Cover image for Between church and state : religion and public education in a multicultural America
Between church and state : religion and public education in a multicultural America
Fraser, James W., 1944-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
278 pages ; 23 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
LC111 .F68 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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The relationship of religion and public education is, once again, a burning issue, with renewed debates about school prayer, ways to teach the Bible, and the relationship of religion and science. Though too few people know about it, battles over the proper relationship of religion to public education have gone on in the United States for as long as there have been public schools. At the most basic level, the debates about the relationship are debates about the nature of democratic culture. Who defines the dominant culture of the nation? How are minority rights and traditions protected? How are the deepest, and sometimes most diverse, issues of faith reconciled with the very public and common nature of schooling? How, after all, do we find a way for the school to be the public square where respectful and informed conversation can happen around beliefs which are both deeply held and radically different from individual to individual and sub-group to sub-group?Between Church and Stateexplores these issues in terms of historical context, contemporary public policy debates, and practical steps for educators and other concerned citizens.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Fraser accessibly recounts the relations of religion and education in the U.S., from disestablishment in the late eighteenth century to the common school movement in the nineteenth century to growing involvement of the federal government, including the courts, in twentieth-century controversies over school vouchers, prayer, and creationism. He rightly notes that religion has been thoroughly entangled with public education throughout U.S. history and that "secular" solutions have often been grudging compromises rather than products of philosophical consensus. Fraser highlights the extent to which public schools have served historically as means of enculturation to a Protestant mainstream. That U.S. public education has, then, often meant Protestant education may help readers better understand deeply rooted controversies that continue to flavor debate about Catholic schools in particular and school choice in general. In a multicultural society, indoctrination is problematic and enculturation is complex; schooling and religion put both into play, often in conflicting ways. The better understanding of the history of the conflict that Fraser enables should aid the civility with which it is conducted. --Steven Schroeder

Publisher's Weekly Review

In a book that works better as history than as commentary (but attempts both), Fraser, a professor of history and education at Northeastern University, addresses the thorny relationship between religion and education in America. From Puritan times until recently, he demonstrates, Americans invited God into the classroom. But the terms of that invitation were never clear. Each colony organized its public schools around its own predominant faith, so nationhood brought a dilemma: Whose religion should be taught? The prominent Massachusetts educator Horace Mann offered a solution: use the Bible to inculcate a generic Unitarian faith. But this alienated other Protestants, not to mention freethinkers and Catholics. Later in the 19th century, the influx of Jews, Eastern European Catholics, African-Americans and Native Americans into public education made Mann's faith in a one-size-fits-all religiosity hopelessly na‹ve. Fraser goes to great lengths to show that even the simplest religious exercise, such as a start-of-the-schoolday prayer, could be unavoidably problematic for many faiths represented in America's classrooms. But while he acknowledges the "potential for cultural tyranny" by groups such as the Christian Coalition, he argues against the current style of purely secular public education and in favor of a "multicultural" approach in which all faiths would have a "place at the table." Fraser offers no specifics about the substance of such an approach, however. Nor does he explain how to avoid the divisiveness that nearly derailed religion-based public education in a less culturally diverse time, two centuries ago. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Ordained minister and professor Fraser (history, Northeastern Univ.) has penned a vibrant account of the historic tension between American public schools and established religion. The root of the problem, he argues, is society's inability to define precise and predictable boundaries for allowing religious expressions in schools. To demonstrate this, Fraser traces education history from the 17th through the 20th centuries, pausing occasionally to examine some key turning points, including the arrival of Catholic and Jewish immigrants and the introduction of the theory of evolution to school curriculum. Instead of resolving this conflict, Fraser contends, over time we've forged an uneasy truce whereby public education is, for the most part, devoid of any religion at all. The result, he suggests, is intellectual and spiritual impoverishment. Fraser's work is best read for historical perspective; he proposes few concrete policy suggestions. Still, it is a lively and timely history. Recommended for most public libraries.ÄSteven Anderson, Gordon Feinblatt Rothman Hoffberger & Hollander, Towson, MD (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Divided into ten roughly chronological chapters, Fraser (Northeastern Univ.) tries to determine how a diverse and democratic society can deal with issues of religion in public schools. Simple tolerance is not enough if it implies the superiority of one view. Instead, he prefers a type of tolerance that is based on the view that all citizens can learn from each other. The chapters begin with the colonial experience in America and shift to the common school movement, especially as it appeared in Ohio with such people as Lyman Beecher, Calvin Stowe, and William McGuffey. In two chapters, he considers the evolution of African American churches from 1802 to 1902 and Native American religion from 1819 to 1926. Chapters 7, 8, and 9 look at the problems associated with newly arrived immigrants from 1875 to 1925, prayer and Bible reading in schools from 1925 to 1968, and what he calls the Reagan revolution. The conclusion considers possibilities for the future. Other treatments of similar concerns include Religion and Schooling in Contemporary America, ed. by Thomas Hunt and James Carper (CH, May'98), or Warren A. Nord's Religion and American Education (CH, Oct'95). Recommended for general readers, upper-division undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty. J. Watras; University of Dayton

Table of Contents

Part I The School as Carrier of the Culture: A History of Religion and Public Education in the United States, 1607-1980
Part II The Politics of Religion and Public Education, 1980-2000
Part III Religion and Education in the Twenty-First Century--Pressing Issues
Part I1 The School as Carrier of the Culture: A History of Religion and Public Education in the United States, 1607-1980
Part II The Politics of Religion and Public Education, 1980-2000
Part III Religion and Education in the Twenty-First Century--Pressing Issues