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In Defense of Horace Mann
Christianity in American Public Schools


Maybe you've seen the article that should go here. Send us the link Or send us the book or journal article and we'll plagiarize it like all our other pages.

Here's what it says:

  • Secularists argue that the move toward "non-sectarian" education was a move away from religious education toward secular or atheistic education
  • "Non-Sectarian" education was still explicitly Christian and Biblical
  • Horace Mann, attacked by Calvinists for removing Calvinist distinctives from public schools, still boasted that his schools were Christian and taught the Bible. He denied that they were secular.
  • Horace Mann would not have approved of the modern myth of "separation of church and state" with its schools purged of "religion, morality and knowledge."

In the 1962 Supreme Court case of Engel v. Vitale, Justice Douglas, agreeing with the majority that prayer should be removed from government schools, nevertheless admitted that:

Religion was once deemed to be a function of the public school system. The Northwest Ordinance, which antedated the First Amendment [1787], provided in Article III that "Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged."

Horace Mann did not disagree with this. Horace Mann wanted schools that taught religion. He saw no constitutional requirement to remove religion from any government-sponsored activity.

Until you send us this article, readers of this page will have to be content with the following dialogue on American OnLine's "Separation of Church and State" Discussion Board.

Subject: "Nonsectarian" but still very religious
From: kevin4vft@aol.com (KEVIN4VFT)
Date: 04 Jan 1998 03:24:02 EST

In article <19971231235201.SAA04312@ladder01.news.aol.com>, edarr1776@aol.com (EDarr1776) writes:

>Kevin said: >>Horace Mann's schools were explicitly religious. But they were
>non-sectarian. Christian but non-sectarian. You can't understand the First
>Amendment if you can't make that distinction.

>And you don't understand
>either Horace Mann or the First Amendment if you think that the Constitution
>endorses Christianity, in schools or in any other form. That's just not

Well don't cite evidence or anything like that. The presence of legal and historical authorities and stuff like that might distract readers from the argument you're making

What I know about Horace Mann I learned from a past president of the Columbia Teacher's College, a widely recognized authority on the history of education in America, Lawrence Cremin.

The dominance of the New England Primer in the 1700's and the McGuffey Readers in the 1800's, shows that Education was Christian and Biblical throughout this period. The Constitution and the First Amendment were never understood to prohibit state and local governments from encouraging the teaching of religion in all schools.

Even Horace Mann, severely criticized by many Christians, did not attempt to remove religion from the schools. It was not until the 20th century that religion was stripped from schools, and this was a sociological phenomenon, not a legally-mandated one. The legal "mandate" was not invented until the early 1960's.

In article <19971229081200.DAA11964@ladder01.news.aol.com>, edarr1776@aol.com (EDarr1776) writes:

>I'm saying that your statement that all the states taught religion is
>absolutely untrue. Politely I've given a few examples and asked you to
>document your assertion. That is in lieu of accusing you of a Ninth
>Commandment violation. But then, since you don't hold to organized religion,
>should we expect you to try to hold to the commandments?

>If you do hold to
>the commandments, at least tell us what source has led you astray on the
>teaching of religion in the public schools. It is not done, it has never
>been done on any substantial scale. If you have evidence otherwise, now is
>the time to present it.

Here we go:

Butts & Cremin, A History of Education in American Culture, Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1953, pp. 272ff.:

"The attempt to build a nonsectarian common school curriculum.
In order for the ideal of a universally available, publicly supported, and publicly controlled common school to be at all workable, the teaching of sectarian religion had to be excluded from the classroom. [KC Note: this does not mean excluding all Christianity, just the denominational distinctives:] In their attempts to accomplish this by teaching the common elements of Christianity and the Bible without comment, however, the reformers encountered violent opposition from conservative religious interests and the forces allied with them. The idea that morality and character -- for many the central purposes of education -- could be included in the curriculum apart from the dogma of a sectarian faith was a difficult one for people who had recently lived under religious establishments to accept. Yet the reformers were able, in the space of a half century, to convince a majority of Americans that the plan was practical.

