Piety in the Public School: Trends and Issues in the Relationship between Religion and the Public School in the United States

By Robert Michaelsen | Go to book overview

Preface

This book has a double focus -- on trends and issues. On the one hand, high points in the history of the relationship between religion and the public school are examined. On the other hand, since this relationship has always involved important issues of public policy, many of which continue to be debated and decided upon in our own time, the book also focuses on issues.

I have depended primarily upon three types of sources: selected materials related to American religious history; the work and thought of some major educational leaders such as Horace Mann and John Dewey; and significant court cases. Court cases are useful both historically and philosophically. They often deal with controversies which throw light on local practices and bring into focus major questions having to do with the relationships between religion and public life.

The subject of religion in the public school is likely initially to suggest to many Americans such practices as prayer and Bible reading. While they are relevant, this book is concerned with considerably more than these practices in and of themselves. These and similar practices are as important as symbols as they are for themselves. For example, they can help us to understand what public functions Americans expect from their religion. There are also larger issues of relevance to our subject for which prayer and Bible reading might not be of great significance -- for example, the roles which Americans generally assign to their public school. Furthermore, even in attempting to understand the possible religious role of the public school it might be as important to consider the pledge of allegiance to the flag, and the required use of certain textbooks as it is to look at prayer and Bible reading.

Reference to a possible religious role of the public school immediately opens the question of terminology. Words should be convenient and meaningful devices for expressing and

-ix-

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