The Church and School: Where do the Children Play

The church and the community as a unit, used to be a source of values, of commitment, of stability and strength for children. Each of these institutions plays an important role in education and upbringing. Teachers might be used to help develop relevant job skills and supply basic literacy for those needing it, if funds and talent are available. Religion is separated from school system because it represents a strong ideology held by one group of people (Viteritti, 2007). When a single religious tradition like Christianity is numerically dominant, support for a public religion can quite easily yield preferential treatment for the majority religion. A single religious tradition can so dominate as to threaten the dissenting beliefs of other religions and of the nonreligious.

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Religious beliefs and practices are notoriously particular. Christian prayer in the name of Jesus, Buddhist spiritual meditation, and Moslem invocations of Allah grow out of distinct religious and cultural traditions. While these spiritual practices may share some common characteristics, their differences are equally profound. The values, convictions, and virtues of these traditions occasionally coincide, but more often they conflict, often decisively, with one another (Bellah, 2005). The role of schools is to provide education for children and prepare them for further life. In spite of its advantages, the church is a powerful institution which has a great impact on ideals and values of people. For school administration, it would be impossible to decide which of these diverse and clashing convictions should be introduced into the public square (Following Sewall, 1999): “Teaching the Bible” means radically different things to different people. Some Christian literalists would like the Bible to serve as a history and science textbook, an idea that misconstrues the fields of history and science and indeed misconstrues the Bible”.

Schools and education operate within a network of social institutions promoting political and social values of the country. The interrelationships, status, stability, and policies of these institutions, which comprise a system, have positive impacts on schools. A strong impact of the church and religion would cause a conflict in values and ideals of children. “Religious liberty means more than the ability to comply with personal religious obligations” (Menashi 2002, p. 37). Even the modest choice programs now extant impose restrictions on parochial schools that accept voucher children. Religion offers strikingly different resolutions to the issue of the role of political parties and democracy, social freedom and humans rights. The social values and political ideology of the country create a set of attitudes and social context that influence schools and children (Viteritti, 2007).

Another problem is that some religious dogmas and values shared by the church contradict with the Constitution and freedom of choice. The question of the place and function of religion in American society was at the heart of the deliberations that led to the framing of the American Constitution, particularly the Bill of Rights. If factions were to take root in the majority of the nation, they would be particularly worrisome, for popular support could combine with self-interested behavior to justify the violation of the rights of minorities. Freedom and equality, those natural and inalienable rights of human beings, can be easily distorted and violated. Religion that most pristine expression of freedom of conscience, can become the foe of freedom when joined to the party spirit of political factions. While individual religious belief and practice are to be honored and vigilantly protected, Religion, particularly the religion of the majority, is to be viewed with suspicion (Viteritti, 2007). The religion of the individual is to be protected from all incursions, either from the state or from the majority religious institution. Institutionalize religion can contribute both to the oppression of minority views and to the segregation of some social groups. Consequently, no particular form of religion should receive the endorsement of the state (Menashi, 2002).

Religion is accommodated in schools through promotion of universal values and traditions typical for a civil community. A religion provides an understanding of religious belief that allows it to become the common possession of all members of a society. In addition, religion overcomes the intolerance of positive religions, for it forges a bond in support of the common good of the society. In many cases, this form of piety is independent of both church and state, and yet serves as the bond that defined the common commitment of both institutions (Menashi, 2002). Like the social contract itself, religion is to be the expression of the general will of the people and functions to legitimate the beliefs and actions of the society. Educators employ those images most likely to gather the broadest degree of support from a religiously diverse population (Bellah, 2005). The theological notion of “providence” has been a particularly prominent concept, because its generality serves the nonsectarian purposes for which the religion is employed. At schools, the images of this civic faith are derived from the Bible’s storehouse of images; thus, the language of providence, election, covenant, and destiny has predominated in the rhetoric of American civic religion (Viteritti, 2007).

Today, schools promote common and general ideas about notions of citizenship, civic virtue, and public service derived from the images and symbols of the Bible. This civic piety is most effective at a time when a modest diversity, comprising various Christian sects, characterized the republic. Any nation that attempts to unite people into common action for the sake of a common good must find some vehicle for the expression of those common aspirations.

References

  1. Bellah, R.N. (2005). Civil Religion in America. Daedalus 134 (4), 40.
  2. Menashi, S. (2002). The Church-State Tangle: School Choice and Religious Autonomy. Policy Review, p. 37.
  3. Sewall, G.T. (1999). Religion Comes to School. Phi Delta Kappan 81 (1), 10.
  4. Viteritti, J.P. (2007).The Last Freedom: Religion from the Public School to the Public Square. Princeton University Press.
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