Education And Character Building

Public Schools and Moral Education, by Neil Gerard McCluskey (Columbia, 1958, 315 pp., $6), is reviewed by James DeForest Murch, author of Christian Education and the Local Church.

One of the most crucial problems in American public education lies in the field of the philosophy of values. There has been much debate among educators as to what values should govern the school in its efforts to form character and inculcate value judgments. The problem has been complicated because of the shifting and highly dynamic religious pluralism of American society.

In the absence of any clear cut philosophy and policy and because of the growing secularism and scientism in American thought, morality and religion are at an all-time low in the public system.

Dr. McCluskey, although a Roman Catholic, traces with eminent fairness the trend from early commitment to the Judeo-Christian code of morality as basic to character formation to the present-day amoral and secular concept of education. His treatment of the theme centers about three prominent educators whose lives span the history of the American public school: Horace Mann (1796–1859), William Torrey Harris (1835–1908), and John Dewey (1859–1952).

Mann, often called “the father of the American public school,” was a member of the Christian Church and deeply religious, although often characterized by his enemies as a supernaturalist-rationalist. He believed that God and God’s law were normative and that they are found in two books, the book of nature and the Holy Bible. There was never any question in Mann’s mind that religion belonged in the school as the fundamental basis for the formation of character and that moral instruction is indispensable to an effective ...

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