Should we teach the Bible in public schools again?

Why It’s No Longer Right to Teach the Bible in Public Schools

There’s a recently new cry that the Bible should be put back in public schools, and the knee-jerk reaction is to jump up and declare that this is exactly what America needs today. But friends, we are better than knee-jerk reactions. Let’s explore how American education works today, and decide if it’s still a good idea to hold Bible classes in public schools.

I understand the sentiment; something is very wrong with our society and people are looking for an answer. And despite the rest of this article, I agree wholeheartedly that the Bible has the answers to every ill that we face. But the process belongs to families and churches, and not to a secular humanist school system.

The Curriculum

The most obvious question to ask is, “Who will write the curriculum, and who will teach it?” This question will result in some painful truths.

Charles Spurgeon, in his book Come Ye Children, says, “Teaching is poor work when love is gone; it is like a smith working without a tire hammer or a builder without a mortar. A shepherd who does not love his sheep is a hireling and not a shepherd; he will flee in the time of danger and leave his flock to the wolf. Where there is no love, there will be no life; living lambs are not be fed by dead men.

We preach and teach love; out subject is the love of God in Christ Jesus. How can we teach this if we have no love ourselves? Our objective is to create love in the hearts of those we teach and foster it where it already exists; but how can we communicate the fire, if it is not kindled in our own hearts? How can the one whose hands are damp and dripping with worldliness and indifference fan the flame of love, so that he arouses the child’s heart as a flame of fire rather than a bucket of water?”

By “putting the Bible back in public schools” we are giving the textbook companies, the Department of Education, and the state education departments permission to create their own “Bible study” curriculum. Don’t forget, these are the same institutions that promote evolution instead of creation and gender fluidity and homosexual pride to elementary students. Exactly how will they handle a study of the scriptures that are contrary to their philosophies?

Spurgeon went on to say that, “Feeding the lambs is careful work too, for lambs cannot be fed on just anything, especially Christ’s lambs. We can quickly poison young believers with bad teaching. Christ’s lambs are too apt to eat herbs, which are harmful; children need us to be cautious where we lead them. If men are supposed to take heed to what they hear, how much more should we take heed to what we teach?”

We have already witnessed a complete butchery of history by the public school curriculum creators. Historic events are taught with little context and with plenty of modern narrative. Only certain historic personalities are highlighted (for their race or gender) and those who don’t fit the current approved list of traits are ignored or badmouthed. This is evident in the graduates the schools produce who know nothing of even basic history, wars, and most importantly, the ideas behind these events.

So how can we expect the Bible to be treated any differently?

“Obviously the schools are not Christian. Just as obviously they are not neutral. The Scriptures say that the fear of the Lord is the chief part of knowledge; but the schools, by omitting all reference to God, give the pupils the notion that knowledge can be had apart from God. They teach in effect that God has no control of history, that there is no plan of events that God is working out, that God does not foreordain whatsoever comes to pass.” —Gordon Clark

Anyone with a love for and knowledge of the Bible can teach quite the opposite, of course. But secularists see the Bible as a mere book of fables and stories. They see no truth because they do not wish to. They will teach the Bible based on their humanistic, and sometimes atheistic, worldview.

This is not your founder’s school

As we fondly remember, the old days of education in America meant that children were reading their first words and sentences straight from the Bible, such as with the McGuffey readers:

“From no other source has the author drawn more copiously in his selections than from the Sacred Scriptures. For this, he certainly apprehends no censure. In a Christian country, that man is to be pitied who, at this day, can honestly object to imbuing the minds of youth with the language and the spirit of the Word of God.”  -William Holmes McGuffey (Peterson)

The McGuffey readers, which generations of Americans grew up on, were rich with scripture, literature, history, and science. They are a marvel to read! Just browsing through one will lead you to a quick comparison with today’s textbooks. What’s striking is the moral and biblical content that is infused throughout.

These readers were patterned after the original New England Primer, which appeared in the 1600’s in America and was used throughout the next 200 years.

Unless a man could read, independence was impossible, for illiteracy compelled him to rely upon another for his knowledge of the Word; and thus, from its earliest inception, Puritanism, for its own sake, was compelled to foster education. With [the New England Primer] millions were taught to read, that they might read the Bible; and with it these millions were catechised unceasingly, that they might find in the Bible only what one of many priesthoods had decided this book contained.

