In my book, Is Public Education Necessary?, I pointed out how the public school movement was promoted in the 1830s and ‘40s by the Owenite communists, the Harvard Unitarians, and the Protestant evangelicals. The Owenites wanted to use the public schools as a means of turning young Americans into little communists who would as adults turn America into a communist or socialist society. The Harvard Unitarians wanted to use the government schools as the means of getting the Calvinist religion out of education. And the Protestant evangelicals, alarmed by heavy Catholic immigration, wanted to use the public schools as a means of turning Catholic children into Protestants and as a means of maintaining America’s basic Protestant culture.
It should be noted that the Protestant participation in the movement was conditional. Indeed, the organized Protestants of Massachusetts spelled out those conditions in a report issued in 1849 that made it quite clear that if they found that the experiment of public education in any way had a negative effect on the students’ religious beliefs, they would withdraw their support. They wrote:
The benefits of this system, in offering instruction to all, are so many and so great that its religious deficiencies — especially since they can be otherwise supplied, do not seem to be a sufficient reason for abandoning it, and adopting in place of it, a system of denominational parochial schools....
If after a full and faithful experiment, it should at last be seen that fidelity to the religious interests of our children forbids a further patronage of the system, we can unite with the Evangelical Christians in the establishment of private schools, in which more full doctrinal religious instruction may be possible.
But, until we are forced to this result, it seems to us desirable that the religious community do all in their power to give an opportunity for a full and fair experiment of the existing system, including not only the common schools, but also the Normal Schools and the Board of Education.
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Sam Blumenfeld (photo)