Remember the tussles some towns had this past Christmas about mixing religion with public school? There were debates about whether a concert of Handel's Messiah could be held in a school auditorium; there were debates about whether children's gift exchanges should prohibit items with a red & green color scheme; there were not too many debates about teaching the meaning of Christmas because no public school that I have heard of has the nerve to risk a lawsuit by doing so.
Yet in our past, from the earliest days of our country's founding, this was not a concern. I have pointed out before that it was not a concern of Thomas Jefferson, the many who is so often cited because he once used the phrase "separation of church and state." But there are countless other examples of the regular use of religious sources and/or teaching in public schools.
As one example, look at the Stamford Historical Society of Connecticut. Once of our original 13 colonies, Connecticut has a history that includes religion (President Jefferson's "separation" quote is from a letter to a group in Danbury, CT, who worried their religious freedom might be in danger). One of Stamford's first school house was also used for Christian worship services, a concept that might be challenged today (look through past blog posts on this blog to find examples). But that is an example of building use for convenience, not curriculum. An article from Stamford's historical society includes the following tidbits:
- Usually the Congregational minister had considerable influence in selecting a teacher, and any young man who voiced unorthodox opinions would quickly be turned down.
- ...the code of 1650 ruled that parents and schoolmasters must question children systematically each week in the principles of Christian religion. This catechism requirement persisted until 1821.
- ...the Bible undoubtedly served as a textbook for early Stamford children...
- The first edition of The New England Primer appeared in 1690, It introduced children to reading by means of a series of woodcuts, each with a letter of the alphabet used in a cheerful little rhyme such as, “In Adam's fall, we sinned all,” Next came easy syllables to be recited and memorized and then words, including words like “fidelity” and “fornication.” The primer did not shrink from letting its young readers in on the sins of the biblical fathers: “Uriah's Beauteous Wife Made David Seek his Life.”
- ...in 1731, a division of administration put the Stamford schools under church jurisdiction in what were known as Ecclesiastical Society Meetings. ... The School Society appointed “school visitors” who were delegated to inspect each school at least twice a season; without the inspections, the school would forfeit its portion of the public money. The visitors could “direct the public exercises of the youth, as well as their instructions in letters, religion, morals and manners.” Particularly, the visitors were supposed to direct the daily reading of the Bible, approve the weekly catechism instruction and recommend that the schoolmaster conclude the exercises each day with a prayer.
Stamford Past & Present, 1641 – 1976
The Commemorative Publication of the Stamford Bicentennial Committee
The writer's opinion is that our American Revolution probably would not have happened were it not for the education of the general public. And part of that education included teaching about religion and reading from the Bible (the latter being a characteristic of the Washington, D.C. school district when Thomas Jefferson oversaw its operation).
Read the entire article here: