Some of you reading this may be humanists, or familiar with what humanism it. But, this post is for those who really haven’t grasped the concept of humanism (or possibly haven’t even heard the word), but desire to raise their families with one thing in mind: raising compassionate, empathetic children who do good. I am going to go out on a limb and reference our nation’s First Lady’s initiative Be Best and give two thumbs up to the first block of text you’ll find on the page: It remains our generation’s moral imperative to take responsibility and help our children manage the many issues they are facing today, including encouraging positive social, emotional, and physical habits. I completely concur, however I strongly feel that humanism is the best path to take in doing just that. And I would like to see and be part of that action. Shifting now from Melania Trump to Roy Speckhardt (feel free to simultaneously sigh relief, laugh, or applaud)…
I believe the first step a parent can take–right after reading What to Expect When You’re Expecting (just kidding, never read THAT book, but read these books instead if you’re a parent-to-be)–is reading Speckhardt’s book Creating Change Through Humanism.
I know, I know…I just said “parent-to-be” and suggested you get a book and actually read it in the same sentence. Surely you’ve all the time in the world as you paint a nursery, attend birthing classes, and speculate on the rationality of how YOU can possibly shift your world to somehow suddenly be a “parent.” So, for the sake of time–and sanity–I’ll sum up the first part of the book, entitled Foundations, while strongly advising you to grab a copy and indulge. Speckhardt cites three pillars to humanism, which I sum up as: 1- support for and implementation of the scientific method, in hopes and expectations of creating a better world; 2- the need for empathy; 3- the importance of an egalitarian-based sense of fairness, as Speckhardt puts it (meaning, in my own words, acknowledging that each and every one of us (a) can contribute to bettering society and (b) have worth regardless of educational or professional milestones). Now, on to relating these pillars to parenting, developing one’s household, and enhancing community…
Science. Basically what I took away from Speckhardt’s book is that, as parents, we can take certain steps to ensure that our children are raised with strong support for the scientific method.
Now, for our household, the first step we took in this regard was get an affordable, easy-to-use microscope for our preschool-aged child. Yes, I said preschooler. Our middle child was just four years old when we began talking about anatomy of flowers and bees and, yes, got out the microscope so that he could examine his specimens (see our cicada lesson). I admit that even I, who is far from Madame Scientist, was amazed at what I saw when playing around with this remarkable tool. And when other children are over, why not get out our microscope and share the experience that this tool of discovery offers. In addition to this, my husband and I agreed to tell our children about the make-believe stories of Santa Claus and Tooth Fairy, but were sure to explain what make-believe meant. We choose to abstain from indoctrinating them with beliefs in things that are not real. December is still an enjoyable, festive month for all of us that includes too many cookies, an overabundance of eggnog, and the tearing open of presents while donning pajamas. Lots of parents, including myself, take great pride in raising children with a high regard for science (even though we may be far from Einstein or Carl Sagan) and that can only better the free world. Speckhardt references the correlation between valuing science and promoting democracy, as do I. While I admire the creative imaginations of children and believe that childhood is indeed a “magical” time, like Speckhardt, I subscribe to the notion that children’s real questions deserve honest answers. And, again, I am no Bill Nye The Science Guy, so when asked questions about the universe or humpback whales, I tell my kids “I don’t know…but, I will look it up and get back to you.” For us, that usually means drop everything for our impatient, inquisitive four-year-old’s question and seek the answer immediately, then explain it with a preschool-approach (until he can read and access the internet, where he will find all kinds of answers…some valid and others hogwash).
Empathy. There is nothing to lose from raising children who act with compassion and are empathetic, but so much to gain. After reading Creating Change Through Humanism and really letting Speckhardt’s words stew, I remembered one teachable moment that I was a victim of (ha) back in grad school and that was when a professor said, again and again, EQ is more important than IQ. IQ, I knew, means intelligence quotient, but EQ…I was stumped. Emotional Quotient. Ah. And then I slowly started to wrap my mind around it. And once I became a public school teacher of middle and high school students, I saw the importance of EQ at work. The students who demonstrated their high IQs were easily recognizable by spoken dialogue, written words, and great test marks, whereas the students who exhibited high EQs added something different to the conversations in my history classes. Statistics and politics are important when analyzing events such as Armenian Genocide or the role Harvey Milk played in the history of LGBTQ rights, but viewing historical events and understanding how these events impacted human beings and why history need not be repeated requires empathy. To put oneself in the shoes of victims and truly understand the tragedies that shaped and erased lives is the only way to guarantee that cycles won’t be repeated, whether in our households, one’s personal life, or society. When my kids helped me prepare a box of balls that we mailed to Uganda in Africa, I really felt like there were so many benefits of that action we took.
Egalitarianism. A term and philosophy that I must admit I was not familiar with and had to look up in an online dictionary, which basically means the belief that all people are equal regardless of political, social, or economic status. After looking it up, I said to myself, “Heck yes! I so believe in that…and want to raise my children believing in that, as well.” As parents raising children, whether unschooled, homeschooled, or attending public school, we know our kids will eventually be interacting with people outside of our typical, routine, day-in-day out social circles. Unless you are one to friendgineer. So, it’s important to our households, our children’s futures, and society that we raise children who appreciate one another regardless of race, sexual orientation, education-level, etc. Teaching our children to participate in activities and community service projects that benefit others is a great way to do this.
I have several conversations with friends and my own children pertaining to the importance of each of our roles to our neighborhoods, great communities, and society. For example, I am a former teacher and may end up unschooling or homeschooling our youngest two children when they become school-aged. A good friend of mine who happens to be my neighbor told me when we first met that she desired to consider homeschooling her child and seemed as if she was slightly doubtful that she could do it, having no college degree of her own. I looked right at her and said “Of course you can educate your own child. If even just for the first few years and then consider public or private schooling, or a homeschool co-op. And if I am doing the same, you and I can support one another as we do this together.” People right in our neighborhoods can teach us or help so much. I suck at gardening. But, one of my elderly neighbors is experienced and I can’t help but desire to pick her brain. I may just go over there this spring and ask her if I can help her start and tend to her gardens so that I can learn and give a try next year on my own land. Once we open our minds to the idea of cooperative communities and value every person for what they contribute–on whatever level it may be–we are creating change.
Part two of Speckhardt’s book, which I won’t spoil for you, is entitled “Application,” and really sparks thought about how to create change. It has two chapters that left me contemplating much more and that was chapter 9 “Living humanism” and chapter 10 “Becoming an activist.” While I have spent a few years now thinking hard about how I can become a better humanist and what I can actively do to promote humanism in my community and around this nation, I now also focus on how I can incorporate my children in this quest. There are quite a few good picture books for kids, such as this list on the patheos blog Natural Wonderers or these suggested reads on the Humanist Learning Systems site.
And I hope I don’t have to do this alone, but instead have others around me for support and companionship.
They’re out there, I know they are. Other families, like ours, who want to see things shift in a humanist direction. Some already taking steps to do what I aspire to do. Unity is key and can only result in strength in numbers, then democracy can flourish and the next generation will indeed have created–and be able to enjoy–a better place for all. What ideas or practices do you have pending or in motion?