My time as a volunteer Humanist School Visitor

By Mervyn Barr, Humanist Celebrant and School Visitor

Mervyn Barr

I joined Humanist Society Scotland several years ago and I trained to become a registered celebrant in spring 2017, a role which I love doing. I also became involved in late 2017 in the Humanist Society’s school visitor system. I am particularly interested in the work of this volunteer program as it’s a good opportunity to increasing understanding about humanist values and who humanist are to young people across Scottish schools.

To date I’ve visited both primary school classes and secondary classes, which have included group discussions in open forum or panel sessions. It can be quite challenging in trying to find the right vocabulary, particularly for primary school ages, to explain humanist principles in an easy to understand way, but reference to the Golden Rule is a good mechanism to get started.

Topics discussed by students are often topical, such as the treatment of child migrants by the Trump administration

In secondary schools I have been tasked with explaining a variety of subjects and Humanist viewpoints to a range of classes. Mostly pupils are attentive though shy, and there are the usual suspects seated in the back rows, but they are mostly engaged. I try to keep the subjects topical e.g. on Critical Thinking they are approaching a point where career decisions have to be made including any further education or apprenticeship choices. Also there are current events like Trump’s treatment of immigrant children and the Irish debate on abortion.

No matter what the context, I have found pupil’s questions are varied, interesting and very often challenging – e.g. have you ever broken the law? do you believe in recreational drug use? What do you think of Female Genital Mutilation? Is abortion not murder? I am really pleased to see that young people in our schools are critically thinking about contentious topics and having informed debates about questions around moral topics.

Students often ask about subjects that Humanists are active campaigners on, such as Abortion rights.

The one thing I’ve found that is common to pretty much all the pupils and most teachers, is an unawareness of what Humanism is about; this reinforces my motivation to continue visits, to work closely with teachers who are almost invariably appreciative, and improve common perceptions and understanding of humanism, and what is important to the Humanist community.

Currently I am aiming to build a good network with local RMPS teachers and developed a good working relationship with one teacher in particular helping them to develop some RME school material that covers Humanist thoughts within the existing topics covered in the curriculum.

If you are thinking of getting involved as a volunteer Schools Visitor – I’d say “come on in” – the experience and sense of reward is lovely. Please see the information on this section of the website to find out more about what we do and how you can get involved.

School visitors are an important part of Humanist Society Scotland’s wider education work which is entirely funded and supported by kind donations to our Education Fund. To find out more about the aims of the Education Fund and how you can support it please click here.


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