The Atheist Academic

The Atheist Academic: In which I am thrown into professional development hell.

You’d think I would know better, but I signed up for a two-day professional development in my school district. It was over religion in our schools. I guess my thinking was that I would get some information about different religious groups that make up the population of our school district, and that I would be there to raise any questions if I felt that the facilitator got any information wrong about what would be allowed in schools .

The session started out okay. We had to go around the group and explain where we taught and what our religious background was. The facilitator said that he was a science teacher and a minister of some sort. I was at the back of the room, so I was one of the last ones to talk. Everyone was some sort of Christian, of course. When it was my turn, I explained that I was “an atheist… no, actually, a SUPER atheist”. The room filled with nervous titters. And from that point on, I was the token atheist.

Next, the guy running it gave us a list of scenarios about religion in schools and asked us to decide if each was legal or not. Most of them were legal, but there were some tricky cases. We had a discussion about whether or not students could abstain from saying the Pledge of Allegiance during the school day, and I mentioned that I typically did not join in, and you could see people being shocked.

The bulk of the seminar, however, was guest speakers talking about their religions. The first man was the facilitator himself, and he taught us about Christianity for an hour and a half. Now, I know that the majority of students in our classes will be Christian. However, the school calendar is centered around Christian holidays and, even if the teachers aren’t Christian, they know what Christianity is all about. There was no need to pick through the minute points of Christianity. Not for an hour and a half.

The next speaker was Hindu. He was a profession from The Ohio State University, and he was interesting. The problem was that his English was so accented that it was painful to hear him speak. The one time that I concentrated enough to understand him, he was talking about how two men cannot actually be in love, because the forces in the universe only match up men and women. So, after that, I just tuned out again.

The next day (because, yes, I went back ) we had a speaker about Judaism and a speaker about Islam. We also had a Skype discussion with the facilitator’s father-in-law.

The speaker about Judaism was fine – the best out of the two days, anyway. He did, at one point, explain that some Jews see “god” as the ways that people treat each other, which made me think that maybe he was actually an atheist and just a rabbi since it was a good job. But that was the only time I got that vibe, so I was probably wrong.

The last two sessions, though, annoyed me the most. First, the facilitator set up his father-in-law on Skype to go over a powerpoint about creationism vs. scientific theory. The father-in-law was likeable, but his message was really, REALLY annoying. He basically gave us this vision of semi-evolution, semi-creationism that was supposed to tie the two sides together and make everyone happy. Well, I’ll have you know that THIS atheist was not happy. It was a total cop-out, and I was annoyed the whole time.

The final session was a Muslim man who was either in deep, deep denial about Islam or who was a competent liar. Maybe both. He and the two bodyguards he brought with him talked about Islam. At first, he made the argument that Islam was the same thing as Christianity and Judaism, and that Muslims were just gentle, loving souls. Uh huh. One person in the audience asked about women sitting behind the men at mosques, and the guy said that it was because women PREFERRED to sit in the back because they had more room, and so the men couldn’t look up their skirts. Yes, that’s exactly why.

I filled out an evaluation at the end of the class, and I have to say that I was pretty scathing in my review. I looked forward to a quick overview of each religion, and then perhaps some strategies for dealing with problems that may come up with holidays or other practices. Instead, I got six hours of people describing their religions in such minute detail that I could probably pass a theology exam.

Have any of you been to a seminar about religion in schools? How was yours handled? I’d like to hear about some better options so I can pass them on to our district – or other awful situations so I can feel better about my two wasted days.

And, for your viewing enjoyment, here are some drawings that I made while I was bored. I think they’re pretty awful… and kind of indicative of the entire experience.

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photo (2)

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Tori Parker

Tori Parker

Tori is a high school English teacher from Ohio (insert cheerleader kick here)! She is emphatic! She is skeptical! She is nifty! Her boyfriend says that they can get a potbellied pig someday and name him Bacon. She has a little boy whose pseudonym is SC, although he has recently asked that his name be changed to Henry. When asked for a comment to add on this bio, he asked, "Why do we sound like a bad '70's cop show?" So there's that.


  1. June 15, 2013 at 8:13 am —

    Greg is wonderful.

  2. June 15, 2013 at 8:22 am —

    He thinks so, too!

  3. June 15, 2013 at 8:51 am —

    Professional development fail. As a provider/organizer of professional development programming, I have to wonder what the motives and/or thinking of the organizers of this event are. A much better event would have been the one you envisioned: the religions and cultural values of your student population.

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