Toby has now been going to our local school for five weeks. It’s a Church of England school but my husband and I are both atheists. In just five short weeks there have already been a few tricky situations to negotiate and to be honest we are still working out how to deal with things in the best way we can.
Before I talk about that though, let me give you a little bit of background first. Last year when we were applying for Toby’s school place I wrote about our dilemma, but to give you a quick overview. In our town there are six primary schools – two are Catholic schools, two are Church of England schools, one is a private school and one is a non-church school. So as you can see we didn’t have a lot of choice. We put the non-church school as our first choice on the application. But that school is over-subscribed and we don’t live in the catchment area. Needless to say Toby didn’t get a place.
So we had a decision to make. We couldn’t afford the private school so that’s not an option. We could have appealed and tried to get in the non-church school, or we could have done what we did which was to accept the place Toby was given in the C of E school nearest our house.
It was a difficult decision to make. There are lots of positives to the school Toby is at now. It is 10 minutes walk from our house. It has good facilities and lots of great outdoor space. Three of his friends from nursery were also going to be there.
In fact the only negative is that it is a church school, and as such he is taught Christianity as fact. And as an atheist that is something I have a real problem with. But… I was raised as a Christian, as was Barry. And by the age of about 12 I decided I didn’t believe in God and I have been an atheist ever since.
I feel like I also need to mention (because it’s something that people often seem to bring up whenever I have this conversation) that I have absolutely no problem with my children being taught about Christianity and Christian values. I have no issue with them learning about Islam, and Hinduism, and Judaism, and Sikhism, and any other religion. In fact I think it’s really important that they do learn about religion.
But I find it quite difficult to know what to say when my four year old comes home from school telling me that God is a man who lives in the sky, and he made us. It’s even harder when he wakes up at 3 am needing a poo and tells me that God made him unique. That is not a conversation I am ready to have when I’ve had to get out of my nice warm bed to wipe someone else’s bum!
I spoke to a few other people who are in a similar situation about this – some just go down the nod and smile route and will let their children work it out for themselves and make their own decisions later. Others take the opportunity to talk about beliefs and that some people believe different things to others.
At the moment that is the route we are taking too. I’m finding it difficult because I don’t want to contradict and undermine his teachers. But equally if Toby comes home and tells me that God is man in the sky who made him I can’t bring myself to agree with that.
So for now we are trying to explain that that’s what some people believe, but other people believe different things. We also bought a few books to try and help us explain some of the different beliefs and present Toby with a bit more balance than he is getting from school.
We’ve not looked at all the books yet – we got one about religions around the world, another about The Big Bang, one about Humanism and how to live without a god (which to be honest is probably a bit old for him so we might keep that one on the shelf for a while), and lastly a book about evolution called The Story of Life.
Toby loves dinosaurs at the moment so we have looked at the evolution book with him to start explaining how life began and where the dinosaurs come into the story. He was really interested but still hung on to the idea that god made him. I think all we can do though is keep on showing him the alternatives to what he is being taught at school. We are being careful not to talk about one idea being right and the other being wrong, but just explaining that we think something different to his teachers and hopefully he will be able to make up his own mind.
I know that he’s only four, and making up his own mind about this might take a while. We’re trying hard not to confuse him but I just can’t sit back and let him believe that Christianity is fact. I read an interesting post from Man vs. Pink the other day about how he has been talking to his daughter about Jesus and drawing parallels between him and Superman. It was a really interesting idea and one we’ll probably come back to in the future – for now though Toby doesn’t know the Superman story either so I don’t want to confuse him any more.
Anyway, apologies for the slight ramble. I find it quite hard to articulate my thoughts about this whole situation. Toby is going to church this afternoon for a Harvest service so we’ll have to see later what he brings back from that.
If you have any thoughts on how you would deal with this if you were me, or if you’re in a similar situation yourself then I’d love to hear about it in the comments. We’re just making it up as we go along at the moment so any help would be much appreciated!
**This post contains affiliate links