A Critique of Modern Education (1)

Messianic Character of American Education

R.J. Rushdoony

Our subject this first hour is ‘the messianic character of American education.’ However, I’m not going to give a book review of my book of the same title. If you want to know what I say in the book, read it. Well I’m going to do is speak on the subject rather generally and bring it up to date as it were. Alexander Pope, an eighteenth century poet, in four lines expressed the fact which is all too true. He wrote:

“Vice is a monster of so frightful mien
As to be hated needs but to be seen;
Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.”

This unfortunately is the situation with regard to government schools. When they were first proposed, Christians recognized them for the anti-Christian movement that they are. The sad fact is that all too many Christians defend the government schools today as though it were a part of our American heritage. I heard the governor of a major state two years ago, a man who is an evangelical and a Sunday-school teacher, defend the public schools and summon all good conservatives to come to the defense of this very socialistic institution.

Let us examine very briefly the origins of state control of education and then analyze the goals of statist education. The intellectual origins very briefly are in Hegel, who saw the state as the central institution of human society as: “God walking upon earth,” and in the American followers of Hegel, the Transcendentalists. The political origins were in Prussia; Horace Mann was an imitator of Prussia and in the American socialists.

The religious origins of state education are unmistakable. All the key figures in the inauguration of statist education in America were without exception were Unitarians. They were anti-Puritan to the core and anti-Christian. Their goals were to first; separate biblical faith and the schools. Second; to give the state priority in life. Third; to provide statist, that is non-theological social order. And fourth; to give man salvation without Jesus Christ. It is interesting to analyze some of the key figures in the origins of the state school movement.

Within education the two major figures were Horace Mann and James G Carter, both of them Unitarians, both them statists, both of them believed that emphatically salvation is by education, non-Christian statist education. They believed that the humanist education, and Mann was very vocal on this score, the time would come a century hence, when America would be a cleansed and purified land. When crime, poverty, sickness and all social problems would disappear and the America of the twentieth century had any prisons they would be as museums so that Americans of the twentieth century would see how crudely and savagely their ancestors lived. Of course, to cite Mann’s hopes is to mock Mann. Because everything Mann stood for not only has not been realized, but has been proven to be as false of hope as ever deluded man pursued.

Two other figures were also very influential in the movement which led to the first statist system of education in this country in Massachusetts. One of them was Charles Sumner, senator, Unitarian, bitter enemy of Christianity, an abolitionist leader and infamous senator. But even central was Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a Unitarian minister and very wealthy man who had at one point remarked that: “he always had money to spend for treason to his country.” Thomas Wentworth Higginson not only helped finance the move that led to the formation of the first state system of education in this country, he also helped finance John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry in the hopes that it would create war, which would, he hoped, lead to revolution. Higginson had a long and active life, he lived long enough in 1905 to be one of the five men who founded the League for Industrial Democracy, the LID, and also the Intercollegiate Society of Socialist Students which trained the rulers and many of the most prominent Fabian socialists of the twentieth century. Indeed, the products of that group dominated Washington when the LID celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in 1955.

Now the statist schools have propagated the very extensive mythology which governs people’s ideas concerning statist education. This mythology can be summed up under two heads; first that all public or statist schools are concerned with objective neutral education, here is nonsectarian, non-partisan education, supposedly just the facts. Second, the idea is propagated that recently trouble makers have deflected the state schools from their original purpose and if we can only get back to that original purpose, all will be well. Both premises, both myths, are totally and radically wrong. The idea that there is such a thing as an ‘objective education’ is an illusion. The idea of neutrality and objectivity are myths. Man cannot be neutral; man cannot be objective, only God can. When I stand here and look out at this room I see it from a perspective. When you sit there and look you see it from a perspective. You can neither see me or the room in its entirety. First you can only see the front of me and the front of this sanctuary, and second, you cannot see all of me, that is the inner man. Your perspective is limited even as mine is limited. It is partial; it is from a particular point. It is a perspective; it does not encompass the totality of things. Only God stands apart from the whole created order, only God can see all things, the beginning and the end as well as its totality, only God can see the inner man and know it in its entirety as well as the outer man. Thus, when the humanist claims that man can have autonomous, objective, knowledge about reality, what he is saying is that man is God, because that kind of knowledge is only possible to God. Thus a basic premise, a latent, a hidden premise in its origins, of statist education is: “ye shall be as gods.” In other words it has adopted the premise of Satan and made it its gospel.

