FOREMOST among the forces which tend to turn .American life away from a reverent spirituality is the secular spirit which so largely prevails in our educational systems. The well-nigh universal secularization of education has proven a destructive foe to spirituality. As compared with this influence, the higher criticism, even though it had to be adjudged as evil, is but an infant in its cradle.
America, and in one of the most phenomenal eras in history, has tried on a national scale the policy of a "free church in a free state." Here religion receives no State endowments. All that the State undertakes is simply to protect religion in its rights of worship. The Church must absolutely depend upon itself for its own life, its own support. In our public school system many diverse influences have been operative insistently and increasingly demanding that the educational work of the schools shall be conducted without Bible study, without worship, and with the entire elimination of distinctively Christian teaching.
I do not arraign the public schools on their secular side. Their teachers, for the most part, are persons of character, of intelligence, of ability. The standards of scholarship are creditable, and with a tendency to increasing strenuency of demand. The intellectual product of the schools as a whole is well reflected in the rank and file of American citizenship. These schools encourage mental thoroughness, energy and honesty of purpose, and they have contributed beyond measure to the intelligence and manliness of our national life.
But toward the creation and promotion of spiritual ideals, toward the distinctive education of the religious nature, it cannot be claimed that they have made a corresponding contribution. Is not failure, however, in these very respects one of the most disastrous that could be charged against any educational system?
A recent writer' most pertinently says that a true civilization must realize and build upon certain primary elements of human nature, and with the understanding that these elements are mutually religious and inseparable. He names the sexual instinct, upon which is built the institution of the family; man's natural thirst for knowledge, which brings about educational institutions ; the social instinct, which expresses itself in civil society; and finally the instinct of worship, which in its institutions designs a provision for the responses in the human spirit to the nature of the universe and to God.
These four things in proper correlation will be found under analysis to cover the requirements of an ideal civilization. But, this being so, what is to be thought of a civilization whose educational system builds without reference to the spiritual and worshipful nature of a nation's youth? The Roman Catholic Church is guided by a true instinct when it insists upon educating its own youth in the parochial schools. Her authorities know that the enlightened secular spirit of our public schools is fatal to the claims of the Catholic Church.
But with Protestantism, and with civilization as a whole, the question is far larger and other than that of simply holding young life to the forms and doctrines of a particular historic Church. It is a question of the neglect or the culture of the most vital and sacred potentiality in human nature in the last resort, the relation of human life to God. Give the child over for the twelve or fifteen years of its educational life to mere secular ideals and methods, with only at best the most incidental teaching and training for its spiritual nature, and you have a character whose spiritual faculties are submerged. But this is the very thing we have been doing for a series of generations. The result has brought spiritual atrophy into many homes. Home religion is decadent. The family altar has gone out of fashion. Parents, victims of their own secular education, are not alive to the supreme importance of spiritual training for their children.
Of course there is a large contingent of American homes in which this secularizing process has not prevailed. But in so far as it has prevailed it utters everywhere a menace not only against its individual subjects but against our very civilization itself. A godless civilization cannot endure. It is a perversion in the earth, a reversion from the trends of moral evolution.
The American public, secular school system viewed in itself is something majestic. It will be formative. and decisive of most momentous destinies in our civilization. But in its monopoly of educational methods, a monopoly which neglects a recognition of the spiritual nature of childhood, it is an enormous departure from the historic methods of the Christian centuries. It is to be accepted without saying that organized public education, both in extent and quality, is a vastly different thing in the twentieth century from that which was either conceived or possible in most of the preceding centuries. The unmeasured growth in just the recent past of a scientific knowledge of the universe has in-calculably enriched the scope of educational studies. Both in the measure of topics to be taught and in improved pedagogical methods the modern education has immense advantage over its predecessor. But in the single and most vital matter of religious education no other system has been characterized by such neglect as that of our own American public school system.
The value which Christianity has always set upon the spiritual training of childhood is rooted in the very incidents of New Testament history. Christ took little children up in his arms and blessed them, making them the very types of his kingdom, and declaring that of such is the kingdom of heaven. Timothy is the most beautiful character of all Paul's associates, the one doubtless to whom he was personally most attached. Paul loved him as his own son in the gospel. The Christian value of Timothy is largely accounted for in the fact that from his infancy, both by his mother and his grandmother, he was trained in a knowledge of the Scriptures.
