The Public School System

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Native American Records

The public school is the general and permanent agency for the education and uplift of the colored people. Religious and independent schools may do a splendid work in their several localities, but the public school is intended to be state-wide. It alone reaches the masses of colored children, and it should receive its due share of the public funds. The fact that they have not received any thing like a fair share of the public funds, for their equipment and support, has already been stated. This, to a great extent, is an act of injustice. Conditions however are gradually improving. They are made better as a good use is made of present educational facilities, and earnest appeal is made for more and better ones. A vast amount of self-sacrificing work, on the part of teachers and parents, is needed to bring the schools of the Freedmen up to their proper standard, and to secure them, where they are still needed both in city and rural district.

The Freedman alone cannot do all that is needed, to provide adequate educational facilities for all his people; but there is so much that may be done, in the way of awakening local interest, supplying local deficiencies, and appealing for more and better equipment, as to enlist the united and persistent co-operation of all intelligent, public spirited Freedmen.

An Outgrowth Of The Reformation

The public school system, in the United States, is an outgrowth, or by-product of the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century in Europe. Harvard College was established at Cambridge, near Boston, in 1639, less than twenty years after the first arrival of the Pilgrim Fathers. Its object was to provide a supply of trained ministers and Christian teachers, to meet the rapidly growing needs of the colony.

The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign parts, organized in London, England, in 1701, aided the colonists in the establishment of free schools, by sending them donations and supplies of bibles and testaments. Christian teachers were employed in these free schools and two of the text books used were the Bible and the New England primer. This primer was illustrated with Bible pictures and contained the shorter catechism.

These colonial free schools of New England were gradually extended to the other colonies, but not without calling forth some opposition in some of them, especially where there was opposition to the use of the Bible. This fact has been rendered quite memorable, by the rather unenviable remark of Governor Berkeley of Virginia in 1670, to the effect, “I thank God, there are no free schools in Virginia.”

The scattered condition of the population rendered difficult and greatly retarded the progress of free schools in the south. Planters were often widely separated, and many of them preferred to send their children away to school, or employ a private tutor for them. They did not care to provide schools for the Negroes.

When, by the adoption of the Constitution the colonies became states, the protection of religion and encouragement of education were left as they had been, as matters to be considered by the legislatures of the several states. As one state after another has been admitted to the Union, extending it over a vast extent of country, a system of public education has been adopted in each, ranging from the rural school to the state university. The system in every state is quite complete and more or less efficient to accomplish its objects. The entire system is due to the presence of the Bible in our land, and especially during the formative period of our government. The states have deemed it necessary to train the young and rising generation in the interest of good government and progress.

As the Church of the Reformation in Europe, and of our forefathers in New England, found it necessary to establish academies, colleges and theological seminaries, in order to train a constantly increasing supply of Christian teachers, statesmen and ministers, the states have realized that it is their duty to maintain public and high schools, in order to have an intelligent and prosperous citizenship; and to maintain normal schools and universities, in order to provide a sufficient number of professional teachers, legislators, jurists and efficient captains of industry.

The system of public education in all the states is one, of which every citizen of the land may well be proud, and endeavor to take every possible advantage of it as teachers, patrons and pupils.

Puerto Rico 1898-1913

A splendid illustration of its inestimable value has just been received from Puerto Rico. In 1898 when the United States received the transfer of Puerto Rico from Spain, it had been for centuries under the control of Romanism. There was then only one building on the island, specially erected for school purposes, and more than eighty per cent of the population could neither read nor write; and only 26,000 children had been enrolled as attending school. So rapid has been the progress toward enlightenment and a better civilization under Protestant American rule, that at the end of fifteen years there are 40 school buildings and 162,000 children are enrolled as attending school; and the number of the illiterate has been reduced from 80 to 11 per cent.

The Bible And Christian Teachers

One is now ready to inquire, “Wherein does our splendid system of public education differ from that provided by the various Protestant denominations, in their mission schools, academies, colleges and universities?”

Both are essential to the well-being of the state. They are two strong pillars that, supplementing and standing near each other, support the power and promote the material prosperity of the state. Their mutual relation is aptly expressed, by the sentiment of the two brothers on the shield of Kentucky, “United we stand, divided we fall.” They look so nearly alike in buildings and equipment, the passing observer sees little or no difference in their outward appearance.

