Book Review: I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World

I Am MalalaMalala Yousafzai tells the inspiring story of her life (so far) in her gripping memoir I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World. Malala's story is great for helping young people develop a diverse, global view while demonstrating the universal importance of education and critical thinking. Moreover, Malala's story is a powerful example of the power young people have to change the world. Recommended for youth 6th grade and up, her story is sure to be one that inspires, enthralls, and tugs at a range of emotions.

Malala's story is one of courage during times of adversity, tenacity in the midst of resistance and an unquenchable thirst to learn.

Ever since she was a young girl, barely old enough to form her own words, Malala would stand at the front of her father's classroom in the Swat Valley of Pakistan giving passionate speeches and lectures to an imaginary audience. The daughter of a school owner and teacher, school has always been like a home to Malala. Her father's passion for education did not have limits—education was to be for every boy and every girl, regardless of tradition or certain political/religious influences. Always her father's shadow, Malala was quick to absorb his passion for education.

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4 Tips for Talking About Philosophy with Your Kids

Chicken or the Egg?A good place to start, both for this post and with your kids, is asking “What is Philosophy?”  Well, Philosophy is not a collection of catchy phrases or our personal worldviews.  If you go to any of the university philosophy departments around the country you’ll find a thriving discipline that focuses on a number of fields of inquiry.  But we can’t tell our 9 year olds they’ll have to wait until they graduate high school to start asking about ethics, knowledge, and reality, the three main topics philosophers look into.  And if you haven’t noticed already, they’re asking these questions by the bushel. 

But just as importantly, these questions are super difficult – for us!  How do we discuss these questions when we likely haven’t even taken a philosophy course ourselves on our own trips through college?

Here are four tips for parents and educators who don’t already have graduate degrees in both philosophy and education. 


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Wendy Thomas Russell, author of Relax, It's Just God, Visits Camp Quest and Tells Us What's on Her Mind

WendyWendy Thomas Russell is an award winning journalist, author of Relax, It’s Just God: How and Why to Talk to Your Kids About Religion When You’re Not Religious, and blogger at Natural Wonderers on Patheos’ atheist channel. She is also a member of the Board of Advisers for the Yale Humanist Community. Wendy currently lives in Southern California with her husband and daughter.


To start, tell us a little bit about when and why you became interested in non-religious or secular parenting?

Like most parenting writers, my journey started with my kid. My daughter, Maxine, was 5 at the time. I was 37. At that point in my life, religion — or atheism, for that matter — just wasn’t a topic that came up very often. My secularism was kind of a non-thing. But then Maxine started asking questions, and I realized I was seriously unprepared. I mean, I knew that I wanted to raise a really kind person who was generally literate in religion. But that didn’t add up to a plan, and I needed one. When I looked around and found nothing that resembled the book I wanted to read, I decided to write my own.


From what we've read, it seems a lot of your writing revolves around, one the one hand, respectfully exploring important concepts – like meaning, death, god, and morality – as world religions teach them, and then on the other, exploring these concepts in a new light without religion.

Could you first say a bit about religious literacy, a topic we wrote on recently. Why do you think it matters so much?

I don’t think we can raise our kids to be truly open-minded and appreciative of diversity without introducing them to religion — or encouraging them to explore religion for themselves. I get very little out of religion (other than an academic fascination with it) and my daughter may grow up to feel the same, but I need her to know what other people believe and why they believe it. And I need her to know that it’s okay to believe things that I don’t. She was born into a freethinking family, and that means she gets to have her own opinion on this. 

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The Olympics of Science: The Nobel Prize

PrizeYou’ve probably heard about the Nobel Prizes, which are awarded every year to scientists, authors, and organizations for exceptional contributions to science, literature, peace, and society. Many of the Nobel winners are Famous Freethinkers too.

But have you heard about the Ig Nobel Prizes for improbable research? They are awarded to people doing strange, unexpected, creative, and/or funny-sounding research. The Nobel Prizes are very serious: they are given to people who have spent decades working on a single idea or problem at an extremely fancy ceremony with Swedish royalty. The Ig Nobel ceremony is in contrast silly and generally not about world-changing contributions to science or society, but it is just as inspiring. The goal of the Ig Nobels is to “make people laugh, then make them think.”

Here are a few of our favorite 2015 Ig Nobel Prizes:

  • a chemical recipe to partially un-boil an egg

  • nearly all mammals empty their bladders in about 21 seconds (try this at home!)

  • the word "huh?" (or its equivalent) seems to exist in every human language

  • when you attach a weighted stick to the rear end of a chicken, the chicken then walks in a manner similar to that in which dinosaurs are thought to have walked

Read through past years’ winners to learn about levitating frogs, how gum flavors affect your brain waves, dogs’ bathroom habits, the arrest of a one-handed man for clapping, how Pepsi brought peace to the Philippines, and that black holes fulfill all the technical requirements to be the location of Hell.

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Heather's Dad is Donating $1,500 to Camp Quest if You Match Him!

Tommy and HeatherTommy pledges $1,500 to Camp Quest if you will match it. Tommy's daughter Heather had a great experience at Camp Quest Smoky Mountains this summer, and he wants to make sure that more children like Heather get to have the same experience.  

