Education Is Inevitably Religious

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I
m a full-time public policy analyst, but I write this column as
a Christian and as the father of a second-grade son. The views expressed
are my own.

In
its recent school-prayer decision, the U.S. Supreme Court declared
that “school sponsorship of a religious message is impermissible.”
With all due respect to Justice Stevens and his concurring brethren,
that statement is absurd. Why? Because K-12 education itself is
one gigantic exercise in “school sponsorship of a religious
message.”

Education — because
it deals with ultimate reality, with ideas and values of ultimate
importance — is necessarily religious.

Education
(duco: I lead) should lead students to answers to some of life’s
basic questions: Where did I come from? What is the nature of man?
What is truth? What is the meaning of sexuality? What is the meaning
of history, and what is my part in it? Educators who pretend the
crucial questions can be avoided for 12 years, or can be answered
in some “neutral” or “value-free” way, are deceiving
themselves.

One
cannot separate the “religious” from the “academic,”
as if the God of the universe could be placed into a tidy little
compartment. Christ will not be marginalized: He is holding the
universe together, and in Him are hid all the treasures of wisdom
and knowledge. He is the central reality, the very I AM. He cannot
be finessed.

Every
school — public, private or home — will either acknowledge
Him or, like Peter, deny Him. The latter choice is senseless, for
as former New York Times editor Bob Slosser asks, “How
can children be expected to make sense of anything — from science
to social studies — if the puzzle always has the central piece
missing?”

Religious
assumptions will necessarily undergird and suffuse any curriculum.
Did He create the world, or not? Is He the architect of history,
or does man determine it? Does the government rest upon His shoulder,
or not? And on it goes. From anthropology to zoology, education
is intrinsically, inescapably religious.

As
World magazine’s Joel Belz puts it, both churches and schools
“are so profoundly involved with shaping the minds, the hearts,
and the souls of their people that it should be all but impossible
for someone to draw a line saying where education leaves off and
where religion picks up.”

Am
I saying then that the public schools should impart the Christian
worldview? No. They have neither the authority nor the ability.
Besides, Christians shouldn’t use the coercive power of the state
to foist our beliefs on others.

But
that doesn’t mean the public schools will be devoid of religious
messages. Far from it. As Humanist Manifesto signer John Dewey understood,
public education is religious — and whether you call the prevailing
philosophy humanism, or secularism, or agnosticism, the public schools
are soaked through with it.

Their
religious message is clear: God may or may not exist, but He’s simply
not relevant to what goes on in school.

Shallow
protestations about the many fine Christian teachers in public schools,
or pleas for teaching “the values we can all agree upon,”
miss the point altogether: the schools are officially agnostic.
They’re agnostic as a matter of policy. This isn’t a criticism;
it’s simply a description.

Bottom
line: let’s not pretend we can keep “religious messages”
out of school.

July
8, 2000

Brandon
Dutcher
is research director at the Oklahoma Council
of Public Affairs, a free-market think tank.

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