On the map one can almost trace the course of the white horse of the Gospel, as it (traversed Asia and Europe and then came to this country of ours. If travelled ever westward. In due time the Lord also brought the Gospel to these shores. And, as a necessary counterpart, there came also Christian Instruction. History proves that with the one belongs the other.
This article intends to review some of that history. There was a development of Christian instruction also in Romish and Lutheran circles, but this article will confine itself mostly to the development of it within the nearer circle of our Reformed churches. To bring a little system into the historical facts we thought it best to divide the matter roughly, into two periods, the first period from 1628 to about 1857 and the second period from 1857 to our present day. The first period we will treat in this article.
Period 1628 to 1857
You will recall that the years 1607, 1620 and 1628 were the years in which the pioneers came to this country, in fact between the years 1628 and 1640 about twenty thousand Puritans migrated to these shores, seeking to carve out for themselves homes in this new country. Speaking generally we may say that these pioneers carried with them certain religious convictions. This was true especially of the Puritans. I will not at all deny that many, maybe the majority, of them came here for commercial reasons and some maybe came for reasons of baser sorts, but be that as it may I am convinced that the Puritans in general did have certain, definite religious convictions and that many of these convictions they borrowed from the Reformation. Although their creeds were harsh, extreme often and terroristic, in principle they believed in such doctrines as: election, regeneration, salvation only by faith and the final judgment. The Puritans also insisted that their children should be acquainted with the Shorter Catechism, which begins this way:
Ques: What is the chief end of man?
Ans: Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.
Their Creeds proved that they had been touched by the Reformation and one frequently hears the voice of Calvin or Luther in (their essays.
It was one point however that these early Fathers showed kinship with the Reformation and that was, their extreme, almost super-extreme respect for the Infallible Word of God, Their faith in and respect for the Word of God controlled them also in the matter of the education of their children. In England already they were committed to having, “Within every towne free schoole for the godly educacion of children in the knowledge and feare of God” (History of Modern Education, Parker, p. 56). They carried that determination with them across the Ocean. In fact, besides the political and economical motives, (the Puritans were moved by the urge to keep and develop religious freedom, for themselves and also for their children. It is evident therefore that the early settlers insisted on basing the education of their children upon the Word of God.
Therefore we find that the Puritans from the very beginning insisted that their children should be instructed in the Word of God, in fact all education was made subservient thereto. I know they defaulted in this that they made of education a course in theology (thus confusing church and school), but we must endure these things when we stand at the beginning of such momentous matters as Christian education. To the Puritans art, science and literature was simply out of the devil. The only thing that counted was an education permeated with religion. And we cannot but appreciate such an determination.
A quick glance at the education of those days will convince us that they meant to keep education on a strictly religious basis. The Massachusetts Law of 1647 read, in part, as follows: “It being the chief point of the old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures. . . .it is therefore ordered that every township….shall set up a grammar school”. For the Puritan therefore education was the handmaid to theology. Religion also permeated the text books. Consider for instance their Boston Primer it taught the children the alphabet and proceeded as follows; “A. . . .In Adam’s fall we sinned all” and “Z. . . .Zacchaeus he did climb a tree, his Lord to see”. Their text books contained’ prayers, short sermons, the Creed, Lord’s prayer and the Decalogue. One of their readers was, “The Day of Doom”, which contained one stanza reading as follows:
“You sinners are, and such a share,
As sinners may expect,
Such you shall have; for I do save None but my own elect”. . . .
Children had to learn all this and’ besides that they ought to learn a trade. But the chief thing was: the knowledge of God. In fact Parker says, “The Catechisms were considered the most important part of the Primers” (Page 77).
Thus it went on for some years’. But, as one might expect, there came a violent re-action to their “narrow and bigoted view of education”. Part of this re-action was wholesome since education had to be more than a course in theology; part of it was unwholesome, because men began to shift the purpose and aim of education away from the Creator to the creature. Instead of the Creator being and remaining the center of all things, men began to put the creature in the center. Education gradually moved away from the theocentric to the anthropocentric. Men began to worship the creature more than the Creator Who is blessed forever; not God but man became the chief end, not the heavenly but the earthy, not the wisdom of God, but the wisdom of man became the propelling factor.
Especially in the early part of the eighteenth century there flowed into this country two streams of error. One of these was the wicked philosophy of such men as Rosseau, Voltaire, Locke and others who called themselves champions of the French Enlightenment. Rosseau in his then famous book, “Emile” wrote saying that his “Emile will know nothing . . . of God” that is when his dream-child would be fifteen years old Emile would still be ignorant of God (History of Education, Seely, page 251). Their motto was “Man is by nature good” or again, “man shall govern himself’ (Lock’s thesis). Their principle in short was that self-enjoyment was the highest good and education had to help them to reach it. The “Back to nature”, war-cry of the French Revolution, actually became the basis of a new system of education. The Word of God was dethroned and the goddess of Reason was enthroned. The creature above the Creator. This type of education found its ways to the shores of this country and became partly a model for the American system of Public Education.
The other stream of error which found its way down the slopes of the early American school history was the Prussian Centralization. Under the influence of Rosseau a certain Basedow commenced a system of education in Germany which did two things: (1) It made a public system of education that would be non-sectarian, and (2) it brought all education under the control of a National Council of Education. The State began to control and dictate education. That is what is meant by Prussian Centralization. Everything became centralized around the State. And, as Parker says, “The Prussian schools (volksschulen) served as a model for the American systems” (page 224). Secularization was achieved, so they thought, without eliminating religion entirely, for the German schools did not want to go to the limit of the French revolutionists. They would still leave room for religion. There would be Bible stories. Christ might be discussed, at least as to His “character” and He might be held before the children as the “ideal man”. But doctrines and creeds were eliminated so as to make the instruction public, acceptable to infidel and believer alike. This was the model of Public School education. Such men as Froebel, Horace Mann and Pestalozzi dashed from Europe to America, crying “Eureka, eureka” this was what America needed.
That was the Public School system.
In 1842 there was adopted this resolution, “No portion of the School funds shall be given to any school in which any religious sectarian doctrines or tenet shall be taught, inculcated or practiced”. And in 1847 it was Mr. Hodge who in America raised his voice and said, “The whole tendency of the instruction on this Plan (Pub. Sch. System) is not neutral but anti-religious” (Year Book, Chr. Schools, 1936, p. 66).
If there were any Puritans left, it was evident that in the public schools of America their children could no longer receive an instruction which was God-centered.
And it was that corrupted type of education which the Pioneers of the 1840-1850 era found when they arrived on these shores. But we shall treat that in another article.