The Bible in classrooms.... Prayer in the schools....
Here's an examination of American education as it used to be - 

from the textbooks of yesteryear
          Education in Days Gone By 

      1991 by Diane S. Dew

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Above: Textbooks and technology have changed, but this 1938 student could very well be mistaken for one in 2000. Southeast Missouri Farms. Photo by Russell Lee

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Students' ages varied considerably in classrooms of yesteryear. Ozark school, Arkansas, 1935. Photo by Ben Shahn

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Above: Schools did not enjoy the many conveniences of today - like running water. Students drinking from water pump.  Southeast Missouri Farms, 1938. Photo by Russell Lee

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Walking home from school carrying lunch pails. Breathitt Co., Ky., 1940. School is held in summer and ends in January because creek beds, roads and inadequate clothing make travel impossible in winter. Photo by Marion Post Wolcott


In days gone by, religion was an integral part of education. Whatever the subject -- History, English, Science, Music, Spelling, Civics -- religion and morals, with many a reference to Scripture, pervaded the discussion and text. This can be seen in the schoolbooks of yesteryear.

    When students diagrammed sentences, they were learning Scripture at the same time, for many were Bible verses. The songs they sang in Music class were often hymns. When they studied poetry or read short stories in English class, the selections often were from the Book of Psalms or biblical narratives. Even spelling words related to religion, and Civics classes taught individual responsibility to God and man. 

    Students were taught the difference between right and wrong -- and there were absolutes! Classrooms were orderly, and teachers were treated with respect. The most serious offenses involved gum-chewing and passing notes.

     Today, violence and fear rule. National surveys show students are afraid to go to school. Many carry guns or knives for protection. (See The Troubles Teens Face

     While many have sought to oust Christianity from the classroom, ample allowance is made for the promotion of pagan holidays like Halloween.

     For years, I have been collecting old school textbooks, some dating back into the1800s. Following are actual quotes from these texts -- indicating not only the prominence of Scripture and prayer in our nation's history, but showing how the schools of yesteryear actually encouraged personal participation in prayer daily -- and even providing model prayers.

~~~ Creation ~~~

     A public school Science textbook from 1930, for example, states unequivocally that the only sensible explanation for the origin of the universe is creation by design. It also quotes Scripture on more than one occasion. Consider the following excerpt:

How different are the experiences of the observant and instructed person! To him ...... the subject brings a religious idealism and a religious exaltation which find expression in the words of the Scripture: "The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth His handiwork." ... it is easy to understand the exclamation of the psalmist: "When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars which Thou hast ordained; What is man that Thou are mindful of him!" 

Of the "Great Jeweller" (p. 1) and Creator, this Science text states: 

"So great is the law and order of the Universe ... Do you think this could go on without some great guiding hand? 

Further, of the creation-evolution controversy, it states:

     Several theories as to the origin of the solar system have been advanced by scientists. However, none of them can go back in thought in a material way any farther than one great sun or one huge mass of glowing gas called nebula. How shall we account for this original matter? 
     The more we ponder and the deeper we delve into the depths of astronomy, the stronger becomes our conviction that there must be some Divine Force behind it all -- some Great Force which has created it all and which guides the stars and their satellites in their paths.

(Our Earth and Its Neighbors, 1930, by Irma Roemer, C.C. Nelson Publ. Co., pp. v, vi, 115-116)

In the National Music Course: New Third Music Reader, by Luther Whiting Mason, public school children of the late 1800's were provided with dozens of spiritual hymns and patriotic songs with lyrics of praise to God the Creator. An advertisement in the back pages of the book testifies to the approval of teachers and superintendents: "...the National should head the list of music courses.... The books stand the severest tests of time and use."

On God and Creation, in the song "God Omnipotent," students sang the following:

God omnipotent! Thou omnipresent Lord! 
   Resounding thy praise, heav'n's broad arches ring;
The spheres thy wondrous pow'r proclaim, 
   All worlds sing praises to thy name,
Which thy word hath created When first in glory seated,
   Thou had'st them forth from chaos spring.

(National Music Course: New Third Music Reader, by Luther Whiting Mason, Ginn & Company, Publishers, pp.  14, 15)

Again, on God and Creation, in "Ever-Flowing, Mighty Ocean," we read the following chorus:

Such art thou, stupendous ocean! / But if overwhelmed by thee,
Can we think without emotion, / What must thy Creator be?

(National Music Course: New Third Music Reader, by Luther Whiting Mason, Ginn & Company, Publishers, p.  15)

And, in "Awake, My Heart":

Awake, my heart, and land / In song creation's God!
The Giver of all things, / Who guards us with his wings.

(National Music Course: New Third Music Reader, by Luther Whiting Mason, Ginn & Company, Publishers, p.  22)

Poetry and song, in English and Music classes, also carried the concept of creation. The following excerpt is from a Second Year Reader:

All things bright and beautiful ... / The Lord God made them all....
He gave us eyes to see them, / And lips that we might tell
How great is God Almighty / Who hath made all things well.

(Brooks's Readers, Second Year, 1906 by Stratton D. Brooks, American Book Company, p. 159, 160)

