Showing posts with label education. Show all posts
Showing posts with label education. Show all posts

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Bishop Will Not Allow Mature-Minor Consent For HPV Vaccines In BC Schools

Oh rats! Those 'medical doctors' and 'scientists' at Northern Health in British Columbia are pushing their evil, hedonistic, slut-causing, heterosexual orgy-inducing HPV vaccines again! You can read about how this sort of Catholic church train of thought goes on a previous post I did about this issue in Alberta.

Well, luckily, we've got someone on the case who knows all about sex, healthcare and just what's going on in the minds of teenage girls these days - a celibate Catholic bishop called Stephen Jensen.
"You need to discern the merits of having your child vaccinated or not,'' Jensen told parents in the letter posted online.

"While the vaccination program is not inherently wrong, parents need to make an informed decision and communicate it in a way that can serve to strengthen their child in the virtue of chastity and reinforce her appreciation of abstinence as the only truly healthy choice.''
Of course, you've got this US study:
Some opponents of in-school vaccinations, including Catholic bishops, have voiced concerns the shots might encourage early sexual intercourse.

However, a U.S. study that reviewed medical records of nearly 1,400 girls showed HPV shots does not increase sexual activity, said Juliet Guichon, spokeswoman and founder with HPV Canada, a group of doctors, health scientists and concerned citizens.
Whatever, right?  Why listen to science?

The Catholic church also tells its adherents to not sin either, but that doesn't always seem to work out. In fact, they have a whole scheme on how to deal with that. Apparently, sexy-time is also something that just seems to happen even when kids promise others and themselves to remain chaste. What happens then? Well, I guess the good bishop thinks that any dirty little sinners ought to get the HPV they deserve! You all deserve it!

Unless you lock your daughter up in the house or put on a chastity belt or something? Well according to Jonathon Dyck - one of those medical science people - sexy-time doesn't even need to involve penis-in-vagina sex for infection to occur. So, better just lock your daughter in the basement.
Dyck said the infection is highly contagious and can be spread even without sexual intercourse through skin-to-skin contact.
Daughter? Wait a minute, Jenson is talking about she all the time, but what about the boys? They have penises and are thus strongly implicated in this whole thing.
The diocese makes no mention in the letter of boys receiving the vaccine.
An oversight? Does this mean boys can get the vaccine and girls cannot? What's the deal with the Church being obsessed with controlling the bodies of girls and not the boys? Well that's something new.

All this boils down to an objection Jenson has with the BC Centre for Disease Control's mature-minor consent, which allows children to override the wishes of their parents regarding the vaccine.
Bishop Stephen Jensen of the Diocese of Prince George also said in a September letter to parents of Grade 6 and Grade 9 girls attending Catholic schools that a legal option known as mature-minor consent won't be an option for students in the human papillomavirus vaccination program.

Mature-minor consent is defined on the BC Centre for Disease Control's website as the authority given to children under the age of 19 to allow, refuse or revoke their consent to be immunized. The centre said that authority takes precedence over parental authority.
Okay, first point: If it's a legal option then how can this school simply opt out?

Secondly, this is an immunization which is 99% effective at preventing HPV. Personally, I think that kids should be required to have it regardless, but they should definitely be allowed to have it if they're interested in their own lives not being affected by a possible future infection just to satisfy their parents' religious sensibilities. This is the same sort of issue as blood transfusions for minors with parents who have religious objections - must think of the good of the child.

(Image source)

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

10,000 Students 'Off The Grid' In Unlicensed Jerusalem Ultra-Orthodox Schools

Last year, I wrote about a whole village near Montreal where all the schools are apparently completely unlicensed Hasidic schools where children are being taught the Taura with little to now other courses. The government knows, the media knows, everyone knows and just one ex-Hasidic Jew is actually doing something about it by attempting to sue the government for neglect.

Well, it appears that this is a huge problem in Jerusalem as well. Remember, Israel is supposed to be a secular state.
The Jerusalem Municipality estimates that some 10,000 students are attending extreme ultra-Orthodox educational institutions that operate without any permit or government supervision. “The Education Ministry and the city have been running away from the problem, which is only getting worse,” a ministry source told Haaretz.
These schools are operating right under the nose of the Ministry of Education:
For example, a mere 600 meters (1,968 feet) separates the Education Ministry and Minister Naftali Bennett’s office from 26 Strauss Street. The Jerusalem municipality is only 150 meters farther away. Yet despite the physical proximity, the school operating at 26 Strauss does not appear in the database of either the ministry or the municipality.
Apparently, this is due to a complicated relationship between the government and ultra-Orthodox groups. According to the article, nobody wants to mess with the Haredim. So the government turns a blind eye to the whole affair - meanwhile children are being taught religious texts to the exclusion of subjects which might allow them to operate in the secular world and someday break out of their cloistered lives within the religion... should they someday choose... should their beliefs someday be even challenged. As I reported elsewhere, London ex-Haredim are taking legal action for these very reasons.

Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, here's an example of what we're dealing with.
Two years ago, personnel from the Health Ministry’s district office visited one of the schools. “It was found that the classes are small … the building’s balconies served as yards, the space is insufficient,” a report stated, adding, “Hygiene facilities are lacking, and garbage bins that serve food businesses and residences are near the institution.”

There’s nothing for the children to do except religious studies. No one cares if there’s a courtyard. The food they are served at noon is shocking – if they eat anything,” says Yisrael, who attended an unlicensed school run by the Satmar Hasidic sect and left Orthodox Judaism five years ago. “The purpose of the school is to teach things that raise you up the scale of holiness; they don’t deal with material things,” he added.

The schools serve extremist sects like Satmar, Toldot Aharon, Neturei Karta and some of the Bratslav groups, which together make up the group known as the Eda Haredit. These groups don’t recognize the state or use its budgets. Instead, the parents help pay for the schools, from ages 5 to 17, but donations come primarily from abroad and some within Israel. “Every vacation, we had to go out and raise money – usually at synagogues. The competition was to see who could bring in the most money,” recalled Yisrael.
This continues and grows communities of people outside of the state and completely cloistered from the outside world. On the surface, this can also create conflicts with the secular society at large - like protesting businesses being open of the shabbat which also serve non-Orthodox, secular Jews and non-religious Israelis.

