Did you know that the Sunday School movement began in the 1700’s in Europe and then migrated to the US in the 1800’s? The purpose was not to teach the Bible but to teach the thousands of children and young people, who had to work long hours six days of the week in the sweat shops, how to read, write and count. Labor laws for the control of child exploitation were not settled until the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938 in the United States. The road to freedom for children was long and difficult. By 1810 there were 2 million children working 12-18 hours a day 6 days a week in America.
Sunday was the only day children had off from work. The churches reached out to the illiterate children to teach them how to read and write. From many traditions reformed and otherwise, the Bible was used as a teaching text. The churches worked together to enlighten the children by teaching them reading so that they could read and become leaders because leaders are readers. They would teach the great values and principles for life found in the Biblical texts. No one ever went wrong by hiding the word of God in their hearts.
Compulsory education was formally established in Massachusetts in 1852. The McGuffey Readers were introduced into the educational system in 1843 and were used as teaching texts. These books were the best selling books in America apart from the Bible.
Times have certainly changed. Today there are laws about using children in the labor force. There are forces that take issue with teaching Biblical values to children. Those who reject the values of the Bible hide behind the shield that the Bible is a religious book proposing that any reference to the Bible in the public school system is proselytizing.
Deeply embedded in the heritage and hearts of humankind, no matter what they are proposing, are the values born out of those foundational generations beginning with the ten commandments and the great admonition to “love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself.” Without this foundation for the law, a nation governed by the law would never have been created. If you really knew the Bible you would find that the Bible is not primarily a religious book. It is a book of divine principles upon which to build a proper social structure.
Harvard started out as a divinity school. Yale started out as a divinity school. Princeton started out as a divinity school. The public school system started out as a place where values were taught. The capacity to read, write, use math, and build one’s individual destiny was enhanced and realized.
All this became an extension of the responsibility of the home. It is within the family structure and not the public arena where values are best transferred from generation to generation. Where has it all gone? Today people are trying to address education without the foundation for faith and spirit that historically set our children on a strong moral and spiritual platform for life. We cannot preserve a free society unless we understand that it is through obedience to God’s word that the world is set free to fulfill the work that God has created for us to do.