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The Place of Religion in School

( Originally Published 1897 )



The Problem that is Presented. - The great importance of moral training as a department of education, and the generally accepted opinion that morality must rest on a religious basis (See duties of teachers in Appendix), have given rise to much discussion regarding the place of religion in the Public School. The consideration of the question cannot be overlooked in a work on School Management.

Among those who discuss the duties of the teacher regarding religion, there is much difference of opinion. There is a sense in which religion cannot be taught in the Public School without presenting very serious practical difficulties. If children require such religious teaching as will induce them to believe that the acceptance of the special doctrines of their Church is a Christian duty, or that the interpretation of the Bible as given by their denomination is the only sound one, it is clear that religious instruction cannot in a mixed community become part of the school programme.

There is another sense in which religion may be given a place that will meet with general approval. If religion is mainly something that should be observed in all the actions of life, it is hard to see how it can be excluded from the school, the farm, the shop, the office, and the legislative halls. The practical problem, so often discussed, is whether religion may be taught in such a way as to meet with the approval of different denominations. The pedagogical problem-the solution of which has a prior claim for consideration-is whether the teacher must give religious instruction in order to make moral training effective. Unfortunately many persons have too often ignored the the solution which educationists give to the pedagogical problem, and by assuming that the one who trains in grammar and in morals must also train in dogma, have given rise to animosities which have promoted neither charity nor any other Christian virtue.

The science of education and the judgment of the ablest teachers should afford the best means of ascertaining the proper place of religion in school. If it once can be established that instruction in religion and training in morality must be combined by the teacher, there can be no justification, apart from expediency, for undenominational schools. No nation can ignore the ethical training of the young. Morality must be taught in school even should national education be abandoned and sectarian schools restored. On the question of the place of religion in school, three views are advocated by different classes :

1. Secular Schools.-One class of persons oppose the use of any kind of religious exercises. They base their objections generally on the question of expediency. They hold that denominational differences render it impossible to give religion a place in the school without stepping on the dangerous ground of sectarianism. For the purpose of avoiding strife, and with the object of providing an educational system acceptable to all classes, they favor schools that are purely secular. They assume, that if all exercises of a religious character are dropped, no sectarian difficulties will arise, and that a position of neutrality is the only safe one to be taken by a State with a mixed population. It should be mentioned that the term " secular " is used with considerable indefiniteness. With some it, means merely the absence of religious instruction, and with others a neutral attitude on the value of religion.

A system of secular schools that leaves the value of religion an open question, cannot settle the difficulty. It will not meet the wishes of those who believe that religious instruction should form part of the daily work of the school. It will not satisfy those who hold that religious motives are essential to moral training. Besides, if difficulties present themselves to the teacher, they will not be removed by any compromise of this kind. To abolish religious exercises does not prevent, and cannot prevent, the reference to religion that comes up in giving effective instruction in literature, In history, and in science. To exclude religion from the school is impossible.

A few persons of this class are not friends of religion in any form, and object to the use of any incentives in moral training that are based on principles to which they do not subscribe. A position neither for nor against religion is what they maintain should be taken by the teacher. It is evident, however, that a neutral attitude is practically impossible. No neutral ground on the question of religion will be received with favor by any Christian body. The so-called neutral position would be a surrender. Every class of citizens should, doubtless, receive reasonable considerstion, but concessions should not take the form of capitulation. Freedom of the State from Church control is now generally accepted as an axiom of government. The acceptance of this principle does not, however, call for the abolition of all laws founded on Christianity, or the removal of any references to the Deity from school books in order to satisfy, if possible, some one who says in his heart there is no God. It should be recollected that agnostic writers of eminence have never denied the value of religion in ethical training. Herbert Spencer recognizes the importance of Christianity as a moral force, and the late Professor Huxley advocated the use of the Bible in school. As a people we are a Christian nation, and while the conscientious convictions of all classes should be respected, it will be unsafe to pander to that element which has done harm to civilized nations, and which is certainly not made up of those who are most active in the community in preserving law and order, and in sustaining those institutions that have for their object the improvement of the race. The man of intelligence and uprightness, even though his religious opinions are far from what would be considered orthodox, never objects to the formation of character on Christian principles. That very small minority which is made up of those who scoff at religion and have no respect for Christian ministers should not dictate to the majority.