(Image source)

Monday, 14 September 2015

Beaverton: Wynne's New Sex Curriculum Contains Too Much Orgy & Satanism Homework

So the current premier Kathleen Wynne of Ontario, who happens to be lesbian (just like millions of other people), decided that the province's sex education curriculum needed an overhaul. If memory serves, it hadn't had any changes since 1998 - over 15 years ago. Do you remember what people were saying about gay people and transgender folks back then? I do. An overhaul was necessary.

Anyway, some parents are going nuts over the new curriculum. You can read all about this over at Canadian Atheist, they've been doing a great job of covering it. Unsurprisingly, it seems to be mostly conservative religious sorts who have problems with an updated program which acknowledges same-sex marriages and texting.

I have little more to add to these other than to point out this clever little post over at The Beaverton - a satirical Canadian news blog: Ontario middle schooler can't believe he has so much orgy and Satanism homework.
The homework, as mandated by Premier Kathleen Wynne, promises to teach children about gender identity, the dangers of sexting, and avoiding abusive relationships. However, its main focus is on how to properly worship the Prince of Darkness and the best ways to host and participate in an orgy.

“How the heck am I supposed to know how many points a pentagram has?” complained Donaldson, looking over his demonic summoning assignment. “Wait… ‘penta’? Five! Just like how there are five hands in a penta-fisting!”
With the way you hear websites like LifeSiteNews scream about the program, you'd think the Beaverton article is true. It isn't though. The program as described by LifeSiteNews sounds just fine and I would have no problem sending my own kid through it.

Go check out the short article. It's worth it for a chuckle.

(Image source)

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Teach the Controversy: 'Unicorn and Toast'

Here's a cute video by PeachyFiend (@PeachyFiend) from her Youtube channel. It just might explain to some creationists how it feels for the rest of us.

(Image source, source)

Thursday, 16 July 2015

176 Med Students Write Letter Rejecting Inquiry Into Anti-Vax Health Course

Last week, I posted about how the University of Toronto conducted an internal review of the quantum-physics-filled and anti-vaccine pseudo-scientific Alternative Health: Practice and Theory course being offered by the wife of the Dean at their Scarborough campus.
Noting that other courses in the program offer extensive scientific information regarding immunization, Vice-President Goel concluded that the sessional instructor’s approach in the class towards the issue of immunization in particular had not been unbalanced; it presented material that, in context, would enable critical analysis and inquiry.
In fact, the course was really popular with students.
The student evaluations from 2014 reveal that students do understand the purpose of the course and appreciated the opportunity to critically think about these alternative modalities. The course is rated very positively by the students who took it 2014. Many students commented that they felt that the topics covered in the course should be introduced into the curriculum in earlier years. There were no complaints from the students in 2014 regarding the content of the course, and I am not aware of any student complaints so far in 2015.  
I wonder if a similar course would have been received as well by these students if it were created and reviewed by actual Med students along with the University of Toronto Medical Society Executive Council rather than the Department of Anthropology? Because it seems like people who actually understand these topics aren't all that satisfied with the Vice-President's lame ass investigation.

Nearly 200 medical students at he university have sent an open letter to President Meric Gertler demanding that - for the sake of human lives and the worth of the paper their future degrees will be printed on -  this course be properly investigated and measures be put in place so ridiculous courses like this do not spring up in the future... regardless of who may be married to whom.
One of our concerns is that the instructor for this course lacked the scientific expertise to teach and develop a health-related course, especially without significant oversight from faculty members with training in the topics addressed in this course, such as vaccination. This instructor, a trained homeopath, had previously been a subject of media attention due to statements made on the topic of childhood vaccination, where she implied that vaccinations could be linked to autism, and stated (on camera) that measles, one of the illnesses children are vaccinated for, was “not a dangerous disease.” These statements are without evidence, and in direct opposition to the vast amount of research that has been done on these topics.

Another major concern of ours is the conclusion expressed by Vice-President Goel regarding the content of the course, specifically that “…the instructor’s approach in the class towards the issue of immunization in particular had not been unbalanced…”. The very notion that anti-vaccination views could be considered a part of a ‘balanced approach’ to teaching about the science of vaccines is completely false. The overwhelming scientific consensus, supported by mountains of robust evidence, concludes that vaccines are safe, effective, and save lives. Suggesting that anti-vaccine views are a part of a balanced approach to the science is to perpetuate a manufactured controversy; it serves to suggest to patients, and the public at large, that a scientific debate is ongoing, when in reality no such controversy actually exists within the institutions of science and medicine. By legitimizing the existence of this ‘false balance’, we do the public a great disservice by misrepresenting the established safety and efficacy of vaccines.
Listen, an Anthropology class is quite within their right to study the social factors involved with anti-vaccine paranoia and culture, but they should not be presenting the writings of Andrew Wakefield as being anywhere near the same level of credibility as real scientific findings.

Since the university has completely bungled up this investigation and is now an international laughing stock. An independent review must be brought in.
We therefore request a thorough, independent investigation into the entirety of the course, as well as the institutional culture that potentially fostered shortcomings to high quality education. This should be done with representatives from the biomedical sciences to address questions of scientific accuracy. This investigation should focus on and specifically detail claims made by the lecturer referring to vaccination, homeopathy, and quantum physics. The results of this investigation should be made directly available to the public, and be sent to all current or former students who took the course.
Furthermore, they are suggesting standards so that this insanity doesn't happen in the future.
In order to better inform the public about health topics, so that they can make well-informed choices, standards to ensure the validity of scientific claims made in all courses in the university – not just those within scientific faculties – should be developed. This is not meant to stifle new and upcoming research or creative thought. Rather, it is meant to support it, such that there is clear understanding of all the evidence currently available, allowing us to progress with reasonable debate and research with the same supporting knowledge.
These students should be commended. It's a shame that students need to be fact checking their schools. This happened at Queens as well. It seems to me like universities must be valuing other things over genuine pursuit of knowledge.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Newfoundland Public School Will Not Display Bible Verse

The old school building. Photo © Adam Randell at The Northern Pen (source) and used with permission.
Edit 2015-07-28: Reader Shawn the Humanist (@ShawnHumanist) has pointed out that the link to the article has changed. I've updated it below, accordingly. Shawn has also found an actual interview with the man who put the verse onto the wall. Apparently, he is no fan of religion, but figured the verse should be up for historical reasons.
“Religion is as far from me as the east star is from the west,” he said. “It was on the previous school and I thought that it was appropriate to put it back on the new one.”

