Morality in the Public Schools

THE state finds its warrant for the establishment of free common schools in the well-founded assumption that the education of the young is necessary to good citizenship and the safety of free institutions. If this assumption were proved false, education would become a matter of private concern chiefly, with which the state would have no right to interfere. Some excellent men, indeed, of whom the late Hon. Gerrit Smith was one, have stoutly contended that this interference is an injurious departure by the government from its normal sphere. It would be far better in the long run, they insist, to rely upon the voluntary action of the people, inspired by parental affection, religion, and patriotism, to make all needful arrangements for the education of the young than to depend upon the necessarily complicated, clumsy, and imperfect machinery of the state. Whatever may be said in support of this doctrine, we need not stop to consider it here ; for the people are as nearly unanimous in rejecting it as they are ever likely to be upon any subject whatever. Our States are committed to the commonschool system as essential to the public safety and welfare, and it becomes the duty of every good citizen to inquire how that system can be made to answer best its great end.

It is universally conceded that secular knowledge alone is not sufficient for good citizenship. This is not the sentiment of Christians only, but also of leading men wholly outside of the Christian fold. That eminent scientist and agnostic philosopher, Herbert Spencer, has lately spoken of “ the universal delusion about education as a panacea for political evils,” and declared that the fitting of men for free institutions “ is essentially a question of character, and only in a secondary degree a question of knowledge ; ” and he adds that “ not lack of information, but lack of certain moral sentiments, is the root of the evil.” If Mr. Spencer is right, — and who can doubt it? — the practical inquiry in relation to the public schools would seem to be, How shall they be made effective for the inspiration and culture of the “ moral sentiments,” in which character is confessedly rooted ? Can they do this work at all ? and if so, in what way? Here is the very kernel of the problem before us.

In the early days of the republic the matter was simple enough. The fathers began their New World experiment with a union — in some respects qualified, but still very real — between the state and the church, the former being essentially theocratic. In the then comparatively homogeneous state of society, ministers of the gospel were admitted to the schools to give moral and religious instruction, and no one was found to object. The idea of teaching morality apart from religion had then scarcely dawned upon the minds of the people; and if such a thing had been suggested, it would have been scouted as utterly impracticable. In the New England schools, therefore, the children were indoctrinated in all the mysteries of the Westminster Catechism, and no limit was set to religious any more than to secular teaching. And this was well, so long as the people were united in wishing it to be so. But diversities of religious belief become more pronounced ; sects multiplied, and skepticism asserted itself. The separation of the state from the church grew from a private sentiment into a visible reality; the right to teach religion in the schools was questioned, but no distinct plan for teaching morality, aside from religion, was even suggested. The clergy abandoned their semi-official visitations for catechetical instruction, and the reading of the Bible “without note or comment,” and the recitation of the Lord’s prayer at the opening of the schools in the morning, were all that survived of the earlier customs ; these, in later years, have been supplemented, in many cases, by the singing of devotional hymns. But these exercises are now objected to as sectarian by the Catholic church, as well as by vast numbers of citizens belonging to no religious denomination; while many of those who favor them profess to do so only, or mainly, upon the ground that they are useful as a means of promoting morality among the pupils. Of their value in this particular, however, many Christians confess their doubts. Formal and perfunctory exercises of this sort, it is confessed, are wholly inadequate as a means of moral instruction, while their distinctively religious character makes them objectionable to many sincere friends of the schools.

In these circumstances, fierce controversies have arisen in many places, and are still raging, to the great detriment of the schools. In these controversies the sectarian spirit has been and still is rampant, blocking the way to an agreement upon any specific plan for teaching morality in the schools. The Catholics almost unanimously and not a few Protestants repudiate the idea that morality can be taught without at the same time teaching religion, and they unite in pronouncing “ godless ” the schools in which the pupils are not instructed in the duties they owe to God. But the Catholics and the class of Protestants referred to, while agreeing that religion must be taught as the only foundation of morality, differ irreconcilably as to the right method of teaching it. The Protestant demands the use of the Bible and certain simple forms of prayer, which he insists are unsectarian; while the Catholic will be content with nothing less than placing at least the children of Catholic parents under such religious teaching as the church may from time to time prescribe. No compromise between these parties is possible, and the state can yield to neither without again entering into partnership with the church. Meanwhile, the necessity of some more efficient method of teaching morality in the schools is generally acknowledged, and the belief that the object can be attained without introducing religious instruction in any form is very widely diffused.

