America has now moved past the explosive problem of racial desegregation and the controversy over progressivism. Now different issues are gaining increased attention: the teaching of creation and evolution, tax credits for private tuition, sex education and others. Recent years, religious education and impact of religious doctrines on educational systems are a topic of heated debates among educators and theologizes. Like any other comprehensive philosophy, a sound Christian view provides a framework for interpreting numerous practical matters. The main problem is that there is no set of conclusions which Christians must draw. There is room for diversity among those holding the same basic beliefs. The paper will discuses and evaluate the impact of religious principles and doctrines on public schools and their impact on teaching practice and learning processes.
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In spite of old traditions and established principles of education, religion is stills a problem for many public schools. The main debates concern the impact and importance of religion in learning and its threats for culturally diverse children. Today, the emerging Christian orientation toward education is applied to the issues of liberal education and vocational training, public and private education, academic rights and freedoms. It is supposed that the philosophy of Christian theism endorses both the intrinsic value and the utility value of knowledge (Enders and Jongbloed, 2006). On the one hand, knowledge is important because it helps us understand and develop our God-given humanity. On the other hand, knowledge is useful: it can help us get along in God’s creation. A complete Christian view of education encompasses both aspects of knowledge.
These two orientations toward knowledge have come to be embodied in two different educational formats: liberal education and practical (or career) training. A continual controversy rages as to whether these two models of education should be kept separate or whether they can be meaningfully related in a coherent system of schooling (Lucas, 1999). The problem with practical or vocational training, considered entirely on its own terms, lies in the type of person it tends to produce, the type of mentality and orientation toward life which it can foster. Career training suits a person for satisfactory functioning in the job market. While recognizing the legitimacy of work and productivity in society, a Christian perspective indicates that life is more than employment, and people are more than the job they can do. A purely vocational approach does little toward enlightening the student to the enduring issues and great ideas of human civilization. It offers virtually nothing to awaken the student to his or her own unique potentialities as a human being. It is not essentially aimed at stirring a consciousness of social duty and religious service (Manafo, 2006).
The impact of religion and religious education on teaching is diverse. On the one hand, it demands new approach to teaching and culturally sensitive material explained to students. On the other hand, it limits theoretical knowledge and skills which should be taught to students. A liberal education liberates by freeing the mind from ignorance and prejudice, and strengthening it to think and judge. Although in our day there is no longer legalized slavery, the danger of another kind of slavery still exists–slavery to self-interest, impulse and emotion (Manafo, 2006).
There is nothing inherent in a vocational or technical education which counteracts the kind of mental slavery that threatens a society increasingly interested in comfort, pleasure and acquisition. Without denigrating the need for gainful employment or the need to receive training for it, the tradition of liberal education has always attempted to enable students to become leaders. It has not been interested simply in training the functionaries of society. Since it is imperative that the modern world be permeated by Christians who can think, who are sensitive to the enduring questions of life, who can formulate plans and instill vision, and who can intelligently persuade others of the adequacy of Christ for the human condition, liberal education–the humanities and the sciences–must be taken seriously (Rose and Gallup, 2005).
Although governmental favor of religion may initially seem desirable, it presents a number of hidden dangers. For one thing, the official recognition of a religion by a public organization or agency tends to become purely perfunctory and rote. Psychological research shows that nominal agreement with a religious position, whether indicated by the meaningless recitation of prayers or other routine exercises, tends to damage real religious growth (Rose and Gallup, 2005). Believers ought to covet for themselves and their particular church the exclusive religious instruction and nurture of their children and be wary about the public endorsement of any particular religion. For another thing, once the precedent is set, governmental favoritism of one religious faith can eventually change to governmental favoritism of another faith. Hence, it is wise to promote the establishment of a neutral state which accepts the clash of views on religion, ethics and a host of other matters (Rose, 2005).
My philosophy of education is based on existential framework. According to this view, the main characteristic of the individual is the necessity of making choices, the inescapable burden of choosing who I am and what I will be. Even those who search for answers in the will and plan of God, as religion offers, or in the principles of transcendental metaphysics, as idealism offers, must choose to accept or reject what is offered. And those who claim that questions about the ultimate meaning of life need not be addressed. On the issue of God’s existence the existentialist movement is divided into theistic and atheistic camps. The theistic or religious wing looks to Kierkegaard as its fountainhead (Segal, 2002).