For one hundred years this Primer was the schoolbook of the dissenters of America, and for another hundred it was frequently reprinted.

the Bible in Public schools

The Alphabet of Lessons – New England Primer

Following the letter sounds and blends in the beginning of the Primer, “was what was called an Alphabet of Lessons for Youth, being a series of moral and instructive sentences taken from the Bible so worded and arranged as to begin each paragraph with with a successive capital letter of the alphabet…In every New England Primer, the Lord’s Prayer and Apostle’s Creed were included, and while their position varied, they commonly followed the Alphabet of Lessons.” Source: The New England Primer: A History of its Origin and Development)

Children learned by memorizing a poem that included a line of verse representing each letter. The poem adapted for the New England Primer (from the Old English version) consisted of snippets of Bible stories, and included the fall of man and the crucifixion of Jesus. Following this poem was the Catechism. “In all 18th century primers examined, this consisted of either the Westminster Assembly’s “Shorter Catechism” or John Cotton’s “Spiritual Milk for Babes,” and in a number of editions, both were included. 

The last piece of importance which can be considered an integrant of the New England Primer is what was called “A Dialogue Between Christ, Youth, and the Devil,” a poem relating to a tempted youth, who despite the warning of his Redeemer succumbs to the wiles of the horny-footed tempter…”

The Primer also included, in various versions from the 17th century through the 19th century, hymns, prayers, and scriptures to read and memorize. You can see that the Bible was not taught as a history text; it was THE text for all learning.

The McGuffey and other “readers”

Patterned after the New England Primer, the “readers” of the 18th and 19th centuries were the textbooks of our forefathers. This was before the 20th century invention of grade levels. In those days, a student began his education with the Primer, which taught the student how to read, and then provided easy practice words and short stories. As the child progressed, they moved up in each successive reader. By the time they finished the 5th (and sometimes 6th) reader, they had received full education. Here’s why: their education was not broken down by subject and class over 13 years of school. The readers included reading material on all matters: literary, scientific, historic, biblical, and moral. Each reading selection was introduced with new words to learn and new grammar rules to notice. At the end of the selection the student answered questions about the content of the text as well as the grammar, spelling, and vocabulary lesson included. (This is, in my opinion, a much more efficient way to educate, and is how many homeschools operate today.) See a sample of this style in my blog post from an 1848 reader.

If you have ever picked up a McGuffey reader, whether an original or a reprint, you are already aware of the religious nature of these classic schoolbooks. In a document entitled Our Christian Educational Heritage: McGuffey and His Readers by Robert A. Peterson, some pertinent examples are shared:

By the time a student reached the end of the Eclectic Primer, he [the student] was receiving heavy doses
of Christian teaching. The last story in the Eclectic Primer contains this passage:

God sees and knows all things. He sees me when I rise from
my bed. He sees me when I go out to work or play, and when
I lie down to sleep. If God sees me, and knows all that I do,
He must hear what I say. Oh, let me speak no bad words, nor
do any bad act; for God does not like bad words or bad acts.
The First Reader gives one of the clearest Gospel presentations outside of Holy
Scripture: “All who take care of you and help you were sent by God. He sent His Son to show
you His will, and to die for your sake.”

The stories selected for the Second Reader are filled with Scriptural admonitions and
good advice. In Lesson II, students are reminded to have morning devotions: “Never forget,
before you leave your room, to thank God for His kindness.” At the end of the story, one of the
questions is, “Did you say your prayers this morning?”

The Introduction to the Third Reader reiterates McGuffey’s belief in the importance of
Bible selections:

For the copious extracts made from the Sacred Scriptures, he
makes no apology. Indeed, upon a review of the work, he is
not sure but an apology may be due for his not having still
more liberally transferred to his pages the chaste simplicity,
the thrilling pathos, the living descriptions, and the overwhelming sublimity of the sacred writings.

The time has gone
by, when any sensible man will be found to object to the Bible
as a school book, in a Christian country; unless it be purely on
sectarian principles, which should never find a place in a
system of general education. Much less then, can any
reasonable objection be made to the introduction of such
extracts from the Bible as do not involve any of the questions
in debate among the various denominations of evangelical
Christians. The Bible is the only book in the world treating of
ethics and religion which is not sectarian.

Even the directions that McGuffey gives for reading certain pieces in the Fourth Reader
reflect his Christian worldview and his lofty view of God: “These names of the Deity are seldom
pronounced with that full and solemn sound that is proper. . . . If the pupil can learn to speak the
three words, 0-Lord-God, properly, it will be worth no little attention. Every pupil,” he added,
“ought to be exercised on these words till they pronounce them properly and in a full and solemn
tone.” (Source)

It’s impossible to believe that this same reverence for the holy name of God would be taught in such a way in a 21st century public school.

