Alliance for the Separation of School & State
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Aren't public schools necessary for democracy?

The "Concession of the 1840s" started the decline of education in America.

For America's first two centuries ? the 1620s until the 1840s ? most schooling was completely independent of government involvement. church schools, charity schools, private schools, dame schools home schools and apprenticeships offered an educational diversity that created the most literate population in history, indeed, the one that birthed the American Republic.

Even then, however, some proposed that the government should take over education. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, borrowed from Aristotle as he wrote in 1786:

Let our pupil be taught that he does not belong to himself, but that he is public property.... He must be taught to amass wealth, but it must be only to increase his power of contributing to the wants and demands of the state.

These followers of Aristotle made little progress until the social panic of the 1840s. Many Americans feared that the flood of Irish immigrants ? destitute Catholics ? were undemocratic and posed a threat to the Republic. The battle tipped in favor of the school-centralizers.[i]

Horace Mann, a Unitarian, and often called the "Father of Public Education," proposed a solution: Educate children of different faiths in common, but reduce religious instruction to what is believed in common between Christians and Unitarians.

Until the 1840s, most schools used the bible and other religious literature, and each denomination's schools reinforced their parents' religious beliefs. However, the "1840s Concession" required that theological distinctions be avoided, leaving those to be taught at home and church.

This formula was designed to placate all religious groups ? except one ? that they could safely send their children to the "common school." The "Concession of the 1840s" began the slow and inexorable process ? like gravity on a glacier ? of gradually easing the Big Questions of Life out of the classroom.

Big Questions such as:

  • Where did I come from?

  • Is there any purpose to life?

  • Is there life after the grave?

It took a century-and-a-half to purge the Big Questions from the schools.

Phase 1, 1840 to 1900 ? about a lifetime

Unitarians, deists, and secularists hold that there was no "Fall of Man," no Adam, Eve, snake, or garden. Hence, they see no need for a heavenly "Redeemer." Their answer to redeeming mankind from the problems of humanity is "more knowledge." Attorney Horace Mann is quite the example:

The Common School is the greatest discovery ever made by man...let it be worked with the efficiency of which it is susceptible and nine- tenths of the crimes in the penal code would become obsolete."[ii]

Christians believe differently. They hold that there indeed was a Fall of Man. Their answer to improving the human condition is to put their trust what they believe is a God-man, Jesus Christ.

But Christians, in order to bow to the concession to teach "what we believe in common with the Unitarians," collapsed with nary a fight, and over the next 60 years, allowed the name Jesus Christ to be purged from all state textbooks. The Lutherans and Catholics evaded the concession by running their own schools.

This division is still with us today: Is the great human problem ignorance or evil? This is an unbridgeable chasm when it comes to rearing children. Indeed, Christians are increasingly wary of making knowledge a replacement for Christ.

Phase 2, 1900 to 1960 ? again, about a lifetime

Phase 2 purged "God the Creator" from Johnny's school, and replaced him with a random process.

Here we can see the Compromise of the 1840's slowing grinding Johnny to avoid making decisions based on good and evil.

A little sidebar: The 1962 and '63 Supreme Court decisions to "remove prayer from the schools" were just another in a long series of battles lost by Christians, battles so often fought only with whimperings of outrage, and never, so far, fought with a mass exodus from America's public schools. These decisions to remove prayer were more like symbols of what had already been done, like the lowering of the Soviet flag in 1991 symbolized ? but did not cause ? the collapse of Marxist rule.

Phase 3, 1960 until now

For the last four decades, teachers have been gradually purging Johnny of belief in truth itself. The statement, "That may be true for you, but not for me!" is common in many walks of life.

The teachers are in a pickle, for sure: If Johnny's worldview is true, then Jill's is false. Johnny might feel elitist and Jill, inferior. Johnny and Jill were gradually prohibited from using their minds in class discussions about the questions relentlessly asked by the human species: Why is there evil in the world? How do we know good from bad? Is there a God? What is truth? Are there any permanent truths? If there are, how can I find them?

And Johnny has learned his lesson well: Avoid rational thought about right and wrong. Depend on feelings to "find his own truth." And, finally, never "impose his feelings" on another.

[i] For an extensive discussion of the school wars of the National Period, see Pillars of the Republic, Carl Kaestle, 1983: Hill and Wang, New York, chapters 4-7; for the many dynamics involved in what I call the "Concession of the 1840's," including the role of racism toward blacks, see pp. 164-181.

Fact: People who voted for the founding fathers and birthed this Republic in the late 1700s never attended "free, universal, and compulsory public schools" (which were invented 50-60 years later).