or three?) and the most important Commandment is that you must not worship any other.

What would a Roman see as the essential difference between Santa Claus and Dionysus?

They certainly can be treated as gods in a relevant narrative. If gods are Ideal/Virtue or Power carriers, and they are. Then the above mentioned certainly fall into those categories. Given of course that they have to be immortal ;)

Some are easier (santa, easter bunny etc.) since they are products of earlier lores. But superman can certainly be viewed as a evolution of Herculean class of myths.

By Sinisa Lazarek (not verified) on 09 Dec 2013 #permalink

What would a Roman see as the essential difference between Santa Claus and Dionysus?

One eats your cookies when he visits, the other drinks your wine. ;)

OkThen, I have to agree with Wow on the point about certainty. Scientists bend over backwards to point out their uncertainties when formally giving scientific findings. Being normal human beings, they don't do so in regular speech because nobody does that. If you ask me my shirt color, I will respond "my shirt is blue." I won't say "I think my shirt is blue, but given that this is an empirically-based observation I must admit that it is a tentative conclusion based on the data I have at hand and it may change if future evidence arises which calls it into question." Nobody speaks that way. So when Ethan is waxing a bit poetic about whether the world will end in fire or ice, it is perfectly reasonable for him to speak in normal vernacular terms and answer "the world will end in Ice" - and not answer "the world will end in ice, but given that this is an empirically-based observation I must admit that it is a tentative conclusion..."

TL:DR - why are you insisting that scientists follow different rules for conversation than everyone else? Why the double standard?

"What would a Roman see as the essential difference between Santa Claus and Dionysus?"

Since Santa Claus is post-Roman-Empire, it's a ridiculous question. One they know about, the other hasn't even been invented yet.

Plus they'd read the myths of both and see one is a human with magical powers, the other is a god, if you managed to transpose them to the middle ages where they could be introduced to the myth.

"The myths of them themselves say they aren’t.

Do they?"


Since Santa Claus is post-Roman-Empire, it’s a ridiculous question. One they know about, the other hasn’t even been invented yet.

Your ability to miss the point is boundless.

At the risk of creating an excrement storm (carried over from another post):

The International Deities Union (IDU) has recently ruled that Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and numerous other entities of heretofore unclear status are NOT gods. The IDU has created a new class of "dwarf god" for these and numerous other similar beings. The IDU's newly implemented definition of god requires three conditions for a being to be regarded as a god:

1. The being must be immortal
2. There must be written myths, stories or scriptures featuring the being in question
3. The being must "clear its neighborhood" by having a majority of people in some geographically or socially defined area believe in the divinity of the being.

IDU representatives state that "Clearly, Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and countless others fail to meet this third criterion."

This definition has created controversy, however, with opponents proposing a "geophysical" definition of a god. By this definition, any being that "has sufficient gravitational pull to create itself" and "power beyond what they would reasonably be expected to have based on their intellect and abilities" would be considered a god. IDU officials strongly ridicule this definition. "By their logic, Rush Limbaugh would be a god."

Be that as it may.

The summer solstice (rites of spring) (rabbits) and the winter solstice (christmas) were borrowed by the early Christians (God bless them) from the fertility Goddess.

And of course, understanding the summer and winter solstices
were among the early achievements in the prehistoric science of astronomy.

"Mindaugus has sent to the Pope and converted to Catholicism. His baptism was disingenuous and he continued to worship his gods in secret, firstly to Nunadjev and to Teljavel and to Diverikz, to the Rabbit-god, and to Mendiena. When he was riding in the fields and a rabbit.. He offered a sacrifice to his gods.. and he openly admitted to being a pagan." foreward to Foreword to the Past: A Cultural History of the Baltic People, by Endre Bojtár

I know the intellectual trail of rabbit footprints from the fertility Goddess are faded; but is Mindaugus's Rabbit-god related to Christianity's Easter Bunny??? Hmm, that's a tough one.

As well the Rabbit God is common in many cultures though "Not very much is known about the Rabbit God, other than the obvious observation that he must in some way be connected with the moon, since almost all of the American Indian peoples from the western United States to South America saw a rabbit on the face of the heavenly body." Deciphering of Ancient Mayan Writings edited by Stephen D. Houston, et al

Back to home schooling. My kids have not been home-schooled because I am not a Leopold Mozart. I urge all students (from home-schooled to graduate schooled and beyond) to use the internet to supplement their always inadequate education.

3. The being must “clear its neighborhood” by having a majority of people in some geographically or socially defined area believe in the divinity of the being.

IDU representatives state that “Clearly, Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and countless others fail to meet this third criterion.”

Come to my neighbourhood and say that pal!

"The summer solstice (rites of spring) (rabbits) and the winter solstice (christmas) were borrowed by the early Christians (God bless them) from the fertility Goddess."


Doesn't make Santa or Easter Bunny gods.

Yes, Sean, very amusing.

Irrelevant and pointless, but amusing. Well, a bit.

re 34.

The point being..?

Ah, yes, not really necessary for you, is it, Dai dear. All you need is a reason to rant and rave.

#35 Sean T
Thank you for that bit of much needed humor.

