Summary: In years past, classroom literature textbooks used in American schools, both public and private, reinforced both Christian values of ethics and morality. In most public schools today, such things are no longer given to our children to read. This does not bode well for the future of democracy.
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After having conducted an exhaustive survey of Americans who identify themselves and Christians, George Barna reported the following results in his book, “The State of the Church” (please keep in mind the persons being surveyed are people who think they are Christians):
• 48% of American Christians could not name the four Gospels.
• 52% of American Christians could not identify more than two or three of Jesus’ disciples.
• 60% of American Christians couldn’t name even five of the 10 Commandments.
• 61% of American Christians think the Sermon on the Mount was preached by Billy Graham.
• 71% of American Christians said that “God helps those who help themselves” is a Bible verse.
I hope you are not laughing as hard as I did when I first heard these results, because it isn’t a joke unfortunately, and being for real it is very sad. From the results of his study, Barna concluded, "Americans revere the Bible, but by and large they don’t know what it says. And because they don’t know it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates."
While Barna’s initial survey is now dated, I think it safe to say that if anything the situation is probably worse today. People today are woefully illiterate of their knowledge and understanding of the Bible. And, it is no wonder that this situation has arisen. As well as we may think we are doing in educating our children today, we are not educating the whole child, intellectually, socially, morally, and ethically. Classical ethics and Christian values have been expunged from the curriculum of most schools and academies. And, I don’t think the general public can fully appreciate the radical nature of this change unless willing to go back and look at elementary school readers as they once were in 1930 and before. We, as a nation, have lost our moral compass, and it is necessary that we recover it before it is too late.
A number of years back, as a church pastor I had business at the high school that required me to make a visit. While there, I ran into one of my parishioners, a high school student. Rather than greeting me in a civil manner, he glared at me and belted out, “What are you doing here.” The message was quite clear. This student is not unique but rather representative of many students today whose understanding of the Bible has been shaped by a hidden curriculum. Most Americans today believe that religion has no place in public schools.
Perhaps it is true that religion should not be forced upon students. Public schools serving all citizens should not advocate one particular religious perspective. This principle of “neutrality” is not, however, a license for inculcating hostility toward Christianity. And certainly the teaching of natural-law morality and ethical values does have a place in our schools.
When compared with past generations, American society no longer has the same respect for God, or for natural-law, though most people may not realize this because of ignorance of our nation’s history. History, as it is currently being taught, has been shaped by secularism, which is hostile to both Christianity and to fixed natural law concepts of right and wrong. It’s not really the responsibility of the churches, though many within the churches have become complicit. All of us, every American, must take responsibility for what is happening in America today.
Nowhere today in our public school curriculum is God mentioned. Children are no longer taught standards of morality, ethics, and discipline. If there is discipline, it is “discipline without punishment”. The habits and virtues of discipline, character, decency and personal responsibility are not a part of the curriculum. Children are indoctrinated to “live and let live”, and instead of the Ten Commandments. They are being taught to be “politically correct”. Any parent or church leader who attempts to teach children otherwise faces a difficult task. After all, who sees our children more, or has more influence upon them than our schools!
Am I exaggerating? You be the judge. The following a typical reading selection from a 7th grade literature text used in our public schools in 1897. Please read it and then decide. Does this reading have merit? Does it hold up ideals that we would want our children to learn? Is a textbook like this one, so typical of textbooks used in our public schools in the past, likely to be found in any of our public schools today? Would such a textbook be tolerated? Would children who tried to live by the ideals expressed in this reading be likely to “fit in” in today’s public school classroom environment, in our colleges, our universities, or even in some of our seminaries? Finally, would a typical 7th grade student in America today have been taught the reading skills necessary to read such a selection, let alone be capable of understanding it?