“A Deck of Cards” (originally published in Polluto Magazine Issue 1) in the articles section

A deck of cards is an amazing teaching tool. With it, I’ve taught students elementary concepts such as addition and subtraction as well as advanced concepts in Algebra and Geometry. As a teacher trainer and lead teacher for my district, I have built up my reputation with eleven years of dedicated teaching, yet a few seconds could demolish my reputation and possibly cost me my job if word got out that I am an atheist.

Although I teach in a public school, the vast majority of the students are Christian. The religious tend to dominate homeschooling districts such as ours because it gives parents the freedom to teach their children the morals they value and remove their children from the dangerous, gang-infested environment of traditional public schools. I respect that decision in many ways because I want those same freedoms for education and from religion for my family.

In America today the Religious Right is constantly banging on the door that has separated church and state for more than two hundred years. That banging has increased to deafening levels with the election of our current president. Not to beat around the Bush (although he could probably use a beating to knock some sense into him), but our president actually believes that Intelligent Design is a valid “theory” deserving to be taught alongside evolution. To quote comedian Lewis Black: “I never thought that during the course of my life that a president wouldn’t believe in evolution . . .” And the Religious Right would prefer to see Intelligent Design actually replace evolution in the public classroom. Intelligent Design, as anyone with a few evolved brain cells can decipher, is the Fundamental Christian’s secret code for Creationism.

I frequently hear students inanely share religious beliefs that have been shoved down their throats by parents and churches since these kids were infants. Can we blame them for believing what they do and say? They’re only regurgitating what they’ve eaten:

Burp “I can’t see the Harry Potter movies because there’s magic in them.”

Hack “I’m giving away my Star Wars books because…” Guess why? “…they contain magic.”

Hiccup “What does math have to do with the real world?”

Barf “I can’t think because my whole life someone else has always done it for me.” Oh. That’s right. The students didn’t say that. It’s the thought bubble hovering above my head whenever I notice that some of my students have no ability to think for themselves or come up with creative solutions to problems.

I know that many, if not most people, have had horrible experiences in math, and I also know it has more to do with how they were taught than with their actual abilities; I can often teach a seven year old concepts that I teach high school students with – you guessed it – a deck of cards. But math is the foundation for much of science, and scientific thought is the framework that allows us to overcome the illogical, the intolerant, and the credulous who attribute supposed miracles to a magical being in the sky yet excuse him from responsibility for tragedies.

Religion casts such a spell over those who adhere to its tenets that it can make a person actually believe that the Earth is only about 6,000 years old and dinosaurs lived alongside humans. Interestingly enough, that’s two thousand years after the Chinese began production of jade jewelry(1). There is no limit to the human mind’s ability to twist every possible rational argument in order to justify what we want to believe. The brain has indeed evolved into a powerful tool.

As I shuffle a deck of cards in preparation for playing a math game with my daughter, I can’t help but think that I’d like to have the deck stacked in my favor, my family’s favor, and all of humanity’s favor, and that can only happen if we learn to think for ourselves instead of handing over our brains at the church door and letting others do our thinking for us.

1. Chinese, Japanese started prehistoric exchanges 7,000 years ago: Archeologists, 2003-10-11, China View [online] Available at http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2003-10/11/content_1118767.htm on 2007-10-20.

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