Saint Anthony is a small town near the northern tip of Newfoundland. Last week, there was some controversy there because the public school board is not so keen on plastering a Bible verse on the new school that's being constructed.
It has been established that the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District has no plans of transferring the bible verse – "All thy children shall be taught of the lord, and great shall be the peace of thy children." – to the new school; a verse that has been placed on town schools since the early 1900s.
Apparently the sign came originally from a school built by Sir Wilfred Grenfell in 1900 and later moved to St. Anthony's Elementary School in the 1970s. Some city councillors expected the verse to be moved to the newly constructed White Hills Academy, but the publicly funded school district wisely chose to not do it.

The Mayor still expressed some surprise that anyone would consider a Bible verse instructing us to teach children about god and donated to what was likely a Christian school by a Christian missionary like Grenfell as religious.
However, Mayor Ern Simms said that isn't the case, and council was told by the school district that any plaque at the new school would have to be non-religious.

"I didn't look at that as being religious, and a lot of people didn't and still don't," he said.

"I look at it as something that Grenfell always worked with — he worked with everyone. He worked with all people as a doctor and apparently he was partly missionary as well, and he worked with everybody in that area."
In a small town like Saint Anthony, I suppose this might not seem too apparent. It's nice that the school board is proactively taking steps to be secular without waiting for a complaint.
 “Since it was first placed, children from every religion in the world have gone to St. Anthony Elementary, and there has never, ever, been a complaint from anybody about it,” said Simms.
The city council will seek input from local residents before making a final decision. Up to now, the school has done good and I hope the city council will honour this decision in the name of state-church separation.

Some have suggested that the sign be donated to the local Grenfell Historical Society, which seems eminently reasonable.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Why Did Child Welfare Agencies Pussy-Foot Around With The Lev Tahor Case?

The Ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect, Lev Tahor, fled Quebec back in 2013 because the province was trying to get them to allow their children a balanced education where they learned more than Yiddish and the Talmud. They went to Ontario for awhile, but then eventually fled mostly to Guatemala.

They were about to have their children taken away for not only violating their rights to a useful education but also real physical and mental abuse. We're talking about pee filled beds, forced taking of prescription drugs, forced under age marriages and extreme corporal abuse.

Well, a report was just released, concluding that child welfare agencies did a lousy job of protecting the well-being of the children.

The Montreal Gazette writes:
Camil Picard, the vice-president of youth issues for the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse, said the delays in this case were “incomprehensible,” considering the fact it took 17 months for youth protection officials to move to seize the children after the problem was first identified.

It also took school board officials 15 months to take action to get proper schooling for the children in the community. The children were receiving a strictly religious education, and spoke neither English nor French. Picard said children have the right to receive a proper education, and if they don’t get that, youth officials must intervene.

“In this situation, it’s clear that the (parties) systematically failed in their role to protect the children, including health services, the education department and youth protection,” Picard said.
You can read about the extreme foot dragging over at CTVLaPresse and Radio Canada. It's awful.

Here's something I find a little nauseating though. It has to do with how certain, mostly English (Rest of Canada) news agencies report about religion, in particular. I'm sorry to report that I've seen it time and time again - a sort of freakish deference to religion exhibited by the anglo media.

The French stories I read all contain a reference by the commission's president, Jacques Frémont alluding to why the agencies may have been really soft on this cult. So soft and cautious, so as not to offend religious sensibilities that the very lives of the children were put into peril.

CTV is the only story I found in English to carry Fremont's comments on religion:
Jacques Frémont, the commission’s president, said Thursday it appears “other considerations,” not the best interests of the children who were the subject of the hearings, played a role in the way the youth protection, school officials, social services and even the police handled the interventions with the community.
What were these other considerations?
Some of the issues the report highlighted include that youth protection and school officials spoke to community leaders instead of the parents, and school officials gave community leaders 15-months to comply to the law requiring children attend school. Lev Tahor children were homeschooled.

“Freedom of religion cannot – in any circumstances – be used as a pretext for abuse and neglect. It is therefore essential that, from now on, all organizations intervening in this type of environment better understand public interests involved and favour, in all cases, the protection of children's rights," he said.
This statement was missing from the Gazette and the CBC report, while always present in some form in the French sources I read. I wasn't the only one to notice this:

This article leaves out a key statement from the report:

« La liberté de religion ne peut en aucun cas constituer un prétexte pour la maltraitance ou la négligence. »

In English: "Freedom of religion can never constitute a pretext to abuse or neglect."

Why this omission?
How very curious, indeed! I wonder why the CBC and Gazette both missed this?

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Ridiculous U of T Anti-Vax Course Not Coming Back Next Semester

Good news! The University of Toronto is quietly dropping the antivaxxer, woo-full, quantum mechanics-filled Alternative Health: Practice and Theory from their next semester offering.
A University of Toronto spokesperson says a controversial course that taught anti-vaccination materials will not be taught this year.
I haven't seen any sign of the university actually acknowledging they were wrong for offering the course. If I would guess, I'd say that this is a PR motivated move.

Still, good to see. Things were getting bloody embarrassing there for awhile. This hasn't stopped my opinion of the university falling several levels, though.

I hope to never see my own alma mater, McGill, stoop to this level.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

University of Toronto Totally Cool With Homeopath Teaching Anti-Vax Alternative Medicine

Back in March, I wrote about how the University of Toronto in Scarborough has this Health course being offered by their Anthropology (?) department. The course was being taught by a homeopath, Beth Landau-Halpern, who also happens to be the wife of the Dean.