Now on the other half of Satan’s statement is: “knowing (that is, determining for yourselves what constitutes) good and evil.” This is precisely what the statist schools presume to do. Having abandoned God and his word. Now, man in terms of his own concept of what constitutes right and wrong analyzes and determines good and evil for himself. Thus man, in secular, in statist education is prepared to be his own god. Right reason is held to be capable of objective, neutral analysis and of transcendental critique of reality. The academy of the university is the tower from whence right reason surveys reality and comes up with authoritative God-like judgments. This is the mythology of statist education, it is the mythology of humanism; it is in essence original sin made into an education philosophy.

This is why Christian education must not only have its own philosophy but it must develop its own curriculum. I have a book not yet typed and in the hands of the printer which goes precisely into this area of education. The concept of a Christian curriculum, it is urgently necessary because Christian education must be root and branch, thoroughly biblical, thoroughly cleansed of this myth of objectivity. The only objectivity to which we can lay claim is God’s objectivity and when we stand in terms of his word, his declared truth, then we have the only link to objective knowledge which man is capable of. Our knowledge is subjective; this does not mean it is necessarily wrong. Because when it is premised upon God’s Word, upon God’s truths, our subjective awareness can lay hold of truth.

We have dealt, very briefly, with the goals of statist education. They can be summed up really in one point. The basic function of statist education is to uphold the state. The Marxist state will have a Marxist philosophy of education. The Fabian socialist state will have a Fabian socialist philosophy of education. The democratic state will have a democratic philosophy of education. The National Socialists, the Fascists and so on will have one in terms of their basic philosophy. Every state school is concerned with furthering the life of the state and the faith of the state, the religion of the state. Every state has a religion, the idea that you can separate religion and the state is a myth.

As a matter of fact, throughout history, the most important religious institution has been the state. Outside the world of the Old Testament and outside Christianity, every state was, in essence, the central religious institution. It was divine, the emperor or the ruler was a God, the office was a divine office. Civil government has always been a religious institution, all too often the central religion institution. It was the great work of Christianity that it de-divinized the state. It said that the state was under God, but not God. It declared that the state had a positive duty to be Christian, that it could never presume to be God or to be divine. The state is religious, inescapably. If the state is not Christian it will form another religion and the religion of the modern state is humanism. The state is a religious institution inescapably so, because every state is a law-order.

Now every law order is concerned with morality, ‘thou shalt…’ and ‘thou shalt not…’ All law is simply enacted morality, this is inescapable. All law is either enacted morality or procedures for the enactment of enacted morality. This is true of your traffic laws, by the way. Traffic laws deal with the protection of life and property: “thou shalt not kill,” and “thou shalt not steal,” by your reckless driving. The degree to which traffic laws, incidentally, are observed depends on the degree of evangelical faith in a particular country. People who have traveled in the Far East tell me that you don’t know what hair-raising experiences are until you drive with some native driver in the Far East where there is no Christianity. The lowest ratio of accidents per cars and miles driven incidentally is in the United States, where you still have more evangelical faith than you do in almost any other country in the world. Now, every law-system represents, therefore, a moral system, and every moral system represents a kind or a theological order. Thus, every state is implicitly or explicitly a theological order developed into a particular kind of structure.

Moreover, in any system of thought or philosophy the God of that system can be located wherever law originates. Wherever law originates there you have the ‘God’ of that system, this is inescapable. And therefore when law originates as it does with us today, with man, not in terms of God’s law, but in terms of man’s will, then you have the worship of man and the religion of man, humanism. Max Weber, a European sociologist, said that at the beginning of this century that the function of European education was to train civil servants for the state, whereas the function of American education was to train citizens for the state. That was a good many years ago that Max Weber wrote, but Weber very clearly recognized that which took most Americans fifty or seventy years to recognize, namely that the purpose of the schools is not to educate. The purpose of the schools is to train citizens and to train them in obedience to the state.

The basic socialism you see is the socialism of the child. It is impossible for parents to object when the state takes their property and their money, when they’ve already surrendered their child, and you will never undercut socialism without undercutting its hold on the child and its hold on the mind, religiously. We will deal with that in a later hour. In 1938, the NEA defined the purposes of education in American democracy as fourfold; self-realization, human relationship, economic efficiency and civil responsibility. This definition they proudly said was in terms of ‘social democracy.’ They were openly anti-Christian as well. Now you note as they defined education that they never said one thing about learning. They never mentioned that, it wasn’t that important. The basic purpose you see was to train the child in democratic living and civic responsibility. Hence it is in terms of democratic living that the next step was, of course integration, the next step was of course the new morality, and the next step was of course to open the child’s horizons in terms of a total humanism. ‘Democratic living,’ not Christian living, democratic living. Moreover, they went on to state and:

“The entire curriculum, the entire life of the school in fact, should be a youthful experience in democratic living. Quickening social inventiveness and agitating the social conscience, so our citizens for the democratic state successfully educate.”

