Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Teaching Minors About Paganism

In the last misconception that I talked about, I mentioned the issue of teaching minors about Paganism and feel that more needs to be said about it as it is a much debated topic. Should people be allowed to teach minors? Why or why not? Each person has his or her own reasons for teaching or not.

My first reaction would be to say, why not? Every other religion is expected to teach their children about their religion. If a minor walked into a Christian church, as an example, that child would not be turned away and there would not be many that would find anything wrong with the situation. As I write this, I remember that when I was eight, I walked to and attended a church alone without my parents or any other adults and I was never turned away.

Unfortunately, there is more to consider, as some writers have pointed out. As a minority religion, Pagans have to be careful as there are still many misconceptions. Although it is a recognized religion, people still react negatively when they hear the word Pagan. Remember the family from Illinois?

In the current issue (#44) of PanGaia, 4 people discuss their views on whether Pagans should teach minors. Two say no, two say yes. However, three of four, including both of the people that say “no,” point out that if they are approached by minors that that they will point them in the direction of what they should study. My first thought was “But that is teaching them, just in a different way – it’s guiding.” It may not be standing beside them telling them information directly, but guiding is still teaching.

One of the debate contributors in PanGaia, talks about this issue in terms of the “mystic arts” saying that it is not a good idea to teach kids magic and the kids should not be taught the Pagan religion. But teaching kids about the religious side of Paganism doesn’t necessary include magical training.

I think that there needs to be a distinction between the religious side and the practice of magic. Yes, Pagans often include magic as part of their religion, but it is just one aspect. There are still so many things that are available to teach. Almost all the people in the PanGaia issue mentioned that they would direct kids who wanted to learn to some subjects such as anthropology, history, mythology and astronomy while they are waiting to turn 18. While all of these subjects are great to know, they still don’t teach people about the morals and ethics that a Pagan follows.

Although I can understand some of the reasoning behind not teaching minors about Paganism, especially when it comes to the magic aspect, if you deny kids the right to a teacher, they will always find a way to learn. And it might not be a way that is conducive to themselves or the Pagan community. As one writer in PanGaia mentioned, there are some out that will prey on the young and will use any means to do so. Some even use the guise of Paganism.

So, should minors be allowed to learn? I really think that they should be allowed to learn, but with certain limitations, especially when it comes to magic. However, I would agree that if the child is not their own, the parents should be contacted and what will be taught, with permission from the parent, should be discussed.

Here are what others have to say about teaching minors:

Kyriea at Witches Voice
Why arent' we raising our Children as Pagans?
Pagan Parenting

12 comments:

Penguin said...

But teaching kids about the religious side of Paganism doesn’t necessary include magical training. I couldn't agree more. My 12-year-old has been curious about my beliefs since she was 5. I have always taught her about the basics and did not include magic or spells until this summer. I explained to her - and anyone else who asks - that not all Pagans conduct spells or magic; I believe that is closer to Wicca.

As with any other question a child asks, I think they should be given the information they are old enough to handle, and no more. They should also be given honest answers; not just something to satisfy them and send them on their way.

Wanderer said...

I think that one should be extremely wary about teaching minors who are not their children. This is true not only of paganism. I would be fairly angry if someone started teaching my daughter about any other religion without my permission.

At the same time, there is no reason not to teach our own children what we believe. As penguin indicated, this would obviously be tempered by what they are capable of understanding. You don't have to get into ritual magick in order to explain the God and Goddess to them.

A rule I held when I taught classes a few years back on Pagan and Wiccan beliefs was that not only did a minor need parental permission, their parents were required to come with them. That way there would be no miscommunication.

I have heard another complaint, that you can't be certain of the sincerity of the minor. In truth, you can't be certain with adults either. Besides, if you focus initially on the spirituality, those who aren't sincere pretty quickly quit showing up. Kind of a "Wax on, Wax off" policy.

Niobium said...

I can certainly see where teaching minors could be a problem and I'm not sure that I would do it without a parents written permission. But at the same time, don't teens have the right to make their own decisions?

Decision making requires practice. And if a kid isn't *ever* allowed to make their own decisions until their 18, they will have some serious damage to overcome when they are *required* to make their own decisions.

Wanderer said...

