Suppose you were asked to write a set of standards in the area of history/social studies which every high school student would have to know in order to graduate. You must do it knowing the current state of affairs in public education and the rulings of the Supreme Court about what you can and cannot do in public schools today. What would you write?
Several months ago I received a phone call from my state’s Department of Education asking me to sit on a committee with just such an assignment. I was a little surprised but thought I could probably add something of value to the process, so I accepted. We have been meeting monthly now for several months and I have had some experiences which have definitely confirmed in my mind the wisdom of the Founders with regards to education.
The Attempt to Include Moral Education In Public School Standards
After attempting for several months now to inject some standards into the process which reflect the need for students to learn standards of morality, virtue, and other strong character traits—and meeting only with "those are old-fashioned ideas" or "you can’t teach those things in public schools today", I penned a letter expressing my feelings to the director of the group, saying, in part:
"Nearly every educator recognizes the desperate need for this kind of education. The reasons are so obvious they need not be enumerated. There are some organizations which have tried to address this issue by developing programs and curricula to teach morality and positive character traits (honesty, truthfulness, generosity, sincerity, loyalty, responsibility, etc.) I commend those who are attempting to formulate such programs, but I am convinced if that is all we do we will fail.
"This brings us to that subject which, in my opinion, must be the foundation for any character development or morality training. This foundation is religion. Without it we may fool ourselves into thinking we will succeed but we will eventually fail. In education, we have become so gun-shy of this word with its corollaries "morality" and "virtue" that we have talked ourselves out of the only thing that provides answers to our present dilemma. I am not speaking of any particular religion. I am speaking of the religion spoken of in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 when it was required that religion and morality be taught in the public schools. These are principles which cut across all sound religions, such as the recognition of a Creator and that we all will answer to Him for our deeds in this life. These are beliefs that formed the foundation of our Constitutional system -- beliefs that cannot be ignored if we are to teach our students a correct picture of American history and government.
"It seems amazing to me that we are stressing the need for accountability in education with standards and testing but we think we can somehow avoid character standards set by the Creator, recognizing that each of us will one day have to account to Him for our behavior in this life.
"The idea that we could even teach moral standards without the foundation of religion was rejected by America’s Founders. George Washington said in his Farewell Address, ‘And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure (I think he was foreseeing our day-ET), reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.’
"I have been extremely disappointed during this standards-writing process that even the slight suggestion of "morality" or "virtue" or "the Creator" (from the Declaration of Independence) has met with opposition. In this, we are guilty of presentism -- setting standards for the understanding of history not in terms of how it really was but in terms of our present day interpretation of how we think it should have been. If we are to teach history honestly, we must teach it as it really was. We must teach-and write standards reflecting an understanding of the true positions of people in the past, not how we interpret it. Anything short of this is cheating our students and not being honest with them.
"If we are to honestly teach ‘…the essentials, sources, and history of the constitutions of the United States…’ as required in the state’s statutes (15-710), then we must also teach about the foundational thinking of our Founders. Here are samples of such standards that I would like to see included and which offer a much more complete picture of our American system of government:
- Explain why philosophers such as Locke and Blackstone required sound government and just human relations to have a basis of Natural Law.
- Describe why America’s Founders agreed that a free people cannot survive under a republican constitution unless they remain virtuous and morally strong.
- Give reasons why the Founders taught that the most promising method of securing a virtuous and morally stable people is to elect virtuous leaders.
- Explain why Washington, Franklin, and Madison believed that a free people cannot be maintained without religion.
- Explain why America’s founders had nearly a unanimous dependency on a Supreme Creator and felt responsible to Him.
- Give the philosophical basis for the declaration that "All men are created equal."
- Explain what the Founders meant by the statement "Men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights."
- Explain why Blackstone reasoned that man’s unalienable rights are only protected by obedience to principles of divine law.
- Detail the reasoning of John Locke that the God-given right to govern a society is vested in the sovereign authority of the whole people.
Impossible to Have Real Morality Without Religious Belief
Those who argue against the inclusion of religion as a basis for morality usually say something like, "I can still be a moral person without being religious". So the question must be addressed, Why would Washington say no "national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle?"