2. Denominational "Schools. -A second class of persons assume quite an opposite attitude, and maintain that religious instruction should form an integral part of school work. They believe that morality cannot be taught effectively unless lessons in religion are given in the school. They hold that the Church should have due recognition in the course of study prescribed, and contend, with more or less definiteness, that instruction in the Bible, in the catechism, or in the dogmas of the Church, must have a place in the programme.

It must be admitted that persons maintaining these views can appeal to the general acceptance of such opinions for centuries. It must also be conceded that every Christian nation of Europe has attained its present educational status under a system largely of this kind. The Public School is the gift of Christianity to the race. Its primary function was to impart religious instruction. With the establishment of absolute religious freedom and the multiplication of sects, it lost the distinctive characteristics it had received from the Church. By the diffusion of intelligence among the masses there has resulted an increased development of the intellectual element. It has accordingly been urged that any lessening of the influence of the Church on the original purposes of the school will endanger morality. It has been further contended that any sound instruction in moral duties must be based on definite denominational principles, and that authorized religious views are essential as a guide to conduct.

Opinions of this kind prevail among some of the most intelligent members of the community. Separate or parochial schools, and denominational colleges, have been preferred by many people. Unanimity regarding the comparative merits of national and denominational education is far in the distance. Unanimity on this question, as well as on many other questions, is not, however, essential to national greatness or to educational progress. It is better to have some variety in social, political and educational agencies, than to have dead uniformity. Private schools, for instance, are not usually regarded as efficient as public ones, but they have their use among people of diversified aims and marked social distinctions. In like manner denominational schools and colleges, though not generally preferred in this country, have their own field of usefulness, and often stimulate the state institutions to greater activity in many things that pertain to the formation of important phases of character. The advocates of denominational education press upon public attention the need of duly recognizing religion as a factor in moral advancement. The raison d'etre of sectarian schools and universities is a belief that the religious element cannot, with safety to the State, be ignored. Their existence furnishes the conviction that undenominational institutions cannot retain popular sympathy if religious sanctions are set aside as incentives to right action.

It should be mentioned here that the vexed question of State aid to denominational schools and colleges, as well as the extent to which they should be under public control, is a political phase of the subject the consideration of which would be foreign to a work of this kind.

3. National Schools.-A third class of persons hold that moral training in school requires religious sanctions, but not religious instruction. This opinion prevails in this country and in the United States, and it is steadily gaining ground in most countries of Europe. Wherever the separation of Church and State has met with favor, and wherever a spirit of union and tolerance has grown, there has been less demand for dogmatic instruction in religion, and greater importance has been attached to the essentials of Christianity. Increased good-will among different classes, and the removal of sectarian questions from the arena of politics, have promoted united efforts in educational, as well as in social and philanthropic, movements. More frequently than formerly, to do good in this life has been proclaimed as the chief duty of the Christian, and the character of men has been felt to be of more value to the State than their doctrinal views. The Church, like a tree, is known by its fruit, and no one Church, it is held, produces all the good fruit.

It is felt that no denomination can claim exclusive possession of those principles that are essential to morality. Good citizens are found among both Roman Catholics and Protestants. Neither moral worth nor material prosperity is dependent on a belief in the special tenets of any one sect. National greatness and national progress do not require the people of the State to adhere to any one form of Christian faith. Judged by the experience of England France, Germany, Italy, Canada and the United States, religious instruction, even when given in schools, is no guarantee that people will be free from sin and crime. Children have turned out bad who had all the advantages from religious instruction in their homes, in the church, and in the school. In spite of the evident advantages of religious instruction the conclusion must be admitted, that, apart from the question, by whom it should be given, it can never make up for defects in the other factors that are essential to the development of character.

