Never in history has any nation invested as much in education and depended as much on it as the United States. At the beginning of 1957, 41 million Americans—one in every four—were in school. The cost of their schooling amounted to $15,544,000,000, or almost $400 per pupil. Our investment in school property was over 16 billion dollars in 1953 and today would probably reach 20 billion. Truly, education is Big Business with us.
Public And Private Education
In our early history education was almost entirely a private enterprise, provided by parents, churches and other private agencies. Now it is very largely a public enterprise, provided by institutions under state control.
In our public (state-controlled) schools in 1955–1956, 33 million pupils were enrolled at a cost of 10.5 billion dollars; in private schools, 5 million were enrolled at an expenditure of 1.5 billion dollars. Thus, there were 86–1/3 per cent in public and 13–2/3 per cent in private schools.
In higher education the enrollment was 3 million and the cost 3.4 billion dollars—divided into 2 billion dollars (56.3 per cent) in public and 1.4 billion dollars (43.7 per cent) in private schools.
Notwithstanding this vast expenditure of effort and money on education, we are confronted with an appalling crisis in morals, youth delinquency and crime. With reference to the latter J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI informs us that last year a total of 2,563,150 major crimes were committed in the United States, a 13.3 per cent increase over the preceding year; that since 1950 the increase in crime has been 43 per cent, while that of population has been 11 per cent. This is a worse criminal record than that of any other civilized nation. Hoover also says that crime is increasingly becoming a youth problem, that young people still in their teens are “committing crimes that are almost unspeakable,” and that in 1956 persons age 17 and younger accounted for 24.7 per cent of the arrests for robbery, 53.9 per cent of the arrests for burglary, and 66.4 per cent of all auto arrests. The underlying cause is the lack of the moral and spiritual training of American youth. Mr. Hoover says: “People for the most part commit crime because they do not have the moral stamina and traits of character to withstand temptation.… The criminal is the product of spiritual starvation. Someone failed miserably to bring him to know God, love him and serve him.”
Education And Character
The secular public schools cannot escape a large measure of responsibility for this frightening crime situation. It has taken over the major portion of time that can be given to formal education of American youth during the character-forming period of their lives—six hours a day, five days a week, for a period of 10 to 12 years—leaving the church only one day for youth education and only about one hour on that day. The public schools, backed by our compulsory school laws, enroll 83 per cent of our youth population, but the churches, relying on voluntary attendance, enroll no more than 50 per cent. Thus the average young person receives 30 hours of secular state education weekly compared to 1 hour of church religious education.
If the fourth R has anything to do with building moral character and preventing delinquency and crime, no wonder we face this perilous situation. Back in the early days of our nation’s history, all education was basically religious, public as well as private. Our founding fathers set forth its religious character in these words from the Ordinance of 1787 for the government of the Northwest Territory: “Religion, morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall be forever encouraged.” This has been called the “Magna Charta of American Education.”
The Retreat From Religion
This was the type of education our forefathers established: The fourth R—religion and morality its foundation; and the three R’s—knowledge built on this foundation. This continued until about 1870 when a great change took place in public education. The order was reversed. The three R’s became the major and the fourth R the minor role. We have sown to the wind and are now reaping the whirlwind.
To meet our nation’s perils and save our beloved country it is imperative that we again give religion its basic place in education. Our basic task is to build strong public sentiment for the right and duty of the state in its own schools to give adequate and effective moral training to American youth.
How shall we go about it?
The Bible In The Schools
We must build public sentiment for giving the Bible a place of importance in our public schools. There are many reasons for this: Its matchless English, its biographies, its history, its great moral and spiritual truths—to sum them all up, its contribution to our nation. We submit a few testimonies to its contribution to our nation and government: Justice Brewer of the United States Supreme Court said, “The American nation from its first settlement at Jamestown to this hour is based upon and permeated by the Bible”; President Andrew Jackson, “The Bible is the Rock on which this Republic rests”; President Thomas Jefferson, “The Bible is the Source of Liberty”; President William McKinley, “The more profoundly we study this wonderful Book and the more closely we observe its precepts the better citizens we will become and the higher will be the destiny of our nation”; President Woodrow Wilson, “There are great problems before the American people. I would be afraid to go forward if I did not believe that there lay at the foundation of all our schooling and all our thought, the incomparable and unimpeachable Word of God.”