Here's what Tommy has to say:

This past August my 9-year-old daughter, Heather, attended her first sleep-away summer camp at Camp Quest in Eastern Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains. She had the time of her life there and is begging to go back next year. She loved the campfires and marshmallows, friends, games, and nature hikes. As a father, however, it was nice to know that her experience at Camp Quest was much more than the typical “hiking and campfires. Camp Quest really stands out in this regard. In-between the standard campfire songs or nature hikes, there are science experiments and even chances for the campers to learn about philosophy and ethics. In an area surrounded by vacation bible school summer camps, it’s nice to know there is a secular, nonreligious alternative aimed at promoting humanist values, learning about science, and encouraging wonder at the natural world. 

My daughter’s camping experience was phenomenal. Not only did she have fun, but I could be sure she was engaged in learning life skills that really matter at the same time. I want other children to be able do the same. The world needs more Camp Quests and that is why I am donating $1,500 to the organization and asking for the public to donate matching funds. 

Help us make Tommy's match and create more amazing weeks of Camp Quest for kids like Heather all over the United States. 

(Psst... we're still finishing up our match from the Stiefel Freethought Foundation. If you've done that math that means that your gift to this challenge actually gets quadrupled instead of doubled! There is no better time to give.) » Read more

Book Review: Code Talker

Code TalkersCode Talker is written by Joseph Bruchac. It has a recommended reading level for ages 11 and up. Given the fascinating history of the Navajo Code Talkers, this historical fiction narrative makes for an excellent read for anyone—even adults!

Kii Yazhi's life began to change when he was sent away from his clan to go to boarding school. This school was not a place for Kii Yazhi and other Navajo children to learn about their own culture, customs and language. Rather they were forced to adapt to the bilagaanaa (the white people) ways. Their hair, which by Navajo tradition was kept long and as such was a sacred thing, was cut off. Their clothing and jewelry were taken away from them (their jewelry was sold to white people), and in exchange they were given military-styled uniforms. It was not enough for the physical appearance of a Navajo child to resemble that of the white people's children. Navajo children also had their Navajo names stripped from them; they were given English names instead (Kii Yazhi was given the English name Ned Begay). Most importantly, Navajo children were never allowed to speak their Navajo language. Never.

It was no good to be Navajo nor to speak Navajo—the white people ways and the English language were the only things acceptable for Navajo children in the boarding schools. Ironically, the very language that the white people tried to eradicate would become the language that would be instrumental to the U.S. Marines winning the battle of Iwo Jima. » Read more

Indoctrination: 4 Tips to Avoid Our Biggest Fear When Teaching Ethics

Scared GirlIn a previous post we argued that teaching critical thinking alone was not enough. There are values, skills, and knowledge that we want our campers to walk away with after camp that are more than just about accurately processing information.  We want them to be good people, we want them to flourish!

So, what do we do to “make sure” our kids grow up to be awesome people with flourishing lives?

Now a lot of parents and teachers may already be saying, “I don’t care who she grows up to be, as long as it’s who she wants to be,” or “I’ll let my kid decide for himself what it means to be good.” 

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Interview with the author of Parenting Without God, Dan Arel


Book cover

Dan Arel's new book Parenting Without God came out this month. He graciously answered a few questions for Camp Quest about the book, writing, and his approach to parenting and living as an atheist.


What did you want to be when you were a child?

When I was very young, probably around 4 and 5 I wanted to be a preacher. I would stand on my grandparents fireplace and preach to them. I grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and visited the church of Jimmy Swaggart in the 80’s and the regular church we attended was very flashy as well.

After that, I actually thought I would end up being a history teacher.

When did you start writing?

I had kept blogs from time to time for the last 10 years or so from personal to tech and music and eventually started writing about politics, religion and science. The ranged from LiveJournal, Wordpress, and Tumblr blogs and around 3 years ago I attended an American Humanist Conference and saw journalist and author Katha Pollitt speak on being a writer and was encouraged and  » Read more

Cloning and Transgenics

Dolly the Sheep

Have you ever wished you had a twin so you could play elaborate jokes on people or only do half your chores? What would you do with a few dozen twins: build an army to exterminate Jedi or do massive beach cleanups? Cloning could make these dreams come true!

Cloning is used in movies, books, and cartoons to create complex plots and “what if?” scenarios. But shortly after the first Jurassic Park movie premiered in 1993, cloning became possible in reality. In 1996 the first mammal was cloned from a single adult cell: Dolly the sheep!

She was an exact duplicate of her mother: they had the same DNA pattern. DNA is a set of chemical instructions on how to build a sheep (or a starfish or a turnip) that is in each cell. Every individual's DNA pattern is unique, like a fingerprint...unless you are an identical twin or a clone. Dolly’s cloning used three moms: one who gave the DNA, one who supplied the egg that the DNA was put into, and another who carried the egg and eventual fetus in her womb. She could have also been cloned with just one mom to supply all three of those things.

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Book Review: Grandmother Fish

Grandmother fishGrandmother Fish is written by Jonathan Tweet and illustrated by Karen Lewis. It has a recommended reading level for 1-7 years of age, but with the motions added it's a really fun book for parents too.  

Grandmother Fish is a clever new book about evolution. Aimed at preschoolers, this book engages children by asking them to imitate various motions and sounds that they can relate to and that our ancestors would have made. With simple text and beautiful illustrations and colors this book draws children in, inviting them to explore evolution in very easy terms.

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