"The development of the nonsectarian curriculum in Massachusetts well represents the movement throughout the Union. Interestingly enough, while the general law of 1789 had enjoined teachers to exert their best endeavors to communicate piety, justice, and other virtues to children, it nowhere mentioned the teaching of religion. Although the popularity of the New England Primer had begun to wane in favor of newer material, the Bible and the Psalter were in wide use, and the law of 1789 probably represented a more general trend replacing earlier Calvinist teachings with a milder conception of Judeo-Christian ethics and morality. Far from excluding religion, the law merely required the teaching of Christian principles to a Christian community.

"When the law of 1827 greatly strengthened the town school committees, the question of sectarian feeling in the selection of school books received important attention. In order to prevent undue sectarian interest in this matter, the following clause was inserted in the law: "That said committee shall never direct any school books to be purchased or used, in any of the schools under their superintendence, which are calculated to favor any particular sect or tenet." Once again, rather than excluding Christian morality from the schools, this provision obviously hoped to bar only sectarian doctrines and tenets.

"No particular attention was paid to this provision until the establishment of the Board of Education in 1837 and the appointment of Horace Mann, a Unitarian, as its secretary. When Mann and the board vigorously supported the common elements of Christianity conception, the more conservative religious groups in the state accused him of trying to introduce Unitarianism into the schools. [note: in the early 1800's, Unitarianism looked more like contemporary evangelicalism, but was clearly a departure from Puritan Calvinism.] In 1838, in a controversy over school libraries with Frederick A. Packard of the American Sunday School Union [which published public school textbooks, not just "sunday school" texts --kc], and again in 1844 and 1846, in controversies with Reverends Edward A. Newton and Matthew Hale Smith, respectively, Mann and the board were accused of conducting "godless," immoral
schools which bred delinquency and vice. Throughout these continuing struggles, Mann held steadfastly to his position that the common schools were neither irreligious nor nonreligious; they were nonsectarian. If one examines the curriculum of these years, Mann's arguments were entirely borne out in practice, at least to the extent that moral instruction was non-sectarian Protestant in orientation. Very obviously, what his attackers were urging was not that religion, ethics, and morals be taught in the schools, but that their particular sectarian doctrines be taught.

"By the time of the Civil War, Mann's position enjoyed wide acceptance in most places, and universal acceptance in others. A questionnaire sent to twelve leading citizens of Massachusetts in 1851 revealed general concurrence in the conclusion that the New England system of education, while nonsectarian, was far from irreligious. Had America been entirely Protestant, there seems little doubt that well nigh universal acceptance of this policy might have been achieved by 1865. But this was not the case, and after 1840, their ranks strengthened by the mass immigrations of the 1840's and 1850's, the Roman Catholics raised growing objections. Pointing to the fact that the Protestant version of the Bible was read in schools and that this Bible, contrary to Catholic doctrine, was read without comment or interpretation, this group continued to view the public schools as sectarian. In some places temporary compromises were achieved; in others Protestants refused to heed these complaints; and in still others separate Catholic schools systems were established. Suffice it to say that before 1865 the Protestants had no adequate solution to the problem."

If I am able, I will quote Princeton Calvinist A.A. Hodge who railed against the Catholics for fighting Protestants over the King James Bible when they should have joined the Protestants in fighting against the secularists. Again, I blame ecclesiastical denominations for most of today's problems.

But the point is inescapable. The Bible was taught in public schools long after the Constitution was ratified. Even while Horace Mann was active, the New England Primer was still being used:

That Cotton Mather's injunctions were not simply the ravings of a [fanatic] minister is attested by the whole content and spirit of the New England Primer which was the most widely read school book in America for 100 years. The best estimate is made that some 3,000,000 copies were sold from 1700 to 1850.

Butts & Cremin, p.69

No one believed this to be unconstitutional (except a few wiggy and blasphemous prototypes of the ACLU, who were always ruled against in court).

An effective cease-fire, even a negotiated peace, was brought about in Massachusetts by Horace Mann through the concept of the common school, teaching no doctrine, under no ecclesiastical controls but hardly the secular sphere we know today. Mann assured critics that the common school "inculcates all Christian morals; it founds its morals on the basis of religion; it welcomes the religion of the Bible...," but he did insist that Bible reading be without comment to discourage sectarian bickering (Mann, Twelfth Annual Report for 1848 of the Secretary of the Board of Education of Massachusetts. Reprinted in Blau 183-84).


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