The description of her Alternative Health: Practice and Theory contains statements like this in the syllabus:
Alternative medicine (i.e. the wide range of modalities other than conventional western biomedicine), has gained unprecedented popularity among patients, and a nearly unprecedented backlash from the scientific and conventional medicine communities of late. Dissatisfaction with the results and quality of care patients get from mainstream medicine, how well they are (or aren’t) listened to, the astronomical cost of such medicine, increased suspicion of pharmaceutical safety, a generalized belief that natural is better, and, in some instances, a preference for culturally traditional medicinal practices, are some of the many factors that drive patients to seek alternative health care. At the same time, the “scientification” and “technicalization” of medicine seems to be widely accepted and is employed to assert the perceived fundamental superiority of a biomedical approach to disease; to further the financial incentive of the pharmaceutical industry which has an enormous stake in the scientific, drug-based approach to health; and to disparage “alternative” approaches as quackery and fraud. 
Also this:
We will delve into a quantum physics’ understanding of disease and alternative medicine to provide a scientific hypothesis of how these modalities may work. Quantum physics is a branch of physics that understands the interrelationship between matter and energy. This science offers clear explanations as to why homeopathic remedies with seemingly no chemical trace of the original substance are able to resolve chronic diseases, why acupuncture can offer patients enough pain relief to undergo surgery without anesthesia, why meditation alone can, in some instances, reduce the size of cancerous tumors. 
And this:
The course will also explore a few of the controversies impacting alternative health, with particular attention to the explosive issue around vaccine safety, homeopathic skeptics and their impact on the this well-respected modality, and the questionable emphasis on genetics and DNA to define and predict disease. Students will be encouraged to think critically and creatively in this course, exploring a world of health care that is poorly understood, but presents a compelling and appealing rationale for greater use and acceptance.
With stated course goals like this:
After taking this course, you should be able to:
  • Articulate a nuanced explanation of health, disease, and healing.
  • Understand the difference between Newtonian physics and Quantum physics and their corresponding impacts on biology.
  • Understand how environment and emotion impact biology and health, and articulate the limitations of genetics as destiny.
  • Question the priorities and approaches of mainstream western medicine through the lens of a more holistic approach to health.
  • Understand the connection between body, mind, energy, and spirit and how the interplay between these impact health and disease.
  • Understand the basic principles underlying some of the more established alternative health modalities.
  • Provide a critique of the role of private pharmaceutical companies on the provision of health care options.
  • Make intelligent choices for your own health provision.
  • Intelligently address the concerns of those afraid of alternative medicine or skeptical about its efficacy. 
So, after public outcry from actual real scientists, the University made a little investigation thingy and decided that there was nothing wrong with her approach at all -- it would just be nice if she used more properly sourced materials - e.g. not crap written by Andrew Wakefield and other alarmist conspiracy based nonsense she finds on Google.

Apparently, the review was made back in March, but was just released this week. The University is standing by the anti-vaxxer health studies course. Scientists and other rational people have not taken well to this nonsense.

I cannot understand why they are doing this, but it makes the University of Toronto look very very bad. Just yesterday, they even doubled down on their decision that a course like the above is just fine (with maybe a few improvements, like more academic sources and less bunk.)
Noting that other courses in the program offer extensive scientific information regarding immunization, Vice-President Goel concluded that the sessional instructor’s approach in the class towards the issue of immunization in particular had not been unbalanced; it presented material that, in context, would enable critical analysis and inquiry.

Vice-President Goel nonetheless found that the course could be strengthened by greater engagement of academic colleagues from the Department of Anthropology and experts from the University’s health sciences faculties in developing and approving the course curriculum. The Health Studies Program at UTSC is relatively new, and at the time of the review, did not yet have its own program-specific curriculum committee in place.
Oh yes, it's always important to have balance. I'll be looking forward to Flat Earth material being taught in astronomy courses, baby-delivering storks theory in medicine, and discussion of the Illuminati and chemtrails in political science.

Jen Gunter, who is an actual doctor, writes eloquently about this whole insanity. Go check it out for more information.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

BiZoHa Orphanage - 'With Science We Can Progress!'

The Andrea Vogt Roadside Stand will allow the school to sell homegrown produce alongside a busy highway.
This is a guest post by Chris de Brabander documenting some of the absolutely astounding progress being made at the BiZoHa orphanage in Uganda!

The project to build and operate a secular orphanage in Uganda was launched at the end of February, and in just a little over four months time has made remarkable progress. 

Donations have steadily streamed in, and under the capable management of Project Director Bwambale Robert, already five buildings are completed including the hostel, classroom, kitchen, latrine, and a roadside stand for earning income from sale of snacks, drinks and crafts on the local road frequented by travelers. Construction has also started and is progressing very quickly on a health clinic at the site. 

The BiZoHa Clinic will serve the local communities as well as the orphanage and school. While it will not be able to handle all the medical needs of the area, it will be a great relief. Currently there is only one small government-run clinic serving the six local communities, and most essential drugs are not always available at that health unit. 

BiZoHa Clinic will have a trained medic with a small science lab for examining specimens and dispensing medications for common problems such as malaria and parasites. They will also provide health and hygiene education to the community.

Future plans for the site include adding a museum, which will feature exhibits about the culture of the Rwenzori People and way of living. It will serve as a tourist attraction and an educational tool for research students. Plans to erect more hostels to serve orphans plus students to enroll in the future school and some guest houses to shelter volunteers and guests will come in the course of time. These will offer alternate sources to sustainability.

Water has been piped in to BiZoHa from the mountains. In addition, Bwambale has plans to install rainwater harvesting tanks to supplement the piped water, especially as sometimes the pipes break or get washed away. Tank water can be used for washing clothes, bathing and in the latrine toilets.

BiZoHa plants crops in order to be self-sustaining, and irrigation is needed during the dry season for the crops to thrive. Also, Bwambale is exploring whether further water purification mechanisms might be put in place at point of use for drinking water, to replace boiling.

One solar panel has been installed, and a second has been funded and will be installed very soon. These solar panels and others (funding welcomed!) will make the site self-sustaining with electricity.

The intention is to enclose the hostels, classrooms, dining area, kitchen and toilets in one walled area for security reasons, with the clinic just outside the walls. 

The local community has been very welcoming. Local construction businesses have been busily engaged in getting the site ready quickly for the arriving orphans. A matron has been hired to look after the children in the hostel, and there will also be employment for a cook, teachers, medic, and perhaps other positions as BiZoHa becomes increasingly established. The site will welcome sixteen orphans in late August, and Bwambale has been visiting the local communities to identify children for this pioneer group. 

