The humanist heresy has redefined the goal of education.
I am a christian and a pastor; I am persuaded that Christianity is true. In harmony with Jesus’ approach, however, I do not wish to see the state or anyone else coerce others into Christianity or any religious system. It was the Christian faith that the pilgrims and Puritans embraced; yet it was also they who endured the hardship of coming to this land to escape state-sponsored religion and to obtain the right to worship freely. Consequently, our nation was imbued early on with a passion to separate the church and the state, mainly for the protection of the church and freedom of religion.
The church is openly religious; we have a Bible, institutions, traditions, and all the markings of a religion. It should be evident, moreover, that we have gone to great pains in the United States to keep Christianity and other recognized religions out of the classrooms of state-sponsored schools—to the extent that voluntary prayers have been prohibited by the Supreme Court. Even evangelical Christianity tends to favor separation of state and religion.
The problem I wish to address is the fact that not every religion is willing to abide by this rule of separation, that there are those holding a religious position who are succeeding in obtaining state sponsorship for the teaching of their religious views in public schools.
Most religions consist of a unified system of beliefs that deal with basic views on such things as God and human ethics. These would be recognized as two basic elements in all religions—a view of God or some sort of ultimate reality, and a view of ethics, derived from ultimate realities. Most often these are expressed in some kind of holy book. Judaism and Christianity certainly fit that description and make no pretense of being anything other than religious systems.
As parents and as taxpayers, however, we may not be aware that humanism also possesses the basic elements of a religion. It has its “holy book,” The Humanist Manifesto, I and II, a sort of Old and New Testament, if you will. The religion of humanism should not be confused with humaneness, humanitarianism, or the humanities, however. Humanism calls itself a religion at least seven times in the first four pages of its book. The very first sentence reads, “Humanism is a philosophical, religious, and moral point of view …” Furthermore, humanism holds a position on God—it says there isn’t one. Its book says “faith in the prayer-hearing God … is an unproved and outmoded faith … and there is insufficient evidence for belief in the existence of a supernatural” (pp. 13, 16).
Religious humanism, finally, has a firm position on ethics. Their “Bible” says, “Moral values derive their source from human experience. Ethics is autonomous and situational, needing no theological or ideological sanction” (p. 17). In other words, morals are not derived from absolutes given by God, but are determined by the individual from situation to situation. The Judeo-Christian view is a religion and humanism is its opposite number—image and counter image.
Lest there be any doubt, the Supreme Court has on at least two occasions identified secular humanism as a religion: in Abington v. Schempp and Torcaso v. Watkins. In Torcaso, the Court spelled out that “religion” in the constitutional sense includes nontheistic as well as theistic religion and the state is therefore forbidden to prohibit or promote either form of religion. It is here that the problem is to be found. The state is increasingly being put in the position of promoting humanism, a nontheistic religion, and to the detriment of the Judeo-Christian religious tradition.
As a parent and taxpayer, I face the problem that humanism is the dominant view among leading educators in the U.S.—among those who set the trends in education, develop the curricula, dispense federal moneys, advise governmental officials on education, and so on. This religious viewpoint is being promoted in public schools, frequently without the knowledge or consent of parents and taxpayers. Many teachers and educators participate in such programs without appreciating their significance. Furthermore, as a Christian, I am increasingly alarmed that my taxes are used to subvert my own position.
Parents could once assume that when they sent their children to school, the traditional Judeo-Christian values they held would at least be respected by the schools, if not reinforced. But no longer can parents make that assumption. According to the Gallup Polls, in 1977 at least 94 percent of Americans believed in God. Yet, among those in leadership in education, a significant number believe otherwise, professing humanism. Their views are the ones coming through to children in today’s schools.
To show how this is coming about, we will go first to the root of the issue—the change in the philosophy of education. We will then examine some of the fruit—the specific programs carrying the humanist message into the schools. And finally, we will examine the attitude of those in educational leadership who are consciously trying to promote this approach.
Goal Of Education
First, the philosophy of education: what is education supposed to accomplish? Most of us have thought that the schools’ responsibility is to teach cognitive skills—reading, writing, math, and so on, in the context of such commonly accepted values as honesty, truthfulness, and discipline. Apparently this is still the expectation of parents as nationwide they are distressed over the 10-year decline in SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) scores and the growing awareness that today’s children seem less equipped to read, write, and add in an increasingly complex culture.
Most parents would be surprised to discover that leading educators no longer see their job primarily to be the teaching of these necessary skills. The philosophy of education has undergone a fundamental change. Educators now perceive their job to be the complete “resocialization” of the child—the complete reshaping of his values, beliefs, and morals. Teaching is now being viewed as a form of therapy, the classroom as a clinic, and the teacher as a therapist whose job is to apply psychological techniques in the shaping of the child’s personality and values.