Nevertheless there is often a difference in their objects and products, which has already been noted, and in the means employed to accomplish these objects. This difference is fundamental. It is found in the law of their establishment.

In the admirable system of public education in the state of Iowa, which is second to none in the land for the goodness and greatness of its beneficent results, there is found the following statute, and it is a fair illustration of similar statutes in other states.

“The Bible shall not be excluded from any public school or institution in this state, nor shall any pupil be required to read it contrary to the wishes of his parents or guardian.” Sec. 1764.

This statute takes it for granted the Bible is in the schools, and that is excellent; it has also a concession and the latter often prevails. Many Jews read only the old Testament, and many Catholics out of regard for the pope, a foreign potentate, think they ought not to read any part of the Bible. The state is a secular power and the result, of this concession to religious freedom, is that the Bible and the Christian teacher, in many localities, are not regarded as essential features of its educational work.

This leaves the moral character and relative value of our public schools, to a considerable extent, to the caprice of those who are in the majority or authority, as directors and teachers in any particular community. In Christian communities they are invariably found exerting a Christian influence.

The Bible and the Christian teacher are essential for the accomplishment of the greatest good. These are seldom separated, and when they are found together in the public school, it becomes a fountain of elevating Christian influences. This privilege is enjoyed by many of our communities, where the supply of Christian teachers is equal to the demand.

This discussion of the public school has been included here, for the general knowledge of Christian families among the colored people. Since the enactment of laws, limiting the teachers in the public schools of the colored people, to those of the “colored persuasion,” there is now and will continue to be, an ever increasing demand for capable Christian teachers. Christian teachers come from Christian homes and Christian schools.

Colonial Schools

The historic facts, showing that the open Bible has been the corner-stone of the American public school system, have been so interesting and suggestive to the author, as to lead him to take the initiative, in effecting and maintaining a local Bible society in Fonda, and to make the distribution of the Scriptures among the people, a special feature of his ministry there, and later at Oak Hill Academy. The hope is indulged, that the following facts, relating to the place accorded the Bible in the schools of the colonies, will prove of interest to every reader, especially among the Freedmen.

Our fore fathers and the stalwart statesmen of their day were not led astray by the “higher” or more properly called destructive criticism and infidelity that is now permeating much of the literature of our day to the great injury of all who are influenced by it. Indebted to the Scriptures for their ideas of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” and, prizing them as the foundation of their civil and ecclesiastical privileges, they manifested both their sense of obligation to them and dependence upon them, by making them the corner stone of every institution they established. The word of God in their hand, like a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night, led them to locate in this land, awakened in them the spirit of heroism amid all their privations and sufferings, and served as their common guide and comforter, in all their struggles and progress.

If there are any who have the right to judge and to have their judgment respected, as to the nature of the education needed in this republic, surely those men of sagacity, patriotism, piety and comprehensive statesmanship, who founded both the system of education and the Republic, are among the number.

During the Colonial period the towns were little republics, with the Bible for their foundation, and their schools were established for general instruction in that book. The exclusion of the Bible from those early schools would have been repugnant to their founders. They regarded the Bible not merely as an authoritative book in all matters of conscience, but as the charter of their liberty and their guide to the independent ownership of land.

Massachusetts

The Colony of Massachusetts Bay, as early as 1647, less than twenty years from the date of their first charter, made provision by law, for the support of schools at the public expense; for instruction in reading and writing in every town containing fifty families, and grammar schools in those containing one hundred families. This noble foundation suggests the religious foresight that laid it. The preamble to this school law contained the following motives: “It being one chief object of Satan to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures, as in former times keeping them in unknown tongues, therefore, that learning may not be buried in the graves of our fore fathers, the Lord assisting our endeavors, it is ordered,” etc.

Horace Mann, secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education, has left on record this noble testimony for all the teachers of our country. “As educators, as friends and sustainers of the common school system, our great duty is to impart to the children of the commonwealth the greatest practicable amount of useful knowledge; to cultivate in them a sacred regard for truth, to keep them unspotted from the world; to train them to love God and also their fellow men; to make the perfect example of Jesus Christ lovely in their eyes; to give to all so much religious instruction, as is compatible with the rights of others and the gains of our government, so that, when they arrive at the years of maturity, they may intelligently enjoy the inviolable prerogatives of private judgment and self-direction, the acknowledged birthright of every human being.”