In patristic history we trace the moral greatness of many of the great Fathers, such as Basil, Gregory of Nazianzen, Chrysostom and Augustine, to careful spiritual training in their childhood by Christian mothers. It was of Arethusa, mother of Chrysostom, that Libanius, the foremost literary man of the heathen world in his day, said, "Ah, gods of Greece, what wonderful women there are among the Christians!" Augustine, up to his day the mightiest intellectual successor of Saint Paul in the Christian Church, though he had entered far upon a career of error and libertinism, was never able to escape the teaching and example of his godly mother, Monica. During the Middle Ages, such education as existed was conducted under the auspices of the Church, and one of the central features of that education was the catechetical religious training of children. After the Reformation, wherever the influence of Luther and his coadjutors prevailed, there was established a systematic religious education of childhood. "In 1520 Luther demanded that the chief subject taught in the schools should be the Holy Scriptures. . . . In the country districts around Wurtemburg it was prescribed as early as 1528 that the sexton in every village should be required to give instruction on week days in the Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord's Prayer, and also in the singing of hymns. Parents were required to send their children to this instruction. The sexton thus came into prominence as the pastor's assistant in the villages."
The real founder of the public school was August Hermann Francke. "His system included the study of nature, and provided for manual training, for girls as well as boys... In 1763 Frederick the Great adopted his system for Prussia."2 But the matter of chief emphasis in Francke's system was religious. The Church is the fruitful mother of an illustrious progeny. She is really the mother of popular education. In all her counsels, services and sacrifices, she has reenforced and fostered the policies of liberal and popular enlightenment.
It would seem a thing most anomalous that the American republic, a land first peopled by refugees from religious intolerance, a nation whose very corner stone was dedicated to the Christian religion and to the rights of man, should, among nominal Christian nations, be most prominent in eliminating religious instruction from her vast system of public education. In the maintenance of such a policy there is perpetrated an enormous injustice against Christianity, that religious faith, to which more than to any other cause the nation owes its very greatness. The omission of religious teaching from our State-governed systems of education is the committal of an immeasurable wrong against the child-hood of the nation.
I am quite aware of the fact that in several of our States the laws make permissible and provide for a certain amount of religious exercises in connection with the work of the secular school. Under the pressure of public sentiment such provisions are likely to be in-creased rather than lessened throughout the republic. It is very evident, however, in the light of experience that in the present developments these concessions by the States are not resulting in anything like an adequate biblical or Christian training for the childhood of the very States in which these provisions exist.
Germany seems to be thought of by many of our people as the home of rationalistic and of destructive critical thought. It is the home of critical scholarship and of advanced educational ideals. But in the matter of religious education in her public schools Germany is Christian and reverent in a sense and measure to which we in America can make no claim.
I cannot here enter into detailed statement of the German educational systems. In general, it is enough to state that, with the exception of schools devoted distinctively to trade, technical, or commercial training, religious education in schools below university grade is made compulsory. In the universities the teaching of religion is provided for in the theological faculty. Characteristic of the thoroughness of German educational methods, the teachers provided to conduct religious instruction represent usually a high order of scholarship. They conduct their work studiously and reverently, making their duties a matter of conscience and devotion. It seems evident to those who have had closest opportunity to study the religious teaching thus required that its effect upon the national mind is both vital and uplifting.
As a sample expression of the "aim sought" in this public teaching of religion, I quote from the Declaration of the Official Curriculum from the Volksschullen of the Kingdom of Wurtemburg as follows: "The nurture of the religious life in the school requires that the entire instruction and discipline of the institution shall be administered in the fear of God, which is the beginning of wisdom. The opening and closing services of song and prayer should both contribute toward and give evidence of this. It is the task of specific religious instruction to acquaint the children with the facts and verities of salvation in such a manner that both a love for and an intelligent comprehension of evangelical Christianity shall result."