We have come, it would seem, to a time when the whole subject needs to be carefully considered. If, as people of every variety of belief in respect to religion confess, a sound moral character is indispensable to good citizenship, it behooves the state, if possible, to find a way of so training the youth of the country that they will be reasonably certain to form such a character. It must not content itself with imparting secular and scientific instruction alone. The consciences and the affections, or, as Mr. Spencer says, the moral sentiments, of children must be cultivated, or the quality of citizenship will so deteriorate as to endanger the republic. If the state is incapacitated for this work, then it has no excuse for engaging at all in the business of education, and should take itself out of the way, leaving a clear field for other and more appropriate agencies. A confession on the part of the state of such incompetence would seem to imply a fatal deficiency of structure, suggesting a doubt whether, after all, the divorce from the church was not a mistake that should be speedily corrected. Such a confession, moreover, would be fatal to free government, and remand us again to the ancient despotisms, under which the many were born to be ruled without their consent. Not yet are the American people ready for this backward step. Their faith in the republican government is unimpaired, and they will find a way of accomplishing by its means whatever the public safety may require.

That a soundly moral man, however ignorant, is a better citizen than a knave, however learned, is a self-evident truth, to which men of every shade of religious or non-religious belief yield a ready assent. Morality finds champions outside of the church as earnest as any that are within its pale. Those who have no faith in supernaturalism are not, for that reason, indifferent to public or private morality, or less desirous than the most orthodox Christians that the children of the country should be trained to the practice of the highest virtue. Nay, I will go still farther, and say that even among low-toned and vicious parents it would be hard to find one who, if he sought education at all for his children, would not choose to send them to a school where the teaching was morally sweet and wholesome, rather than to one in which their passions would be unrestrained. Who has not witnessed or heard of striking examples of parents whose own lives were sadly spotted, but who took the utmost pains to conceal their true history from their children, and, while they were themselves unreformed, trained their offspring in ways of virtue and even of piety ? Let us thank God for such gleams of light shining forth from the black clouds of degradation and vice, and attesting the dignity and worth of human nature. We who call ourselves Christians, and esteem the Bible as the Book of books, will do great injustice to the doubters of our time, by whatsoever name called, if we assume that they are less anxious than ourselves that the children of the land should lay in the public schools the solid foundations of a noble character. The difference between them and the most orthodox of our number, let us candidly confess, is not as to the need of morality, but only as to the right way of teaching it. The question is whether or not this difference is insuperable ; in other words, whether it is possible to bring all classes of the American people, in spite of their divergences upon other subjects, to act together in support of some plan for teaching morality in the public schools. Many will be ready to say it is impossible, and it must be confessed that the difficulties in the way are formidable. Nevertheless, our faith is strong that they can and will be overcome, — as respects the great majority of the people very soon, and in regard to all, or nearly all, at no distant day. Is not such an object worth striving for ? To accomplish it, ought not the oppugnancies and strifes of creed and sect to be, so far as possible, set aside, and the question considered upon the highest and broadest grounds ? If the union so much to be desired necessitated a surrender of principle on the part of any class of citizens, it would be idle to seek it ; but since it requires no sacrifice of anything but long-indulged prejudices and mistaken opinions, and since it promises to rescue our country from one of its gravest dangers, we surely ought not to despair of its attainment. The object of this paper is, if possible, to clear away some of the confusion in which the question is involved, and show that the friends of education, however discordant their opinions upon other subjects may be, can consistently act together upon this.

In the first place, it is necessary to say that a republican state, recognizing the perfect equality of citizens and sects in all things pertaining to religion, is incapacitated for religious teaching, in whatever form. If it undertakes such a work, it must decide for itself which one of all the religions of the world is true, and which are false ; and this requires an investigation, for which it is wholly unfitted; for of course a question of so much importance should not be decided ignorantly or arbitrarily. How shall such an investigation be conducted ? Fancy the question introduced in a constitutional convention, formed as such bodies usually are, and necessarily must be. What a bedlam the convention would become ! But suppose that Christianity, as the nominal religion of the majority of citizens, were adopted as the religion of the state ; even then the confusion would not be ended. Shall the state be Catholic or Protestant, Orthodox or Liberal ? Shall it acknowledge the infallibility of the church and the Pope, or adopt the Bible as an infallible guide ? What doctrines shall be set forth in the creed, and what condemned as heretical ? What rites and forms shall be prescribed? To entertain such questions is to remove the foundations of republican government, and revive the doctrines and assumptions out of which grew the Inquisition with all its bloody horrors, and make the stake and the fagot once more the terror of dissenters from the orthodox faith.

