A Culture of Teaching: Early Modern Humanism in Theory and Practice

By Rebecca W. Bushnell | Go to book overview

PROLOGUE The Trials of Humanism

The decade of the 1980s was a hard time for humanist education in the United States, from the elementary schools to the. universities. In the most notorious series of conflicts, the religious right waged a battle against the public schools' promulgation of what the right called "secular humanism." Their declaration of war gained national attention in 1986-1987, when fundamentalist Christian parents raised legal objections to the public school textbooks used in. Mobile, Alabama, on the grounds that those books taught the "religion" of secular humanism. The plaintiffs argued that such "religious" teaching was unconstitutional, but evidently their real concern was that humanism threatened traditional American values. On March 4, 1987, U.S. District Judge W. Brevard Hand indeed banned forty-five textbooks because they promoted secular humanism, a faith that he claimed puts man before God and teaches the "sweeping fundamental belief' that "moral choices are purely personal and can only be based on some autonomous as yet undiscovered and unfulfilled inner self."1. The order was overturned on August 26, 1987, when the Federal Appeals court ruled that the schoolbooks conveyed, in "an entirely appropriate secular effort . . . a governmental attempt to instill in Alabama public school children such values as independent thought, tolerance of diverse views, self-respect, maturity, self-reliance and logical decision making."2.

____________________
1.
Ruling cited by Stuart Taylor, Jr., in New York Times, March 7, 1987, I:7.
2.
New York Times, August 27, 1987, I:22.

-1-

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