In America one of our obstacles, largely regarded as insuperable, to the introduction of religious instruction in the public schools is the diversity of religious conviction so characteristic of our population. We have with us in relatively great numbers, the Jew, the Catholic, the Protestant, and the men of no faith. In Germany this problem is largely met by segregation of the different faiths in the classroom, and by providing for Jews Jewish teachers, for Catholics Catholic teachers, and for Protestants Protestant teachers. This method ought not to prove impracticable for us in America.
Of course it will not be claimed that this enforced religious teaching results in all cases in experimental and transformed spiritual lives. But it has this immeasurable value, that it makes religious truth a constituent part of education for the individual. So thorough is the German method of instilling religious truth that, on good authority, it is said : "It would be difficult to find on the streets of Berlin a boy (or girl) of fourteen or fifteen years of age who does not know the chief events of Old Testament history, the life and teachings of Jesus and his apostles, the best-known church hymns, the principal questions and answers from the Catechism, and a choice number of passages which he has memorized."1 How many of our nominally Protestant or Catholic boys and girls, the products of our boasted public-school system, could meet a test like this?
Dr. Thomas Nicholson, the highly efficient educational secretary of the Methodist Episcopal Church, frankly recognizes in the thought-mode of the times conditions which make it increasingly difficult to hold the masses to the churches or to bring them into hearty cooperation with the program of Christianity,' and of all causes which conspire to this result he believes on "mature reflection" that none is so potent as the "negative attitude of our whole system of public education to the religious element in education and life."
Aside from what is ordinarily understood by the phrase "our public-school system," we have a generous number of institutions known as "State universities." Many of these attract to themselves large student communities, command numerous teachers of the highest educational type, conduct nearly every kind of professional or technical departments, and under the direction of the most expert specialists possible of procurement. Some of these institutions, all of them comparatively young, already rank in real strength with the very fore-most of our older universities. These universities, by reason of the liberal financial policies of the State, and because of their rich equipment in appliances, are destined to take on greatly increased strength and a widening sway in American university life. A characteristic of these State universities is, that while they support strong schools for nearly all professional departments, they, unlike the German universities, make no provision for maintaining biblical or theological faculties. Religious teaching is a function to which they give no place, and for which they assume no responsibility.
In the last fiscal year our State universities were supported at an expense of more than $72,000,000. This large expenditure reflects great credit upon both the wisdom and the generosity of the various Legislatures in making so liberal provision for the highest type of education under State auspices. But the very largeness of this provision for secular education only makes more marked by contrast the neglect of all provision for religious instruction in these institutions. If religion represents one of the primal instincts of human nature, if culture of the religious nature is vitally and absolutely essential to a complete and ideal development of character, then the failure of a chief educational institution to make provision for such culture may prove just ground for the severest indictment against such institution itself. If religion is a matter of supreme importance to the individual and to society, then that education is most valuable which vitally and sanely enforces the best ideals of religious instruction. If religion is a matter of supreme importance to the individual and to society, then that institution which fails to give a capital place to religious instruction fails disastrously in meeting the highest educational ideals.
The contribution which an educational institution makes to religion is, by certain standards, susceptible of proximate measurement. For instance, an institution whose teaching faculty intelligently and zealously sup-ports religious ideals will be likely to send forth a certain percentage of its graduates into distinctively religious work. Candidates for the ministry and for foreign missionary service, it seems reasonable to assume, should be found in considerable numbers among such graduates.
Dr. Nicholson assumes that at least twenty thousand Methodist students are in attendance upon State universities. Yet all these institutions combined supply not more than four per cent of the ministry of the Methodist Episcopal Church. He cites one great State university, with a thousand student members of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and with three thousand members of other evangelical churches, and with a body of alumni numbering eight thousand, which in a history of fifty years has given less than twenty ministers to all evangelical churches combined. In contrast to these figures it seems significant that in five years, from 1904-09, the Northwestern University, at Evanston, Illinois, furnished four fifths as many recruits for our foreign missionary service as all the State universities in the United States combined. And in the same five-year period two of the small Methodist colleges furnished five more missionary recruits than all the State universities, and yet the endowment of these lesser colleges does not represent a hundredth part as much as that of the State universities in question.
