A new after-school group starts this week at Fairbanks Road Elementary School in Churchville, NY. The Better News Club and Youth Skeptics focuses on science, reason, and critical thinking. Their basis for operation is that "it's more important to teach children how to make belief decisions for themselves, rather than accept claims presented to them without thinking critically about those claims." Topics up for discussion will be popular myths such as Bigfoot, aliens, and ghosts.
The goal is not to proselytize for atheism; rather, as member Kevin Davis said in a telephone interview, "it isn't atheism for kids; it doesn't address debunking religion because they are little kids and we don't want to use the same tactics as the Good News Club by telling them what to think. Our focus is on science-based critical thinking." The permission form for parents describes the program as "an education club dedicated to helping our kids find answers themselves, through critical thinking and problem solving."
Atheist parents formed the group to help counter the negative effects and shady practices of the Good News Club, which is run by the Child Evangelical Fellowship (CEF). The Good News Club hosts parties and events to encourage participation, with parental permission, but the materials handed out by the group itself include dogmatic propaganda intent on shaming children into believing they're sinners and needing salvation. The CEF has even come under fire by other Christian groups and church leaders as not teaching the love of Jesus, instead focusing on the darker side of Christian fundamentalism.
"We felt [the Good News Club] was harmful to children and we wanted to do something about it," Davis said to the Democrat and Chronicle. According to the Young Skeptics' website, "The Better News Club feels the approach of the Good News Clubs is a form of psychological abuse, akin to telling small children they're flawed or evil, and must subscribe to a dogma to avoid eternal punishment."
Far from the only parents concerned about "deceptive marketing, authoritarian conditioning, shame and fear indoctrination" of The Good News Club, parents in other communities across the country have asked that schools ban the group, notably in Portland, Oregon, Seattle, Denver, and Raleigh, North Carolina.
The Better News Club is open to the public and more information can be found on their website: Young Skeptics.
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