EARLY AMERICAN HRATHENS - Part 3;
A Wall of Separation between Church and Schools.
by Randy Jones
Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
One of the Founding Fathers who contributed greatly to the Bill of Rights was Fisher Ames. His thoughts about education are echoed in many people today. He said, “We have a dangerous trend beginning to take place in our education.” Keep in mind Fisher lived between 1725 and 1808, so what was this dangerous trend he saw back then? “We’ve become accustomed of late of putting little books into the hands of children containing fables and moral lessons.… We are spending less time in the classroom on the Bible, which should be the principle text of our schools.… The Bible states these great moral lessons better than any man made book”. An interesting point here is this ‘Heathen’ whose wisdom and efforts helped found this nation seems to consider the Bible not as a book made by man but as one divinely inspired, as he classified it in a separate category by his comment. This is an odd comment if he is what many Founders are portrayed as today, a non-believer or Deist. If Fisher was a Calvinist, the denomination he was raised in, this comment makes perfect sense.
It wasn’t that Fisher didn’t want to teach our children morals, but they were not using the best reference for teaching those morals. It’s like many parents today who leave the moral training of their youth to reruns of the Bullwinkle Show and lessons presented by the dog, Mr. Peabody. Then the same parents wonder why their kids didn’t turn out as well as they could have. Citing a recent news story, a parent stated, “He was such a good boy, I don’t understand why the police shot him.” Perhaps Mr. Peabody forgot the lesson on not carrying a stolen gun in your hand while running from traffic stop.
William Homes McGuffey lived from 1800 until 1873. He was called the ‘Schoolmaster of the Nation’ because of his contributions to our educational system. One of these was the McGuffey Reader. It was one of our nation’s most widely used textbooks in the 1800s. In the preface of his Eclectic Third Reader, you will find the following words, which I doubt you will find in any modern text book, “Sections drawn from the purest foundations of English literature”, what was a source of the purest foundations? He went on to say, “Copious extracts made from the Sacred Scriptures.” In fact as you read further down you will find, “From no other source has the author drawn more copiously than from the Sacred Scriptures…. In a Christian country, that man is to be pitied, who, at this day, can honestly object to imbuing the minds of youth with the language and spirit of the Word of God.” (While it is politically incorrect today, I say, "Amen to that".) A version of McGuffey’s books were used until the early 1960s.
Another book used in early America was The New England Primer which taught the alphabet by using statements about the Bible. “A – In Adam’s fall, we sinned all. B – Heaven to find, the Bible Mind. C – Christ crucify’d for sinners died.” It went all the way to Z and it also contained the Apostles Creed and the Ten Commandments. All things you don’t dare speak of in schools today.
While Fisher Ames and William McGuffey are not well known early Americans let’s look at the words of Benjamin Rush, a Founding Father and one of the earliest to push for public schools. “I believe no man was ever early instructed in the truths of the Bible without having been made wiser.” Later in the same document it states, “We neglect the only means of establishing and perpetuating our republican forms of government; that is, the universal education of our youth in the principles of Christianity by means of the Bible; for this divine book, above all others, favors that equality among mankind, that respect for just laws, and all those sober and frugal virtues which constitute the soul of republicanism.”
These comments make it obvious that many early American leaders felt strongly that the Bible makes a good reference as to the morals men are supposed to live by and a good way to conduct one lives. It is never stated that one must become a ‘believer’ or ‘Christian’, only that the principles found in the Word of God are an excellent way to live in a peaceful and prosperous society. But today you find that the people who wanted the principles and morals found in the Word of God removed from public display and the school system are the squealing wheel that got greased, while many who feel the opposite remained relatively quiet and were ignored.