The obvious answer as to why religion is necessary for morality is that without religion, whose morality are we going to follow? Religion gives us guidelines and a code of moral laws to follow. These moral laws are not left to man’s interpretation. They are fixed by the Creator. Man cannot rationalize them away. For example, if a person believes in the moral imperative "Thou shalt not steal", he will not only avoid stealing personally but stealing under the cover of so-called governmental authority will also be morally wrong (graduated income tax, etc.). If one believes it is wrong to take the life of another except in cases of self defense, he will not only avoid killing personally but he will avoid killing under the guise of governmental authority (use of military in foreign wars where our defense is not at stake, etc.) If one believes in keeping the Sabbath Day holy, then he will not only personally refrain from working and turn his attention to God’s work of spiritually strengthening and helping his fellow men, but he will avoid supporting and scheduling events on the Sabbath Day which tempt others to participate (sports, etc.) If one believes it is wrong to not pay his personal debts, then he would not only pay his debts promptly, but would also avoid public debt under the guise of government authority. All these examples and many more we could enumerate show that without the anchor of religion, not only do we sometimes lose our personal moral perspective, but it is easy to lose our moral bearings when moving from the private to the public realm.
Morality Based On Religious Code Undergirds All Proper Laws
Religious beliefs have been the bases for nearly all criminal codes in society. Take for example the subject of moral chastity. Religion helps us to clearly know the sacredness of a human being including the human body. The Apostle Paul said:
"Know ye not that ye are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are." (1 Corinthians 3:16-17)
A modern day religious leader explained the sanctity of the human body this way:
"The body is an essential part of the soul. This distinctive and very important… doctrine underscores why sexual sin is so serious. We declare that one who uses the God-given body of another without divine sanction abuses the very soul of that individual, abuses the central purpose and processes of life….. In exploiting the body of another--which means exploiting his or her soul--one desecrates the Atonement of Christ, which saved that soul and which makes possible the gift of eternal life. And when one mocks the Son of Righteousness, one steps into a realm of heat hotter and holier than the noonday sun. You cannot do so and not be burned." (Jeffery R. Holland, Ensign, Nov. 1998, p. 76)
Nearly every state’s original criminal code is based on these religious teachings. For example, the religious commands (based on the sanctity of the body) not to commit adultery, not to cohabitate (living together without marriage), and not to engage in homosexual acts were all codified into nearly every state’s criminal code. In my state, our statutes still reads this way:
"A married person who has sexual intercourse with another than his or her spouse, and an unmarried person who has sexual intercourse with a married person not his or her spouse, commits adultery and is guilty of a class 3 misdemeanor. When the act is committed between parties only one of whom is married, both shall be punished.
"A person who lives in a state of open and notorious cohabitation or adultery is guilty of a class 3 misdemeanor.
"A person who knowingly and without force commits the infamous crime against nature with an adult is guilty of a class 3 misdemeanor.
Nearly every state legislature in the nation today is faced with annual attempts to repeal such statutes. Proponents of repeal claim they are outdated, archaic, old-fashioned, or unenforceable. These are the same people who will claim to be moral people but have no need of religion. Once again Washington’s warnings ring loudly in our ears:
"And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure (in other words, those who think they are too educated for religion-ET), reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."
If We Are to Survive We Must Teach Morality In Our Schools
When Alexis de Tocqueville came to the United States in 1831, he observed how much the perpetuation of the American political system depended upon the training of the youth in the schools. He returned to France and wrote his famous two-volume work, Democracy in America, in which he said:
"It cannot be doubted that in the United States the instruction of the people powerfully contributes to the support of the democratic republic; and such must always be the case, I believe, where the instruction which enlightens the understanding is not separated from the moral education." (The Making of America, p. 245)
Can You Share A Little of Your Abundance with NCCS?
As you have seen from the enclosures the past few months, we are undertaking some bold activities this summer with week-long conferences on both coasts of the nation. All this and our on-going seminars take money. We are grateful to those who remember us each month and invite those who would like to do something meaningful for America to help us out as you can during these years of abundance.
Earl Taylor, Jr.