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In terms of religious education, it is possible to say that each choice becomes an element in the larger orientation of one’s life. Implicit in every decision is an axiological assumption about the meaning and worth of human existence. Over the years of our lives, but we actually construct our own picture of humankind, a definition of the person. Since educators cannot escape having to reveal values and shape the meaning to life by cumulative choices, existentialists say they should face the whole business squarely and earnestly. Existentialists are willing to build life on the human longing for an ultimate being, although they think it has no objective verification (Segal, 2002).
God-given humanity includes the right to judge what is true and good. Because of our finitude and fallibility in areas legitimately left to reason, conscience and taste, the principle of not imposing the preference of some on others is valid. Besides, truth itself may be more fairly treated when a variety of opinions is allowed to flourish. If reasons for a belief are correct, let them stand in the midst of dynamic interchange with competing beliefs (Segal, 1997). From the point of view of Christian principles a good case can be made for establishing public or state schools and protecting private and religious schools. Decisions about whether to attend or to send one’s children to attend a public or private school must be made on an individual basis (Torre et al 2004).
Liberal education is intimately concerned with the same issues that Christianity addresses: the meaning of life, the nature of values, the shape of human history and the contours of the world order. Since the process of self-definition is especially acute during the years of late adolescence and young adulthood, the consideration of liberal learning during these stages is very significant. Whether students attend a state university or a private college, they should seek a dimension of liberal learning in their formal education. Although there are a number of large universities in which a liberal education is officially offered, most have drifted away from any potent liberal arts program. This places a heavier burden on the student to select courses and read books which provide elements of liberal learning (Torre et al 2004).
One starting point for Christian thinking on this issue is the nature of children as God’s creatures, with the right of fulfilling their capacities to think freely and act responsibly. Education, of course, is a vehicle through which these capacities can be developed. Based on this unique nature, then, children have a right to be properly educated. While education takes place in many areas of life, formal schooling provides an important source of education. Many of these decisions relate to the constitutional doctrine of separation of church and state. Since the public role in education has grown from local or community control to state supervision and even federal involvement, the issues have become increasingly complicated (Torre et al 2004).
Religious education challenges cultural diversity and religious differences between students. The main problem is that it is impossible to develop a unified system of religious norms applied to and accepted by all students. Christians must find meaningful ways of understanding our current situation and living in a society in which homogeneity of belief and lifestyle will probably never again exist. Without denigrating America’s rich spiritual and moral legacy from the Judeo-Christian traditions, contemporary Christians need to reconsider the relation of church and state (Enders and Jongbloed 2006). Religious followers, at the other extreme, demand that public forms of education recognize that America is traditionally a “Christian nation” and teach in accord with that tradition, with the eventual result of imposing this view on those who do not hold to Christian belief. Milder parallels to this latter view exist also in Great Britain among some Conservatives. The constitutional doctrine reflects the wisdom that government and church can function best without excessive entanglement with one another. It also protects the free exercise of religion to the extent that it does not infringe on the liberties of others. Naturally, Christians will not want the state to monitor their faith. It is more likely that they will err, perhaps unconsciously, in wanting government to show favoritism (Enders and Jongbloed 2006).
Certainly both parents and the church should communicate a Christian view of learning to children, whether the children attend public or private educational institutions. In working through all of these sorts of issues, it is important to remember the broad view of God, humanity and the world which Christianity projects and the principles of justice and fairness, for both oneself and others, which it implies. Although many American educational experts say that the doctrine of academic freedom is simply derived from the Bill of Rights, it is far more than this. Of course teachers in a school or college are protected by the same constitutional guarantees of freedom of thought and speech that protect every American citizen. However, the doctrine of academic freedom implies that an institution of learning be endowed with certain rights which do not belong (Enders and Jongbloed 2006). The rational of such thinking is the preciousness of the search after truth. In both medieval and modern times, tenure has been affirmed, not to promote job security among one class of professionals, but to protect the nature of the academic enterprise (Manafo, 2006).