In addition BiZoHa’s school will accept students on a tuition basis from the nearby communities. Education will be secular humanist, based on science and using reason and free thought as the foundation for knowledge. Instruction will be in English to establish the footing for success in life for the children. The motto of the school will be “With Science, We Can Progress” which is painted on buildings along with the “Happy Humanist” logo. 

Opportunities to sponsor room, board and tuition for the resident orphans ($250 per year) and needy local students who live at home ($125 per year for tuition only, and/or $90 for meals at school) are available. Information on some orphans is already listed and ready to accept donations. Sponsors will receive communications about the child’s progress in school. 

In addition to scholarships, donations to the building and outfitting of the site are very much needed and each one is so very appreciated. These monies will go to such things as security, a microscope for the lab, medications and supplies, educational items for the school, furnishings, uniforms for the children, play equipment, partial sponsorships, food, etc.  To support this project financially, any coin counts and will be spent on what it’s meant for! 

Donations can be made easily at 

For inquiries on large donations to sponsor upcoming construction needs (building dedications), or any donation where a tax receipt is desired, please visit the Brighter Brains website and donate via that channel and use the email provided there to indicate that the donation is for BiZoHa and whether there is any particular need you want your donation to go toward.  [Note that due to summer vacations, tax receipts will be processed after August 18 and email responses will be delayed.]

We look forward to hearing from you. With science, we can progress!

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

UK Hasidic Schools Getting Unwarranted Passes By Charedi Inspectors

Great work! I mean, maybe not. (source)
Remember when I wrote about that creepy little village just outside of Montreal where they only send their kids to completely unlicensed Hasidic schools where they more or less only study the Torah all day long? Then there was that Oxford study about lousy substandard Orthodox Jewish school educations. You've also got ex-Haredims suing such schools in Israel and the UK because they were completely unprepared for the outside world. It goes on and on.

Now here's a new surprise! It turns out that several schools in the UK have been getting passing grades from the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) when the inspectors happen to be within the Haredi community! Who would ever have suspected such a thing?
A study of Ofsted reports on independent Haredi or ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools during the period 2007-2014 found they were rated as “good” or “outstanding” 71 per cent of the time when inspected by a member of the Jewish community, but only 22 per cent of the time when inspected by a non-Haredi inspector.

The study was carried out by the British Humanist Association (BHA), which is campaigning against faith schools, particularly their “discriminatory admission, employment and curriculum policies” as well as government financial support for such schools.
Go to the story for some reactions to this study by politician types and the head of Ofsted who appears to be covering his butt.

You can read more about this over at the BHA website. This portion of the story struck me the most:
However, Ofsted’s inspection of legally registered Charedi schools has been receiving interest for some time prior to this. For instance, in October 2014 the Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls School, a state-maintained Charedi Jewish secondary school in Hackney, was rated ‘good’ by Ofsted despite evidence that the school advised its pupils to ignore exam questions on evolution and considered evolution, homosexual relationships and social media to be against its ethos. The BHA complained to Ofsted about the decision at the time, but the inspectorate also received criticism and accusations of bias from the National Association of Jewish Orthodox Schools (NAJOS) because the school had previously been rated as ‘outstanding’. Ofsted Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw has defended the impartiality of his inspectors on each occasion.

Speaking to the BHA, a former pupil of a Charedi Jewish school said, ‘Charedi inspectors have consistently given Good and Outstanding ratings to schools where its curricula is almost entirely focused on studying religious scriptures. Hundreds of children leave these schools every year barely able to speak a word of English or calculate basic arithmetic. Such schools should not be receiving Good/Outstandings solely on the basis of a biased inspector.’

Friday, 19 June 2015

New Science Book Series For Young Skeptics: Tiny Thinkers

Charlie & The Tortoise (source)
David Smalley, producer of Dogma Debate and head of Secular Media Group has launched an excellent fundraiser to bring more science themed books to kids. Being the father of an inquisitive five year old, I'm pretty excited about this.

Smalley narrates many secular audio books which can be found over at Audible, most of these are through Dogma Debate LLC. This fundraiser originally encompassed more than just children's books, but it was narrowed down to kids books only just a few days ago.
Great News! This campaign is now 100% dedicated to ONLY the Kids Books! This saves us a ton of room on the budget, knocking it down to only $12K needed for all 3 of our first books to be printed and published!
So far, three titles are on their way as part of a new series called Tiny Thinkers. They're written by KidsHeartKids' Mario Mouton, whom I've worked with before while fundraising for Humanist causes in Uganda. He's doing tonnes of great things for kids in Uganda!

Here are the three new titles. Mario was nice enough to send me a draft copy of Carl Went to the Library without images and it was delightful.
Charlie and the Tortoise details Charles Darwin's trip to the islands, and his quest for answering questions about why animals are so different.

Carl Went to the Library features Carl Sagan and his amazing impact on the world of science.

Richie Doodles showcases Richard Feynman and his contributions to the world of theoretical physics.  Feynman was an inspiration and mentor for world renowned physicist, Lawrence Krauss, who will be writing the forward for this book! 
Go check out the fundraiser!

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Michael Coren Hosting Radio Discussion of Duggars, Ontario Sex Ed & Public Prayer

Michael Coren (source)
Previous Sun News Network host of the Arena, Michael Coren, will be hosting a discussion this evening on News Talk 610 in St. Catharines on topics which I think we all might be interested in:

Not in St Catherines? You can listen online at their website or download apps there to listen on the go (remember you might pay data plan charges!). I downloaded an app for my Android phone and we'll see.

I'll be frank and admit that I've often really disagreed with Coren while listening to him on his old Arena program. So much so that I triggered the following Twitter exchange.
Coren graciously accepted my apology and provided me with this article outlining his views on the sex ed curriculum which I have yet to read.

I'll admit that I still have a hard time re-adjusting my views in such a short time. Maybe it's because I've become hardened with my old age. I'll listen in to the show and try to keep an open mind.

Still, he did always invite Justin Trottier to his show to defend secularism -- at least the secularism I know and love. So I suppose I may need to actually try to take a nuanced approach and try to understand his views on a per issue basis. So much harder!