Rufus Choate, the eminent statesman and jurist in one of his orations very emphatically exclaimed: “Banish the Bible from our public schools? Never! So long as a piece of Plymouth Rock remains big enough to make a gun-flint.” This is an expression of true patriotism on the part of one, who knew well the history and cost of American freedom. “He is the freeman, whom the truth makes free.”

Connecticut

In the Colony of Connecticut as early as 1656, explicit laws were added to the general law by which the schools were first established, and constables were required to take care, “That all their children and apprentices, as they grow capable, may through God’s blessing attain at least so much as to be able to read the Scriptures, and other good books in the English tongue.”

“The schools of this state” says the state school Journal, “were founded and supported chiefly for the purpose of perpetuating civil and religious knowledge and liberty, as the early laws of the colony explicitly declare. Those laws, published in the first number of this Journal declare, that the chief means to be used to attain these objects, was the reading of the Holy Scriptures.”

This enlightened policy of the Puritans, in regard to the establishment of free schools, for the general dissemination of a knowledge of the Bible and the development of a pure morality among the young, was a great step in advance of all the countries in the old world. The results have wonderfully justified their wisdom and forethought. The schools they established, having the Bible as a universal text book and basis of moral instruction became nurseries of piety and knowledge. The very thought of excluding the Bible from schools, they had established with great sacrifice for its special study, would have been received with a shudder of horror.

“The interests of education,” says Chancellor Kent, chief justice of New York, “had engaged the attention of the New England colonists, from the earliest settlement of the country, and the system of common and grammar schools, and of academical and collegiate instruction, was interwoven with the primitive views of the Puritans. Everything in their genius and disposition was favorable to the growth of freedom and learning. They were a grave, thinking people, having a lofty and determined purpose. The first emigrants had studied the oracles of truth as a text book, and they were profoundly affected by the plain commands, awful sanctions, sublime views, hopes and consolations, that accompanied the revelation of life and immortality. The avowed object, of their emigration to New England, was to enjoy and propagate the Reformed faith, in the purity of its discipline and worship. They intended to found republics on the basis of Christianity, and to secure religious liberty, under the auspices of a commonwealth. With this primary view, they were early led to make strict provision for common school education, and the religious instruction of the people. The Word of God was at that time almost the sole object of their solicitude and studies, and the principal design, in emigrating to the banks of the Connecticut, was to preserve the liberty and purity of the gospel. We meet with the system of common schools, in the earliest of the Colonial records. Provision was made for the support of schools in each town, and a grammar school in each county. This system of free schools, sustained by law, has been attended with momentous results; and it has communicated to the people, the blessings of order and security, to an extent never before surpassed in the annals of mankind.”

State Of New York

George Clinton, the first governor, in presenting the matter of public education to the first legislature of New York, used the following language: “Neglect of the education of youth is one of the evils consequent upon the evils of war. There is scarcely anything more worthy your attention, than the revival and encouragement of seminaries of learning; and nothing by which we can more satisfactorily express our gratitude to the Supreme Being for his past favors, since piety and virtue are generally the offspring of an enlightened understanding.”

Later, when the phrase “Common schools” had come into use, he emphasized morals and religion as their foremost objects. “The advantage to morals, religion, liberty and good government, arising from the general diffusion of knowledge, being universally admitted, permit me to recommend this subject to your deliberate attention.”

In 1804, his successor, Governor Lewis, emphasized the necessity of establishing common schools in the following words: “In a government resting on public opinion and deriving its chief support from the affections of the people, religion and morality cannot be too sedulously inculcated. Common schools, under the guidance of respectable teachers, should be established in every village and the poor be educated at the public expense.”
In 1810, his successor, Governor Tompkins, brought the matter anew to the attention of the legislature. “I cannot omit inviting your attention to the means of instruction for the rising generation. To enable them to perceive and duly estimate their rights, to inculcate correct principles, and habits of morality and religion, and to render them useful citizens, a competent provision for their education is all essential.”

