Religion and Education – They Don’t Mix

“School comes first.” “Education, education, education.” “Good grades means a good college.”

As students, we hear a lot of this. Everyone is always telling us to focus our time and energy on school and getting the best education that we can. Well, it seems that the colonists in America felt the same way. Harvard College was founded in 1636 by a vote of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The college was named for its first benefactor, a clergyman named John Harvard. He donated £400 to the college and later, at his death, gave £780 (which was about half of his estate) and his priceless collection of books to “advance learning and perpetuate it to posterity: dreading to leave an illiterate ministry to the churches, when our present ministers shall lie in the dust”. Basically, he was saying that when he and his fellow clergymen had all passed away, he didn’t want the ministry to be left to illiterate and uneducated clergymen.

When Harvard first opened, a mere 16 years after the arrival of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, there was a single professor and only nine students. The curriculum was mostly based on the English university model but it was also consistent with Puritan philosophy. Many of the college’s first graduates went on to become Puritan ministers throughout New England. In 1708, John Leverett became the first president of Harvard that was not a clergyman. His presidency was a turning point in the college’s history as it led the college to become intellectually independent from Puritanism.

The religious beginning for the school and its change to a more intellectual standard is also reflected in its seal. The seal from 1650 has the words “In Christi Gloriam” (Glory in Christ) and Christo et Ecclesiae (Christ and the Church) along with a coat of arms with three books on it. The top two of the books are turned facing upward and represent the truth that is identifiable through our five senses, The third book is turned over upside-down and represents truth that can only be known through the illumination of the Holy Spirit. By the mid 1800s, when religion had become of less importance to the school, the new president, Charles Eliot, reinstated the coat of arms as Harvard’s seal, but made a few changes. He decided to include the Latin word VERITAS (Truth) and all three books were facing upwards to symbolize the emerging concept of humanism, which is based on and values the thoughts and beliefs of individuals over established and widely accepted doctrine. This change in the seal denotes a change in the standards of the school.

Harvard transitioned from a religious school to a school of intellect a couple hundred of years ago, along with the separation of church and state that is still effective in today’s world. Nowadays, teachers and students know that, when discussing religion in class, it is not permitted to try to convince someone to be a certain religion or say that one is better than the other. A problem that has recently emerged in Texas relates religion back to the science being taught in the classrooms. The State Board of Education in Texas is picking the textbooks that public high schools will use for the next ten years. A textbook review panel will vote on which textbooks will be used in the schools, but some Texans are worried about the choice that they will make. It is known that several members of the panel are creationists, or people who support the theory of “creation science” instead of evolution. Many parents are worried that their children will only be taught the theory of “creation science” and will not be exposed to the theory of evolution. I believe that the students should be exposed to both theories and weigh the evidence for both of them to decide which one they support. There have been organized rallies protesting the anti-evolution books. Although evolution is now a widely accepted theory, I wonder why the debate between creation and evolution continues to cause issues. I think that, like John Leverett, religion should be separated from education and that it should not interfere with learning.

Works Cited:


One thought on “Religion and Education – They Don’t Mix

  1. I really like how you did the research to find a connection between today’s issues with public education and religion and our own history of religious educational institutions. Nicely navigated!

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