Actually, I recently found myself agreeing with Coren when it came to James Lunney, so maybe this is part of a broader shift.

Why can't things just be in black and white like the simple good old days?

Monday, 11 May 2015

Finally a Book to Teach Your Kids Christian Mythology as Mythology

The book cover features the Hebrew myth of Lucifer being thrown out of heaven. (source)
Near the very beginning of my blog, back in 2012, I wrote about teaching religious mythology to son. Even though he was only two at the time, I was already thinking about what kinds of resources were out there and how I should expose him to often violent or misogynistic texts. I started with the story of Noah, then the Battle of Jericho and then the whole twisted idea of Easter.

Since then, I've been keeping a keen outlook for books about Christianity that aren't merely watered down Children's Bibles with the goal of spoonfed indoctrination. That's why I'm happy to see a Kickstarted campaign for Christian Mythology For Kids -- A Secular Family's Guide To Modern Christianity by freethinking mom Christine Trooien.

Watch this introduction video.

From their Kickstarter page:
Today, more than ever before, parents are raising their children free from religion. We have very few secular tools to teach our children about the Christian religions that still surrounds us. Secular children encounter bible stories from their peers, through pop culture, and from well intentioned relatives. Oftentimes the message that is delivered along with these stories is one of fear, promises or simply trying to convince young minds that these stories are somehow historical.

We wanted to introduce our children to christianity in a way that doesn't threaten them or coax them into thinking these stories are real. Children's books about Greek and Roman Mythology are wonderful, exciting stories that inform and entertain. Christian Mythology for Kids follows this format, but with a religion that some people still view as true. 
I've got a degree in Classics, and so I've studied the Greek and Roman mythologies. I've also read some Hittite and Sumerian myths as well. There are plenty of great children's anthologies of these myths out there and they do a good job of inoculating children from actually taking them seriously -- while teaching them valuable moral lessons (Aesop) or to never give up (Odyssey, Argonautica, Gilgamesh). 

A perfect analogy to this book would be a collection of Hindu mythology -- much of which would still be believed by millions of Hindus.
Exploring and discussing common Christian myths in a safe environment gives children an unbiased understanding before they encounter it in their daily lives. Christian Mythology for Kids also answers questions that children may have after hearing what their friends or relatives have to say. This book tells the story of each myth, followed by a brief logical or scientific explanation as to why it is mythology
At first I thought that this last part would surely be overkill. Why not just keep it to the story and let the child process it like any other myth? Then my wife reminded me that here in Montreal, we don't have people trying to cram it down our throats as being the slightest bit historical. I might run into the occasional it's a nice myth sort of Christian here in godless Montreal.

Based on the Kickstarter, Christine is located in Arizona -- quite different than secular Quebec! In places like Arizona, much of the United State south and much of Canada books like this would be absolutely necessary to provide children with the sorts of rebuttals necessary against even their school peers.

It would be different if there weren't people at every level of society pushing these fairy stories as fact!

Did I mention it also looks pretty entertaining for us grownups too?  Check it out!

Also go ahead and Like their Facebook page.

'Get Out of Forced Catholicism' Coupons Handed Out At Peterborough School

Back in January, I posted about ingenious Get Out of Forced Catholicism information leaflets that were being distributed by Secular Ontario. Ottawa's Metro News summed up the effort:
Members of a secular humanist group say they will be handing out “get out of jail” coupons to Catholic high school students advising them they have the right to opt out of religion classes.

An email from Secular Ontario said supporters “will be on public property in front of a selected publicly-funded Catholic secondary school to distribute coupons to students,” when classes finish in the afternoon.
Well just today, Veronica Abbass from Canadian Atheist joined a small group of secularists in front of another high school, this one in Peterborough, to hand out the leaflets.
Ms Abbass stood outside of school property when school let out on Monday (May 11). She was hoping to catch students who were walking home, to hand out a coupon that encouraged their right to get out of what the coupon describes as “forced Catholicism.” Ms Abbass argues no student is legally required to attend religion class, and that schools who force the issue are breaking the law.

But Ms Abbass ended up spending most of her time chatting with the school’s administration and one concerned parent who wanted to make sure she wasn’t forcing student who didn’t want to talk about the issue to stop.
Veronica informed me that two teachers even told her they would pray for her. We all know what that could be code for.

(If you would like to enquire about how to obtain some of these coupons for yourself, send an email to

So then the school administration made this totally unnecessary fuss. It seems to me, as it did to Abbass, that they would much rather the students not be aware of their right to skip religious classes -- nor their parents, nor the media. Nobody should know about this.

One parent suggested that Secular Ontario forward their complaint to the government -- as if nobody has thought of that before!
A parent, who declined to give his name, says Ms Abbass is taking up her issue with the wrong people.

He says if she has a problem with publicly-funded Catholic schools, she needs to forward her complaints to the government, not hand out coupons at schools.
What's the government going to do? No politician would ever dare lift a finger against the Catholic church's privileged status.

No, the best approach is to hand out these coupons at schools -- all Catholic schools in the province. The courts have ruled in favour of students opting out of religious classes and this would be the best tactic of all. The more parents who take advantage of this, the more likely Catholic schools will begin going truly private and perhaps voluntarily opt out of Ontario's pseudo-public education system.

Well, I can dream.

For more information on how you get an exemption 
for your child from religious instruction visit:

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Ten Saudi Government Agencies & One University Tackle Sorcery & Magic

Picture of Haia tweeter at @PvGovSa
Things have been so busy lately that I just haven't had time to truly get into blogging. My days have been reduced to reading email alerts from Google about some of my favourite topics. Here's an update from the folks over at the Haia, the Saudi Arabian Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. Let's see what they're up to.
The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (Haia) said most of the magicians it caught came from the African continent, adding that the number of Saudis who practice magic is small. 
Well that's a relief! The news was divulged at a university awareness conference, where ten government agencies took part! That's right, ten government agencies along with a major university are being charged with this all important task.
Haia officials displayed different models of magic works it said the commission confiscated from certain sorcerers and quacks who fell into Haia’s net. It also displayed different metal items designed to keep the evil eye away, and other items to create a rift between man and wife. The infamous magician’s book in Arabic, “Shams Al-Maarif,” was on display. This book is for teaching sorcery.
I'm interested in these items to create a rift between man and wife. 
The Haia pavilion also had on display various liquids it confiscated from one of the "wizards" including mixed herbs in a large mold with “Drink chilled after meals in three large cups daily” written on it.