It essentially entails the teacher’s freedom to study and do research, and to speak and write about the results of that study and research. The idea applies in much the same way, although with some qualification, to students (Lucas, 1999). The learned scholar has the full academic authority and rights which pertain to the possession of expertise; the rawest student merely has the right of exploration. In both cases, but at different levels, academic freedom may be defined as the freedom to think for oneself, to consider ideas, to make errors and correct them, to communicate the results of one’s study, and to disagree with others on reasonable grounds. Despite the fact that Christian principles affirm the dignity of all people and of all legitimate work, it assigns knowledge and wisdom an extremely high status and cherishes the role of those who seek it (Manafo, 2006).
The rights of the teacher are necessarily correlated with those of the student or learner. The academic freedom of teachers or professors or lecturers is not the privilege of espousing just any opinion they please, or of teaching views outside their spheres of competence. Where there is the prior commitment to truth, there is a responsibility placed on educators to try to determine truth in their fields and to communicate it fairly to students. The commitment to truth also supports the students’ equally important right not to be indoctrinated, misled or incompetently taught. None of this precludes diversity of judgment about facts and values; it simply upholds the dignity of the mind in the search after truth (Lucas, 1999).
Historically the principle of academic freedom has been threatened by those who pressure for restrictive legalism and those who crusade for unbridled license. The former group includes many people who do not understand the nature of an academic community: citizen censorship committees which know little about reading, lay boards of trustees which panic when controversial subjects are discussed on campus, administrations which attempt to abolish tenure, and government agencies which discriminate against religious belief in the name of separation of church and state. All pose dangers to academic freedom. Such parties have often wanted to limit the liberty of thought and discussion in ways injurious to the educational enterprise.
The method of instruction must be one which strengthens the powers of reason and discrimination. Whenever intrinsically good methods such as lecture or drill on predigested material are used consistently without being balanced by exercises in creative and independent thought, then indoctrination is possible (Lucas, 1999). The techniques of contemporary religious cults (such as severing normal family and social bonds, repetitious chanting, obedience to a guru figure) are methods of indoctrination. To think of education exclusively in terms of curriculum structure and course content is to treat knowledge as a product for consumption. Some types of educational programs tend to do just this (vocational and technical training, for example). However, when the mission of education is broadened to include human liberation and fulfillment, treating knowledge as a product is inadequate. A vital principle of liberal education is that knowledge has another side: an active, dynamic, processive side. The sheer attainment of truth, say, through rote memorization or the recitation of prepackaged answers, is not enough. To speak of the knowledge process is to emphasize the aggressive search after truth, the exploration of ideas and the refinement of mental skills. Learning, then, is not a matter of static achievement, but of dynamic activity (Enders and Jongbloed 2006).
In sum, religious issues in education have a great impact on instructions and learning environment. Education is a dynamic process in which the student is brought to face his or her own existence. This means that all courses, and the total learning environment, must be constructed so that there are opportunities for attaining self-knowledge: individual decision, inward growth and ethical development. The existential message for education can have devastating results. Focus on the individual, out of proportion to the corporate heritage of humanity, can erode interest in transmitting and improving civilization and culture.
Enders, J., Jongbloed, W. (2006). Public-Private Dynamics in Higher Education: Expectations, Developments and Outcomes. Transcript Verlag, Roswitha Gost.
Lucas, Ch. (1999). Teacher Education in America: Reform Agendas for the Twenty-First Century. Palgrave MacMillan.
Manafo, M. (2006). Enhancing the Value of Public Education. Phi Delta Kappan, 87, pp. 648.
Rose, A., Gallup, A. (2005). Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes toward the Public Schools. Phi Delta Kappan, 87: 41-45.
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Rose, (2005). Possible Lives: The Promise of Public Education in America Longman.
Segal, L. (2002). Roadblocks in Reforming Corrupt Agencies: The Case of the New York City School Custodians. Public Administration Review, 62, pp. 445-446.
Segal, L. (1997). The Pitfalls of Political Decentralization and Proposals for Reform: The Case of New York City Public Schools. Public Administration Review, 57: 141-145.
Torre, W., Rubalcava, L. A., Cabello, B. (2004). Urban Education in America: A Critical Perspective. Kendall Hunt Pub Co.