Every civilized nation has assumed in its legal enactments, and in its administration of justice, the omnipotence of God. The civil oath which is exacted by the State shows the character of the national will. It assumes that religion is a quickener of the individual conscience, and that a belief in moral responsibility is firmly established in the human heart. On these grounds the use of religion, but not necessarily religious instruction, has its place in every well-conducted Public School. Like the State, the school may employ for its own ends those motives and incentives which human nature possesses as its divine attributes.

The State does not foster the special views of any sect, when it admits religion to be the essential basis of morality. The value of religious training may be assumed without as examination of its principles, " You might as well say that we shall not use the sunlight, unless we teach the chemistry of it ; that we shall not breathe air unless we analyze it in the schools, as to say that you cannot use religious sanctions, unless you use the dogmatic definitions of religion. We do not want definitions, we do not want dogma stated, but we want recognition of God and obedience to His will."- White.

The end of the school is not to teach religion, but to train children to become good citizens. The advocates of sectarian schools often say that the parent has an inalienable right to decide how his child shall be educated. It may be admitted that he has certain rights, as well as duties, regarding the religious, moral, intellectual and physical training of his children. He cannot relieve him-self of any of his natural obligations should the State make no provision to grant him assistance for the discharge of his duties. If the State, in its interests, decides to confine its efforts to what will assist the parent to train his children morally and intellectually, their religious and physical wants must still receive the attention of the parent. The parent is a criminal in the eyes of the law if he allows his children to starve even though he assumes the State should supply them with food. His religious obligation is not removed if the State, in its wisdom, should also refuse to do regarding religion what it assumes should be left to the parent or the Church. In either case the will of the State, and not that of individuals, is supreme.

The aim of national institutions of learning is to develop character, and religion is simply an instrument to be used for the purpose only so far as necessary. If religion is not the end of the school instruction in its doctrines can form no part of the teacher's duties. If religion is to be ad led to the subjects of the Public School curriculum, it is evident from its transcending importance it must receive greater recognition on the time table than either reading or arith metic. The Normal School course must, in that event, include methods in Bible teaching, and results must be tested in the same way as in grammar, history or arithmetic. Once the necessity of religious instruction in creeds or dogmas is admitted, the establishment of denominational schools instead of national schools is the logical outcome.

Morality is not confined to the teaching of any one religious body. Those who do wrong have not lived up to the doctrines of their Church. The motives which flow from a belief in a personal God as the creator and moral ruler of the world; in the dependence of man on his Maker, and in his obligation to love and serve Him; in the immortality of the soul, and in the accountability of every in telligent person to the Supreme Being, are recognized principles of every efficient system of ethics. Reverence for authority is a necessary condition of obedience to law, and this implies a reverence for, and a belief in, the Source of all law. These facts prove that in promoting moral training, the teacher is required to assume all the principles of Christianity that are essential to his purpose. No teacher is justified in excusing himself for any failure in securing moral results on the plea that he is precluded from using the highest incentives. As a matter of fact, moral training is secured in the good Church school by exactly such means as it is secured in the good Public School. Without inviting comparisons, it will scarcely be held that the moral character of pupils taught in sectarian schools is superior to that of those trained in national institutions. The population that reaches this continent from countries where education is denominational, is certainly not made up of those who are more obedient to law and stronger upholders of order than the people who have grown up in shin country under the influences of national schools. Here no caste, no social barriers, no religious animosities separate those who have been taught in the same school. Education to them becomes the temple of the nation, uniting all classes, all nationalities and all creeds. The school effaces unreal distinctions, develops the noblest features of humanity, and unites in a great brotherhood those whom Christianity would include in a common fold.

