When I was in high school, I joined a religious student organization. I will never forget one particular conversation in which we were trying to parse out a complex ethical question. After a good deal of struggle and pressure, our faculty advisor finally stepped in to suggest a solution. His comments were helpful, but brief, and he asked us not to tell anyone of his interjection. It was against the law.
Until the last few decades, speaking about faith in public school was common, not controversial: the very small percent of Americans who were not Christians still lived by a Christian-like philosophy of life, and the purpose of schools was much simpler. A system of public education was exactly that—basic education of the general public. Children were taught by their neighbors, parent-teacher associations were the norm, and moral instruction was a part of everyday life wherever children and adults should meet.
Starting in the mid 1900s, education took on a stronger state purpose, and became politicized into a vehicle of social change. In the landmark case Emerson v. Board of Education (1947), the Supreme Court provided a new—and misguided—interpretation of the First Amendment. Drawing from one of Thomas Jefferson’s letters, they declared a “strict wall of separation between church and state.” A casual letter from Jefferson, the most atheistic and radical of the founders, is hardly appropriate for such a sweeping interpretation, but nonetheless, this enabled the schoolhouse to be seen as the secular alternative to the community church. It was there that legal debates could be won, traditions challenged and worldviews shaped.
Surely, most of those pushing for change had benign intentions. While there were militant atheists among the ranks, most were simply calling for justice. They believed education could help address racism and close the opportunity gap between blacks and whites. And they were mostly right. But the greater call for equality also took on a project to erase religious “oppression.” If the state can have nothing to do with the church, they argued, then education run by the state can have nothing to do with moral or biblical instruction.In short, public education must be secular education.
When people think of “secular education” they interpret this to mean that it does not push a dogmatic religious perspective. That’s correct, but this does not mean it does not push a perspective or dogma all its own. The question becomes: what is that dogma? The answer: a secular one, of course. There is no God, therefore man has no inherent purpose and there are no eternal or universal values. It is important to understand that secular education does this by default.
When people think of “secular education” they interpret this to mean that it does not push a dogmatic religious perspective. That’s correct, but this does not mean it does not push a perspective or dogma all its own.
Secular education does teach a kind of right and wrong, which is essentially the Golden Rule. And it suffices to an extent, as all major moral philosophies tend to center around its dictum. But while it may be a good rule of manners and basic kindness, it is rather hollow as a coherent and holistic guide to real life.
The public education system has become a 13-year program of secular indoctrination, centered around a concept of “political correctness” by which we are taught never to cast judgment, and never to speak of faith. The vast majority of a public school student’s time is spend in a social environment in which no one acknowledges a divine power, morality is diluted down to simply being nice, and the only eternal truths are math and science. School is where one goes to learn about the world from educated people; where one becomes enlightened. Since no one speaks of religion, it is quickly dismissed from public discourse, and we become comfortable with our silence.
Considering that evenings and weekends are spent in the temples of Hollywood and New York, it is no surprise why our culture has become increasingly unable to express a coherent value system. We talk of human dignity, but glorify pornography. We praise hard work, but demonize the success. We speak of humility and sacrifice, but worship abusive celebrities. Our comedy is more degrading, our drama is more sexualized and our family sitcoms are a thing of the past.
If I may digress for a moment, did anyone catch the Oscars this year? If not, you missed Seth MacFarlane’s stellar performance of We Saw Your Boobs. Yes, in this little number, Macfarlane sings about all of the women who have bared all for their art. Certainly, this is what the women had in mind when they created these films. Surely, they appreciate someone of their own echelon admitting to the world that it’s not really art, just a little light pornography so males have a reason to watch, and we all know it, so we may as well laugh about it. Watch the video of the song here, and pay special attention to the faces of the women as they are mentioned. What is that? Betrayal? Humiliation? Disgust at Macfarlane’s cheap and degrading idea of entertainment at their expense? This kind of mindless and self-absorbed garbage is what comedy has become.
What’s so wrong with a guy jumping on stage in a tux and singing about boobs at an awards ceremony?
Ok, back to education. What’s so wrong with a guy jumping on stage in a tux and singing about boobs at an awards ceremony? A lot, really. But how would we know? If public schools teach us that girls are really no different than us, why shouldn’t we just treat them like one of the guys? And if there’s nothing especially sacred about nudity, sex or marriage, why can’t we have fun with it all? If life is about having a good time and sharing a few laughs before we die, aren’t people just being uptight for no reason? Why can’t we sing about boobs at an awards ceremony, or a wedding reception for that matter?
The Victorian era was all about manners and decorum. To the extent that a person’s worth was wrapped up in shallow outward appearances, it is good that we broke free. And the unprecedented rights and opportunities available to men and women of all races in America is a testament to a truly great nation. But in pursuit of political correctness we lost something important. Today, people are less confident in their faith, and place less value in marriage and parenthood. They remain like children in many respects well into their twenties, and mock the traditions of their grandparents. Yet, they still yearn for community, belonging and purpose.
We are in desperate need of a moral renaissance in education, and we are seeing it emerge in private, charter and home-based schools. People are recognizing that we have failed generations. In order to embrace perfect equality, our public school system had to forgo casting judgment; treating all things as deserving equal respect. Intentionally or not, it marginalized religion and debased humanity. We no longer have the language of truth, and have therefore lost the definition of goodness and beauty.