State Church or Public School?

For a group of men supposedly careless about religion (as is now popularly taught), it is ironic that the first item on the Founding Fathers’ list of THINGS THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT MAY NOT DO is create a State religion or interfere in anyone’s practice of religion (while safeguarding life, liberty, property).

  1. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”(Amendment I, Constitution of the United States).

Most of us have a mental image of what a church is, does, or looks like, but consider these components of religion taken from dictionaries:

  1. Deity:A belief about deity (eg. God, gods, nature, self, nothing) and the origin, value, and purpose of life. The array of accepted explanation ranges from divine to mythical, Darwin’s theory, or a vacuum.
  1. Behavioral codes:A corresponding set of institutionalized behaviors and moral codes set forth in texts, rituals, or customs. These are considered to be universally true. For example, even atheists have adopted fairness and justice as being right, good, and true. Problems arise in defining and encouraging or discouraging such behaviors, as various religions differ in interpretations and proscriptions.
  1. Ministry:A trained ministry, or those authorized and empowered to declare and administer these universal truths. Typically, these elites rise through both education in the dogma and exercise in its practice, becoming gate-keepers of the kingdom.
  1. Catechism:A set of structured teachings that molds, organizes, and focuses the belief and energy of adherents is imposed, often beginning at a young age. Typically, these teachings include promises of reward for compliance and dire consequences for disregard. Financial success, power, and security versus failure, low rank, or little worth are typical.

These characteristics are referred to as the Cosmology, or system of beliefs, of religion. Conspicuously absent in these defining attributes are buildings with spires or domes. Also vacant is use of the word church in many of the institutions that, by the above definitions, qualify as a religion.

One could handily compare journalism and other media, politics, and science to this model and uncover startling similarities. However, add the hyper-sacred institution of public education and panic ensues. That a challenge elicits great emotional response is an indicator of dearly held values and beliefs. “We believe in public education” is an article of faith for most Americans.

A dispassionate and logical examination of public schools clearly reveals a State religion:

  1. Deity:God has been evicted and replaced by the System, curricula, and assessments as the New Trinity. What school programs declare is what we are to believe. Our purpose is to work for the system so “they” will supply our entitlements, such as education. (Entitlements – human demands – have replaced rights, which are God-given.)
  1. Behavioral codes:Diversity, social justice, tolerance (but only for State-approved behaviors), fairness, and equality are canonized while integrity, morality, and virtue are ridiculed or redefined in order to diffuse the power of these ancient concepts. Zero tolerance is allowed for those who believe, say, or practice anything outside of State-approved orthodoxy.
  1. Ministry:Only individuals certified by the State are authorized or capable of teaching. Parents should not attempt – and are indeed acculturated to disdain or fear – teaching academics at home. Such is an invitation to ridicule. (A student once informed me that it is a well-known fact that home educated children are “socially autistic.”)
  1. Catechism:The State determines what shall be valued and measured as learning, i.e. literacy and numeracy. Attendance is mandatory. There is only One Order, the “ladder myth” as educator Paul Lockhart terms it. A rigid curriculum – decreed and tightened by Common Core – is imposed on all children at designated ages; alternate routes to educating ourselves are heretical. The beliefs to be taught, to whom and by whom, at what age, and in prescribed order, are dictated.

Those in charge define the morals, teach the values, direct the behaviors. “And what is gray with age [or institutionalized for generations] becomes religion” (Ross, 1969, p. 181).

Dr. John Meyer of Stanford University, writes that “education can usefully be conceived as a transcendental or religious institution…it is the secular religion of a modern society” (2000, p. 208). Schools, like religion, are constituted by a cosmology, or universalized values and belief system with “meaningful linkages of humans and their activity to this cosmos” (Ibid., p. 209; see also Gatto, 2006).

Indeed, agrees Dr. Charles Glenn of Boston University, the goal of public educators has been, from the beginning, to “shape the children of the common people to share their own values” (Glenn, 1988, p. 9). Among the values to be transformed are those of religion and personal identity.

Lending credence to this declaration is the fact that the estimated literacy rate of early 19th century New England, cradle of public school in America, was near 100% at the inception of the common– later called public – school. That being the case, the purpose of schools would not have been simple literacy and numeracy skills. It is no secret that public schools were sold as a platform to teach certain morals, values, and behaviors, as construed by Horace Mann and his successors. They promised that public schools would be the savior of society. (see Cremin, 1962, 1982; Cutler, 2000; Gaither, 2008, 2009; Gatto, 2006; Kaestle, 1983; Kliebard, 1994; Spring, 2008; Tyack, 1974; Tyack & Cuban, 1997; Vallance, 1973).

That’s the bad news. It gets worse.

Dr. Peter Berger, professor of Sociology at Rutgers, writes that “the fundamental coerciveness of society lies not in its machineries of social control, but in its power to constitute and impose itself as reality” (Berger, 1967, p. 12). Schools and media are ideal for this imposition of an apostate reality, this secular religion.

When only certain learning is valued, it is religion. A real problem is that now schools are going beyond being a religion where only orthodox learning is legitimate.

When only certain learning is tolerated, it becomes tyranny. Federal dictates in education such as Common Core have crossed that line. Compulsory learning without choice, without parental input, without recourse or regard to any individual child’s personality, abilities, or identity, is tyranny. It is worse than state religion. It is despotism. It is the Inquisition of our time.

–Marlene Hinton, PhD (September 2013, republished with her permission)


Resources
Berger, P. (1967). The Sacred Canopy. Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion. New York: Anchor Books.

Cremin, L.A. (1962). The Transformation of the School: Progressivism in American Education, 1876-1957. New York: Alfred A Knopf.

Cremin, L.A. (1982) . American Education: T he national experience, 1783 – 1876. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers

Cutler, W.W. III (2000). Parents and Schools: The 150-year struggle for control in American education. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Gaither, M. (2008). Homeschool: an American history. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Gaither, M. (2009). Homeschooling in the USA: Past, present and future. Theory and Research in Education. 7:331. Retrieved from http://tre.sagepub.com.ezproxy1.lib.asu.edu/content/7/3/331.full.pdf+html

Gatto, J. (2006). The Underground History of American Education: an intimate investigation into the prison of modern schooling. New York: The Oxford Village Press.

Glenn, C.L. (1988). The Myth of the Common School. Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press.

Illich, I. (1971). Deschooling Society. New York: Marion Boyars. Retrieved from http://www.preservenet.com/theory/Illich/Deschooling/intro.html.

Kaestle, C.F. (1983). Pillars of the Republic: common schools and American society, 1780-1860.. NY: Hill and Wang.

Kliebard, H.M. (1994). The Struggle for the American Curriculum 1893 – 1958. New York: Routledge.

Meyer, John (2000). Reflections on Education in Transcendence. In L Cuban & D. Shipps (Eds.), Reconstructing the common good in education: Coping with intractable American dilemmas (pp. 206-222). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Ross, E.A. (1969). Social Control: a survey of the foundations of order. Cleveland, OH: Case Western Reserve University.

Spring, J. (2008). The American School: from the Puritans to No Child Left Behind (7th ed). New York: McGraw Hill.

Tyack, D.B. (1974). The One Best System. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Tyack, David, and Cuban, Larry (1995). Tinkering toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Vallance, E. (1973/1974). Hiding the Hidden Curriculum: an interpretation of the language of justification in nineteenth-century educational reform. Curriculum Theory Network. 4:1. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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