There is evidence showing the philosophy of education has altered in this way. For example, such changes have been discussed in Congress, the subject of legislative action. S. I. Hayakawa, U.S. Senator from California, was an educator for most of his life. On the floor of the U.S. Senate, he stated:
“In recent years in colleges of education and schools of sociology and psychology, an educational heresy has flourished.… The heresy of which I speak regards the fundamental task of education as therapy.… There are exercises in psychodrama, role playing, touch therapy, encounter groups, involving necessarily the searching and exploration of innumerable matters that are nobody’s business except that of the child, the child’s parent, or the family’s physician or psychiatrist.”
The National Education Association report. “Education for the 70’s,” states clearly that “schools will become clinics whose purpose is to provide individualized psycho-social treatment for the student, and teachers must become psycho-social therapists.” The National Education Journal states in February 1968 that “the most controversial issue of the 21st century will pertain to the ends and means of human behavior and who will determine them. The first education question will not be ‘what knowledge is of the most worth?’ but ‘what kind of human behavior do we wish to produce?’ ”
Who will determine human behavior, and what kind of behavior do we want? Who will engineer society, and what kind of society shall we design? These are the tasks the educational leaders have set for themselves. They are not thinking small.
How will this affect what goes on in the classroom? Consider the following statement on what is to be studied in classrooms by the former president of the NEA. Catherine Barrett: “We will need to recognize that the so-called basic skills, which represent nearly the total effort in elementary schools, will be taught in one-quarter of the present school day. The remaining time will be devoted to what is truly fundamental and basic.”
This is a remarkable viewpoint in light of the declining test scores that seem to indicate that education is not succeeding very well in communicating the basic skills. Barrett, nevertheless, wishes to press on undaunted to bigger and more significant things, such as redesigning society.
That the schools should be going in this direction is no real surprise. John Dewey, the patron saint of public education, was a signer of Humanist Manifesto I, and a president of the American Humanist Association. B. F. Skinner of Harvard, a prime advocate of behavioral psychology, was a signer of Humanist Manifesto II. Consider also a prophetic statement by Horace Mann, another early father of public education: “What the church has been for medieval man, the public school must become for democratic and rational man. God would be replaced by the concept of the public good.”
Educational leaders thus say the big question in education is, “What human behavior do we want, and who will produce it?” And that is my question: According to whose pattern do the educationists propose to reconstruct society? Whose values will be taught? Without doubt, the state will uniformly educate its children in the values of the religion of humanism, for they are the “rational” ones. We are in no danger of having the state impose Judeo-Christian values on children; far from it. The question is, are we in jeopardy if the state becomes the sponsor of the religion of humanism?
Let us now consider the fruit of this new philosophy, specific programs designed to convey a humanistic outlook on life. Those programs designed to shape young minds referred to by Senator Hayakawa included psychodrama, role playing, touch therapy, and encounter groups. To these we may add values clarification, situation ethics, sensitivity training, survival games, and other behavior-oriented programs. Beginning in kindergarten and continuing through high school, these programs are intended to modify children’s attitudes, values, and beliefs. The problem is not with values as such, but with the fact that these new programs are designed to “free” the children from the Judeo-Christian notions of value and morality their parents may have passed on to them. These programs cover such topics as sex education, drug education, family life, human development, and personality adjustment.
Needless to say, there is no god in the system of values being taught by humanists, and so there are no absolutes, no clear rights and wrongs (except the clear “wrong” of having absolute convictions of right and wrong). The only basis for developing morals is what the child himself wants or thinks, and/or what the peer group decides is right. Strong convictions of right and wrong are looked upon as evidence of poor social adjustment and of the need for the teacher’s therapy. The child must be delivered from primitive notions of morals. To aid in this, mothers and fathers are depicted in the literature as old-fashioned, as having hang-ups and strange ideas about morals, as being unable to keep up with the changing world. The children are much brighter and know much more than past generations who, after all, led us into our present mess! Old values have clearly failed, so, on to newer and better ones of our own making. Horace Mann was indeed prophetic: the school is to become the church for modern man.
Lest I be charged with imagining all this, let me give some concrete examples. Sheila Schwartz is a humanist, subscribing to the philosophy of the humanist “Bible.” The January/February 1976 edition of Humanist Magazine carries her article, “Adolescent Literature: Humanism Is Alive and Thriving in the Secondary School.” That title alone is an education. Professor Schwartz (she is a professor of English education—she trains public school teachers) makes the following significant statements in this article:
“Something wonderful, free, unheralded, and of significance to all humanists is happening in the secondary schools. It is the adolescent-literature movement.… They may burn Slaughterhouse Five in North Dakota and ban a number of innocuous books in Kanawha County, but thank God [sic] the crazies don’t do all that much reading. If they did they’d find that they have already been defeated.… Nothing that is part of contemporary life is taboo in this genre and any valid piece of writing that helps make the world more knowable to young people serves an important humanistic function.… None of the books are didactic, but all of them espouse the humanistic ideals to which young people should be exposed.”
Her article describes some of the books in detail; in reference to one she says, “The story is not really believable if we look only at the mental illness in it, but the humanistic attitudes in it are valuable.” According to her, then, those parents, here referred to as “crazies,” who are trying to keep books they feel are harmful from their older children are defeated even so, because such material is already contained in adolescent literature.
This is not just theory; it is contained in the training for many school teachers and has worked its way down into adolescent literature. I hope you are troubled as I am at this elitist attitude—at the arrogance of so-called experts who have seized authority that is not theirs because they are convinced they know better than the parents. I wonder if the parents whose children are using these books know that these experts feel the humanistic values being taught are the most important things in the literature.
The root of this problem is the religion of secular humanism and its effect on the philosophy of education. Its fruit consists of those specific educational programs designed to modify values and behavior, so as to reengineer society. What is the attitude of the educational elite in all of this?
Sidney Simon is one of the educational elite in the U.S. He is a humanist. He teaches at the Center for the Humanistic Education in Amherst, Massachusetts, and is one of the main architects of values clarification theory, which is widely used in public schools. Mr. Simon has been quoted as admitting that when he was training teachers in values clarification in New York City, “an orthodox Jewish right-wing group got hold of it and just raised hell” because they felt “values shouldn’t be dealt with in the school but should be left for the religious institutions and the home.”
While teaching at Temple University, Simon said. “I always bootlegged the values stuff. I was assigned to teach social studies in elementary school and I taught values clarification. I was assigned current trends in American education and I taught my trend.”
Simon’s situational ethics are true to his humanist form, for he apparently saw nothing unethical about “bootlegging” religious beliefs into public education, nor did he feel moral guilt at his subterfuge and deception. This often seems to go along with the new approach to education. Keep it subtle, keep it quiet, or the parents will really get upset. This man trains teachers, and his attitude as an influential educational leader is seeping down to underlings who implement his educational strategies.
Rhoda Lorand, a member of the American Board of Professional Psychology, made some observations about the attitudes of educators before the U.S. House Sub-Committee on Education. Her testimony related to House Resolution 5163 having to do with education. Her words are as follows:
“The contempt for parents is so shockingly apparent in many of the courses funded under Title III, in which the teacher is required to become an instant psychiatrist who probes the psyche of her pupils, while encouraging them to criticize their parents’ beliefs, values, and teachings. This process continues from kindergarten through the twelfth grade, and has created dissension and bitterness from one end of the country to the other.… The National Institute of Mental Health promotes these programs and funding for them is readily available through Title III. Therefore, despite the vigorously expressed opposition of parents, school officials continue to institute and implement these programs and feel free to insult the parents who object to them.”
In other words, the educational elite have quietly usurped the authority of the parents, and since they can count on federal funds and power, they feel free to look with disdain on the parents who object to this arbitrary takeover. Their elitist arrogance is appalling. It is not at all clear that they know better how my child should be raised or that they have a superior system of values. In my judgment, they have no more right to impose their religious system on children than does any other group.
Someone may well say, “If you don’t like the public schools, send your children to private schools.” In their distress over the declining quality of public education and displeasure at the attempt to subvert traditional values in the public schools, parents frequently have done just that. But what recourse do those parents have who can’t afford private education as an escape from these problems? Consider the plight of a frustrated black father in New York City as his child falls further and further behind. Nat Hentoff wrote in Learning:
“The black father was so consumed with anger and despair that it was hard for him to speak. ‘You people,’ he said to the impassive members of the board of education, ‘operate a … monopoly like the telephone company. I got no choice where I send my child to school. I can only go where it’s free. And she’s not learning. That’s your responsibility, it’s the principal’s responsibility, it’s the teacher’s responsibility that she’s not learning. And when you fail, when everybody fails my child, what happens? Nothing. Nobody gets fired. Nothing happens to nobody except my child.’ ”
In summary, we are faced with the imposition of a government-backed religion. The religion of humanism is being passed on to formative minds through state sponsorship of public education. The goal is to reshape society through the molding of young minds. Humanism is a self-proclaimed religion; it has its “Bible” and its beliefs. Its leaders are attempting to remake public school teachers into its ministers and priests, public classrooms into its sanctuaries, public tax coffers into its offering plates, and other people’s children into its captive congregation. Humanism’s “Bible” vigorously insists that it is wrong for the state to promote any religious view; humanists apparently mean any religious system other than their own. What should we do?
First, parents can educate themselves in this matter; good pamphlets and books are available. Our overall goal, next, ought to be to move the philosophy of education back into communicating basic skills and out of social engineering. Further, we should make it known that we do not accept the attempt to use the schools to promote a particular religious viewpoint—theistic or nontheistic.
On a local level, I do not recommend the bull-in-a-china-shop approach by parents. I do recommend their courteous but determined effort to discover the true nature of local school curricula. Parents have a right to know what their children are taught and they ought not be put off by the elitist attitudes of contempt or secrecy. Parents will find differing levels of humanist programs from school to school, and we ought not think that all teachers and educators are consciously trying to promote humanism. However, education is moving powerfully in that direction and now is the time to stop the trend.
If we could see with widened gaze of angels,
we might discern the shape
and whole dimension of love.
PEARL LUNT ROBINSON
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
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