The Western world is in danger of forgetting that education of the young is not just a matter of imparting factual knowledge and technical skills, but, if it is to be education in the true sense of the term, must concern itself with morality as well, and indeed primarily. Its proper task is to prepare the child to become a balanced and integrated adult and a responsible member of society. If this task is not faced and fulfilled, then education is a failure and even a menace.
To the peripheral watcher from the British side of the Atlantic one of the most startling contradictions in the American way of life is that a great people, who flourish the slogan “This Nation under God,” should, because of the interpretation they place upon the principle of complete separation between church and state to which they are dedicated, systematically exclude all religious instruction and worship (including the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer) from the state schools. This means in effect that America’s schools are godless institutions, or at least institutions which God is officially forbidden to enter. This would be understandable in an atheistic country, but in a country that professes to place itself under God it does not make sense. It can hardly be hoped that such a policy will be productive of God-fearing citizens.
For a spectator to make so radical a criticism is no doubt rash. Be that as it may, it is certainly not meant to imply that all is fair in the British pedagogical garden. Of this we have been forcibly reminded in recent days by both political and medical leaders. It is true that religious instruction is compulsory in the state schools of Great Britain by Act of Parliament, as is also the opening of each school day with a corporate act of worship. Nevertheless, in a notable speech in the House of Commons during the last session of the British Parliament the Minister of Education, Sir David Eccles, referred to the widespread anxiety about the conduct and behavior of boys and girls of school age. While emphasizing that the great majority of British school children are well behaved, he reminded his audience that this was not the case with “a small minority of teenagers attending the secondary schools.”
Speaking of the need for suitable discipline in the schools, Sir David observed that the teacher who deals reasonably but firmly with a pupil ought to be supported by the general public. (Cases of parents suing teachers for exercising disciplinary powers over their children are not unknown!) The problem, however, does not arise solely from the children and their backgrounds, for, as Sir David wisely pointed out, “the teachers themselves are subject to the standards of the age in which we live, an age in which it is widely believed that a decline in Christian morality is a fact and is a main cause of the growth of irresponsible behavior, especially among the young.”
Sir David asked what were the values that the teachers were trying to hand on, and how seriously was religious instruction taken in the schools. “These are questions often asked and seldom answered,” he said. “But they go to the root of our present discontents. If we concern ourselves solely with vocational education, then, vital as science, technology, and foreign languages are to the economy of the nation, we shall be like men who build a great ship and forget the compass and the steering gear.” This warning could hardly be more timely.
At exactly the same time the opening session of the British Medical Association’s annual representative meeting was being held in Sheffield. Grave concern was expressed by the doctors present over the alarming increase in venereal disease among adolescents. One of the delegates recalled that the acme of success in girls’ schools used to be the winning of one’s lacrosse, swimming, or hockey colors. But he had heard of a girls’ school in England where another achievement had now been added—the pinning of a certain mascot on one’s chest to indicate to one’s fellow pupils that one had lost one’s virginity. While he avowed the greatest respect for psychiatrists, he thought that, up to a point, they had had their day, and that what was needed to correct the loss of moral discipline which was sweeping round the country was the rod, adequately and properly administered. Another delegate stressed that it was “the most terrible tragedy in the community if young people ceased to feel that chastity and decency mattered.”
In an article in the Church of England Newspaper that same week Archdeacon Eric Treacy (now appointed to the suffragan bishopric of Pontefract) addressed himself to the question: What can we do about teenage morals? He suggested that those who write and produce plays for television, radio, and cinema should desist from glamorizing young thugs and dramatizing their youthful lusts. He deplored the fact that the call to idealism was so little heard nowadays. “To be told that we have never had it so good is all right as an election gimmick, but it is a pretty sterile philosophy to live by. We have expected too little of our young people, and we have got as little as we expected.” He blamed also the unsavory example in matters of morals and sex set by older people to younger people at their places of employment. “The road back is a long one,” he ended, “and there is no short cut. The problem will only be tackled effectively as it is seen as a matter of laying sound foundations; those foundations are those of Christian teaching as to the sanctity of personality and obedience to the Ten Commandments, which are all too rarely proclaimed in our churches today.”
Let the last word be with one of the great Christian educators of our time, the late Bishop Spencer Leeson, and let it be in the form of a catena of brief quotations from his Bampton Lectures on Christian Education: “We have to put the faith back again at the heart of education, and that means that we must put it back at the heart of the national life … (The teacher’s) work is in the highest and truest sense pastoral.… The relation of teacher and pupil, at whatever stage and whatever age, must be before all things pastoral.… The mind of a nation is reflected in its schools.… If Christian ethics are separated from the Christian faith, and the latter abandoned, the former will not long endure.” What, in short, we desperately need is genuinely Christian teachers, whose vital faith will be “caught” by the children under their instruction. The young men and women in our universities and training colleges should be encouraged to regard the teaching profession as a definite Christian vocation, and to respond to it with the same vision of faith and spirit of commitment as is expected of those who respond to the call of the mission field.
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