One Haia officer said these liquids which are used by wizards are prescribed as a kind of medicine for people who search for such illusions.
You might ask, though, how does this differ from government organizations shutting down quacks here in Canada? I mean, there is benefit in shutting down people who con gullible customers into buying useless or even harmful concoctions.

Well, I believe government officials and the university scholars actually believe in this stuff and they behead for it (here, here, here, etc.)

I was looking for something funny to wrap this post up with, but just couldn't find anything at all.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Help Dopio and Other Orphans in Uganda's First Atheist Orphanage: BiZoHa

One of the orphans, Dopio Everlyne. Her father died and mum is too sick with epilepsy to properly care for her.
In March, I posted an interview with Bwambale Robert, Director of the Kasese Humanist Primary School in Uganda. With the help of the atheist and Humanist community, Bwambale is opening the first non-religious -- atheist -- orphanage in the world and he's doing it in Kasese, Uganda.

After a successful fundraiser by Hank Pellissier at the Brighter Brains Institute, construction began on the orphanage. You can follow the amazing construction of the new orphanage over at Hank's blog.

In the first 60 days since the initial fundraiser raised $5,830 for the construction of the new orphanage, just take a look at all that's been achieved!:
  • A primary dormitory building was constructed, with glass windows, for 25 orphans and staff.
  • A 30 ft deep latrine was dug.
  • A pipeline to bring fresh water was installed.
  • A substantial portion of the orphanage's 7 acres of land has been seeded with crops for the sake of future self-sustainability.
Here's a photograph of the new crops. The smart white and red building is the dormitory (building 1) of the orphanage.

Crops planted around the new BiZoHa orphanage dormitory building.
Since then, a generous donor, Dr Bruce Chou, anesthesiologist from California, has contributed $1,000, which is going to construct a classroom for the children. Construction has already begun on this new structure.

This is amazing progress for this project, but more funds are required to see it fully to fruition. Now that the buildings are going up, supplies are required to get the orphanage off the ground and functional -- so that children can move in.

Full disclosure, I am an honorary fellow over at Brighter Brains. Here is a list of the items we want to raise funds for.
Items Needed Now for BiZoHa Orphanage: 
  • $1,200 - Kitchen construction, plus pots, pans, utensils, and appliances
  • $500 - Solar panels - for electricity! BiZoHa is on the equator, with daily sunshine
  • $350 - 1/2 year salary for orphan's "Mother" Guardian
  • $350 - 1/2 year salary for orphan's "Father" Guardian
  • $925 - construction of Roadside Stand (where farm produce and beverages will be sold for self-sufficiency) 
This comes to a grand total of $3,325 needed. The goal here is to use this money to kickstart the institution into self-sufficiency.
BiZoHa Orphanage will be economically self-sufficient in 1 year. This goal will be achieved by selling corn, beans, cassava, peanuts, and lettuce grown on its farm, and by selling drinks at a roadside stand, on the adjacent well-traveled road.
Remember Dopio Everlyne, the little girl whose picture is featured on this post along with a previous post in November when Bwambale provided her with a kikoy dress? At that time, her father had died and her mother was too ill with epilepsy to care for her. She was living with her grandmother. She will be one of the first children to be moved to the new orphanage.
Orphans will soon be moved to BiZoHa - from Muhokya, Kahendero (fishing village on Lake George), and Kasese (provincial capital). The orphans - like Dopio (top photo) - are 5-8 years old.

Muhokya is near the Rwenzori mountains and the Congo border.
As mentioned above, this will be more than just a place to take care of children. A classroom is being constructed and the orphanage will be affiliated with the Kasese Humanist Primary School.
BiZoHa will provide its orphans with an excellent education, because they’ll be instructed by the highly-regarded, science-based Kasese Humanist Primary School (KHPS). Many graduates of KHPS advance to secondary schools and universities.

Secular education and atheism in Uganda is supported by Atheist Alliance International , Foundation Beyond Belief  , PZ Myers , and other irreligious groups and individuals in Australia, United Kingdom, Germany, USA, and Canada (the “Godless Poutine ”)
Like the Humanist school, BiZoHa has the humanist logo on the side of its first building, celebrating its humanist pedigree.

In addition to all of this, there are amazing rewards for donations, ranging from a copy of Bwambale's e-book Orphans of Rwenzori: A Humanist Perspective to getting your name or photo on a permanent plaque on one of the buildings.

There will be more updates to this as the weeks go on. For now, I'll invite you to follow developments over at the Orphans at Kasese Humanist Primary School Facebook page. I also encourage you to make a donation to this cause for the sake of secular education in Uganda and to show the world that atheists really do run organizations which help the community.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Former Islamic School Teacher Claims Principal Banned Girls From Running Over 'Lost Virginity or Fertility' Fears

Girls risking their virginity by running around on a beach! (source)
Boy, those patriarchal Abrahamic religions -- like Islam -- sure do obsess over hymens. You've got artificial hymens, hymen restoration and views of secret defloration.

Then you've got an Islamic school in Australia banning female students from doing track and field lest they lose their virginity or be rendered infertile. Or, at least, that's what a former teacher said happened.

The teacher wrote a letter to the education ministers with the allegations against principal Omar Hallak.
"The principal holds beliefs that if females run excessively, they may 'lose their virginity'," the letter said.

"The principal believes that there is scientific evidence to indicate that if girls injure themselves, such as break their leg while playing soccer, it could render them infertile."
Apparently, this same principal was alleged to have told students that ISIS is merely a Western ploy and that Israel isn't a real country.
"He said there is no such thing as Israel and how dare you say Israel. He said Jews are horrible people."

After Mr Hallak left the room, Mr Somers said he told students Israel existed and was a member of the United Nations.

A number of former al-Taqwa teachers have raised concerns about the principal's views following revelations by Fairfax Media last week that he told students not to join Islamic State because it was a plot by Western countries.

He then went on to say that he believed IS was a scheme by Israel and the US.
Incidentally, this school gets over 15 million dollars annually in taxpayer money.

