Starting Up Skepticism Club for Students

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Starting Up Skepticism Club for Students

#1  Postby mmartin » Mar 03, 2010 6:01 pm

I teach in a public high school in Alberta, Canada. In the most recent notice from adminstration, they informed us that a group of muslin students had requested and were granted the right to a room each Friday for prayers. During the daily intercom announcements, students are reminded of the weekly Young Life Christian Club meeting in one of the classrooms at lunch. As a publicly funded, secular school that employs staff and enrolls students of all faiths, culture and ability, I am increasingly motivated to start a Skeptics Club for students, so that they are aware of an alternative. I have not been approached by students, parents or outside organization ( like a church, Young Life) to start such a club.

I agree that I have a mandate to keep personal religous views out of the classroom; especially now with provincial legislation that requires teachers/educators to get written permission for all discussions pertaining to sexuality, religion and sexual orientation and provide the students with the choice to opt out. I generally teach mathematics, so religion or topics of personal faith do not arise due to curriculum. However, I do teach Legal Studies 30, where individual rights and responsibilities and the Criminal Code of Canada are key curricular topics and often include discrimination and the protection of rights due to religion, sexual orientation, gender, age, etc. If asked, in the context of a discussion or debate in this class I will share, what I believe, but carefully so that I am not seen as prescribing a particular belief, but presenting the information in context of a legal case or concept.

Tenatively, last year I asked one of our administrators, that since there is a Christian club in a public school, does that mean that there would be no reason why admin would deny the right of a Skeptics club to exist. He agreed that there would be no reason for such a club to not exist. I have been debating, what my real motivations would be in starting a Skeptics Club - frustration with religous clubs in a public school setting, or justifiably wanting to provide students with an alternative. I also want have a solid idea what students would do at a weekly Skeptics meeting. I can't condone a religion bashing environment to evolve, but questioning religious beliefs should be able to happen. I can provide students with a place to eat lunch with similarly minded people - but they already have the mall or just don't go to the religious club meetings. I have board games for students to play. I have copies of SKeptic Magazine I have purchased in the past and access to the Internet to show students the forums, sites and resources available. I have purchased Growing Up in the Universe that I could show. Maybe I just have to bite the bullet and pick a date and announce to students that a Skeptics Club meeting will take place and see what happens. If no one shows - then I have to consider there is no demand for something like a Skeptics Club.

Has anyone sponsored or started a similar type of club within a public school? What type of success have you had? Any ramifications or fall out? Feedback and suggestions are welcome.
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Re: Starting Up Skepticism Club for Students

#2  Postby cathyincali » Mar 04, 2010 7:58 am

I don't have any experience with starting such a club, but I work with students who are pretty interested in ghosts, vampires, fortunetelling, and stuff like that. In my book club today, discussing a Science Fiction book with NO supernatural content at all, ghosts and demons and UFOs all came up. I think if you had a different topic along these lines per meeting and came armed with some rational, skeptical info, you'd garner some interest from students. Often discussions in "do you believe in ghosts?" evolve into "do you believe in God?"

I don't know if you would want to run this sort of skeptic's club, but I think you'd get some interest. And I definitely think most kids get very little exposure to skeptical viewpoints on paranormal / supernatural woo (at least where I live in Southern California).
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Re: Starting Up Skepticism Club for Students

#3  Postby mmartin » Mar 05, 2010 5:06 am

I have noticed too that conversations about supernatural fiction will often lead to the bigger questions being asked and opinions being shared by students. I know I love fantasy and science fiction novels with lots of supernatural themes, but I explain that I can enjoy a great story and still acknowledge it as a story and not based in any reality. I have a couple of students that I taught the last 2 years and they are both interested in critical thinking and skeptical approaches. The three of us are going to try meeting for lunch next Wednesday with the focus on Mythbusting and debunking. I think I will start with some of James Randi's debunking videos that I can show the kids. They are all too young to even know who Uri Geller is and that's a great way to spark some interest.
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Re: Starting Up Skepticism Club for Students

#4  Postby Jain » Mar 05, 2010 9:20 pm

Over here we have Skeptics in the pub. They are held all over the UK. Its isnt for students but I am sure students would be interested in a similar type of thing.

Here is the link to our Skeptics in the Pub..

http://leicester.skepticsinthepub.org/
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Re: Starting Up Skepticism Club for Students

#5  Postby week15 » Mar 06, 2010 3:11 am

In response to unquestioned religious and cultural beliefs, I ran a Philosopher's Club for middle school students in my inner city school (Gary, IN, USA). In leading discussions, I treed a very fine of what I would and would not say. I started off by explaining what the role of "devil's advocate" is. I was thus able to make almost any claim I choose (agnostic, fundamentalist Christian, atheistic, Buddhist, Muslim-- any view unpopular with my students) without damaging my credibility in the classroom. In other words, I played the skeptic's skeptic and reserved my comments to those that fostered debate and critical thinking. May I suggest the book "Little Big Minds." More elementary than you seem to be teaching but lots of great ideas in there.
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Re: Starting Up Skepticism Club for Students

#6  Postby mmartin » Mar 10, 2010 4:10 pm

Well, today at lunch will be the first meeting. I haven't over advertised the meeting - several posters around the school and 1 annoucement on the PA system. I brought three copies of Skeptics Magazine and a Skeptical Inquirer. Hopefully, there will be more than me and the 2 students that started it up.
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Re: Starting Up Skepticism Club for Students

#7  Postby Jain » Mar 10, 2010 7:56 pm

Good luck!!!!!
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Re: Starting Up Skepticism Club for Students

#8  Postby mmartin » Mar 12, 2010 6:55 pm

Well the response was not overwelming. Barely even welming. 2 students other than the 2 I started with came on Wednesday. That said, that is more than show for the Math Club. :) We decided we were going to make more funny posters with less on them to attract students and that each person had to "find" someone to bring next time. Maybe before the end of the month we'll be established.
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Re: Starting Up Skepticism Club for Students

#9  Postby Jain » Mar 12, 2010 8:11 pm

Fingers crossed for you. Our first few Skeptics in the Pub meeting started with maybe about 20 or so people, we now have on some weeks about 150-180!!!
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Re: Starting Up Skepticism Club for Students

#10  Postby cathyincali » Mar 15, 2010 3:19 pm

mmartin -- 4 students plus you actually sounds like a pretty good start. Of course you want it to grow, and your ideas to encourage that sound good...but even if just four students plus you are having a great time at meetings, that would be (1) fun AND (2) the best lure possible...

Good luck!
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