Secular humanism and toleration of religious beliefs: the situation in american education


Paul C. Vitz


The focus of this article is on the conflict between secular and religious thought in the world of American education. Some years ago, I carried out a large research project on the treatment of religion in the textbooks of American public grammar schools (grades 1-6) and highschools (grades 10-12). The results of this study made it clear that the primary censorship of religion in the United States is through omitting information about religion from educational material. Overt hostility to religion is rare. However the result of leaving out religion and leaving in only the secular world view results in thoroughly biased educational material. The bias is especially clear in sex education, social studies and history.

As more and more Americans have become aware of the anti-religious bias in the state-funded educational bureaucracy, there has been increasing conflict. One result is a growing grass-roots hostility to the modern secular state and especially the philosophy of secularism in the schools. Besides large-scale parental resistance, there is also a new anti-secular, pro-religion -we might say "post-modern"- intelligentsia.

The basic premise of this new movement is to reject much of modernity and especially its expression in secular humanism and in the growth of the bureaucratic welfare state. Most of this new movement is rooted in religion, primarily Protestant Christianity, but the same thing is happening in American Catholicism and Judaism. Besides the pro-religious intellectual positions, and the critique of modern institutions, there have been concrete social and political expressions. One example is the growth of home-shooling. Approximately one million American children are now educated by their parents at home. There is also a large-scale political movement to break up the state's monopoly on education and to allow private and religious schools to receive tax funds.

This new post-modern, pro-family and pro-tradition movement is also supported by the new technology. Personal computers, Internet, fax, etc. are all de-centralizing education and allowing parents to provide sophisticated and superior educational materials to their children at home.

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