The Case for Religious Schools

The Reverend Mr. Brustat is Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church and Trinity Christian School, Scarsdale, New York.

The early settlers came to these shores impelled by the strong desire to worship God in their own way. Our institutions were forged by a people who put their religion at the center of life’s concerns. Our history was shaped by the religious convictions which prevailed in these states. If a contrary system of beliefs and values had guided our forebears, American history would be quite different; and this would be a different country today. Thus, if we would preserve our institutions and further their development we cannot neglect the role of religion. We must make room for religion in our system of education.

H. G. Wells would not see eye to eye with me on religion; but he said, “Education is the preparation of the individual for society, but his religious training is the core of that preparation.” And Charles W. Eliot, when he was president of Harvard, declared, “Exclude religion from education and you have no foundation upon which to build character.” As a matter of fact, when you come right down to it, there is no way to exclude religious instruction from education; there is only the choice of one kind of religion or another. One can plan a curriculum which includes instruction on the God concept, the moral law, the Bible, prayer, the spiritual life. Instruction along these lines would accord with the common understanding of what is meant by religion. But if each of these things is rigidly excluded from the curriculum, the result is to inculcate habits of thought and attitudes which constitute a denial of religion harder to cope with than an outright atheism.

For one reason or another, an outspoken religious program can hardly be carried out in the government school system. With a mixture of children from different backgrounds and from homes adhering to various and varied religious tenets, serious complications might easily develop if religion in any form were brought into the classroom. Nor will such programs as Released Time or any other part-time agency of religious instruction solve the problem. An unbalanced educational program which emphasizes the purely secular five hours a day and five days a week, and fits into this schedule one, or at the most, two hours of religious instruction, gives the child the erroneous impression that religion is a relatively unimportant thing which may be relegated to the background of life.

Unless the serious study of religion is integrated with other studies and given a status at least equal to other parts of the curriculum, youth will be inclined to look at the world as though God were not both in it and beyond it as its Creator and Sustainer. The gap in our educational system is a challenge to our churches. They can meet this challenge by establishing their own schools.

That this is not a new concept, I readily admit. The parochial or church school is not making its debut at this time. In fact, the church schools in America antedate the government school systems by over two hundred years. The first government school was organized in Dorchester, Massachusetts, as recently as 1839, although the Church and its schools had received tax support since early Colonial days. Prior to 1839 all education on the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and postgraduate levels was in the hands of the Church. Through all the previous decades of our history education was the distinctive prerogative of the Church. Our original great American universities were all founded by the Church. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, William and Mary, Syracuse, to mention just a few, were founded and administered by religious denominations. As late as 1860 there were 246 colleges and universities in America, of which all but 17 were under the auspices of the Church. In many respects these were the years of America’s real greatness, the years when our forefathers laid the solid, godly foundations of our American Republic.

No doubt the fact that for three generations now, the government schools through taxation have been able to erect palatial buildings and equip them with everything that educators believe essential, has given present-day Americans the false impression that the government school has always existed. But such is not at all the case.

Here the question may be posed: Since the Church once had a virtual monopoly on education, why was it relinquished? How did the government school system gradually gain such prestige and power as almost to eliminate the church schools and other private educational institutions?

We would offer several suggestions. There was, first, the gradual development of secularism in our society. Secularism may be defined as the resolute exclusion of God and religion from daily life. It is the deliberate effort to live life apart from God. Men’s minds were increasingly enamored of and devoted to “things.” Materialism was fashionable.

Modern inventions and discoveries brought the industrial-mechanical age to America. As a consequence, wealth increased. This was a danger signal; for when wealth increases while God is relegated to the background of life, a moral and spiritual flabbiness ensues. In his “The Deserted Village,” Oliver Goldsmith expresses it succinctly in these words:

Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates, and men decay.

The humble “little red schoolhouses” which the Church could afford to maintain for a circumscribed segment of the population, the children of the parish, seemed hopelessly inadequate when compared to the palaces of learning which taxation could erect. But education is by no means the automatic result of elaborate buildings and equipment.

