“Doubt is the key to knowledge.”

Persian Proverb

Recently, I watched a thought-provoking episode of a legal drama set in the United States in which a 15 year old girl who had contracted HIV AIDS after having intercourse with her boyfriend sued her high school for failing to teach its students about contraceptives. The totality of its sex education was summed up in one word: abstinence. It even went as far as discrediting the efficacy of condoms, so when this girl was unable to resist temptation any longer the need to use some form of protection never crossed her mind. She felt the school should receive a measure of blame for its failure to educate her and empower her with the knowledge to make an informed decision.

Ridiculous, right? I mean, it did teach abstinence. Why should it be held responsible for her failure to abstain? Besides, where were her parents? Whose responsibility is it ultimately to teach students the facts of life? Or to teach them to think for that matter? Where does the responsibility of parents end and that of schools begin?

When it has to do with teaching physics or mathematics or English, that’s an easy one, isn’t it? That’s why parents pay school fees. They expect the school to teach a curriculum. But whose responsibility is it to teach children to think critically and creatively?

For fifteen years now, I have been teaching English to children at both the primary and secondary level. Each year I meet a new cohort of learners I am faced with the same challenge: inspiring them to use their imagination.

I like to use a story prompt: ‘You are on your way back from summer vacation and your plane develops engine trouble and crashes into the sea. You manage to swim, or to grab a piece of debris which helps you to float to a deserted island. No one else is there. Only you. What happens next?’

Irrespective of the level of the students, 95% will almost always give one of two answers:

  1. I found out miraculously that my mobile phone was working and it had reception, so I was able to call for help; or
  2. I prayed and God answered my prayer by sending a plane/ship to rescue me.

Every year it’s the same. I am handed a set of students who have been inoculated by religion against creative thought. God is the panacea to every kind of problem and they are absolved from any and all responsibility to use their God-given brains to think. Rather, they are conditioned to seek miracles and ask for some sort of supernatural intervention as a first resort. I’m too lazy to think – I’ll pray and let God do all the work!

At such times I hate religion. I hate the way it sends people into a mindless stupor and divests them of their rational and creative faculties. I hate the way it surreptitiously suggests that curiosity, asking questions, doubting, is somehow tantamount to unbelief. I hate what parents do to their children in the name of faith. They indoctrinate them with religious dogma and instill them with a blind faith that strips them of a responsibility to exercise their minds. (Why should this surprise me, though? The parents who do this – are they not the ones who swallow hook, line and sinker what their pastors and imams tell then? Are they not the ones who ascribe to their leaders a God-like infallibility and make excuses for inexcusable conduct?)

And then they send them off to school to learn to think.

Educators have two choices. One, take God out of the equation. This is what the Americans have done, isn’t it? Or two, convince students that the miracle is their fantastically complex brain, and that the boat, plane or ship was there all along in the space between their ears! We have to convince students that it is alright to think. In fact, it is their God-given responsibility to do so!

I have an idea for a legal drama set in Nigeria. It is one in which educators sue parents for brainwashing their children and depriving them of a capacity to think because they themselves do not. In my story, educators ask the courts for an injunction preventing parents from dampening their children’s curiosity and damaging their ability to think creatively. And since it is my idea, we win.