Are Public Schools Religious?
While I was responding to a post on Diane Ravitch's blog, another commenter suggested that public money should never support religious schools and that I should stick with the idea of privately funded religious schools. My response? I suggested that public schools are religious. Here's how it goes:
The postmodern lesson is that everyone speaks from a worldview… there is no “neutral” position. Many individual things can be taught in a “non-religious” way - how to change a tire for example - but public schools that teach as broadly as they do - and teach impressionable children for as many hours as they do - must be considered religious. The key here is between the breadth of presentations. K-12 schooling is a broad preparation for life in the real world - as opposed to how to complete an individual task. Schools present how things work together in a logical and meaningful manner without giving caveats such as, "Your parents will teach you about the true meaning of life/work/art/athletics, etc. at home].
Many people are confused because they view schools as people rather than as ideas. They presume that if the teachers are Christians, then the school is basically Christian. But this is not so - not if teachers follow the law. Laws are purposefully in place to prohibit public employees (especially teachers who work with other people's children) from endorsing any religious view. Having Christian teachers does not mean that children are learning to live, love God, and think as Christians.
Thus, a public school "religion" is not the faith of the teachers, but the point of view the school presents. Religions don’t need deities [Buddhism], nor must they be formal [atheism, New Agers], nor must they be believed by their practitioners [pew sitters]. Though traditional religions tend to have a deity, worship, and rituals, non-traditional religions (following a "functional definition of religion") are a comprehensive view of truth regarding life and the world that one draws from when making decisions or responding to new knowledge and events.
I maintain that the same laws that limit the religious expression of public schools, force public schools toward a nontraditional religious expression. Removing traditional religion from the school day does not merely leave an obvious "hole to be filled in at home," it bridges over the hole with alternate explanations drawn from naturalistic science, popular opinion, law or mere opinion so that the traditional "hole" is replaced by a non-traditional "bridge." Children in public schools learn that God is irrelevant to virtually every academic subject, morality, sports, discipline, etc. In place of a traditional godly teaching, they learn that the naturalistic scientific method is the best source of truth, that values are subjective, that human rights are determined by the Supreme Court, that individuals are the authors of their own destinies, etc.
The absence of positive teaching about a traditional deity creates a tacit teaching towards a deity's nonexistence. And by avoiding explanations relying on that god, a vacuum is created for alternate explanations and rationales which fill in a world view - i.e. The laws that prohibit public schools from endorsing Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, etc. create a filter in the K-12 educational environment (where truth is presumptively taught) through which non-traditional religion quite freely flows as merely "secular."
I claim that secular public schools are a dangerous and objectionable endorsement of religion that has radically shaped modern society. We, as a nation, are so used to looking for traditional religious "criminals" that we have sponsored a non-traditional religion that has undermined the Church and society for generations!