It may be considered a strange, yet wholly natural phenomenon that the desire to christianize education in the public schools is generally found among those who are lax in their support of Christian instruction. Parents, who are remiss in the fulfillment of their covenant pledge, “to instruct and help instruct this child in the doctrine of this Christian church”, are usually enthusiastic when confronted with the question whether the Bible should be introduced into the schools of our land. On the other hand, the true and ardent supporters of our Christian schools are apt to look askance at this movement and view it with misgivings and antipathy. This phenomenon can be easily explained. The Christian education of our children necessarily involves us in certain difficulties and sacrifices. How convenient it is to christianize our neighborhood public schools! Besides, what objection can there be against this endeavor? Can there be a limit to the scope of Christianity? In contrast with this view, however, the supporters of Christian education, who really understand the purpose and necessity of the Christian school, realize fully that their school-system is wholly dependent upon the distinctiveness of their institutions.. Why have Christian schools at all if it be our calling to christianize the public school? Well may the advocates of “Common Grace” therefore fear that their theory is undermining the very foundations upon which our Christian educational institutions) have been founded.
Its Current Practice.
In our United States the education of our children (yea, all education) is a privilege and an obligation exercised by the people. This cannot be said of all the countries in the world today. In Nazi Germany, e.g., the state exercises absolute -control. Nazism believes in the Absolute State. The State, which, in the final analysis is the Fuehrer, the German leader, Hitler, has sole authority over every form of life and all institutions within the German Reich. Also education is under the absolute authority of the Nazi State. Such is not the case, however, in our country. Here we have local school boards, district school boards, state school boards. Each school board has its own superintendent. These school boards regulate and supervise the educational program in our various educational institutions. They are elected by the people and therefore answerable to the people. In this way the people assume a definite obligation as far as the education of their children is concerned.
It may be of interest to note the legal status of the Bible in the public schools in the various states of our union. Several states have a law which governs the matter. I presume that these laws have been written into the statute books through the will of the people. Six states of our country have a law requiring Bible reading in public schools. Six other states have a law which permits Bible reading. On the other hand we know of six states which specifically prohibit the reading from the Holy Scriptures. Twenty-five states permit Bible reading under general terms of the law or by reason of its silence. And in still other states an adverse opinion has been given as to the question whether the Bible should be read in the public school, either by the attorney general, the state board of education, or the state supreme court. In Michigan we have no definite law, although we do have a court decision favorable to reading Bible stories.
It is also of interest to note that there is a movement on foot to have weekday classes in religious education for the children who attend public schools. It is probable that the Bible is given a place in the schools of our land even in those states where this is legally forbidden. A certain school board superintendent told the undersigned that they aim to please the people, and that if the people of a certain locality were inclined one way or another, the instruction in the public schools would be given accordingly. This will explain why some rural public schools are not far behind many of our Christian schools. The weekly church school, mentioned above, is defined and described as “a school of religious education, distinguished from all other weekday church groups by its close relationship with the public school, with which it cooperates, but with which it has no organic relationship.” This weekday church school is an essential part of the church’s educational program, carried on under the direction of a local church or of several churches. Its sessions are held in church buildings, or in buildings owned or rented by the weekday church school council, or, where possible and advisable, in public school rooms. These sessions are held during public school hours, or during the last period of the day, or after school. (These arrangements are known as “released time”, “dismissed time”, and “free time”, respectively). The weekday church school receives children on released time only upon written request of parents. Attendance is elective as far as initial choice of parents is concerned, but it is usually compulsory for all children whose parents have signed request cards for dismissal from school for religious education. The primary objective of the program as stated by the Vermont Council of Churches is to supplement the public school: “To round out a more satisfactory educational experience of the pupil by guiding him in a discovery and experience of the spiritual and Christian elements of life.”
The christianizing of education in our public school children is therefore a matter worthy of our consideration. The report of the “1940 White House Conference on Children in a Democracy” includes the following statement: “Despite the various efforts made by church groups to educate children in religion, the religious needs of many children are imperfectly met at the present time. It has been estimated that approximately one-half of the children and youth in the United States receive no religious instruction outside the home.’’ On the one hand we have those who plead for the use of the Bible in the public schools. And on the other hand there is a movement on foot for weekday classes in religious education. These weekday classes, although not in themselves a part of the public schools, are nevertheless closely related to them, inasmuch as they cooperate with them.