Now I submit with a change of a single word, this definition in substance is what Hitler would have been pleased with and what the Soviet Union would be pleased with. Substitute instead of ‘democratic,’ ‘fascist,’ or ‘Nazi’ or ‘communist,’ and it would read

“The entire curriculum, the entire life of the school, in fact, should be a youthful experience in (fascist, Nazi, communist) living. Quickening social inventiveness and agitating the social conscience, so our citizens for the (Nazi, fascist, communist) state successfully educate.”

The goal of statist education in every society is essentially the same, the label changes, but the reality is unchanging. The child and man for the welfare of the humanistic state. Thus, whenever you have statist education, the first function of the school is to serve the state in its social order, and second as the NEA very plainly said, the conscience of the child is to be agitated not towards God and His moral law but towards the social group, to further in terms of their own phrasing ‘social conscience.’ Not Godly conscience, but ‘social conscience.’ But what if parents want an education oriented towards God? Such schools through the years have been condemned by the NEA, however high their high caliber of learning, because they declare the democratic experience is lacking, and there is no orientation towards a ‘social conscience.’ The schools have always been what they are now, only they are now more openly so. Their purpose is to enable the state to preserve itself, and to mold the child into a statist mental cast.

We thus face a very real warfare. We are in a situation comparable to that of the early church in the Roman Empire. The whole world today is socialist; the labels vary but the reality is the same. The degrees of socialism vary, but the fact is omnipresent in every country. The early church, at any time, could have avoided persecution. Rome had no desire to persecute any religion, as a matter of fact, the avowed policy of Rome was to recognize, legitimate every new religion, and put it to the service of the state. Roman philosophers like the enlightenment philosophers were very, very open about their use of religion, they did not believe in it. Cicero, who tragically is a hero of some conservatives, and should not be, regarded the gods as a myth that he felt belief in the gods was very valuable. After all (and he was very much like Voltaire in that respect) if a servant does not believe in the gods, he may rob me. But as long as he believes in the gods and believes in that nonsense about the gods punishing you if you don’t behave, then he’s safe to have around the place. The Roman philosophers therefore very openly regarded religion as social cement, as holding society together. The emperors, therefore, did everything to recognize religion and to make it serve that purpose. They were not new in this; the Greeks had done this before them, and many other states before them. We have a relic of that usage of religion in our word ‘liturgy’ which comes from the Greek and literally means ‘public work.’ Religion was once the department of public works of the state. To keep us safe and in line, and to keep the people in line for the purposes of the state.

The Roman emperors therefore did everything to woo the early church. If they would only go through the motions of recognizing that Caesar was the mediator, just go through the motions, a little incense on the altar and then go your own way, we won’t bother you. The struggle was inescapable, because of the church’s commitment to Christ and the Word of God. As a matter of fact, St. Paul very early threw down the gauntlet, when he echoed a Latin expression with a change of name. It was the Roman theology that: “there is none other name under heaven by which men may be saved then the name of Caesar.” The state was man’s savior. The head of the state was the mediator and Saint Paul declared emphatically:

“There is none other name under heaven by which man may be saved then Jesus Christ.”

This is why war was inevitable, war between Christ and Caesar, war to the death, and it was that.

Nowadays the tragic fact is that our mythologists in the schools are telling us the idea of the Christians being thrown to the lions, and being ruthlessly executed in the arena and elsewhere is myth and legend. It was all too true. We have eye witnesses reporting very early martyrdoms, for example, of Perpetua, a very moving and powerful account. She and her friends, young people, young mothers facing a meaningless Roman Empire (a few generations only, early in the second century after our Lord) And, finding life all around them meaningless, began to try to find some meaning, some purpose, salvation. And they went to meetings in homes and found Christ. They were also arrested in such meetings. And we have an eyewitness account of Perpetua, she had just given birth to her child. And the Roman official, as a friend of the family because she came from a very prominent pagan family, telling her to have pity on her father, don’t disgrace him by associating yourself with this illegal group. And her parents holding up her baby and saying to just walk past the altar, put a few pieces of incense on it, and come and join us, your baby needs you. And she reporting, we have her actual words, that her breasts were heavy with milk and ached for her babe, but she could not. She and countless others went to their deaths rather than surrender. In the great persecution of Diocletian, the order was to eliminate all the Christians wholesale. And we are told that the executioners with their swords and with their axes worked steadily, one head after another rolling, until, when it came to relieve them either for lunch or for because the day was over, their hands had grown numb on the handle and had to be pried off. But it was Rome that lost, and Christ that triumphed, as he always shall.

