By Finn Laursen - CEAI Executive Director
“Any system of education …which limits instruction to the arts and sciences and rejects the aids of religion in forming the characters of citizens, is essentially defective.” – Noah Webster
Today our public schools are a culture that is foreign to a biblical worldview making it like many other mission fields. In that context, Christian educators called to serve there must function as missionaries in a foreign culture.
It was not always so. Our forefathers birthed a nation based on biblical principles and did the same when they formed public education. In 1789, the first Federal Education Law post-Constitution was passed. Our forefathers made it clear that public education in this new nation must be made up of three components: Religion, Morality, and Knowledge. They believed that religion was the basis for morality, and if religion were removed, morality would soon collapse. They clarified that knowledge was important, but without religion and morality it could be dangerous.
These opinions were not just held by a few but were generally accepted. Noah Webster known as the ‘Schoolmaster to America’ said, “Any system of education …which limits instruction to the arts and sciences and rejects the aids of religion in forming the characters of citizens, is essentially defective.” Our first president George Washington said, “Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that our national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”
They saw public education as a three-legged stool balanced on Religion, Morality, and Knowledge and as long as all 3 legs remained strong so would public education in America.
High expectations were held for all students, and achievement soared. It was not unusual for students to move on to Ivy League colleges in their early teens and even graduate from there still in their teens ready to enter the workplace or even to political office. Under this format our education system became the envy of the world as we were first in Math, Science, and Literacy globally.
Then something happened in the early 60’s. The US Supreme Court ruled that public schools were to be secular. They knocked one leg off the stool of public education leaving it balancing on two legs: Morality and Knowledge. Over the next five decades, our forefathers’ prediction seemed to be prophetic. They had claimed that morality was built on the foundation of religion, and if religion were to be removed, morality would crumble—and crumble it did. The next generation of citizens held to no absolute truths and morality as we had known it was gone. Now the stool had only the leg of Knowledge left, and the balance was missing.
The US dropped from first in Math, Science, and Literacy and plummeted downward as did the expectation of students. ACT and SAT scores had to be re-normed twice as scores continued to plummet.
With religion and morality seeming to be void from our public schools; the school is a mission field ripe for harvest, and the role of the Christian public school teacher is clearly that of a missionary.
Based on the concept of the 4-14 Window, the majority of those coming to faith do so at the ages of 5 to 13. Even though the Holy Spirit is not bound by statistics, it is interesting that most do come into a relationship with God in that age span—an age span when most children are attending public schools. The majority of those attending public schools do not consider themselves Christians, so the “fishing pond” is well stocked for those open to sharing the faith.
Each person’s worldview is a set of individual truth claims that have been embraced so deeply that one believes they reflect what is real and therefore they drive how one thinks, acts, and feels. Right now in our culture there is a battle between what the Lord says to be the truth and what other beliefs and philosophies espouse. Sharing one’s faith can often be done simply by living the biblical worldview that is in clear contrast to the secular worldview.
The result of following other truths can be found described in 2 Timothy 3:1-4, “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.”
With the First Amendment of the Constitution still in place, educators clearly do have some religious freedoms in place.
The concept of denying the Christian roots of this nation is a new phenomenon, one I believe that has led many to deny their own faith and buy the lie that our public schools must be “God-free zones.”
Our forefathers had great foresight when they penned the Constitution. They realized that building a strong nation could not happen without the help of the Lord and in the First Amendment they made sure that the government would not establish a religion nor prohibit the expression of religion.
At the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin perhaps one of our most liberal forefathers, set the tone for the writing. He realized that they had been meeting to draft a guiding document for a new nation and had neglected to seek the Creator. After the following speech overflowing with biblical allusions, all future sessions were commenced with prayer.
On June 28, 1787 Benjamin Franklin boldly said, “I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth—that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the Sacred Writings, that ‘except the Lord build the House, they labor in vain that build it.’ I firmly believe this, and I also believe that without His concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel.”
As they penned the Constitution, they assured that future government agencies, like schools, would not control religion or silence the convictions of a religious people.
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”
This Establishment Clause declares that no government agency can act in any way to establish a religion or do anything to stop the expression of religion. Thus, the government cannot force religious beliefs on others and cannot roadblock religious activity.
“….abridging the freedom of speech, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
This Free Exercise Clause clarifies that the government cannot roadblock the freedom of speech so freely given to those living in this great nation.
The courts have equated public school teachers as arms of the government since they are supported by public dollars.
Thus, a public school teacher cannot establish his or her religion in that classroom. In other words, the Christian educator cannot use their public position to force their beliefs on students. However, the school staff cannot use its power to ban the free exercise of religion in the school.
I remember my first year as a high school principal. One of our teachers stopped in after school quite shaken by something that had happened at the end of the day. I’ll call him David.
David asked to meet behind closed doors saying he had made a major error in judgment while left alone with a student. As I tried to settle him down in my office, my mind raced with the terrible acts he might have committed.
Then the truth surfaced; a student had stayed after class, shut the door after all other students had left, and asked this volatile question of his teacher: “Do you believe there is a god?”