Agreed, but that would still fall more under the purview of parental right and responsibility. Dangerous ground to tread if they aren't your kids.

Niobium said...

wanderer: I absolutely agree. But it's such a murky/grey area.

Sojourner said...

Sorry I have taken so long to respond.

Penguin said:

I think they should be given the information they are old enough to handle

Yes, that is a great point but I don't think it should be limited by age. Some kids are mature enough at an earlier age than others and it also depends on the type of information that is being asked about.

However, if the kid is old enough to know that you are delaying giving them the information, but still not mature enough for the material they are asking for, you would have to be sensative to that and find a way that will not hurt their easily bruised, young egos.

Wanderer said:

I think that one should be extremely wary about teaching minors who are not their children.This is true not only of paganism. I would be fairly angry if someone started teaching my daughter about any other religion without my permission.

I can understand that. If I had children I would most likely feel the same way. But let's say your daughter is 14 and goes to someone for that information? Would you deny her the access to that information or would you allow her to learn?

I would have a problem if someone came up to a child and started preaching, but if a child is curious and asked their parent if it was okay to approach someone about learning about a different faith, I would allow it depending on the age of the child. At some point, children have to be given some room to make their own decisions because if we don't give then that room, the lesson that they will learn is that their parents don't trust them to make decisions. Niobuim said it best when she posted:

But at the same time, don't teens have the right to make their own decisions?

Decision making requires practice. And if a kid isn't *ever* allowed to make their own decisions until their 18, they will have some serious damage to overcome when they are *required* to make their own decisions.

Niobium said...

I see two issues here: 1. should a religious group/individual be allowed to instruct a minor in religion? 2. At what point do we allow teens to start to make their own decisions based on their self-described needs?

If a kid came to me and asked me to instruct them in Pagan practices I would be very leary and would probably refuse. If a teen came to me, one sixteen or older, I would be more likely to participate in instruction regardless of the parents desires. Certainly I wouldn't continue if the parents threatened me but if the teen was consistently coming to me and asking for more lessons, even though her/his parents knew and objected, I would continue if I felt the teen was responsible with the information I was providing.

I can't help but to draw an analogy with parental consent laws regarding abortion. I know abortions is a contentious issue without involving minors, but I'm reminded of the same arguement. You cannot preach to teens about practicing good decision making skills if you don't allow them to make decisions in the first place, especailly when it comes to something life changing like pregnancy and spiritual needs.

soleclaw said...

I see nothing wrong with teaching one's own child their own religious path. But, as Penguin said, age-appropriate information is a must. Of course every child is different in his capabilities to process information and parents always take that into consideration.

Would I instruct a minor that isn't my child in Paganism? No. But, I wouldn't instruct an adult either! Guide, or point them in the right direction, perhaps.

Cosette said...

Yay Sojourner! I know both of those "No" writers in the magazine. One is my covenmate and the other an aquaintance I deeply respect.

This is another great topic that I think I'll write about in my own blog. See how inspiring you are?!

Sojourner said...

Niobuim -you're analogy is well taken re: abortion.

Soleclaw said:

Of course every child is different in his capabilities to process information and parents always take that into consideration.

Maybe that is why it is better to teach only your own children, as you know their capabilities better than anybody else.

Cosette said:

I know both of those "No" writers in the magazine. One is my covenmate and the other an aquaintance I deeply respect.

Both of them are great writers. Although I admit that I don't agree with all they have to say, they both bring up points that are worth taking a second look at.

Also - Thanks for the compliment!

Wanderer said...

"But let's say your daughter is 14 and goes to someone for that information? Would you deny her the access to that information or would you allow her to learn?"

Probably not. I would want to know what they were teaching her, though. I would also expect to know. I am not saying that I would deny her access to making informed decisions, but I would be remiss if I didn't lend my experience and knowledge to examining the credentials of the proposed teacher, for example.

Most importantly I would be remiss as a parent to not investigate enough to be able to discuss what she has learned and what she believed with her at such point as she might desire to do so.

Cosette said...

I pulled out my issue of PanGaia and I was wrong. My friends are a Yes and a No. See how we are? LOL. Anyway, I started responiding to this on my blog, but I'm not finished yet. I think I sound a little angry (but I'm not).