"Unut is a prehistoric Egyptian snake goddess called "The swift one". Later she was depicted with a woman's body and a hare's head.. In Aztec mythology, a pantheon of four hundred rabbit gods known as Centzon Totochtin, led by Ometotchtli or Two Rabbit, represented fertility, parties, and drunkenness.. In Anishinaabe traditional beliefs, held by the Ojibwe and some other Native American peoples, Nanabozho, or Great Rabbit, is an important deity related to the creation of the world.. The three hares is a circular motif appearing in sacred sites from the Middle and Far East to the churches of southwest England (as the "Tinners' Rabbits"), and historical synagogues in Europe.. it is thought to have a range of symbolic or mystical associations with fertility and the lunar cycle. When used in Christian churches, it is presumed to be a symbol of the Trinity.. Specifically regarding Ēostre, Jacob Grimm continues that:
"We Germans to this day call April ostermonat, and ôstarmânoth is found as early as Eginhart (temp. Car. Mag.). The great christian festival, which usually falls in April or the end of March, bears in the oldest of OHG remains the name ôstarâ ... it is mostly found in the plural, because two days ... were kept at Easter. This Ostarâ, like the [Anglo-Saxon] Eástre, must in heathen religion have denoted a higher being, whose worship was so firmly rooted, that the christian teachers tolerated the name, and applied it to one of their own grandest anniversaries." wikipedia various places

Nevertheless, I must defer to Wow and the International Deities Union (IDU) regarding the divinity of the Easter Bunny.

No need: read the wiki, read some books.

Find stuff out.

You'll find that the Easter Bunny isn't a god as far as its own myth is concerned, but if you're going to use "God" in place of "Mythical entity", please let everyone know that the language you're using isn't English.

The International Deities Union (IDU) has recently ruled that Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and numerous other entities of heretofore unclear status are NOT gods. The IDU has created a new class of “dwarf god” for these and numerous other similar beings.

I thought Santa Claus was an elf. Dwarf god? I'm so confused.


But apparently all saints are gods now.

All it takes is knowing a god and now you're a god. The standards have fallen a hell of a lot since that hippy got the gig.

I was home schooled for a couple of years. It was tragic. The time I spent away from -accredited book talkers- hindered me terribly. My parents thought they were doing the right thing which, was what everyone else from their church did but their feeble understanding of things (electing Bush's and whatnot) left me with scars that I've overcome though, with expense to my collegiate career.

Thank Spock for TVs-and-webs, m'my right?! Now, I love physics and have since convinced my folks that cookie-cutter-white-church-people are the devil. Go math!

Ps. Nerdgins: this isn't a singles chatblog, or whatever, SO CLEAN IT UP -- topically. Every one knows that Santa's the anti-anti-christ, goddammit. That makes him the anti-anti-anti-devil or, AKA, the Easter Bunny. Boom. Your first-person orientated minds have just been blown. Read quietly.

Thank you Nick, for that meaningless, but heartfelt whinge.

Did you know that this isn't a Bible Reading site? That's true. So why the fuck are you pissing about here peddling your bibble?

Not everyone who home schools does it for religious reasons. We home school because there was not enough science and because of comments like "cavemen were monkeys" from teachers, and the reinforcement of sexist attitudes in the curriculum and school culture. Public school is experiencing an increasingly narrow curriculum due to the over emphasis of high stakes testing. Minimum standards? I want more for my kid.
Also, there is limited research, but it is there, that many home school kids are students who are gifted and talented and can't get their one year of growth per school year, as they should. So they home school. Next time you are at a robot competitions or other STEM competitions open to home school and private school kids, check out who the top placements go to.
BTW, Texas pays millions for text books. They aren't even used.

By Texas Nanna (not verified) on 16 Dec 2013 #permalink

More it being underfunded as those movers and shakers not needing to use it and not wanting to pay for someone else's children being educated (despite that making more money for them).

As several people have pointed out, some of us homeschool for non - religious reasons & many of us do a darned good job at the science part of it.

We are an atheist homeschooling family. Both parents are university educated & both work in science fields.

We homeschool in BC, where the laws allow us to do our own thing with no oversight, no government interference, no mandatory exams. We have a variety of homeschoolers in our large community - some religious, some hippies, some "tiger mom", some assisting kids with various disabilities.

Some of these kids might be being shortchanged. That's true. Kids are being shortchanged all over & at the end of the day, I generally trust a parent to care more about their kids than anyone else. Many public & private (especially the religiously based) schools do an appallingly bad job of education too. Barring outright neglect & abuse, I prefer to let families make decisions about how to educate their kids.

By hornblower (not verified) on 17 Dec 2013 #permalink

"We homeschool in BC, where the laws allow us to do our own thing with no oversight, no government interference, no mandatory exams. "

And we only have your word for it that you do " a darned good job at the science part of it".

Oversight. It's more than Orwell, you know.

And there's nothing to worry about sending your kids to school. You can teach your kids IN ADDITION, you know? Then you can do a good job of any of the bits of education you're good at, or at least have time and inclination to research enough to teach it to your kids' level, AND let the state give a curriculum wider than you can supply AND a different view.

Bad education (e.g. "Intelligent Design") only creates dumb adults if the children have nothing better to listen to.

Science and religion aren't at odds. It's impossible. They are two sides of one coin One teaches the nature of
truth the other proves it's existence. Google: who first. proposed the big bang theory.....and realize everythi to know about religion or God can't. be contained inany book....neither one written by the blessed apostles nor one rwrittentby Dawkins. Seeker know thyself.

By fellowseeker (not verified) on 21 Jan 2014 #permalink