In 1811, in response to these successive appeals, the legislature of New York appointed five commissioners, to report a system for the organization and establishment of common schools to carry forward the educational work, that had been previously maintained by the voluntary contributions of Christian people in their various communities.

These commissioners, in their report, recommending the establishment of common schools for the state of New York, expressed their own sentiments and those of the people they represented, as follows:

“The people must possess both intelligence and virtue; intelligence to perceive what is right, and virtue to do what is right. Our republic may justly be said to be founded on the intelligence and virtue of the people, and to maintain it, ‘the whole force of education is required.’ The establishment of common schools appears to be the best plan that can be devised, to disseminate religion, morality and learning, throughout a whole country.”

In referring to the branches to be taught there is added in this report, as follows: “Reading, writing, arithmetic and the principles of morality (Bible) are essential to every person, however humble, his situation in life. Morality and religion are the foundation of all that is truly great and good and are consequently of primary importance.”

After calling attention to the “absolute necessity of suitable qualifications on the part of the master,” the report continues in regard to the Bible, as one of the books to be used:

“Connected with the introduction of suitable books, the commissioners take the liberty of suggesting that some observations and advice, touching the reading of the Bible in the schools, might be salutary. In order to render the sacred volume productive of the greatest advantage, it should be held in a very different light, from that of a common school book. It should be regarded not merely as a book for literary improvement, but as inculcating great and indispensable moral truths. With these impressions, the commissioners are induced to recommend the practice, introduced into the New York Free School, of having select chapters read at the opening of the school in the morning and the like at the close in the afternoon. This is deemed the best mode of preserving the religious regard, which is due to the sacred writings.”

This admirable report closes with these significant words: “The American empire is founded, on the virtue and intelligence of the people. The commissioners cannot but hope that Being, who rules the universe in justice and mercy, who rewards virtue and punishes vice, will graciously deign to smile benignly, on the humble efforts of a people in a cause purely his own; and that he will manifest this pleasure, in the lasting prosperity of our country.”

The public school system of New York, with the Bible as its corner stone, was established the next year, 1812. Ten years later, Governor DeWitt Clinton, encouraging their liberal support, said, “The first duty of a state is to render its citizens virtuous, by intellectual instruction and moral discipline, by enlightening their minds, purifying their hearts and teaching them their rights and obligations.”

State Of Pennsylvania

The status of the Bible, in the early schools of Pennsylvania, may be gathered from the following extract from a report, approved by the National Convention of the friends of public education that met in Philadelphia in 1850.

“In the common schools, which are open for the instruction of the children of all denominations there are many whose religious education is neglected by their parents, and who will grow up in vice and irreligion, unless they receive it from the common school teacher. It seems to us to be the duty of the state, to provide for the education of all the children, morally as well as intellectually; and to require all teachers of youth, to train the children in the knowledge and practice of the principles of virtue and piety.

“The Bible should be introduced and read in all the schools in our land. It should be read as a devotional exercise, and be regarded by teachers and scholars, as the text book of morals and religion. The children should early be impressed with the conviction, that it was written by inspiration of God, and that their lives should be regulated by its precepts. They should be taught to regard it, as their manual of piety, justice, veracity, chastity, temperance, benevolence and of all excellent virtues. They should look upon this book, as the highest tribunal to which we can appeal, for the decision of moral questions; and its plain declarations, as the end of all debate.”

It was about the year 1840, that the Catholics in Pennsylvania began to manifest opposition to the reading of the Bible, in the schools of that state. In view of this opposition the board of directors, for the Fourth section in Philadelphia, adopted the following resolutions:

“That we will ever insist on the reading of the Bible, without note or comment in our public schools; because we believe it to be the Word of God, and know that such is the will, of the vast majority of the commonwealth.”

“That we look on the effort of sectarians to divide the school fund, as an insidious attempt to lay the axe at the root of our noble public school system, the benefits of which are every day manifested in the training of our youth.”
“That we will use every means proper for Christians and citizens to employ to maintain our present school system, and to insure the continuance of the reading of God’s holy word in all our schools.”

Board of National Education

The constitution of the Board of National Popular Education contains in its sixth article, the following pledge, as one required of teachers, as well as the board. “The daily use of the Bible in their several schools, as the basis of that sound Christian education, to the support and extension of which, the board is solemnly pledged.”