By the turn of the twentieth century, when government schools had all but completely routed private church schools, there was a confident faith that, at long last, man had reached the Golden Age; that all wars, all national problems, and all international tensions were definitely terminated. Had not the Carnegie Foundation for Peace succeeded in outlawing war forever? So man proposes; but he fails to reckon on the fact that God finally disposes. Man forgot that “the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small.” World War I served to shatter some illusions, the great world-depression which followed humbled us still more, and World War II convinced many that a world which had outlawed God was in danger of destroying itself.

And so the last two decades have seen a recrudescence of church schools—Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish—in which America’s youth is again being taught that God is, and that He holds man morally responsible for his life and actions. However, only a start has been made. Estimates indicate that between 17,000,000 and 20,000,000 American children still receive no formal religious education whatsoever.

This plea for church schools is not intended to suggest that any pressure be brought on parents to seek religious instruction for their children. Parents have the inherent right to choose whatever schools they desire for their offspring. This is a plea that they be allowed to choose freely, according to their own judgment and sense of values, and that those who choose religious instruction be not penalized for their choice.

From a practical viewpoint it is poor stewardship to keep churches closed all week except Sunday for Sunday services and to keep its educational facilities unused all week except for a few random meetings. A weekday church school makes a fuller use of these facilities and has the added value that children daily beat a path to the doors of an institution that counts on God.

Private or church schools have produced outstanding leaders in every field of endeavor. Arthur E. Traxler, Executive Director of the Educational Records Bureau, wrote: “Although in recent years not more than one boy in one hundred has been educated in the private schools of the United States, those schools have . . . educated approximately as many leaders as all the public schools combined.”

It may be in order to call attention to the fact that when the Constitution was adopted in 1789, it made no provision for a national system of education. Our Founding Fathers recognized that parents are primarily responsible for the education of their children and alone have the God-given authority to delegate that responsibility to others, whether in the Church or the State. To delegate a right is not to abandon it. The school, whether secular or religious, is only a branch of the home and should be guided by it. Our present-day educational demagogues might well bear this fact in mind.

Today’s socialistic, One World-minded philosophers—among them those who are at present agitating for federal aid to education, which would eventually lead to federal control of education—would turn it over to Society or the State. Herbert Spencer noted this trend already in his day and spoke out against it in these words: “Agitators and legislators have united in spreading a theory which . . . ends in the monstrous conclusion that it is for parents to beget children and for the State to take care of them.” Recently a communist source bluntly voiced this pseudo-liberal concept in these words: “Society possesses an original and fundamental right in the education of children. We must accordingly reject without compromise . . . the claim of parents to impart through family education their narrow views to the minds of their offspring.” With this we must violently and vehemently disagree.

Marxists and Fabian Socialists exile God from His heaven and would rob religious parents of their inalienable right to educate their children as they want them educated. They would consequently make of man a puppet of the ruling regime, a cog in the economic machinery of the commonwealth, a soulless automaton bowing to the dictatorial will.

By all means, our system of instruction should meet the exacting task of scholarship in science, history, literature, and in every other field. But without neglecting these areas it should do more. It is important to know how the universe works, but it is of infinitely greater importance to have an awareness of the God who makes it work. It is important to know the physical sciences, but much more important to know the Deity that put them into operation. It is important to know astronomy, but it is much more important to know Him who places the stars in all their glittering glory in the infinite meadowlands of heaven. It is important to wrest the secrets of God from the earth, but much more important to know Him who reveals to us the secret of man’s pathway to God.

These objectives can best be accomplished through the agency of the church or parochial school where, in addition to the so-called three R’s, is also taught the vital fourth R—Religion. []

If you would hand on spirit and life, you must be wall and gate in one, on guard, but still open. You must defend the integrity of your own person while constantly seeking communication with others.


The stone language of the Porta Nigra
as interpreted by the Henry Regnery Company.

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