The efficiency of national schools is the crowning evidence of the soundness of the principles upon which they have been established. More and more have the sectarian barriers in the case of colleges been thrown down. By the federation and affiliation of various educational institutions, a national university, undenominational in its character, has been developed in this country. Our High Schools are supported by all religious bodies, and scarcely a whisper is heard in favor of establishing secondary schools under sectarian control. Parents have little fear regarding the ethical training given by good teachers. The adherents of various denominations are found in the same Public School, and unless bad qualifications mark the teacher in charge, the religious convictions of no child are in the slightest way interfered with, and the training given tends to build up Christian character.

" The inestimable glory of the common school is that it contains all the necessary factors of an embryonic democracy. With the altruistic motive controlling the teacher and his methods, the conditions are perfect. Here measures and gauges of history are acquired by actual experience ; here civics is essentially practised ; the roots of after life, the springs of action., are all here. Home is the centre ; the Church makes home better ; but the common school is the place where the lessons gained in both may be essentially practised. Here classes learn to respect each other ; the children of the rich and the poor, the intelligent and the ignorant are fused and blended by mutual action and mutual love. The common schools present a perfect means of moral training, order, work and play, all tending to the cultivation of true manhood. "--F. W. Parker.

Religious Sanctions.-It is assumed that religion is the basis of morality, and that religious influences have directly or indirectly contributed to the moral status of every well-conducted person. It is assumed that any attempt to base moral- obligation solely on human authority has always resulted in the weakening of the conscience and the enfeebling of the will, and that no nation has ever achieved moral excellence that did not hold the Supreme Being as the final source of obligation. It is further assumed that however some philosophers may theorize, no system of ethics has yet been proclaimed that shows any signs of superseding the morality of the Bible.

When children have been admitted to school they have already received in their homes and in the Church some preliminary training in religious beliefs. Under ordinary circumstances they will continue to receive from the same sources further religious knowledge. If these statements are admitted, the teacher has already, without giving religious instruction, the essential incentives at hand for the highest type of moral training. This attitude on the question of religious instruction does not exclude religion from the school. It merely prohibits the teacher from giving lessons in the Bible, in any catechism, or in the dogmatic principles of any Church. The principles of Christianity cannot be excluded from the school so long as proper discipline is exacted and efficient instruction given in the ordinary branches of the curriculum. No school can be fairly called " godless " where the teacher's duties, from a pedagogical point of view, are faithfully performed. The use of the Bible in school for moral ends does not necessarily involve its use in the technical sense of the term. While the teacher, if well qualified, will be acquainted with the Bible as the best work on ethics, he is chiefly concerned with morals or practical ethics. It is not necessary for him to investigate and discuss before his class the ultimate basis of moral distinctions, in order to teach his pupils to be obedient to their parents, to be honest and truthful, and to abstain from every kind of wrong-doing. Sufficiently imperative sanctions for good conduct may be accepted as binding upon children irrespective of their denominational training.

It is here contended that apart from the assumed practical difficulties in the way of giving, through the teacher, religious instruction in the Public School, sound principles of teaching would condemn the methods of this kind which are ordinarily proposed. The question is one to be discussed in the field of pedagogy, and not in that of theology or politics. What the schools need to promote better moral training is not more religious exercises, but better teaching. It is not an addition to the school programme that is wanted, but greater skill in taking up the branches already found in the curriculum. Better qualified teachers will secure better discipline, and good discipline means good moral training (Chapter V). The well qualified teacher will use with intelligent discrimination, motives to right action in such a way as to form good habits in his pupils, and to promote in them, as a consequence, that line of conduct which is the result of habitual efforts to do right. What the teacher is called upon to do is not to give lessons in the common doctrines of religion, but to use religious sanctions as school incentives at such times, and only at such times, as sound discipline will warrant. A good teacher will rarely bring to his aid the highest class of incentives (Chapter IX). Neither the parent nor the teacher will find it prudent to use, without extreme care, motives of a religious character in order to induce children to do right.