The objects of a republican state are purely civil and secular, relating to the present, not to a future life ; to the duties which citizens owe to each other, not to those which they owe to the invisible God. It knows men neither as Christians, Mohammedans, nor Jews, neither as Catholics, Protestants, nor Skeptics, Theists nor Atheists, Orthodox nor Liberals, but simply and solely as citizens, extending equal protection to all. The Hindoo may erect his temple, the Mohammedan his mosque, the Buddhist his shrine, the Chinaman his joss-house, and the Jew his synagogue, just as freely as the Christian may build his cathedral, church, or chapel ; and the protection of the government is extended equally to all the various forms of worship, so far as they do not endanger the public peace. Still further, the Infidel, the Atheist, or the Freethinker may erect his hall wherever he lists, and the meetings held therein will be under the same protection as the assemblies for the worship of God. Such is the nature, the height and depth, the length and breadth, of that liberty which is the boast of this republic, and which is not its shame, but its glory. “ Congress,” says the constitution, “ shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press.” The oath (or affirmation) required of the President and of members of Congress and the state legislatures is purely secular, containing no recognition of a Supreme Being; while it is expressly provided that “ no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States. " The full meaning and spirit of these provisions, as understood by the fathers, is revealed in the treaty made with Tripoli on the 4th of November, 1796, in the eleventh article of which occurs this declaration: “As the government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion ; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity of Mussulmans, ... it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.” This treaty, framed under the direction of Washington, was ratified by the Senate, without objection, so far as appears, from any quarter, and is now a part of “ the supreme law of the land,” by which “ the judges in every State are bound, anything in the constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.”

In this treaty, and in the constitutional provisions above cited, the fathers struck with a firm hand the keynote of that anthem of religious liberty which surprised and enchanted the civilized world. Historically, some of the States are older than the Nation ; and if, from their constitutions, laws, and judicial decisions, utterances not in harmony with the national key-note are sometimes heard, it is because the former have not yet been brought quite up to concert pitch. Such a reform as the divorce of the state from the church is never completed at a single stroke. It is only natural that customs and even laws originating in the discarded union, and enshrined in the habits and affections of the people, should long survive and be quoted by reactionists, who neither approve nor even understand the reform. We have among us a considerable class of religious men who, while they disclaim any wish to remarry the church to the state, do yet shudder at the complete logical and necessary results of their divorce. They insist that the state is bound to be Christian, to assert the being of God, the divinity of Christ, and the infallible authority of the Scriptures; and that the refusal to do this proves it to be godless and profane. They forget that religion is a matter exclusively between the individual soul and God, and that he judges men, not in the mass, nor as gathered in associations, for whatever purpose formed, but as persons, each one being required to give account of himself. The state, being formed for secular purposes only, cannot interfere with citizens in their personal relations to their Maker. But no inference prejudicial to Christianity or any other form of religion is to be drawn from this non-interference. If the state does not affirm and propagate religion, so neither does it oppose nor obstruct it. In protecting freedom of speech and action for its champions and supporters it does for religion all that it has any right to do. To murmur because it confines itself to secular affairs, and refuses to enter the sphere of religion, is as unreasonable as to complain of railroads because they do not provide facilities for crossing the ocean, of a court of justice that it does not perform the duties of a legislature, or of a threshing-machine because it does not fulfill the uses of the magnetic telegraph. In regard to Christianity I go still farther, and affirm that the state could not lend itself to its direct support without doing it far more injury than good. All experience goes to show that Christianity prospers best when church and state move in spheres entirely distinct from each other, and each minds its own business. It was to his disciples, not to any earthly power, that Jesus addressed the command, “ Go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature ; ” and if the church had always been as free from alliances with the state as it was before the time of Constantine, and as it is now in this country, the progress of Christianity would have been far more rapid than it has been. The church, indeed, can much better afford to be persecuted by the state than to fall into its embrace. They are plotters of mischief for Christianity who are seeking to incorporate their theology in the constitution of the United States ; and any form of religion which cannot endure the freedom of our institutions, but seeks the sword of temporal power to enforce its claims, attests thereby its conscious weakness, and brands itself as spurious. Christianity is wounded in the house of her friends whenever they attempt to supplement her moral and spiritual authority by the decrees of earthly governments. “ My kingdom,” said Jesus, " is not of this world,” and this should be an end of controversy upon the subject.

