Education and a Puritan Hangover

“To understand the origins of state-supported education in the United States, it is necessary to recognize its close relationship to the breakdown of Puritanism. On the one hand, many of the enemies of Puritanism saw in the public schools a new religion and a new established church whereby the commonwealths could be regenerated and sanctified. On the other hand, despite some oppposition within its ranks, much of Puritan latter-day ‘orthodoxy’ saw the schools as a new means for reviving the holy Commonwealth has now interpreted. American thought had begun its return to the thoroughly English premise of one undivided realm, church and state being opposite sides of a common coin. Calvinism was in part disliked because of the growing rejection of the divided realm which Calvinistic polity created. The emphasis in the new thought, whether in its ‘orthodox’ or Unitarian formulation, was less on piety, a product of supernatural grace, and more on moralism, works, human activity. The natural order thus gained increasing priority. As the New England theology itself changed from piety to moralism, it became progressively easier for the holy Commonwealth to be seen as primarily manifest in the state as the true catholic realm because it was the ethical or moral realm. The weakening of the church covenant was that it was reduced to a voluntary society, formed by a voluntary compact. The church the ceased to exist as a necessary body created by Christ and became a body created by man, so that a new institution, one more in keeping with the primarily moral needs of the holy Commonwealth, was urgently needed. The successful crusade for state-supported education was the accomplishment of a transformed and renascent Puritanism, one rapidly making its influence felt throughout the United States. The extensive emphasis on moralism and patriotism in the state-supported schools was in fulfillment of this purpose in their creation, to become the “catholic” church of the people of America and the moral identity of the body politic. This aspect of educational history is in abundant evidence; it has been neglected only because, while latter-day Puritans helped powerfully to make state-support a reality, the schools fell steadily into the hands of the anti-Puritans. As a result the school continues today as the true established church of the United States, dedicated to a catholic faith which is no longer semi-Christian moralism but social morality and social democracy.” Rushdoony, “The Messianic Character of American Education“, pg. 43-45


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