Origins of secular education in New York

Mary L. Dudziak at Legal History Blog reports a new article on the rise of secular education:

Ian C. Bartrum, Vermont Law School, has posted a new article, The Origins of Secular Public Education: The New York School Controversy, 1840-1842. It is forthcoming in the NYU Journal of Law & Liberty.

The abstract from SSRN:

As the title suggests, this article explores the historical origins of secular public education, with a particular focus on the controversy surrounding the Catholic petitions for school funding in nineteenth-century New York City. The article first examines the development of Protestant nonsectarian common schools in the northeast, then turns to the New York controversy in detail, and finally explores that controversy’s legacy in state constitutions and the Supreme Court. It is particularly concerned with two ideas generated in New York: (1) Bishop John Hughes’ objection to nonsectarianism as the “sectarianism of infidelity”; and (2) New York Secretary of State John Spencer’s proposed policy of “absolute non-intervention” in school religion. The article traces these ideas through the 1960s school prayer decisions, where they appear as Justice Stewart’s objections to “the religion of secularism,” and the general contention that disestablishment requires only that the government not favor one religion over another. In the process, it examines the conceptual problems that arise when we try to enforce religious neutrality by exclusion, rather than inclusion. Ultimately, the article concludes that the Court chose exclusive neutrality, not because it best served the constitutional mandate, but because it forwarded a social policy – begun with the common schools – that treats public schools as nationalizing institutions. Thus, I contend that the Court has chosen to promote cultural assimilation over authentic freedom of conscience.

Yeah, that ought to provoke some discussion.

3 Responses to Origins of secular education in New York

  1. Ed Darrell says:

    You’ve got angry students, Michael? Isn’t that a symptom that you’re doing something right in the classroom?

    I am reminded of my rediscovery of the active tense in writing, when I wrote news stories and press releases, and speeches. Especially speeches and press releases. Passive words carried news. Active verbs made people do something, or want to do something — as in the old summary of Plutarch’s comparison of Cicero and Demosthenes: When Cicero spoke, the people said how well he spoke; when Demosthenes spoke, the people said, “Let us march!”

    I remember my anger at those old American literature texts. Of course, that was during Vietnam, and the context was different.

    Anger is better than indifference. What is it about the text that makes them so angry?


  2. I’ve been thinking about the trickiness of thinking or saying much of anything at all, while maintaining a strict neutrality to religion.


  3. jd2718 says:

    Seems wholly consonant with Karl Kaestle’s thesis in PIllars of the Republic.

    Not that I am rushing out to read the paper.


Please play nice in the Bathtub -- splash no soap in anyone's eyes. While your e-mail will not show with comments, note that it is our policy not to allow false e-mail addresses. Comments with non-working e-mail addresses may be deleted.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: