The 400th anniversary of Columbus' launch to America brought educators to Chicago to celebrate schools in 1892. The teacher's association of Kansas wrote a historical overview of education, the document seemingly adopted as a national banner of American education. In the piece, the State Superintendent warned:
"...if the study of the Bible is to be excluded from all state schools; if the inculcation of the principles of Christianity is to have no place in the daily program; if the worship of God is to form no part of the general exercises of these public elementary schools; then the good of the state would be better served by restoring all schools to church control."
Some say this was the stance of the National Education Association (NEA) in 1892. The NEA was created in 1857 to formalize education that was previously headed by churches and communities. As population increased, the state took over in an effort to echo the words of an education reformer, and signer of the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Rush:
Our schools of learning, by producing one general, and uniform system of education, will render the mass of the people more homogeneous, and thereby fit them more easily for uniform and peaceable government.
It is no secret that many decry the current state of America. Whether you're bemoaning the population who elected a reality TV star to Pennsylvania Avenue, or are shaking your head at another campus of college students throwing rocks at windows, America feels anything but homogenous.
It might seem Rush was wrong; that education doesn't make America unified. However, Rush trumpeted a statement that the NEA echoed in 1892 when he said:
I beg leave to remark, that the only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in Religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments.
Reading Rush correctly gives scaffolding to culture disappointment. Why do college kids cry, kick, and scream when they don't get their president? Because they lack the virtue of courage, wisdom, temperance, and justice. Rush thought these virtues are best built in schools steeped in Religion. No religion, no virtue. No virtue, no freedom. And to Rush, virtues were built in a nation that understood it's place in relation to God. He felt Christianity did this best, writing that education in religion is good, but his perspective was a Christian one:
I had rather see the opinions of Confucius or Mahomed inculcated upon our youth, than see them grow up wholly devoid of a system of religious principles. But the religion I mean to recommend in this place, is that of the New Testament.
Rush hoped to build people who could handle freedom. He thought that when people lose God, they lose the ability to govern themselves because they lost their bearing on virtue. Rush understood that a disjointed people required a strong-handed government to hold a country together. Strong-handed governments restrict freedom. So, for Rush, religion was essential to build virtues, which are seedbed for freedom, The result of a virtueless people is a state that manages with a stronger hand. And Rush saw that virtues are created and forged, not evolved over millions of years.
In the decades the 1892 statement on education, the NEA elected a new head, whose vision was markedly different from that of culture. Working to transition national education away from Christianity and knowable truth, the new president, John Dewey, started working God out of education. Dewey comments:
There is no god and there is no soul. Hence, there is no need for the props of traditional religion. With dogma and creed excluded, the immutable truth is dead and buried. There is no room for fixed and natural law or permanent moral absolutes.
Dewey championed evolution in place of God. Inheriting a country founded on Biblically-based education, Dewey removed a cornerstone in American life and replaced it with a godless system that relied on the strong and powerful succeeding. Dewey set out to eradicate trust in anything but man's power. So, religion needed to go, and Dewey's name in the Humanist Manifesto was made bold as he shifted America from a nation bowing it's knee to God to a nation standing in opposition to anything that called for humanity to stand in awe, and wonder. The populace would be ruled by power, because in evolution, the strong survive.
Hillcrest's President in 1944 saw the markings of people who are ruled by power. In the height of World War II, an emphasis was placed on a country that was strong and efficient. Education started focusing on dominance rather than character. He penned the following note in the school yearbook as a call to orient students, parents, and staff to remember the focus of education:
The present war has forced our country to sieze every opportunity to train its young men and women for immediate and efficient service. The leaders are reckoning with our country's resources and brainy youth as effectual means with which to combat the enemy. There is a factor which is far more important, however, and that is the spiritual stamina of our nation. If we, as a nation, lose out spiritually, we are sunk. It is the spiritual backbone of a nation which is its real source of strength. If this is broken, we might as well look for serious defeats. One of the most efficient means of influencing your youth for Christ is Christian schools, where Christ is the controlling influence. Our youth will need all the help it can get to meet the demands of this hour. And when the war is over, we will need youth with a clear vision of Christ to combat the anti-Christian trends which will be even more evident during the days which are to come.
These times come also to the Lutheran Bible School (Hillcrest Lutheran Academy) with a mighty challenge. As the demands for more and more efficient training comes to us, it behooves us to make our school practical and spiritual. May the Lord give us grace to give our youth the very best, both in training and spiritual guidance.
Yours for the salvation and training of our youth, E.M. Strom, President, Lutheran Bible School.
Strom agrees with the statement of the Kansas superindent who influenced the NEA in 1892. If education loses its historical footing in religion, education should go back to the churches. And thus, for over 100 years, Hillcrest Academy has been living out the call of Benjamin Rush, the NEA from 1892, and that of a simple verse in Deuteronomy 6. Education builds a homogenous people, and people are best ordered when they are taught to be virtuous. Virtues come from God, so all of education should reflect Deuteronomy 6 in calling people to remember the decrees and orders of God. May God give our nation, state, and school grace.