In its fifth annual report, which is for the year 1852, the necessity of a free and open Bible in our common schools was emphasized as the only possible way, in which our nation can continue to be self-governed. The Bible, for the masses, is God’s great instrument for governing men and nations. “There is but one alternative,” said Mr. Sawtell, “God will have men and nations governed; and they must be governed by one of the two instruments, an open Bible with its hallowed influences, or a standing army with bristling bayonets. One is the product of God’s wisdom; the other, of man’s folly; and that nation that discards or will not yield to the moral power of the one, must submit to the brute force of the other. The open Bible, in our schools, is the secret of our ability to govern ourselves. Take from us the open Bible and, like Samson shorn of his locks, we would become as weak as any other people. Take away the Bible, and like Italy, Austria and Russia, we would need a despot on a throne, and a standing army of a half-million to keep the populace in subjection.”

Jesus, The Great Teacher

It was our Lord Jesus himself, who said, “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not.” He did not suggest that they be sent for moral instruction to the schools of the Pharisees, or the unbelieving Sadducees, but that they should come to him, and receive his word and blessing. He saw no sectarianism in the message of love, life and forgiveness, he brought from the Father; for he described it, as, “living water,” “living bread which came down from heaven,” “the light of the world,” and its object, “that they might have life more abundantly.” He knew, it was a[Pg 406] matter of utmost importance to every individual, to receive that message in childhood and youth.

The Bible, the Standard of Morality

The Word of God is supreme in all matters of conscience or morality. The man, whose conscience is in harmony with the Word of God, must be recognized as on the side of God and right. Elijah on Mount Carmel, having only the Word of God, prevails over four hundred misguided prophets of Baal. When those, who were prejudiced against the gospel in the days of Peter, imprisoned and undertook to silence him and others, he gave the right answer, when he said, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” Peter and Elijah, teaching the Word of God, were progressive up-builders of the Kingdom of God, while their suppressors were merely blind opposers and destructionists. The enlightened consciences of Peter and Elijah were of more value and more to be respected, than those of the hosts of souls, in the darkness of unbelief, arrayed against them. Whilst the work of Peter and the apostles tended to make the world better, and better men of all their opposers, the work of the latter, tended to put a real check, on the cause of human progress. Those, who oppose the reading of the Scriptures in the public schools of this, or any other land, commit the very same folly.

The Bible is the Word of God to all mankind. It is his provision for our intellectual, moral and spiritual natures, as the light, air, water and food have been provided for our physical natures. It was originally written in the language of the people to whom it was given, the Old Testament in Hebrew to the Hebrews; and the New Testament in Greek to the Greek speaking Jews, in the time of Christ.

Our English version was made from the original languages in the time of King James, and it is an error in judgment to call it, either a Protestant or Sectarian Bible. There is, indeed, a sectarian version of the Bible in use in this country. It is printed in the Latin language, the language of pagan Rome, which the common people no longer use or understand.

It seems a queer freak of our human nature, that those who use the Bible in a dead, foreign language, unsuited for use in our public schools, should call our English version of the scriptures a sectarian book, and then oppose its use in our public schools.

Our English version of the Scriptures is no more a sectarian book, than are the ordinary books on astronomy, geology, botany, and natural history. Nevertheless when Romanists oppose its use, others of all sorts in the community, who like them need its gracious message of light, life and love, but instead profess not to regard it as a message from God, are liable to unite with them in their unfortunate opposition.

No one has an inherent right, to exclude the Bible from the public schools of America. As the one authoritative book of God, it ought to be there. As the charter of American liberty, and the corner stone of our system of public education and jurisprudence, it ought to be there. No one has any more right to exclude the Bible from the public schools of America, than he has to exclude the sun, for both are God’s own provision of light. It is intended of God to be the one unchanging standard of morality and purity, for old and young; and to be as free for all, as the common air that we breathe. Its use, at an early age, tends to develop the conservative principles of virtue and knowledge, which serve as the world’s best protectors against ignorance, barbarism and vice.