It is a battle again between Christ and Caesar and there is no doubt about the conclusion, no possible doubt. The only question, of course, is where will many of the church members stand in the battle? With Christ in victory, or with Caesar and his certain defeat. Today, the critical arena is the Christian school. There was a very interesting article a few months ago in the Los Angeles Times, one of the most powerful and more liberal papers of the United States. It was called ‘The Quiet Revolution’. This amused me, because I have often used that term in describing the Christian school movement. However the ironic fact is they described the tremendous growth in the past twenty years of non-governmental schools and the fact that these schools are springing up all over the landscape, they never once mentioned the fact that these are Christian schools.

Private schools are closing their doors; they’re finding long-established, once very successful schools, that they now have insuperable discipline problems and they cannot cope. They cannot cope with the child without a moral and religious premise. One school in California which has historically a waiting list, is one of the five or six most prominent public schools in the United States. It is more important as a matter of fact, to say that you went to this particular school then you were a graduate of Harvard or Yale. In social circles as well as in corporate circles it means more. Usually, registrations were for years and years in advance when your child was born, you placed him, if he were a son, on the waiting list for this school. Now for the first time in their history they have no waiting list. These schools are closing their doors. The ‘quiet revolution’ that the LA Times spoke about, is not in the area of private schools, it’s not in the area of the traditional parochial schools; the Catholic church unfortunately is retreating badly in this area. It has been closing down schools at a drastic rate, well over two hundred a year. Incidentally, many of these are closed because the bishops do not believe in them and others, because the teaching nuns will not go along with the left wing tendencies of their church; theologically and otherwise. As a matter of fact, parenthetically, one very beautiful plant, four million dollar plant operated by some nuns in Los Angeles County, shut its doors down a year ago June. There were seven or eight hundred pupils there, and it is interesting that at the end of the school year, the nuns sent letters, unauthorized, to all the parents recommending where their children should go to school for their moral and spiritual welfare, and the recommendations were all evangelical schools in the area, and virtually all the children wound up there. A very interesting development.

The battle is being joined however between Christ and Caesar in the area of the Christian school. And this is why we can expect in the days ahead more and more repressive legislation, more and more roadblocks. On the other hand, we can also expect more and more attempts by legislators to curry favor with the schools, precisely because they are recognizing that so many parents are becoming involved that the Christian school movement has political force. Two years ago, the governor of California went to the Association of Christian Schools convention and spoke at their banquet. It is not because our governor is interested in Christian schools but he is interested in votes. And he had been advised that there are so many parents now involved in this movement it would be wise not to neglect this area of interest.

As this battle between Christian schools and the state is joined; between Christ and Caesar, it becomes therefore all the more imperative that we as Christian School teachers and administrators and sponsors, supporting churches or boards, become aware of the basic issues and have a clear-cut awareness of our premises. The safe school knows what it believes. It applies it systematically and thoroughly. It is a radically humanistic faith, it is imperative for us therefore to rethink Christian doctrine, develop a systematic philosophy of education, a Christian curriculum, so that root and branch, our schools are Christian.

I believe that the Christian school is the key to the future. I believe that today the opposition recognizes this. I began to believe that when I wrote my book The Messianic Character of American Education. One of the very interesting things that happened when that book was published was the fact that I began to get reports (in fact I got a copy of one or two reviews) made by various state boards of education across the country. Publically, they never acknowledged the existence of the book. Privately, they asked someone to review it. The thing that amused me was that in one major state, one of the public officials who wrote the review became a convert to the idea of Christian schools through reading the book.

I was also made aware of the significance of the issue, how important this issue is in our day. When recently my son in law Gary North who is with the Foundation for Economic Education was asked to write a review of several books in education for a major publication, one of the most important publications in the United States. In the second paragraph he included a reference to my book, The Messianic Character of American Education, just one sentence. The editor immediately wrote back that that statement had to go! There could be no reference to that book and he would say no more. Fortunately, Gary stood his ground and the reference was included, but it is significant that he was aware of the book. He was aware of the book not because the book is that important although I think it’s a good book. But because the issue at stake is so central to our time.

How can you have a statist society, a humanistic society, well today one child in three is not in the state schools, and the state grade schools. When one child in ten is not in the state high schools and in both areas the percentage is growing every year, and when the real growth is the Christian school, this is the quiet revolution. It is moreover, the quiet warfare. St. Paul long ago gave us the counsel for Christian warfare, the whole armor of god and it is with this that we must prepare ourselves for the days ahead. If we so prepare ourselves, we shall be a part of the inescapable and the inevitable victory.

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965.  His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books. Learn more about R.J. Rushdoony by visiting:

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