From 21 February, schools in Shropshire will be receiving free copies of What is Humanism?, a new book about Humanism from Michael Rosen and Annemarie Young, after a national crowdfunding campaign by the British Humanist Association.
Humanists are non-religious people who look to science and reason to understand the natural world and who make moral decisions based on empathy and concern for other human beings, rather than instructions found in holy texts.
The new book is the first book of its kind aimed at children, and was published to support teachers who want to explore non-religious ethics and humanist worldviews in Religious Education lessons. It features contributions from popular faces like comedian Shappi Khorsandi, physicist Jim Al-Khalili, actor Stephen Fry, and novelists Philip Pullman and Natalie Haynes, who are all humanists.
This is the first time the BHA has distributed a book to primary schools, and for many schools, it will be the first book about non-religious worldviews in their libraries.
Simon Nightingale is an accredited humanist school speaker with the British Humanist Association (BHA) who has in the past given talks about Humanism at a number of Shropshire schools including Meole Brace School in Shrewsbury, Burton Borough School in Newport and Telford Priory School. He says:
“Recent surveys have shown that over half the UK population live without religion and among young people it’s almost 70%. Of those that live without religion, almost all hold basic humanist beliefs, even if they are don’t call themselves humanists.
It’s so important that those who live without faith understand where those with faith are coming from. And of course that those with faith understand the basis of humanism. I am particularly keen to address some of the myths about humanists, for example that we are anti-religious; not at all, we are non-religious which is very different and indeed we support the rights of those with faith to live as they wish and we collaborate with other religions and interfaith groups to promote values we share with most moderate religions. Or that living without religion means we have no morals; on the contrary we have strong ethical beliefs based on our innate moral instincts, refined by evidence, reason and understanding each other. Or that humanists are devoid of any spiritual sense and that our lives are without meaning – that too is far from true.
Learning about Humanism helps children, whether they’re religious or not religious, to have a good think about where they get their values from and how they go about making ethical choices. A lot of teachers find Humanism to be a really useful perspective to explore in the classroom because it helps pupils to get to grips with big ethical questions and the wide variety of different religious and non-religious worldviews.”
Michael Rosen and Annemarie Young commented:
“Millions of people in this country and all over the world work out their philosophy of life, and how to live, without referring to religion. Schools quite rightly spend a good deal of time and effort exploring the ideas and philosophies of the world’s great religions, but the ideas of humanism, secularism, and atheism are largely ignored. The mismatch between what is believed and what is taught is surely wrong. Our book aims at opening up a discussion about what humanism is, and how people live their lives as humanists. Throughout the book, readers are encouraged to ask questions, in order to help them think for themselves and thus to counter prejudice.”
Simon Nightingale and other humanists were trained as a school speaker by BHA, which also provides teachers with free education resources through its website, Understanding Humanism. Teachers can also use the site to request a free visit from a humanist school speaker.