At this point we encounter the objection that the exclusion from the schools of all religious worship and instruction will make them godless, which is a frightful thought to every devout mind. No amount of Protestant Bible-readings, hymns, and prayers is sufficient even now to protect the schools from this imputation on the part of Roman Catholics. Of what avail, they ask, are religious forms other than those prescribed by God’s infallible church ? Not a few Protestants, in their way, are equally narrow. Schools without religious instruction godless ? Yes, in the same sense that a note of hand, a mortgage, a bill of lading, or a coin is godless, because it bears upon its face no inscription of the name of God ; in the same sense that a railway, insurance, or banking corporation is godless, because it does not open its meetings with prayer and Scripture-reading ; in the same sense that an election is godless, where the ballot-boxes are consecrated by no religious ceremonies ; in the same sense that the American Bible Society, during the first ten or fifteen years of its existence, was godless, in that, in condescension to the scruples of its Quaker members, its anniversary meetings were opened without “ formal prayer ; ” in the same sense, finally, that all social gatherings, for whatever purpose, are godless, unless accompanied by some form of devotional exercises. The objection has its root in a formalism as inconsistent with the true spirit of Christianity as it is contrary to common sense. It is the last despairing cry of religious bigotry, the feeble wail of a moribund sacerdotalism, which halts in “ the letter that killeth,” and has no appreciation of “ the spirit that maketh alive.” Contrast with this the example of Jesus, who neither prefaced nor concluded one of his public discourses with prayer! Is the Sermon on the Mount godless, and was that a godless assembly to which it was delivered ? If Jesus could preach to multitudes day after day without once formally lifting up his voice in public prayer, may we not venture to teach our children to read, write, and spell, without pausing for devotional exercises ? Will the sticklers for religious ceremonies in the schools condescend to tell us how many lessons may be learned, how many classes recite, before the teacher must either stop to offer a prayer, or suffer his school to lapse into a condition of godlessness ? If we must blend with the exercises of the school the forms of the church, let us be sure that we mix them in their due proportions.

But how, it is asked, will you teach morality without religion ? Morality, it is insisted, grows out of religion as a tree from its roots; it will die if the connection is not maintained. This objection is so sincerely made that it deserves to be treated with respect. But it is true, rather, that religion and morality have a common source in that human nature which is made in the image and likeness of God, and that the latter may be successfully cultivated by itself, without reference to the supernaturalism which forms so large a part of the current religious, and concerning which the world is so hopelessly divided. It would certainly be a great calamity if this were not so. We may well be grateful that the distinction between right and wrong, and the duty to do the one and avoid the other, are plain to multitudes who stumble at theological problems and supernatural mysteries. There are many noble men, pure in every relation of life, and devoted to the welfare of the human race, who frankly confess that they have no clearly defined faith in God, no sense of his presence, no belief in a supernatural revelation, and to whom the whole science of theology is an inexplicable muddle. They are as sensitive to every moral obligation as any canonized saint of the church, and on the score of character have no occasion to blush in the presence of the most exacting orthodoxy. They may lack a certain spiritual richness which can only grow from religious faith and hope; what then? Are not the Master’s words as applicable to them as to others? — “Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns or figs of thistles ? ” Does not God find a way of “working in them,” as in others, “ to will and to do of his good pleasure ” ?

The Christian world has been all too ready to assume that morality cannot be taught upon any basis of its own, or rest upon any other than a supernatural foundation. It is an every-day assumption among Protestants that the Bible is the only standard of morals; but that book sets up no such claim in its own behalf. The Catholics insist that the standard is not the Bible, but in the infallible church, whose forms of worship and instruction are ordained of God as the only means of training the young in a sound morality. In the Catholic World for November last it is affirmed, as the result of experience, “ that it is quite impossible to restrain the tendency which youths have to corrupt one another, or to promote habits of truthfulness, personal chastity, and obedience, without the aid of the confessional.” Every Protestant will smile at this as a curious exhibition of sectarian bigotry; but is it less bigoted to insist that some form of Protestant worship and instruction is necessary to preserve morality in the schools? And yet thousands of Protestants affirm that unless the existence of a personal God is either positively taught or assumed, the Bible recognized as a supernatural revelation, and the children trained to utter some form of prayer or bow their heads in worship, all attempts to teach a sound morality in the schools will be only a mockery. Is this declaration founded in truth? If so, the state must take its choice between abandoning the work of education as beyond its sphere and assuming the functions of a religious teacher. Morality must be taught in the schools, whatever difficulties may lie in the way. If the state cannot do it, it must give way to some other agency. But the assumption is unwarranted. The laws of morality did not originate either with the Bible or Christianity, but are as old as humanity itself. They are a part of human nature, and were as authoritative before patriarchs spoke, or prophets wrote, or Jesus and his Apostles proclaimed their message, as they have been since. The moral inculcations and appeals of the Bible are addressed to men as knowing the difference between right and wrong. Indeed, but for such knowledge on their part, the book might as well have been sent to the brutes as to them.

I write not in the interest of skepticism, but as one who cherishes a profound belief in God and in Christianity as taught by Jesus himself. Moreover, the views which I have expressed have the sanction of eminent men in the orthodox ranks. One such man, the Rev. Dr. Samuel T. Spear, of Brooklyn, N. Y., a Presbyterian of the highest standing, published, a few years since, a book 1 in which this subject is very ably and thoroughly discussed. An extract will best exhibit its spirit and purpose.

“ The public school,” says Dr. Spear, “ by the very terms of both the process and the end, naturally and necessarily involves the element of moral education. The children form a society for the time being, and for that time the schoolhouse is their dwelling-place. In it they spend their school hours, in constant intercourse with their teachers, and subject to their authority. These teachers, if what they should be, are discreet and well-behaved persons, having a good moral character, cleanly in their habits, pure and chaste in their language, and honest and upright in their discipline. It is their province to preserve school order, to subject their scholars to wholesome restraints, to commend and encourage them when they do well, to condemn and rebuke them when they do wrong, to see to it that they accomplish their task; and thus develop in this theatre a set of school virtues in the habits of patience, diligence, industry, steadiness of application, submission to authority, respect for superiors and for the rights of each other, cleanliness of person, good manners, self-control, truthfulness, honesty, and the like, — habits which in kind have their basis and sanction in our moral nature, and which, moreover, are just the habits to fit and dispose them to act well their part in maturer years. These virtues are state virtues, business virtues, and are also in constant demand for the purposes of this life, independently of any considerations that respect the future, and may be powerfully enforced by arguments that relate purely to the interests of time. They are certainly good for this world and good for citizenship, whether there be any hereafter or not.

“ Such elementary moral principles,” continues Dr. Spear, “have existed in human thought, and to some extent in human practice, wherever man has been found. They attach themselves to his nature and relations. They are not peculiar to Christendom or Christianity, but rather belong to man as man. His depravity has never sunk so low as to involve their total absence. Christianity fosters these virtues, and begets others of a higher grade; but it is a grave mistake to suppose that those who administer Christianity, repeat its precepts, teach its doctrines, and preach its sanctions, whether in the pulpit or out of it, are the only apostles of morality in the world, or that they have any monopoly in this kind of teaching. This is not true, — never has been and never will be true.

“ Morality, in the large sense,” our author further observes, “is a spontaneous outgrowth of human nature and human relations, notwithstanding the terrible depravity that has infected the race. It is a thing of home, of the street, of the public lecture, of business intercourse, of the state, of the courtroom, of the jury-box, of the schoolroom, — yea, of the ten thousand influences that operate in the formation of human character, — as really as it is of the ministry or the church. . . . There is a generic morality, whose usefulness no one questions, that comes within the province of the public school. . . . For the want of a better term, let us call it secular morality. ... It is certainly the kind of morality which the state is immensely concerned to secure; which makes the orderly, the peaceful, and law-abiding citizen ; and which also forms one of the primary objects and great blessings of the public school.

“ Secular education,” the author goes on to say, “ is not religious in the sense of relating to God, or the duties we owe to him, or of affirming or resting upon the authority of the Bible. . . . It omits to consider these dogmas, just as chemistry does not determine mathematical questions,” etc. (Pages 58-60.)

The potency of all that I have said and all that I desire to say on the subject before us is in these strong, forcible words of Dr. Spear. Once adopt this view of the subject, and there will be no further obstacle in the way of a complete union of all the friends of education, both in regard to the morality to be taught in the schools and the way of teaching it. It involves no surrender of principle on the part of any one ; only the yielding up of prejudices, the removal of misunderstandings, originating in past conflicts and long fostered by a partisan spirit. There is need of an educational symposium of representative men of all shades of religious belief and speculation, — Catholic and Protestant, Orthodox and Liberal, Jew and Agnostic,— to consider this subject. Sitting down together, and looking into each other’s faces with sentiments of mutual esteem ; setting aside for the moment all speculative questions, and fixing their thoughts upon the one subject of moral teaching in the schools, they would no doubt be astonished to find themselves in perfect agreement. Upon the abstract question whether the ultimate basis of morality is to be sought in a supernatural revelation, or in the nature of man and the testimony of experience and observation, they would of course differ widely ; but as to morality itself, in its practical relations to the education of the young, they would speak with one voice. Traveling by different roads, they would find that they had arrived at one and the same place, and were all seeking a common end. And the morality which they would all commend as essential to the purity of society and the safety of the republic, and therefore indispensable to good citizenship, would be, in substance, that of the New Testament, which has its grandest illustration in the teaching and example of Jesus, — his example in death as well as in life. What matters it that some of them hold this morality to be binding upon men upon supernatural, and others upon purely natural, grounds, since they heartily agree that it is absolutely binding upon all men, and that there is a crying need that it should be taught in the schools ? Does any one doubt the reality of this agreement? Let him remember that the Agnosticism of this day, whatever may be said of that of earlier times, is not seeking to absolve men from moral restraints, but puts a strong emphasis upon ethics. It forms societies for “ethical culture,” and on moral grounds has no occasion to shrink from criticism. Even Robert Ingersoll, while denying supernaturalism in every form, is careful to say that he accepts the morality of the Gospels as to him the law of life. Mr. John Fiske speaks for all the scientific skeptics of the time when he says, “ The principles of right living are really connected with the constitution of the universe.” Is there not here a platform broad enough and strong enough for all the friends of the public schools ? Why will they not all plant their feet upon it, and stand shoulder to shoulder as one brotherhood in a common effort to educate the conscience as well as the intellect of the children and youth of the republic, and aid them in laying the foundations of that moral character which is the primary condition of good citizenship ?

The controversy between naturalism and supernaturalism must of course go on. I am by no means blind to its importance. But I insist that our public schools, by consent of parties, should be kept out of this fiery vortex. It is a question not for children, but for grown men. However much, as a Christian, I may long to make all the children of the land familiar with doctrines and beliefs to me most precious, I frankly acknowledge that I have no claim upon the state to assist me in the attainment of this object. As a citizen, I am content to stand, in everything pertaining to religion, upon the same ground with those whose views differ most widely from my own, — even those who think my religion a worthless superstition. I make no demand upon the government save for protection in the “ free exercise ” of my religion ; and what I ask for myself is what I willingly accord to others, whatever form of faith or nofaith it may please them to adopt. Liberty, as thus broadly defined, is the vital breath of free government, the atmosphere most congenial to the growth of true religion. Whoever fears that his religion will not endure this liberty, and therefore seeks to ally it with the state, evidences a suspicion, if not a consciousness, that that religion is fatally weak.

Philosophical disquisitions upon the foundations of morality have no legitimate place in the school-room, as every well-instructed teacher will admit. The precepts and rules by which children and youth must be taught to regulate their conduct are such as will commend themselves at once to their moral consciousness, leaving no room for doubt of their binding force. A very large proportion, if not a majority, of the pupils in our schools come from homes the atmosphere of which is at least conducive to a sound morality, and they in turn will do much to make such an atmosphere in the school-room. In not a few neighborhoods, however, the pupils will be of a coarser, ruder mould, imposing upon their teachers a harder task. But even in such cases the well-instructed teacher will find his moral resources ample, without entering the domain of religion. It would be easy, I am sure, if it were worth while, for a conference of men, representing the different shades of opinion upon religious subjects, to agree upon a code of school morals, embodying all that is essential, and offending no honest scruples. Such a code is needed, if at all, rather to insure a good understanding among the supporters of the schools than for use in the schools themselves. Care should be taken not to hamper teachers with rigid rules. Moral instruction, to be effective, must be spontaneous and free, and skillfully adapted to cases as they arise. The best teachers, as a general rule, will have the shortest code of laws, if indeed they have any code at all.

But it is not the object of this paper to prescribe any exact method of teaching morality in the schools. My purpose is fulfilled if I have succeeded in showing that the incapacity of the state for teaching religion does not imply an incapacity for teaching morality as an essential part of the education of the young, and that there is a ground for such teaching on which all true friends of the schools may consistently stand and coöperate. That there is need of such coöperation, that the schools have suffered for lack of it, and that the sectarian and theological contentions which have made it impossible hitherto are to be deeply regretted, few will deny. Is it too much to hope that religious men, without distinction of sect, will erelong abandon as unreasonable the attempt to make the public school an agent for religious propagandism, and unite with their fellow-citizens of every class in an effort to make it as efficient in the field of morals as in that of science?

Oliver Johnson.

  1. l Religion and the State; or, The Bible and the Public Schools. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co.