'Religion Packaged as Psychology'
As the assistant director of an organization that is among those leading the charge in conservative educational philosophy, it seems appropriate for me to respond to Stephen Arons's recent Commentary, "The Great Secular-Humanism Debate Reveals a Truth About Public Schooling" (Oct. 16, 1985). Apparently neither he nor a significant portion of the public understands what is at the heart of this issue.
The thrust of Mr. Arons's argument is that "secular humanism" is an invention of the "New Right" that is being used to undermine public education. Most of his argument is based on the popular liberal assumption that conservatives' principal criticism of public education is simply that it fails to transmit Christian fundamentalist values.
While it is true that a primary concern of conservatives--and indeed of mainstream America--is the breakdown of the social and moral fabric of society, the basic problem with humanism is that it is being packaged as psychology in an attempt to avoid being attacked as a religion. The result is that our public schools are transmitting an atheistic man-as-God dogma that runs counter to nearly every religious belief held in this country.
Let me explain.
Humanism's creed and articles of "faith," signed by its creators Paul Kurtz and Edwin H. Wilson and a list of other eminent adherents, are set out in two short, easily obtainable documents known as The Humanist Manifesto I (1933) and The Humanist Manifesto II (1973). If you examine carefully the contents of these documents and a number of popular teacher-training and classroom-methodology texts--among them, Values Clarification: A Handbook of Practical Strategies for Teachers and Students (1972), by Sidney Simon, Leland 6Howe, and Howard Kirschenbaum, and the National Education Association's Values Education (1976), by Michael Silver--you will find a perfect match; and as a matter of fact, the texts don't make any bones about that fact.
On page 79 of Values Education, for instance, the author says the techniques discussed are "rooted in the approaches and techniques of humanistic psychology and the human-potential movement as applied to education," and several references name humanism's authors and proponents.
The fact is that in just 15 years, humanistic techniques have virtually replaced cognitive learning in the public schools. Conservatives not only view this development as an unprecedented social and moral disaster, but are also outraged that the public is being deceived into thinking these techniques are scientific. They are not. When the U.S. Supreme Court cited secular humanism as a religion in Torcasso v. Watkins (1961), the Court was recognizing that in form--particularly in the context of what it called a "world view"--the philosophy of humanism qualifies as a religion.
What is being ousted from our nation's classrooms, then, is not "sectarianism," but theistic religion.
But there is something more insidious at work here. And frankly, I for one have trouble understanding how this point can be missed by so many.
With our theistic religious values go many of the principles that have made our American form of democracy work: high standards of fair play, respect for the individual, the role of personal conscience. We tend to forget that revolutionaries in other countries have from time to time espoused the same principles that Americans do in the Bill of Rights; but, as in Russia, once they got into power, all the noble pronouncements about free speech, free press, and right of assembly were denounced.
Why? It is simply that the sanctity of the individual has to be in the spiritual atmosphere of a nation's people, in their hearts and souls, passed down from one generation to another. Words on a piece of paper aren't good enough.
The U.S. Constitution makes certain spiritual assumptions about human beings. It assumes that man is sensible and basically good-natured. It assumes that he is honest and trustworthy. Most previous civilizations, and certainly Third World and Communist countries today, are based on precisely the opposite assumptions.
The Constitution is completely unworkable unless people are self-reliant, self-determined, and resourceful. It is because the people of the United States are products of an ethical heritage and teaching that emphasize such values that our fledgling nation has succeeded in leading humanity in the establishment of personal liberty. If we expect to continue to serve as a beacon of hope, future generations must be taught to appreciate these values.
Babies do not come into the world with such values stamped on their chromosomes. Such ethical nuances arise from a belief in something nobler--from Judeo-Christian principles, which, regardless of one's sectarian preferences, must be recognized as having catapulted mankind thousands of years ahead of where it would have been had civilization continued as it was.
In other words, whatever else one might want to attribute to Judeo-Christian theology, it cannot be called a philosophy of despair.
By contrast, what does the humanist philosophy teach?
It teaches collectivism: collective conscience, collective property ownership, the ethics of convenience, a brand of "global consciousness" that would redistribute the resources of "wealthy" nations to those countries that have demonstrated the least success in utilizing such largesse in the interests of their people.
Humanism is the same old saw that has misled thousands of well-intentioned societies: the good of the state over the good of the individual, physical gratification over spiritual gratification, security over the bracing, risk-filled venture of freedom.
Take a look at a public-school literature textbook. Page after page of stories emphasizing the seamiest side of life: guilt, drugs, despair, running away, divorce, mental illness, the occult, teen-age pregnancy, abortion, hate, suicide, suffering. Go into classrooms and hear the teachers' presentations: a depressing core of psychological calisthenics, survival games, nuclear-war hysteria, sensitivity training, and role-playing--all geared to the group, never to the individual.
Humanism means collectivization of the individual. It means group action is to replace individual action. It means personal ethics and values are appropriate only so long as the group approves of them. It means personal initiative is to be replaced with security--compliments of the state. It means if Mommy and Daddy want to fill your head with that Supreme Being nonsense, fine; but you'd better not get caught bringing it to school.
Vol. 5, Issue 12, Page 16