Volume 8, Issue 1: Repairing the Ruins
The Rise and Fall Government Education
Horace Mann (1796-1858) was the father of the public schools in our country.
He was deeply hostile to the historic Christian faith, and sought to replace
that faith with a kinder, gentler faith, i.e. faith in man. (Historic Christianity
had far too many sharp edges on which sinners might hurt themselves.) The engine
selected to propagate this humanistic faith was the common or public school.
But as a true man of faith, Mann did not expect tiny things from his god. As
he put it, "Let the Common School be expanded to its capabilities, let it be worked
with the efficiency of which it is susceptible, and nine-tenths of the crimes
in the penal code would become obsolete; the long catalogue of human ill would
be abridged; men would walk more safely by day; every pillow would be more inviolable
by night; property, life and character held by a stronger tenure; all rational
hopes respecting the future brightened."
But a century after the common schools were established, we are all confronted
with a dismal spectacle. It does not compare at all well with the glowing messianic
vision for public education that was set forth by the seers and prophets of humanism
in the last century. Academic standards have plummeted, and parents now have
to worry about the physical safety of their children. Many school officials
have quit worrying about gum under the seats and have started worrying about
whether the metal detectors at the doors are adequate. They usually are not.
This poor outcome, however, should not have been such a surprise. A few orthodox
and thinking Christians of the nineteenth century were not at all taken in. R.L.
Dabney, a staff officer for "Stonewall" Jackson, prophesied clearly where the attempt
by the government to provide a good, "neutral" education would all lead. He knew
what would happen to these government schools. "We have seen that their complete
secularization is logically inevitable. Christians must prepare themselves then,
for the following results: All prayers, catechisms, and Bibles will ultimately
be driven out of the schools." A.A. Hodge, a great theologian at Princeton, said
that if the government schools were established, they would prove to be the greatest
engine of atheism the world had ever seen. Unfortunately, few Christians at that
time had the insight of Dabney and Hodge.
This was because, although the intellectual impetus behind government schools
was unbelieving and clearly humanistic, the local schools were still controlled
at the local level by Christians. Protestant evangelical Christians thought of
the public schools as their schools. The Catholics agreed with this, and began
their parochial school system as a response to the "evangelical" public schools.
Only a few Christians had correctly identified the leaven of "neutrality," and
where it would lead. It is hard to know what is more astonishing -- those few
Christians who saw the real issues a century ago, or those thousands of Christians
today who still do not see it.
The public schools were formed when the culture of the United States was overwhelmingly
and openly Christian. This is why some Christians today look back at those days
with some nostalgia. If only . . . If only we could return to the schools of
the last century. If only we could return to McGuffy's Readers . Some of us wistfully
look back to the public schools of our childhood, back before prayer was banned.
If only . . . This nostalgic approach neglects one thing -- the public schools
were a rebellious idea from the start. Is it bad for the humanists to take our
tax money and force us to educate our children according to a worldview we reject?
But if it is bad for them to do this to us, then how was it good for us to do
it to them? Parents are responsible for the education of their own children,
and must not employ the coercive power of the state to educate the children of
others. With regard to education, parents must determine its character, bear
its costs, set its direction, and through what they do in their childrearing,
present their children before the Father at the last day. This is the law of
God, and it is a law which cannot be obeyed through a civil magistrate pretending
that the existence of God is a matter of educational indifference. Education
is one of the most religious things we do. The idea that it can be conducted
from a "secular" vantage point is laughable. The pretence of neutrality can be
made for a time, but only as a transitional tactic. When a culture is changing
her gods, she usually cannot bear to jettison them all at once. She must be persuaded
to do so gradually, and the farce of neutrality usually provides sufficient time
to do this.
Contrary to certain popular Christian assumptions, the crack-up of the government
schools is not the result of them taking a "wrong turn" somewhere in the sixties.
"We took God out of the schools, and look what happened." The god who was in the
public schools before that time was an idol . It certainly made people who had
little understanding of true religion feel good in praying to him, but this was
only because this idol had all the divine characteristics and attributes of a
Christians must not be children in understanding; we must come to a mature mind.
We must repent of our attempts to save "our" public schools. If the professing
evangelical Christians in our nation were to take their children by their hands
and walk away, they would soon hear the roar of a collapsing and fallen god
behind them. If they do not leave, it will still fall, but with their children