Whether we look at the Puritans… of the seventeenth century, or their descendants of the eighteenth century, or those who framed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, we see that their political programs were the rather clear reflection of a consciously held political philosophy….A Christian world and life view furnished the basis for this early political thought which guided the American people for nearly two centuries and whose crowning lay in the writing of the Constitution of 1787.” C. Gregg Singer, Historian
In addition to political views, the idea of education for everyone was also a gift from Christians. Christianity not only helped to educate America and the West but in the last two centuries, it was primarily Christian missionaries that educated countless millions in Third World countries.
During the Dark Ages when most people (peasants) were illiterate, it was Christian priests and monks who kept alive what learning there was. And, following the lead of Cassiodorus (477-570), it was Christian monks who painstakingly hand copied many classics from antiquity, both Christian and pagan, without which they would have been lost.
Many of the world’s languages were first set to writing by Christian missionaries to enable people to read the Bible for themselves. A monumental development in the field of human learning, the printing press was given birth in the printing of the Gutenberg Bible.
Dr. Samuel Blumenfeld, a prominent American educator, researched the origins of public education for his book Is Public Education Necessary? He established that the roots of education for the masses could be traced to the Reformation and especially to John Calvin. “The modern idea of popular education, that is, education for everyone, first arose in Europe during the Protestant Reformation when papal authority was replaced by biblical authority.”
Calvin promoted education for everyone and declared that the Bible made it plain that the ultimate responsibility to educate rested with the parents, not the state, and not with the Church.
When the Pilgrims and Puritans first came to America, education was a high priority. In 1642 the Puritans passed a law requiring education for all children; and in 1647, they passed the “Old Deluder Satan Act,” establishing public schools and mandating towns to hire and pay teachers. The materials they used to teach their children to read and write were, of course, the Bible and other Christian literature.
This close link between Christianity and education continued far beyond the colonial period. The first Congress of the U.S. passed the Northwest Ordinance in 1787, declaring that “religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”
From 1620 when the Pilgrims landed until 1837, virtually all education in America was private and Christian. According to Historian Lawrence A. Cremin, literacy rates among Americans were as high or higher than in England, and Ireland: “adult literacy in the American colonies seems to have run from 70% to virtually 100%. . .” Too bad we can’t say that today.
Alexis de Tocqueville, a famous French philosopher stated in 1835, how amazed he was how much responsibility Americans placed on an enlightened citizenry and pointed out that unless the people were educated there would be no hope for such a system of government as ours.
In 1837, the modern public education system was born in Massachusetts under the influence of Horace Mann, revered as the “Father of modern public education.” A Unitarian, Mann denied the Trinity and the deity of Christ, as well as the inspiration and authority of the Bible. The fact that the entire educational system was in the hands of the Christian Church was deplorable to him. His solution was to turn education over to the state.
Of course his dream only came to fruition under John Dewey, a professor at Columbia, whose idea of “progressive education” became dominant in the twentieth century. Dewey, a signer of the Humanist Manifesto, didn’t believe in Christianity and felt that government supported education should stamp it out of the school system. Dewey and his socialist buddies instituted the current school system that began the downfall of education in America.
A Nation at Risk released by the Department of Education in the 1980s summed up just how bad secularized education was and still is: “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre education performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. . .we have, in effect, been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament.” It has only grown worse since the 1980s.
According to a study by William Jeynes, professor of education at California State University at Long Beach, religious, mostly school students were a full year ahead of students who attend public and charter schools. “At religious schools, the students are encouraged to take difficult courses much more frequently and they have a “can do attitude. Religious schools place higher expectations upon their students and sent the message that they have the ability to go to college. In addition, he wrote, there is respect shown for teachers and fellow students and more racial harmony.” He also found that the differences on behavioral measures were even greater than the academic differences. Students at religious schools were less likely, for instance, to get suspended, get into fights, do drugs, and get involved in bullying. These students also showed more respect for teachers.
Lower education was not the only benefit that Christianity provided. J.K. Hyde, professor of medieval history at the University of Manchester, pointed out that all universities in the world go back to three prototypes: Oxford, Paris, and Bologna, dating back to 1200 A.D. plus or minus a decade. Oxford and Paris taught Christian theology and to a lesser degree Aristotelian thought. At Bologna the chief study was canonical (Church) and civil law.
Other academic institutions that called themselves universities in Greece or in medieval Islam (Spain), or in Salerno, Italy existed but, according to scholar H. Rashdall author of The Universities in the Middle Ages, “nothing approaching a regular university ever existed there.” Rashdall defined a university as “a scholastic guild, whether of masters or students engaged in higher education and study.”
Other universities also began to appear in medieval Europe when the chancellor of the cathedral in the area or some other church official allowed masters to start schools other than the cathedral school in the neighborhood of his church. These universities also studied the doctrines of the Church fathers and Christian doctrines, along with Aristotle and Greek philosophy, but they were run by Christians for Christian purposes.
Almost all of the colleges and universities in the U.S. have Christian origins. Harvard got its start from the donation of money and books from the Rev. John Harvard. Engraved in a stone at the entrance is: “After God had carried us safe to New England, and we had built our houses, provided necessities for our livelihood, reared convenient places for God’s worship, and settled the civil government, one of the next things we longed for, and looked after was to advance learning. . .” A statement of Rules and Principles for Harvard stated that the “great end of all education is to know the Lord Jesus Christ who is eternal life.”
Dartmouth was founded to train missionaries to the Indians. William and Mary was created “that the Christian faith might be propagated.” An early advertisement for King’s College opened in 1754 (now Columbia) read: “The chief thing that is aimed at this college is to teach and engage children to know God in Jesus Christ.” Yale, Northwestern University, Brown, Princeton, New York University, all had Christian roots.
Of course now these schools are so secularized that it is hard to picture them being founded for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith.
Additional Source Material: What If Jesus Had Never Been Born by Dr. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcomb