Friday, May 18, 2012

Religion and Education in the United States

James C. Carper and Thomas C. Hunt, eds. The Praeger Handbook of Religion and Education in the United States. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishing, 2009. 2 vols: 560 pp. $150.00 Hardbound. ISBN: 9780275992279 (set).

 This is tha author's version of a work that was submitted/accepted for publication in the following source:

Shaffett, John E. Theological Librarianship 3:64-66 June 2010.

James C. Carper is Professor of Social Foundations of Education at the University of South Carolina, where he has been a faculty member since 1989. His research interests include the history of American education, education and religion, and private schools. He has published in numerous journals and The Dissenting Tradition in American Education (with Thomas C. Hunt) is his most recent book. Thomas C. Hunt is professor of Education at the University of Dayton, where he has been a member of the faculty since 1996. He has authored or edited sixteen books in the last twenty-three years, all but one on religion and education.
James C. Carper and Thomas Hunt, editors of The Praeger Handbook of Religion and Education in the United States describes  how many people predicted that religion would disappear from American life by the twentieth century. It has not happened. Instead, it has intensified. Politicians use it for political purposes; scientists debate its possible benefits; scholars research and analyze it; journalists write about it and “school administrators keep it at arm’s length” (xiii). Religion, in some form, is practiced by millions of Americans. Most Americans have strong feelings and opinions about religion’s relationship to education. They have vocalized these opinions since the rise of modern public education in the middle of the nineteenth century. Carper and Hunt tells us that “since that time Americans have argued vigorously about the place of religion in the government-operated schools, the right of religious students and their families, and the relationship of the state to religious schools” (xiii). These arguments, especially, in recent times, have produced “more heat than light” (xiii).
The Praeger Handbook of Religion and Education in the United States is Carper and Hunt’s ninth joint effort as editors/authors of books in the field of religion and education. They offer an excellent introductory chapter on the history of religion and education on the history of religion and education in the United States. It provides a roadmap for the two volumes. The handbook includes 175 topical entries written by more than 40 scholars with national reputations to write on their topics. Some of these writers are Francis J. Beckwith, Derek H. Davis, Daniel L. Dreisbach, Charles C. Haynes, Warren A. Nord, John Witte, Jr. and others. The entries range in length from several paragraphs to several pages. The entries themselves are broad, providing clear overviews on a wide range of topics related to the intersection of religion and education. They are written in clear, straight-forward language that will be accessible to non-experts with an interest in the topic.  The entries include cross- references as well as suggestions for further reading. This is a unique book and a useful resource for an important subject.  The Handbook also includes a chart of the United States Supreme Court Religious Liberty decisions. It begins in 1815 and ends in 2007. Each entry contains the issue, case, citation, year, ratio, author, and holding. Some of the issues are church property, polygamy, and religious school curriculum, distribution of religious literature, parent/guardian rights, school transportation, censorship, prayer and Bible reading in public schools, religious school subsidization, equal access, religious displays, and many others. The Handbook also includes an index and a list of the contributors with their background and published work.
There are several entries on multiple themes: Academic Freedom, The Bible in Public Schools, Civic Education and others. The entry on the Bible in Public Schools is written by William Jeynes,  Professor of Education at California State University in Long Beach. The entry describes the role of the Bible in American educational history from the colonial times to the present. Jeynes writes that the devotional reading of the Bible in public schools was common until the Supreme Court decisions of 1962-63. He notes that these court decisions ruled against the devotional reading of the Bible in public schools; it affirmed the academic study of the Bible and study of religion in the government schools.
There are also entries on historical events. For example, there is an entry on the Scopes Trial. This entry is written by James W. Fraser, historian of American Education at New York University. He writes that this event would have a “lasting impact on American religion, textbook publishing, and the teaching of high school science for decades to come” (405). Fraser shows how after the publication of Darwin’s The Origins of Species that most religious leaders sought to accommodate evolutionary biology with Christianity. However, there were certain changes that occurred in the 1920s that would make the conflict between religious leaders and evolutionary biology inevitable.
Other entries are on important court cases and Supreme Court Decisions that have impacted the relationship between religion and education. For example, there is an entry for Cochran v. Louisiana State Board of Education. This court case had to do with the Louisiana law which “allowed the expenditure of state funds to purchase secular textbooks for all schoolchildren, regardless of whether the school attended was public or religious” (149). The Louisiana State Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Louisiana law. The case went to the Supreme Court. The federal court agreed with the state court, declaring that the intent of the laws was to “promote an educated citizenry” (150). It was the child who benefitted, not the school. This case is considered to have created the “child benefit theory.”
The Handbook includes entries on educational associations too. There are entries on the American Federation of Teachers, Council for American Private Education, National Catholic Educational Association and many others. The entry for the National Education Association is authored by Dianne L. Moore and Mary Ellen Giess, both connected with Harvard Divinity School. The NEA was founded in 1857. It originally upheld a “Common Christianity” in its early years, but increasingly has supported a more secularized version of American democracy.
There are various entries on religious schools. Some of these are Amish/Mennonite Schools, Catholic Schools, Muslim Schools, Jewish Schools, and even an entry on homeschooling. The entry on Calvinist schools is written by Steven C. Vryhof, a former Director of Teacher Education and now an independent researcher. He writes that Calvinist/Reformed Schools have a history of over 150 years. Calvinist Schools have three goals, according to Vryhof, “conservation of the Christian worldview, inquiry into all aspects of life and the world, and reforming the world by living a life of discipleship responsive to God and his word” (116). Curriculum in these schools is similar to the textbooks used in public schools. The Calvinist schools do not focus on evangelism in the schools; this is considered the role of the church. The schools focus on academics. Reformed Christian Schooling emphasizes both community support and a curriculum that affirms God’s creation.
There are also entries on advocacy groups, movements, and special projects. There is an entry on Common Ground Documents authored by Charles C. Haynes who is a Senior Scholar at the Freedom Forum’s First Amendment Center in Washington, D.C. These documents “are a series of agreements reached since the late 1980s by coalitions of civil liberties, religious, and educational groups on the constitutional role of religion in the public schools” (154). The significant point of these documents is that they find common ground among groups that are often at war with one another. They have come up with documents that give guidance to parents, educators, and students on a “variety of ways in which students may express their faith under the First Amendment and teachers may teach about religion in the classroom” (155).
One last entry that is worth mentioning is the entry on First Amendment Religion Clauses and the Supreme Court written by John Witte, Jr, the Jonas Robitscher Professor of Law at Emory University in Atlanta. This is a well written entry that supplements the introductory essay written by the editors. It provides an excellent overview of the First Amendment and the Supreme Court decisions that have impacted its interpretation. Witte notes that about a third of the 200 Supreme Court cases on religious liberty concerned religion and education. He states that these cases raise three questions: “What role may religion play in public education? What role may government play in religious education? And what constitutional rights do private citizens-parents and students especially-have in public schools?” (205) Witte thinks these decisions have worked out a rough outline of an answer to these questions which have been “refined and extended” (205) by the lower courts.
The Praeger Handbook of Religion and Education is an excellent resource that is well written by authors with excellent credentials to write on their topic. The entries are broad, objective, and covering topics on all sides of the spectrum. There seems to be little evidence of bias. All the entries together present a thorough overview of the important issues related to religion and education. This handbook will be helpful to undergraduate students, educators, parents and the general public interested in the topic. It is highly recommended for academic, theological and public libraries.

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