Rise And Fall Of Intolerance

Excluding the Bible, from the public schools of America, is an old world innovation. In some countries of Europe, books on science, literature or philosophy have not been permitted to be published, without the previous approval of the government. “The Bible itself, the common inheritance, not merely of Christendom, but of the world, has been put exclusively under the control of government, and has not been allowed to be seen, heard, or read, except in a language unknown to the common inhabitants of the country. To publish a translation in the language of the people, has been in former times a flagrant offense.”

The popes, as early as the eighth century, condemned the circulation and reading of all writings unfriendly to the papacy. In 1515, after the art of printing had been invented, the papal decree was issued, “That no book should be printed without previous examination by the proper ecclesiastical authority, the Inquisition. The books prohibited by it included the bible in the English and German languages, and all the books published by Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and other Reformers. While the Reformers were called, heresiarchs, they proved themselves to be the world’s greatest benefactors, by giving the people the Bible.

When Roman Catholicism was the state religion of Italy, France, Spain and Britain, it was intolerant, and by massacres and persecutions endeavored to suppress the reading of the Bible and also its publication in the language of the people.

In 1531, when the bishops were almost universally statesmen, lawyers or diplomats. Henry, the King of England, by an act of parliament, which consisted of a convocation of the clergy, became the recognized head of the Church in England, instead of the pope at Rome. The principle now begins to prevail, that “Truth possesses the power to defend itself.” As a result Wiclif, Tyndale, Sir Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell, Archbishop Cranmer, Miles Coverdale and others, with the approval of the king successively, encourage the translation, publication and circulation of the Scriptures among the clergy and people. It was at this time and in this way, that the principle of toleration in matters of religion had its beginning, and the first check was put upon the cruel intolerance of the Church of Rome in England. The Church of England, Episcopal in form then became the established, or state Church; and it is so still, but the king is no longer the head of it and the parliament no longer consists of the clergy, as in the days of King James. It was in 1566 that the Puritans, followers of Calvin and other foreign reformers, withdrew from the established Church of England, because they did not approve all the forms and ceremonies, then required in the public worship of the established Church.

The official act of religious toleration in England was passed during the reign of William III, 1689-1702, (and Mary), who, as the prince of Orange and founder of the Dutch republic in 1680, had previously distinguished himself as the friend of liberty.

Roger Williams, founder of the Colony of Rhode Island 1636 to 1647, established there the first government in America, upon the principle of universal toleration. William Penn, founder and proprietor of Pennsylvania, in 1684 incorporated the same principle in the government of that colony; and, as the expression of his own views and sentiments, respecting religion and civil government. These men exercised government, by instilling into the minds of the people the principles of religion, morality, forbearance and friendship. Americans do well to cherish the memory of these men, who wrought so nobly a century before the American Revolution.

Noble Defense By Daniel Webster

Our American public school system represents the accumulated wisdom of many generations of Bible readers, and in promoting it we preserve for future generations the foundations so wisely laid in the earlier years of our history.

Daniel Webster, one of the advocates of the system and early defenders of the Bible in it, stated its fundamental principle when he said, “In all cases there is nothing, that we look for with more certainty, than this general principle, that Christianity is part of the law of this land.” He explained its object and motive in the following passage, which is worthy to be repeated in every generation.

“We seek to educate the people. We seek to improve men’s moral and religious condition. In short, we seek to work upon mind as well as upon matter; and this tends to enlarge the intellect and heart of man. We know that when we work upon materials, immortal and imperishable, that they will bear the impress which we place upon them, through endless ages to come. If we work upon marble, it will perish; if we work upon brass, time will efface it. If we rear temples, they will crumble to the dust. But, if we work on men’s immortal minds-if we imbue them with high principles, with the just fear of God, and of their fellow men,-we engrave on those tablets, something which no time can efface, but which will brighten and brighten to all eternity.”

The exclusion of the Bible from the public schools in New York state had its rise in 1838 and concerning this movement, Mr. Webster said, “This is a question which in its decision is to influence the happiness, the temporal and the eternal welfare of one hundred millions of human beings, alive and to be born in this land. Its decision will give a hue to the character of our institutions. There can be no charity in that system of instruction from which the Bible, the basis of Christianity, is excluded.”