" Yet there is danger in associating the influences of religion too closely with the routine work of the school ; it is at least as probable that the former will thereby be brought clown to the level of the latter, as that the latter shall be raised to the level of the former. There are strong reasons why religious motives should not be used as ordinary means of discipline. On the one hand the influence of the religious sentiment as a practical principle of con-duct, to overrule the many more palpable motives which present themselves to children, and particularly to children at school, is, even in the most favorable circumstances, seldom so great as to be relied on. As for the habit which some indulge in, of appealing in a routine way to such motives in connection with the incidental faults of childhood, nothing is more to be reprobated ; its folly is only equalled by its criminality."-Currie.

The Duty of the Church.-The parent is responsible for the training of his children ; but whatever education of a religious nature he is not competent to give them, should be undertaken by the clergy or the authorized representatives of the Church. If the Sunday School and other agencies of the Church are not sufficient to provide religious instruction, the denominations concerned should either separately or unitedly supplement their ordinary functions. In most communities the machinery of each religious body performs its work without any call for aid from the school authorities. In some towns and cities the trustees have placed the schools at the disposal of the Churches for giving to the pupils on certain days instruction of a religious nature. There is no reason why school hours might not be set apart for this purpose. In a Roman Catholic community, for instance, it would be quite consistent with the position here taken for the authorities of that Church to give religious instruction at stated hours to children of its faith. In Protestant communities, each denomination might adopt a similar plan, or two or more denominations might unite in the work of religious training, with excellent results. In some localities, both Protestants and Roman Catholics have shown such liberality as to unite in securing suitable addresses from the clergy of the different denominations represented. A method of this kind adds to the value of those religious sanctions which every good teacher employs, and surrounds the work of the school with an interest helpful to education as well as to religion. It sets at rest the cry for religious teaching in the school, and gives more definiteness to the responsibilities of the Church, the home and the school. It makes no departure of a reactionary kind from the principle of non-sectarian education, but calls for the full utilization of the respective functions of teacher, parent and clergyman. It gives freedom to each Church, each locality and each parent, and adds no additional responsibility to the teacher, or relieves him in any way from the obligation of discharging those duties for which he has been trained. .(See Sec. 7 of Statute in Appendix).

Devotional Exercises,-Devotional exercises have had a place in the daily programmes of most schools. Unless there are special reasons to the contrary, it is best to hold them at the beginning of the day's work, when the teacher is free from the worries of the school and when reverence and solemnity are most easily secured among the pupils. Generally the reading of a short passage from Scripture selections, recommended for the purpose, and the use of a short prayer, constitute all that is necessary A song of praise or thanksgiving may be added with advantage in elementary classes. The object is not to impart religious instruction (as the Bible lessons should be read without comment), but to recognize the obligation to God of both teacher and pupils, and to awaken and deepen religious emotions, as well as to afford a suitable preparation for the sacred nature of school duties. Freedom should be given trustees to meet, within reasonable limits, the prevailing religious sentiment of the locality ; and the conscientious scruples of parents should be guarded Experience has shown that where a spirit of religious toleration and patriotism influences school authorities, no difficulty will arise in connection with exercises of this kind. If they are conducted in a perfunctory manner, or are attended with any partisan feeling, no good will result. If the Bible or the form of prayer is not read in a reverent manner, it is clear incompetence marks the teacher as unfit for his calling. Fortunately the day of immoral or irreligious teaching is past, and few teachers are now found who fail to recognize the sacred nature of the usual devotional exercises. The age of wrangling over trifling denominational differences is, it is hoped, also over, and broader views, of Christian duty have promoted more charitable feelings among neighbors holding different religious sentiments. Teachers of ability and experience will readily testify to the value of devotional exercises, as a means of strengthening the moral convictions of the pupils, and of sustaining the discipline of the school. Persons who see no good in such exercises have probably in mind the defective qualifications of many teachers a generation ago, and the contentions in some localities where partisan animosity and sectarian bitterness predominated, rather than Christian zeal and Christian liberality. It would certainly bode ill for that Church unity for which many work and pray, if on the educational field of battle a united front cannot be presented against the common enemy-ignorance and crime.



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