Religious purposes are born and nurtured in a religious atmosphere. It is estimated that twenty-two per cent of all college-bred Methodist ministers reach their decision to enter the ministry while in their undergraduate courses in religious colleges. This is a great testimony to the vitality of religious influences existing in these colleges.
A history of our great State universities reveals as positive a divorce between their general policies of education, and the distinctive mission of religious teaching, as is shown in institutions of grammar and high school grades in the nation-wide system of public education.'
It should, of course, be borne in mind that the public-school system is the one chiefly considered in this discussion. There is a large number of schools which are established and conducted under religious auspices. It is to be assumed that definite attention is given to religious instruction in schools of this class.
The institution of the Sunday school is in universal vogue among the Christian denominations. The latest returns show an enrollment of Sunday school scholars in the United States of 13,732,841. The production of Sunday school literature for this great army of boys and girls has resulted in the development of some of the largest publishing interests in the country. The quality of study material for the schools has been an evolution, showing a continuous improvement through the years. Both men and women in increasing numbers, persons representing thorough biblical scholarship, the most approved pedagogical methods, and masters of winsome style, have been secured by the various publishers to prepare the textbooks, the periodicals, and the weekly papers devoted to Sunday school uses. One of the papers, with which the writer is familiar, has a weekly circulation of more than five hundred thousand copies. It is impossible to measure the moral and spiritual values of the Sunday school.
But if it be true, as would appear, that religious training of children in the home is on the decrease, and that for multitudes of American children the Sabbath school is the only place in which they receive any systematic religious instruction, then self-evidently the Sunday school does not, and, in the very nature of the case cannot, meet the larger and vital demands of the situation.
The public school has the child for thirty hours in the week. The Sunday school confines its classroom work to one hour in the week. The classes in the public schools are taught by trained, licensed, and paid teachers. The classes in the Sunday school are in charge of volunteer teachers, many of whom have neither training nor competency for their task. I am far from a disposition to impugn motives or to depreciate merit. The willingness on the part of any one to enter seriously upon the work of Sunday school teaching merits commendation. But from not a little observation I am much impressed that one of the capital difficulties of the expert Sunday school superintendent, in the average community, is in securing a sufficient number of competent persons for teaching the classes in his school.
The Sunday school when awarded all just recognition is in itself greatly inadequate to the mission of furnishing religious education to the children of the nation. The grave fact and the fact is grave beyond measurement is that in this country the sane and efficient methods of religious education of childhood as now operative are entirely disproportionate to the vast needs and importance of the situation itself, and to the vital moral necessities of the case. The gravity of the situation is great beyond any measure to which the national thought has yet awakened. The nation that fails to imbue its own children educationally with high ethical and spiritual ideals, is a nation which in the most vital sense fails to fortify its own future. It is but an utterance of what will be generally recognized as sound psychologically to declare that there can be no complete education without religion.
The grave consequences of our national neglect in this vital department of education are more and more receiving attention from our ablest educators, and to multitudes of thoughtful people are bringing an increasing sense of apprehension and alarm. Just recently the Central Councils of the Roman Catholic Church in this country have been taking this matter into renewed and most careful consideration. The parochial school system of this Church fails to meet the educational needs of multitudes of its children, and the authorities are advising their parishes everywhere throughout the nation to avail themselves of special times and places, either with or without the cooperation of the public schools, for the special religious education of the children.
The Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America is perhaps the most representative body of American Protestantism. At its first meeting, held in Philadelphia, in 19o8, the question of the religious education of children was regarded as one of the most important for consideration. At the second meeting of this Council, held in Chicago, in December, 1912, a report on this question was presented in which the most definite and urgent resolutions were adopted urging upon national educational authorities the imperative importance of making a general provision for religious education of the childhood of the nation.
In several parts of this country and of Canada methods have already been entered upon for the introduction of specific courses in Bible and religious training in normal and high schools, which courses are to be conducted under the joint auspices of the Church and the public-school authorities.
The question of the religious education of children is one of such primal importance; it relates itself so imperatively, so vitally, to the moral welfare of the nation as to make it unbelievable that it will not in the near future receive its rightful recognition and coordination in our educational life.
( Originally Published 1914 )
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