The public school, with daily instruction to the young in the Bible, is an American system of education. It had its origin in the belief of its founders, that general instruction in the Bible was essential to the permanency of that freedom, civil and religious, and that independent ownership of land, they came to America to enjoy. If the early Pilgrims, more particularly those of Massachusetts and Connecticut, had not struggled and toiled for this great object, and if they had not been immediately succeeded by men, who imbibed a large portion of the same spirit, the free school system of New England would never have been extended to all parts of our land. We have inherited the public school through the Bible, and the feeling prevails, that only by maintaining a general knowledge of the Bible, among the young and rising generation through it can the countless blessings, that flow from it, be conserved for future generations.

The Freedman’s Best Book

These historic facts, relating to the original establishment of free schools among the colonies, during the period of the early settlement of this country, and the place accorded the Bible in them by their faithful founders, are well suited to be suggestive, and to prove an inspiration to every friend of freedom, to promote the good cause of maintaining the daily reading of the Bible, in all of our public schools at the present time.

Christian parents among the Freedmen, having children that are bright and studious, are encouraged by these facts, to train one or more of them to be teachers and helpers, in promoting the educational and moral uplift of the race. All are encouraged to co-operate with your teachers, in making the public school of your neighborhood, an attractive and inviting place for your own and your neighbor’s children.

Send the children regularly to school during the term, for the terms are short. Do all you can, as long as you live, to supply your public schools with bibles and Christian teachers, in order that they may attain the highest degree of efficiency, and bring the greatest amount of public good, to you and your children. Remember, that the Bible is the mother of the public school and that it awakens a desire for more.

Many have been led astray by reading bad books and papers, but none from reading the Bible. Its blessings of comfort and guidance to individuals, and of civil and religious liberty to nations, have come to us like the dew of Hermon that made “the wilderness and solitary place to be glad, and the desert to rejoice and blossom as the rose.”

In view of these important historic facts, it is certainly strange that any parents, who permit their children to read all sorts of trashy and worthless books, without protest, should pretend they do not want them to read the Bible, the one infallible and incomparable book, that does not become old and out-of-date like the best of other books, but is as fresh and life giving to day as twenty centuries ago. The number of those, who have opposed the reading of the Bible in the public schools have comprised but a small part of the entire population of our land, and they have always represented that part of it, that have most needed its enlightening and uplifting influence.

One million immigrants from other lands are now coming to our shores every year, that they may enjoy the civil and religious privileges, that have here been secured, through the influence of the Bible. One of their greatest needs, immediately on their arrival, is faithful instruction in the living and eternal truths of God’s Holy Word, that they may know and understand the genius or spirit of our American, civil and religious institutions.

There is urgent need to day for more of that holy compulsion that Jesus exercised, when, surrounded by a lot of hungry people, he required the disciples to “Make the men sit down,” and then added, “Give ye them to eat.”

The Church and Sunday School

When Jesus said, “The son of man came not to be ministered unto but to minister,” he gave to the world one of its clearest visions of the Kingdom of God, and his own, the highest ideal of life, the one that produces the noblest type of manhood.

It is the great business of the Church to bring all its children and youth to this true conception of life, and it aims to do this through the Christian home, the Sunday school, young peoples’ meetings and Church services. But these alone are not adequate, to reach all the children and youth of the land, including those of the one million immigrants, arriving annually from other lands.

Margaret Slattery in the Charm of the Impossible has very truly remarked:
“Men of all creeds and of none agree, that religious instruction ought to be given, to all the children and youth of the land, but the task of attempting it is a tremendous one, and the best manner of doing it is not clear to all. Some say religious instruction should be given in the home. This is usually done, in the intelligent Christian home; but there are many homes, where it is impossible, and others indisposed. The fact that the Church has seen, as if with a new vision, the method of Jesus, the Great Teacher of all men, reveals itself more clearly in the Sunday school, than in any other department of its work. There it attempts the task of religious education by instruction from the Bible, and endeavors to inspire the child, youth and man with the purest and greatest motives for action.”

Make The Public, A Bible School

There is, however, no instrumentality in our country, so convenient and favorable for giving all the children and youth of our land a general knowledge of the Bible, as the public school. The Bible is the embodiment of all lofty ideals, and when it is daily read in all of our schools, there is in them a uniform standard of morals. Schools, that neglect or suppress the daily reading of the Bible, do not keep the vision of those attending them on the Christian ideal, or develop the Christian motive in them, during the most impressionable period of their lives.