Back to the running, members of the school's cross country girls running group apparently sent the principal this letter.

Naturally, the principal now denies this ever happened at all.
Mr Hallak denied the allegations in a statement and said girls were "encouraged to participate in all activities" subject to parental consent.

"We do not believe that running excessively may cause female students to lose their virginity or that sporting injuries could render them infertile," the statement to The Age newspaper said.

The statement did not directly address claims that girls from the college's primary school had been blocked from taking part in some district events.

The secretary of the Islamic Council of Victoria, Ghaith Krayem, said he doubted the accusations were true.

"I thought this was a joke when I first read it, and I'm hoping it is a joke," he said.

"I doubt very much that any teacher or principal would say that; I think we all understand biology a little bit better than that.

"I haven't spoken to them, but I am going to give them a call and just touch base to see if there is any possibility of truth to that."
So it appears to be the principal's word against a group of female students who mysteriously had their running events canceled. I would love to know why, right?

The ministry of education will proceed with an investigation anyway.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Ex-Haredim Group Suing Israel For Depriving Them of Basic Secular Education

I've previously written about a Montreal man who is suing the province of Quebec for allowing him and many others who attended Orthodox Jewish schools as children to be deprived of a useful secular education. There is also a Hasidic school in London that's being charged for similarly depriving its students of any sort of education useful for life outside of the Orthodox community.

Well now a new group called Leaving for Change (LFC) in Israel is suing the State for allowing them to be deprived of a useful education.
Former members of the haredi community who have abandoned their way of life, mostly becoming secular, have announced that they will be submitting a lawsuit against the state because they received no basic education.

Their organization, Leaving for Change (LFC), is seeking to sue the state for what it calls its failure to implement the law for compulsory education. The NGO has published an online form, disseminated through social media, asking people to submit details of the education they received in the haredi school system, as well as any subsequent education outside of the haredi system, and how much these studies cost them.
I'll admit that I wasn't able to find any website for this NGO. Perhaps it's only in Hebrew. So far, they've received around 300 submissions and 50 people will be represented in the case.
The large majority of haredi boys in Israel are taught extremely basic math and English in elementary school, and virtually none at all in high school. Other core curriculum subjects, such as sciences and literature, are totally ignored.
It's mostly intense study of religious texts -- the ultimate result is that 90 percent never make it past high school. 

The goal of the lawsuit is not money, per se, but to force the government to provide funding to those who leave the Haredi community so they might transition into the broader secular world.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Shenvald said that many who leave the haredi community have to enroll in supplementary courses to study for and obtain a diploma. In addition, since many such people are ostracized by the haredi community, and frequently even by their families, they have nowhere to live while studying.
Shenvald says it that it often takes two to three years at a cost of as much as $32,000 CDN. This is where the government needs to step in and become responsible for allowing parents to deny their children basic education. How else would adults with little to no practical education be able to escape a life of grinding poverty and dependence on the State?
“In every modern country, the state provides a fully funded education system because it knows that this is in its interests, since without it a situation will be created in which people reaching the age of 18 will not have the tools to be working citizens. Not only will the citizens themselves be harmed, but so, too, is the state, because it now has a person who has become a burden instead of a creative citizen,” Shenvald told the Post.
It's the same situation here in Quebec and that's why it's important that religious groups not be allowed to deprive children of a basic secular education so they might be equal participants in the broader secular culture, should they choose.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Malaysian 'Standard Operating Procedure' Against Witchcraft In Marriages & Divorces

Getting married is stressful and I hear divorces are absolute hell. Both involve dealing with legal gobbledygook, photographers, wedding hall people, cake people and, worst of all: two families. That last bit practically killed Romeo and Juliet. And as if that's not enough to make you stab yourself in the heart, you also have to deal with black magic. What a pain!
As an example, Mahyuddin cited the case of a woman who had sought divorce because she was not in a ‘rational thinking mode’ when she married her husband, whom she claimed had ‘charmed’ her into marrying him.

The wife only realised that the husband had used black magic to marry her after her mother had taken her to a witch doctor, who had later healed her.
I know several single people who question if anyone is in 'rational thinking mode' when getting married. Still, when you're a woman living in a Muslim dominated country like Malaysia, going to a witch doctor to get proof of witchcraft could be your best bet if your husband is unwilling to allow you to leave.

You've got to convince some Sharia court that your husband is either impotent or is abusing your somehow -- and even then, it's got to be a rough situation. Apparently, back in 2011, one woman tried to make the whole witchcraft argument but didn't get an annulment because the judge didn't take sorcery into account. Maybe he thought it was all a load of hooey.
However, he said the same argument could not be used to grant divorce to Yani Yuhana Mohd Zambri who had sought the Syariah Court to end her marriage to Pakistani, Muhammad Kamran Babar Nazir Khan on June 2011.

“Many times, judges are often at crossroads – should they use the claims of black magic and withcraft or simply reject them. That is what the SOP aims to address,” he added.
According to Dr Mahyuddin Ismail from the Committee for Advanced Studies in Witchcraft Law, judges like this ought to be following his university's new Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) to combat the use of witchcraft. I wrote about this earlier. It was the result of a multidisciplinary team of researchers at the Universiti Malaysia Pahang and cost taxpayers $65,000 CDN.
The committee’s chairman, Dr Mahyuddin Ismail said the claims of black magic and withcraft were often brought to the Syariah Courts when couples seek divorce.

“But, since there is no legal provision or procedure to consider the use of black magic and witchcraft in marriages and divorces, such claims are often dismissed,” he said in an exclusive interview with Astro AWANI.

“The SOP is to address this issue,” he said.
This would insert another layer of law -- based, apparently on Sharia law -- on top of their existing laws which take actual crimes into account rather than superstitious nonsense. The goal, it would seem, is to begin prosecuting and punishing people using laws based entirely on hysteria inducing immaterial metaphysical beliefs.

Notice that this is not a procedure to combat belief in witchcraft. It is apparent that everyone, including the police and the university researchers in the country firmly believe in sorcery. So, now dreadful processes are being devised to fight a non-existent enemy. We all know where that lead Europe.

What a bold step back into the middle ages -- all thanks to blind superstition.

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