by Mike McHugh
I recently had the pleasure of reading a collection of writings for young people that was written in the year 1848. This old volume, simply entitled The English Reader – Pieces In Prose and Poetry, was commonly read by young students during this era as a part of their reading curriculum. What is so striking about the nature of this reading material is the extent to which it exposes young minds to the deep and profound issues of life from a distinctly biblical perspective. At no point, do the writers of this literature text attempt to minimize the central importance of Christian principles and virtue. In fact, such issues are consistently declared to be at the very core of man’s existence, and vital to preparing one for the life to come. The entire text (over two hundred pages) contains no pictures, and very tiny print. No apology is given for the fact that the book makes no effort whatsoever to entertain or amuse young readers. My, how things have changed in the field of education!
The schools of America in the nineteenth century were very different than today, for the simple reason that the entire society or culture was different. Back then, most people went to a Bible-centered church and were taught to regard education as a rare and valuable gift, instead of a birthright issued by the government. Back then, most people did not live past the age of fifty, and, therefore, young people did not have the luxury to take thirty years to start getting serious about preparing for the responsibilities of life. Back then, almost no citizen was under the illusion that education was “free”. Back then, education was not centered around making children comfortable and happy, but rather was focused upon the noble task of producing a skilled and virtuous work force. Back then, life was more of a battleground than a playground.
The goal and focus of reading material for students has indeed changed, because the American people now have a very different set of values and religious presuppositions. Take a few moments to note the following excerpts from the book mentioned above, so that you might comprehend the extent to which reading material has changed. As you read, it should become clear why America was once capable of producing generations of teenagers who were highly literate, mature, and profoundly virtuous.
Rules of Piety and Virtue
“Diligence, industry, and a proper management of time are among the most important duties of the young. When amusement become the steady business of young persons rather than a tool of relaxation, it is then highly pernicious.
The acquisition of knowledge is one of the most honorable occupations of youth.
Whatever useful or engaging talents we possess, virtue is requisite, in order that our lives may shine with proper luster. There is nothing, except simplicity of intention, and purity of principle, that can stand the test of strict examination.
Virtuous youth gradually brings forth an accomplished and flourishing manhood. In order to acquire a capacity for happiness, it must be our first priority to rectify inward sinful habits. No person who has yielded up the government of his mind, and given loose rein to his desires and passions, can truly tell how far and into what trouble they may carry him.
Truth and sincerity form the basis of every virtue. Whatever purifies, also fortifies the heart. When we have no pleasure in goodness, we may with certainty conclude the reason to be that our pleasure is all derived from an opposite quarter.
Disappointments and distress are often blessings in disguise. He who would act like a wise man, and build his house upon a rock, should contemplate human life not only in the sunshine, but also in the shade. The value of any possession is to be chiefly estimated by the relief which it can bring us in the time of our greatest need.
Change and alteration form the very essence of the world. A temperate spirit, and moderate expectations, are excellent safeguards of the mind in this uncertain and changing world.
True happiness is most often exhibited in a retired nature, and seldom is a friend to pomp and noise. The key to genuine contentment is not so much to have what you want, but to want what you have.
He who has nothing to give, can often provide relief to others by imparting what he feels. Compassionate affection in the face of human misery, even when it causes tears to flow from our eyes, still conveys benefits to the heart.
Time once past never returns: the moment which is lost, is lost forever. He that waits for the perfect opportunity to perform his duty, may waste away his life in idle wishes and wind up regretting his useless intentions. Let him who desires to see others happy, make haste to give while his gift can be enjoyed for every moment of delay takes away something from its value. As you contemplate each situation in life, always remember, “the night cometh, when no man can work.”
When we observe any tendency to treat religion or morality with disrespect and levity, let us hold it to be a sure indication of a perverted understanding, or a depraved heart. Among all of our corrupt passions, there is a strong and intimate connection. When any one of them is adopted into our soul, it seldom quits until it has gathered together all of its kindred.”
For over twenty-five years, I have had the pleasure to collect and study many of the most popular literature texts that were utilized by young people during the nineteenth century. Over the years I have observed that nearly all of these readers present material that is consistent with biblical Christianity, particularly when compared to more modern textbooks. In other words, it was not just a few of the more obscure literature texts from this period that espoused a biblical world and life view.
The values and worldview of a culture will inevitably be reflected in its literature, for as the Bible declares, “as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he …”.(Proverbs 23:7) Each generation reveals its true priorities and core beliefs in the realm of the arts and literature, for where a people’s treasure is, there shall their heart be also. When a people embrace a Christian worldview, this will gradually begin to emerge in very visible and tangible forms. This type of development will be but a reflection of the fact that many have been persuaded that the path to peace, joy, and fulfillment flow directly from the principles of God’s Word; from the God who spoke and said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest… and, “…I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” ( Matthew 11:28 & John 10:10) As the late Dr. R. J. Rushdoony once said, “Culture is but religion externalized.”
Biblical Christianity was once the primary culture carrier in the western world, and particularly in the United States. This fact is most conspicuous as one examines the history of politics, art, and literature in these countries. For nearly a century, however, many in Europe and North America have been in rebellion against the God of Holy Scripture, and have worked diligently to remove the influence of Christianity from their cultures. During this period of apostasy, a robust, behind-the-scenes battle for the right to control the content of educational textbooks ensued. The bad news for dedicated Christians, is that this battle was almost totally lost by 1950. The final blows in this battle within the U.S. took place in 1962,1964, as the United States Supreme Court ruled that Bible reading and prayer would no longer be tolerated in any government school. God and His Word were formally declared to be unfit for public consumption, in order that those who were intent on imposing a new religion of humanism and materialism could have free reign.
The good news for Christian parents living in the U.S. in the twenty-first century, is that the freedom still exists for you to get the children God has entrusted to you out of secular public or private schools. Oh to God, that more mothers and fathers would summon the courage to set their children’s minds free from all of the immoral, crude, and anti-Christ propaganda that is at the heart of secular school curriculums, so they might think on things that are true, and lovely, and praiseworthy! When parents decide to take a serious look at the destructive values and religious beliefs that their children are getting at school, in large measure through their literature texts, they will finally understand that it is past time for them to get their children into some form of Christian education.
In conclusion, it is no accident that children today are perishing due to a lack of biblical knowledge and loving accountability. Contrary to what many parents are told, the facts and information that children receive in secular schools are not neutral or unbiased with respect to religious beliefs. The facts that children are given will inevitably take on their meaning and significance in relationship to the philosophical framework in which they were presented. As Jesus taught, “He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.” (Matthew 12:30) More than ever before, it is critical for parents to recognize the lateness of the hour and make the moves that are necessary to save their children’s minds from those who are intent on undermining their faith and destroying their souls. The good, old, and infallible wisdom of the Holy Scriptures still lights the path of every true believer, and reminds such ones that: “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.” (Psalm 1:1-2)
Copyright 2008 Michael J. McHugh
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