The Bible is the light of the intellect, the fore runner of civilization, the charter of true liberty and secret of national greatness. The Bible is the one, all-important book for the Freedmen and their children. Its weekly use, in the Church and Sunday school, is to be appreciated and promoted; but the home and the public school are the golden places, where its daily use should be required, and the opportunity be magnified.

American patriotism relies on the public school, conducted with moral and social aims, as the one pre-eminent, assimilating agency to bind together the older and newer elements of our population, in a common devotion to our common country. It has been “America’s greatest civil glory and chief civil hope.” The enthusiasm, that led to its establishment, was well nigh sacred. It needs to day the support of a public spirit that will insist on the restoration of the daily reading of the Bible, as the basis of moral instruction in it.

Concerning its educational value President Woodrow Wilson has recently very truthfully said, “The educational value of the Bible is, that it both awakens the spirit to its finest and only true action, and acquaints the student with the noblest body of literature in existence; a body of literature, having in it more mental and imaginative stimulus, than any other body of writings. A man has deprived himself of the best there is in the world, who has deprived himself of the Bible.”

How true to day is Paul’s description of the people that were living without the Bible in his day. He describes them as “filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, deceit, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, unmerciful.”1

Our own and every heathen land furnishes abundant proofs, that whenever the gracious promises of the Bible are gratefully received, the proud become humble, the disobedient dutiful, the drunkard sober, the dishonest, honorable; the profligate, prudent; and the miserable become happy. Nothing else has ever done this, but the gospel of Christ always does it, when gratefully received.

Encouraging Movements

The legislature of Pennsylvania, in 1913, restored the use of the Bible in the public schools of that state, by a statute requiring the daily reading of at least ten verses of the Bible, in the hearing of all the pupils under every teacher, and making a neglect of this duty a proper cause, for the suspension of the teacher.

The National Reform Association at its last meeting in Portland, Oregon, in 1913, resolved to raise $25,000, for the purpose of undertaking to place a copy of the Bible, in every public school in the land, from which it may have been excluded; and to aid in keeping it, where it is now adopted, as the standard of moral instruction.

Commissioner Claxton, in welcoming the members of the council of Church Boards of Education, representing fourteen denominations, at their third meeting in Washington, D. C., in January 1914, very correctly stated the leadership of the Church in the educational work of our country, and the importance of its continued relation to it, in the following language:

“The Church has been the leader in educational development, at a time when the state was unable and unwilling to pay the large cost for education. Honor should be given the Church for its splendid, formative work in education, during the time the state was occupied in building up its political relations. It is indeed a happy thing that the Church is so deeply interested in education, as to maintain national agencies, known as boards.”

In regard to the secondary schools he prophetically added, “The day will come, when the Bible will be read in the public schools, just as any other book. There is no good reason, why the Bible should not have its rightful place, in our public school curriculum.”

The Gideons, an organization among traveling salesmen, are endeavoring to place a copy of the Bible in every bedroom of all the public hotels in the United States. At the end of 1913 they had supplied bibles for 220,000 rooms, and had reached all but three states, Utah, Nevada and Washington.

These are movements in the right direction and suggest the proper attitude of every Christian parent, teacher and legislator. Do not hesitate to advocate the daily reading of the Bible, and the employment of Christian teachers, in all the public schools, provided for the Freedman and his children.

“There’s a dear and precious book,
Though it’s worn and faded now,
Which recalls those happy days of long ago;
When I stood at mother’s knee
With her hand upon my brow,
And I heard her voice in gentle tones and low.
Blessed book, precious book
On thy dear old tear-stained leaves I love to look;
Thou art sweeter day by day,
As I walk the narrow way,
That leads at last, to that bright home above.”
-M. B. Williams.

Footnotes

  1. Rom. 1. 27. 



MLA Source Citation:

Flickinger, Robert Elliott. Choctaw Freedmen and Oak Hill Industrial Academy, Valliant, Oklahoma. Presbyterian Board of Missions for Freedmen. Pittsburgh. 1914 AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 21 August 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/america/the-public-school-system.htm - Last updated on Jul 22nd, 2014


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