~~~ Prayer ~~~

Prayer was not only allowed in the public schools of yesteryear. It was encouraged. In a poem entitled "Patriotism," by Bishop J. L. Spalding, the following prayer is offered:

And Thou, O God, of whom we hold
   Our country and our Freedom fair, 
Within Thy tender love enfold
   This land; for all Thy people care.
Uplift our hearts above our fortunes high
   Let not the good we have make us forget
The better things that in Thy heavens lie!
   Keep ... our thoughts on Thee,
The Hope, the Strength, the God of all the Free.

(Studies in Reading, Seventh Grade, 1900, 1914, by J.W. Searson & George E. Martin, University Publishing Co., p. 139)

On prayer and Columbus' faith in God:

When all was ready, Columbus and his men... pray[ed] for the blessing of God on their journey .... Columbus and his men ... gave thanks to God for their safe voyage ...

(Brooks's Readers, Second Year, 1906 by Stratton D. Brooks, American Book Company, pp. 75, 77)

~~~ The Bible ~~~

Scripture is quoted and exhortation is given to serve God, in a seventh-grade reading book: 

... a beautiful angel presence ... told him his name was not recorded in the "book of gold" with "the names of those who love the Lord." "I pray thee, then," said he cheerily and low, "write my name as one who loves his fellow men." And lo! God, through the angel presence... gave the peaceful old patriarch first place among all those whose lives were blessed by love of God. The poet here catches the lofty vision that loving and serving one's fellow man is the primary way one can love and serve his God. "Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you did it unto me." ...Additional Readings: ...Matthew XXV,34-46; Luke X, 25-37: Story of the Good Samaritan...

(Studies in Reading, Seventh Grade, 1900, 1914, by J.W. Searson & George E. Martin, University Publishing Co., p. 1-3)

~~~ History & Religion ~~~

In a poem entitled "The Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers," by Felicia Dorothea Hemans, we read the purpose of their coming (a controversy for some who attempt to discredit our nation's religious roots):

...Why had they come to wither there,
   Away from their childhood's land?
What sought they thus afar?
   Bright jewels of the mine?
The wealth of seas, the spoils of war? --
   They sought a faith's pure shrine!
Ay, call it holy ground,
   The soil where first they trod;
They have left unstained what there they found,--
   Freedom to worship God.

(Good English, Book Three, 1918 by William H. Elson and George L. Marsh, Scott Foresman & Co., p. 218)

Regarding our nation's religious roots, the following is told:

... nobility of purpose ... characterized the soldiers on both sides of the tremendous struggle ... this had its origin in faith in Omnipotence on the part of the parents at home.... 

(Studies in Reading, Seventh Grade, 1900, 1914, by J.W. Searson & George E. Martin, University Publishing Co., pp. 36, 37)

In Patrick Henry's "A Call to Arms," we read of this nation's religious influence in politics:

"I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of hosts is all that is left us! ... There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone..." 

(Studies in Reading, Seventh Grade, 1900, 1914, by J.W. Searson & George E. Martin, University Publishing Co., p. 97)


This page is under construction.
I'm adding LOTS more quotes. 
Check back again soon! 

Thank you for your patience!

     1991 by Diane S. Dew

* The same could be said for secular humanism, which is also a belief system.


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Rural schoolroom,
Photo by John Vachon


"A Congress that allows God to be banned from our schools while our schools can teach about cults, Hitler and even devil worship is wrong, out of touch, and needs some common sense."

Rep James Traficant (D-Oh.)
April 27, 1999


Landmark Decisions:
Religion in Public Schools

  • 1948: US Sup Ct struck down religious instruction in public schools. McCollum v. Board of Education

  • 1954: Sup Ct let stand a lower court ruling (Tudor v. Board of Education) against distribution of Bibles by outside groups, i.e., Gideons.

  • 1960: Madalyn Murray O'Hair sued Baltimore, Md. school system on behalf of her son, who was forced to pray in school.

  • 1962: Sup Ct disallowed government-composed, nondenominational "Regents" prayer recited by students. Engel v. Vitale

  • 1963: Mandatory Bible verse recitation ruled unconstitutional. Murray v. Curlett; Abington Township School District v. Schempp

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Classroom in rural school in Cidra, PR. Photo by Edwin Rosskam

Additional Resources
on Religion in Schools





"Public schools can neither foster religion nor preclude it. Our public schools must treat religion with fairness and respect and vigorously protect religious expression as well as the freedom of conscience of all other students. In so doing our public schools reaffirm the First Amendment and enrich the lives of their students."

Secretary of Education 
Richard W. Riley

June 1998




Above photos are from the American Memory Collection at the Library of Congress


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