Firstly, any christianizing of our public schools’ instruction must necessarily result in a general, superficial Christianity, which is no Christianity at all. This appears from the laws of those states which require Bible reading in the public schools. In New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee reading must be “without comment”, and in Massachusetts “without written or oral comment”. In Georgia, Massachusetts and Tennessee any pupil may be excused from the Bible reading exercises upon written request of his parents or guardian. Besides, does this not lie in the very nature of the case? To christianize instruction in the public schools one must surely consider the various kinds of children represented there. None must be offended. The Protestant, the Catholic, and the Jew must all feel at home. Instruction must be non-sectarian. It is for this reason that Bible reading is advocated “without any comment”. Besides, usually those parts of Scripture are read which are considered acceptable by all the groups represented. The sermon on the mount is considered to be such a passage. Because of this, however, such a Bible reading is a gross misinterpretation of Holy Writ. Fact remains, does it not, that to read certain passages of the Bible and leave the impression that they are equally acceptable by and beneficial to all is surely a misinterpretation of those passages of Holy Writ, and is nothing less than Modernism.
Secondly, true christianizing of education in the public schools is a spiritual impossibility. This lies in the very nature of the case. Education does not proceed from the government, is not imposed upon the people by the magistrates, but is a privilege and duty exercised by the parents. Public schools are surely the schools of the world. This fact receives added significance if God’s covenant people are faithful to their baptismal pledge and provide Christian education for their children. Understood in this light the christianizing of public instruction is, must be considered impossible. It is absurd, a contradiction in terms. On the one hand, the reading of the Bible is spiritually impossible by those who are from below. The darkness cannot comprehend the light. The lie cannot receive the truth. And on the other hand, and this is far worse, we may not “cast pearls before swine”. For, what will be the inevitable result if we try to christianize public instruction by placing the Bible in the public schools? Will the Word of God not be subjected to an unmerciful maltreatment and ridicule? Or, will the Word of God not be viewed and regarded as merely another “good, moral book”, useful only insofar that it can teach the children of the world to lead “good, decent” lives? Is it not true that the true significance of the Bible will be entirely lost sight of? May we as Christian parents, as God’s covenant people assume this responsibility? I think not.
Thirdly, is it not clear that the christianizing of public instruction and the sending of our children to public schools in particular places us in an utterly helpless and defenseless position? If we permit our children to be counted among the children of the world can we expect them to receive an education according to the Word of God, Is there any possible way whereby we can enforce our desire and impose upon the world our Christian principles? Have we any right to complain if our children should be compelled to imbibe unscriptural teachings? Is there any school society or school board where we can voice our complaints? Have we not lost all control as far as the training of our children is concerned? And, have we any right to complain about unsatisfactory conditions in our Christian schools if we have clothed our children in the uniform of the children of the world?
Thus far we have treated very briefly the negative aspect of the attempt to christianize public instruction. I am sure that we must all agree that this task is impossible, that we have no calling to christianize the world, and that we may not expose Holy Writ to a being trampled upon.
This, however, is not all that must be said in this brief essay. Any attempt to christianize public instruction will necessarily cause us to lose sight of our high calling as covenant people and parents. Besides, it will involve us in the loss of all Christian instruction. If our efforts, as far as the instruction of our children is concerned, are directed towards christianizing public instruction, we will be engaged in a hopeless task. And the inevitable result will be that our children will be deprived of that instruction which we, as covenant parents, have pledged to give them. And, on the other hand, we will be wholly remiss in our own high calling, The Lord’s commandment, also in this matter, tolerates no misunderstanding. Neither need we misunderstand it. Very plainly Israel is commanded to instruct their own children. The training of our children is a task which God has placed upon our shoulders. We need not, may not concern ourselves; with the task to christianize the public schools. We must provide our own schools. We must christianize our own instruction. This task is sufficiently difficult nowadays to demand all our attention.