“Although the books were not overtly religious, they did stress religious values and emphasize moral lessons intended to develop students into good citizens. For more than a century, the books encouraged moral values and conveyed a distinctly American cultural framework, with an emphasis on allegiance to the nation. To illustrate the concepts, the McGuffey Readers presented stories emphasizing strength of character, truth, and goodness. The stories distinguished between good and bad by introducing varying viewpoints on many issues and topics, and they concluded with morals, often concerning goodness, truth, and untruth.

And here’s the sad evolution: Over time, the original publishing firm dissolved, and ownership of the Readers passed through the hands of seven proprietors. The content in the texts also evolved. Revised texts slowly moved away from the subjects of morality and righteousness and began to incorporate emerging values of the prevailing society, as well as a wider worldview.” (Source

Read that last part again: the texts slowly moved away from the subjects of morality and righteousness and began to incorporate emerging values of the prevailing society…this sounds sadly familiar, doesn’t it?

The 20th Century

Which brings us to the 20th century…In 1963 prayer and Bible reading were no longer a daily staple of the school day. In Abington School District v. Schempp (1963), it was heard by the United States Supreme Court, which ruled that official Bible-reading in American public schools was unconstitutional. Misapplying the egregiously misunderstood First Amendment, Americans for decades have shouted “separation of church and state” in regards to any official or unofficial religious exercise in all government institutions.

The important thing, though, to realize is not that the Supreme Court outlawed the official use of the Bible in public schools; it’s that what happens in the courts is a reflection of the culture. A quick recap of the 20th century illustrates this fact clearly. The cultural shift away from predominantly Christ-centered families is evident when you trace the change in family structure and societal importance. Mothers began more and more to take work outside the home, full-time compulsory education became the norm, a slow rebellion of the youth was embraced, feminism rose, college campuses became breeding grounds for secular humanism…well, you get the idea.

Remember that quote above? “…the texts slowly moved away from the subjects of morality and righteousness and began to incorporate emerging values of the prevailing society.” It just got worse. 

The New Push for the Bible in Public Schools

Officials in six states, including populous ones such as Virginia and Florida, are considering bills permitting the study of the Bible in classrooms. Proponents of these bills insist that the Bible would be treated as a historical and literary source, not as a means of religious guidance. (

Teaching the Bible as a historical and literary source sounds great on the surface, doesn’t it? But as I pointed out above, the curriculum designers in our country do not hold themselves to rigorous standards of fact and truth for history itself, so how could Christians expect them to treat the Holy Bible any differently? Here’s a quick example of how secularists view the Bible.

And don’t forget that any historic figure that doesn’t match up to modern standards gets a makeover in the curriculum (Columbus, anyone?). Or that the slightest misunderstanding of a written paragraph can have a beloved author banned from the American Library Association (Laura Ingalls Wilder, anyone?)

Remember my warning about knee-jerk reactions? Christians are better than that. Too many of us tend to accept a surface idea without exploring the details. The details are vital here.

What is the purpose of studying the Bible? What SHOULD be our purpose in wanting children to be taught the Bible? Who should be teaching it? Can ANYONE find a scripture that admonishes a public school teacher to instruct students in Bible history?

But what we do find in scripture is the command for PARENTS to teach them to their children.

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:6-9)

It is, and always has been, the duty of parents to teach their children the Bible. In this modern world of abdication of responsibility and rampant false theology, it is imperative that parents take this role seriously. I recommend two books on this topic: Expository Parenting and Education: Does God Have an Opinion?

As you may already know by now, I believe Christians need to take back the raising of their children. We have abdicated it for far too long, and to the detriment of our culture, our country, and the Gospel.

If you know children who do not have Christian families, invite them into your home, invite them to church with you, be the example they need in actual Biblical instruction. Share the Gospel with them, and the validity of scripture. Don’t leave it to the secular government schools.

Read more:

While you’re here, visit my Knowledge Keepers Bookstore! In it you’ll find the books and the stories that have shaped this great country, the books that influenced our founders and our ancestors, the books that Americans have mostly ignored or never heard of, but the good books that we should all read and protect. Join me in saving Western Civilization, one book at a time!

Should we teach the Bible in public schools?

Nicki Truesdell

2nd-generation homeschooler, author of Anyone Can Homeschool, and mother of 5.

Texas born and raised, she is a homemaker at heart, and loves books, freedom, history and quilts. 

Nicki believes that homeschooling can be relaxed and that history is fun, and both can be done with minimal cost or stress, no matter your family’s circumstances. 

Nicki is also a member of the
Texas Home Educators Board of Directors.  

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