FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND PUBLIC EDUCATION

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Chairs and desks in a classroom

Groothuis spends the majority of his book squaring off with New Age from a conservative Christian perspective. But in his discussion on education in America, he raises some good and critical points relevant to Americans of all faiths. And even those without faith, the American tax payers who fund public education. Groothuis spends a good deal of time targeting New Age elements in education, which in my opinion can be classed as flavors or at best themes rather than coordinated indoctrination. I don’t find it biased or unfair as Christian flavors and themes undoubtedly make it into classrooms too.

Where Groothuis gets interesting is his question as to making a public education system fair to those of varying belief systems. Solution one: leave all religion, including New Age and secular humanism, out. Then, supposedly, children can have a clean slate to learn free from any religious inclinations or influence. Then it’s not what message the material sends, but what the lack of material says. The problem with an education system that says ‘nothing’ on religion is the same as secularism. It doesn’t say ‘nothing’, it says religion is to be shut out, forgotten and silenced. Here, Groothuis and I agree that this is not a favourable solution. Solution two: present all religions as equal in an unbiased light. Yet this is no solution for those like Groothuis who claim their religion to be exclusively right and good. And the view can go both ways. For example, New Age parents may not appreciate Christianity being presented as a viable option.

Given the no-win situation put forth by these solutions, Groothuis questions a mandatory public education system that cannot possibly stay in accordance with the beliefs and religious inclinations of taxpayers. Is the system that exists fair? And is there any realistic remedy (143)? The alternative here being privatization. Yes, this would be more ‘fair’ but would it not estrange diverse Americans and breed further ignorance and animosity? While Groothuis looks to solve the problem of preserving tradition and ideology, his solution may exacerbate other issues in American society.

 

Groothuis, Douglas. Confronting the New Age: How to resist a growing spiritual movement. 1988. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.

 

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