Religion and SpiritualitySkepticism

High School Freethought

Note: This is an article I originally wrote for the May of 2008 issue of Campus Inquirer, the newsletter for Center For Inquiry On Campus. I have since decided to repost it here for back-to-school in the hopes that somebody out there is going to try to start more groups on high school campuses despite the challenges. Oh, and all of you below the age of 16 who accept evolution can proudly say “When Richard Dawkins was my age he was a creationist” and tell all your friends that you’re better than him. 😀

High School Freethought

If you saw things the way I do, you’d think that the title of this article was an oxymoron.  High school, from my personal experience at least, is rampant with anti-intellectualism and general ignorance (lamentable considering that it’s supposed to be a place where ignorance is eliminated).  It seems that only a minuscule minority of students cares about anything other than which friend is dating which other friend, which band just came out with a new album, or anything outside of their social lives.

That’s why it seemed so important to me to start a freethought group.  Not just because there was a lack of skepticism (though there are quite a lot of creationists), but also to get students to start thinking and caring about the world around them.

I went to my first CFI conference (The Secular Society and Its Enemies) last November in the splendid city of New York.  I hadn’t a clue that meeting fellow student freethinkers could be so much fun.  For the first time since I’d entered high school, I was in an oasis of thought with intelligent discussions taking place all around me.  Not only were there speakers with fascinating subjects, but there was also the opportunity to talk to fellow student freethinkers and other attendees.  Later that evening, I was in shock to find myself having dinner right across from Richard Dawkins in the Beekman Pub, and conversing about campus activities with all the other students at the conference.


Lucia (standing, right) receives an ovation at the Beekman Pub

About a week after the conference, I e-mailed Richard Dawkins because I felt the need to thank him not only for dining with us but for his books which had helped me appreciate science (“appreciate” being an understatement; more like “love passionately to death”) so much.  He wrote back telling me that he had remembered who I was, and not only that…he told me that he’d been “bowled over” when I told him that I was fourteen at the time.  I looked up the words in the dictionary—they mean “highly impressed”.  Imagine how I reacted.

If you imagined me falling out of my chair and giggling madly, you imagined correctly.

As proud as I was to have bowled over my own personal hero, I was a bit mystified.  What had I done that impressed him so much in those five minutes I’d spent talking (rather incoherently I think) about my attempts at starting a freethought group?

And then I began to remember that the vast majority of high school students didn’t care or think about the things that freethinkers tend to value so much.  That’s when my purpose for starting a freethought group became clear.  What I intend to do is make it into something like an everlasting CFI conference or Beekman Pub, where refreshing intellectual conversations occur.

It hasn’t been easy.

Though I know that there exists a substantial population of students interested in freethought, my group has yet to gain official recognition because I’ve had many problems finding a faculty sponsor.  But, it’s a big school.  I reckon that persistence will eventually find me one.  And then, I can get down to business making my freethought oasis.

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7 Comments

  1. August 22, 2008 at 2:37 pm —

    Good luck! And I agree of what you said about most students in high school. It is ironic, that it is an educational institution, and it ends up accomplishing almost nothing. Also, they only care about their trivial dramas, whatever that is. *grumble grumble* Anyways, would love to hear more about what you are trying to do. Cheers!

  2. FFFearlesss
    August 22, 2008 at 5:57 pm —

    I think more high schools need groups like this. Groups that just enjoy unstructured, though hopefully guided, free thought and exchange of ideas.

    I only hope that you don’t use it as an opportunity to be intentionally quarrelsome and antagonistic against creationists. Not all of them are mindless unthinking people. But acknowledging possible flaws in a faith that has sustained you your entire life is hard to face. And you know the whole adage, “more flies with honey” and all that.

    I fear my generation (the Gen X/Y hybrid) has already gotten way too embedded in the “I’m right and you’re wrong and I will fight tooth and nail to prove that to you” fight. And no common ground can ever be reached that way. I hope your generation will be more open-minded and compassionate of other modes of thinking, able to meet people (especially the ones who are DEAD WRONG) where they are and attempt to have meaningful dialog as opposed to calling them names (because come on, admit it, even the word ‘creationist’ is used a four letter word in the vocabulary of a skeptic).

    Anyway, to come back to my original point, I think this is a great idea and I wish somebody had done something like it while I was in school. And I got goosebumps myself at your exchange with the big RD. 🙂

  3. Shivierie
    August 22, 2008 at 10:05 pm —

    You’d be amazed with the people at my school. At last count, about 4 people, maybe 5, including me, actually like science, and one of them transfered schools. (I’m not including teachers.) It’s depressing really.

  4. August 23, 2008 at 2:25 pm —

    “More flies with honey”? Don’t you read comic strips?

  5. livingparadox27
    August 23, 2008 at 10:52 pm —

    i wish you luck with that. i can’t imagine ever successfully starting such a group at my high school. one of the reasons why i have been so desperate to graduate and go to college is to have the chance to be around intelligent people that actually LIKE learning, and aren’t just there because they’re forced to. high school intellectuals are most definitely a dying species.

  6. Joy Wang
    September 3, 2008 at 4:44 pm —

    I’m not sure that the teachers help encourage free thought either. Most of it’s just rote memorization and stuff like that. Teachers are incredibly subjective in their grading policy (read: If they don’t agree with your interpretation of a literary text, even when it’s perfectly valid, they’ll dock points. English teachers especially. Hmm, a freethinkers group. That sounds interesting. Faculty sponsors in my school might be a bit hard, but I’m sure I could find someone. There are some intellectual kids in our school, but as livingparadox pointed out, they’re a dying species.

  7. Joy Wang
    September 3, 2008 at 4:51 pm —

    I’m actually kinda worried about having the time to do a ft group. I’m taking hard courses even though I’m only a freshman, plus two orchestras, an AP Bio course, BC MAthletes, field hockey and who knows what else. I’m considering it.

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