To deprive American youth of the opportunity of coming to know this Book in their education is an injustice both to them and to the nation.
We must make the moral and spiritual development of youth the major objective in education. “Good education,” says Frederick M. Raubinger, Commissioner of Education of New Jersey, “has always been concerned with more than knowledge. Its ultimate objective is the development of persons of honor, integrity, vision and high purpose—in short, persons of character.” To achieve this objective will require much greater emphasis and more effective methods of developing it, namely, emphasis upon religious motivation that, because of secular influence, is rare in public education.
Perils Of Irreligious Education
We must show the peril of education from which the fourth R is excluded. Education multiplies power. Inventive science has put into man’s hands power not even dreamed of a century ago. That power can be used for good or evil. Long ago Alfred the Great said, “Power is never a good except he be good that has it.” In the hands of evil men such power over forces of nature can destroy our civilization. Someone has said: “It is not the ignorant, the primitive people who terrorize the world today, but the most educationally advanced peoples who have made learning a road to power without bringing that power under ethical control.”
We must correct the prevalent wrong idea that our laws and court decisions are nearly all against religion in public education. The opposite is true. They are indeed against sectarian religious instruction. The attempt to introduce sectarian views has been a leading cause of opposition to religion in public education.
We must correct the mistaken idea that the American principle of religious liberty and of separation of church and state excludes religion from public education. No one’s religious liberty is infringed on if he is not required to participate in religious exercises of the schools. For him to insist religious instruction be denied those who want it, when he is free not to take part, is not religious liberty but religious bigotry. Properly interpreted, separation of church and state is separation of control. That is, each of the two organizations is independent in its own sphere of action. Not separation of function—that is excluding religious instruction from state schools and restricting it to church schools and the home.
The carrying forward of such a program as this is imperative. Professor Ernest Johnson of Teachers College, Columbia University, has said, “The divorcement of education and religion is the most basic defect in American life.” This defect must be remedied. Let every Christian patriot help.
Alan Redpath is minister of Chicago’s Moody Memorial Church, which maintains a vigorous prayer life under his ministry and leadership. Born in Newcastle-on-Tyne, England, he studied at Durham University and began a career in London as an associate chartered accountant. From 1940–53 he served the Duke Street Baptist Church, Richmond, Surrey, and then was called to Moody Church. He has spoken frequently at English Keswick, and the Mid-America Keswick Convention is one of his interests. His books include Answer for Today, Victorious Christian Living and Victorious Praying.
I Rest in His Love
I rest in His love, as a ship in a storm
Takes rest on a restless sea:
Knowing the currents that bear it up
Are steady and strong and free.
I rest in His love, as a tree in the wind
Takes rest through the bitter blast:
Feeling the pull of the deep, deep roots
That anchor it sure and fast.
I rest in His love, as a babe on the breast
Takes rest from the world’s alarms:
Hearing the beat of the parent-heart,
Locked close in the parent-arms.
I rest in His love. He will bear me up
And anchored my soul shall be:
As a storm-swept ship, as a sleeping child,
I rest—as a wind-tossed tree.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 65+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more
More from this Issue
Read These Next
- TrendingRussell Moore: I Already Miss Tim Keller’s Wise VoiceThe late pastor theologian gave strong counsel to me and so many others in ministry.
- From the MagazineOur Worship Is Turning Praise into Secular ProfitWith corporate consolidation in worship music, more entities are invested in the songs sung on Sunday mornings. How will their financial incentives shape the church?español
- RelatedNo School Left Behind: Why All Education Is PublicPrivate, state, and charter schools all contribute to the common good. Our debates should reflect that.
- Editor's PickWorship Music Is Emotionally Manipulative. Do You Trust the Leader Plucking the Strings?The Spirit is at work, but so are the mechanisms around high-production sets.