November 19, 2011 by Richard Drake
District 87 State Representative Justin Harris has received significant media attention regarding his Christian-centered, partially state-funded preschool in West Fork. The Establishment clause aside, what is your opinon on public money being used to teach religious principles?
In 1964 I attended a school in Liverpool, England, for a short period, during which time students were required to sit in the assembly hall several times a week and attend a sort of religious service, broadcast over the radio. Young boys who goofed off were marched off to the Headmaster’s office, where they would receive “six of the best” — a brutal caning.
This informed my view of both religion and corporal punishment in the schools, all in one fell swoop.
Though one might have thought this debate settled since the 1960s, it has raged on since, with the forces who believe that school prayer (and teaching anything of a religious nature) should be perfectly permissible, taking up arms against those who believe that religion has no place in schools whatsoever.
We battle over free speech, and separation of church and state, with folks pulling out ever more obscure documents and quotations (quotations being Cliff’s Notes for those who don’t have the patience to read entire written works) as “proof” that our Founding Fathers would agree that America’s morals have been in decline since schools are no longer allowed to teach religion, or force students to say prayers every day.
“Look at the recent earthquakes,” they will cry out. “The tornadoes, the floods! Proof that God is upset that religion has been removed from public school.” When it is suggested to folks that they might actually crack open a history book and learn that such things have always been with us, you just get a sort of blank stare.
Ah, history books. History was one of my favorite subjects in school.
Which brings me to my answer to the question, which is no, I do not believe that schools receiving public monies should promote religion, in any way. I do believe that Bibles have a place in school libraries, and they have been, in most of the schools I have attended.
But teaching religious principles?
We no longer live in colonial times, when schools served as part of the social triumvirate of home, church and school, imparting moral and religious values to young people. Over time it became understood that the primary role of schools was to give our young people an education, and that parents and churches (if they attended) took care of the rest.
The world is a precarious place; we need sharper, better educated students coming out of schools, not students whose time is taken up by religious teachings.
We aren’t going to compete with Europe, India or China by being more pious than they are. We compete by being smarter.
We learn about Pi in school, and piety in church.
But for conservatives to claim that schools should become involved in the moral education of our young is to tell ourselves that we are unfit for the job, and that government truly is the “Nanny State” which so many on the right claim to be afraid of.
If this were a television show, I believe that would be called, “Jumping the Shark.”
Richard S. Drake has been writing about political and cultural affairs in Northwest Arkansas for 20 years. The author of “Freedom Run,” a science fiction novel, he can also be followed on Twitter and Facebook. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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