Teachers and Religion

Should religious parents care about the moral and religious values of teachers in public school? Many just assume that there will be no religious influence, but there is vast influence in the area of moral values at many levels. Does it matter?

For those who prefer that teachers have some basic respect for religion and moral values, there is some good news in the latest issue of Education Next. Robert Slater’s article, “American Teachers: What Values Do They Hold?” reports on teacher values based on extensive surveys. The report includes a section on the issue of religion showing that elementary and secondary education teachers in the US are more religious than average Americans and have a variety of views reflecting those religious roots. The article doesn’t explore religion at the university level, where I think there is a dramatic shift toward the less-religious side.

Here’s the section on religion:


God and religion play an important role in the lives of more than half of all Americans. In a study conducted by the European Values Study Group and World Values Survey Association, 58 percent of the U.S. population said that God was very important in their lives, a greater percentage by far than in the populations of other developed countries such as Great Britain (14 percent), France (8), Italy (33), Japan (7), Spain (17), or Germany (9).

Religion and education have always had a close relationship in the United States. The country’s first institution of higher education,Harvard College, was established in 1636 to train ministers. Many of the country’s first teachers were ministers and parsons. Even when women came to dominate the teaching field, religious values were still a priority. We should not be surprised if elementary and secondary school teachers value religion highly, perhaps even more highly than Americans in general. But do they?

According to the NORC survey data from the current decade, about 37 percent of teachers say they attend church one or more times per week,while 26 percent of other Americans say they do so. Controlling for the education of nonteachers does not affect this difference. Of those nonteachers with 16 or more years of schooling, 28 percent regularly attend church.

Looking at the data across the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s,we find that teachers are about 9 to 11 percentage points more likely than other Americans as a whole to pray one or more times per day. During the 1980s and 1990s, Americans were asked how close they felt to God. Teachers were about 8 percentage points more likely than other Americans to report feeling “extremely close” to God.

Why do teachers, by these measures, seem more religious than other Americans? Perhaps the differences are due to gender. Most teachers are women, and women are more likely than men to be frequent churchgoers and more likely to pray one or more times a day. In fact, we find teachers of both genders to be more religious than nonteachers. Female teachers are about 8 percentage points more likely to attend church frequently than female nonteachers, and male teachers are 16 percentage points more likely to attend church frequently than male nonteachers (see Figure 3 [in original article]). Teachers are apparently more religious than other Americans, regardless of gender or education.

Does teachers’ religious orientation translate into support for school prayer? Do they approve or disapprove of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that prohibits prayer in public schools? Given the priority that teachers tend to give to religion, we might reasonably expect to find them more disapproving of the ruling than other Americans.At the same time, however, teachers have a relatively high level of education, and the more education Americans have, the more they tend to approve of the Supreme Court’s ban on school prayer. In 2006 about 57 percent of nonteachers were against the Supreme Court’s ban on school prayer,while only 36 percent of teachers opposed it. But, again, the difference seems to be largely due to education. Looking at only those with 16 or more years of schooling,we see no significant difference between teachers and nonteachers, with slightly more than one-third of each group opposing it.

Those positive attitudes about religion among teachers arer definitely not reflected in textbooks, where religion is presented as a an irrelevant factor in modern life and an often negative factor in history. I think we should make efforts to balance that with the good news of what religion does and can do for society.

Of course, one has to be careful how one presents such ideas. Can you imagine what would happen if, say, a politician running for President suddenly started talking about God and religion in a positive way, and then went so far as to quote some of our Founding Fathers on the value of religion in society? Talk about a suicidal move!

Anyway, hats off to all you teachers who do your best to be good examples to students and to help them appreciate wholesome values without stepping on their own religious or irreligious background.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

15 thoughts on “Teachers and Religion

  1. “Can you imagine waht would happen if, say, a politician running for President suddenly started talking about God and religion in a positive way, and then went so far as to quote some of our Founding Fathers on the value of religion in society? Talk about a suicidal move!”

    What are you talking about? Have you paid any attention to the current, uh, you know, presidential election? Remember Mitt Romney’s speech, what was the point? Wasn’t religion mentioned a bit? Hasn’t Huckabee let the world know–and is running on– his religious beliefs? And, uh, what Founding Fathers quotes did you have in mind? I mean real quotes, not Parson Weem lies about George Washington, for example. They were Deists, the founding fathers; except for the occasional Atheist or Believer. What exactly is the point of lying (if by misrepresentation if nothing else) about the birth of wonderful country?

  2. Yes, that reference was about the heat Romney is taking for his speech and the John Adams quote. Some folks are in a real tizzy over that – as they are, perhaps to a less degree, at the thought of any serious Christian being elected.

  3. One election back, George Bush ran as a serious Christian, as did John
    Kerry. Two elections back, George Bush ran as a serious Christian, as
    did Al Gore. Three elections back, Bill Clinton ran as a serious
    Christian as did;as did OK, I don’t recall Bob Dole wearing his religion on his sleeve,
    though perhaps my memory is just failing. Who, what, are you talking

    I also did some googling, and as far as I can tell, whatever uproar
    was created was not from the Adams quote, who, btw, was a Unitarian,
    but from this remark “Freedom requires religion just as religion
    requires freedom. . . . Freedom and religion endure together, or
    perish alone.” which seems antithetical to the idea of …. “no
    religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office
    or public trust under the United States.” The Constitution of the
    United States, Article VI, Section III.

    No, I’m genuinely bewildered as to what you’re talking about here… religion is pervasive in our political discourse.

  4. Danger is out there in the schools. All it takes is one teacher to do damage. Your statistics would have been more meaningful had they been broken down into subjects taught.

    for instance—-guidance counselors can greatly sway students having personal difficulty. School nurses that take girls for PG testing at Planned parenthood (with the guidance counselor) exert great influence. And in my experience those two school positions are filled by the most liberal and non-churched people.

    Kids could really care less when they see an old curmudgeon like myself attend Mass.

    Those teachers (Guidance, Social workers etc.) have been given broad “parental” powers.

  5. Counselors that take students to Planned Parenthood for pregnancy tests? Where are you? At the schools my daughters attended, the nurses couldn’t give students aspirin. Really, where … this is a myth.

  6. djinn,

    Unfortunately this is not a myth. And you are right. You cannot give a child asprin or advil. It is NOT allowable to have a bottle of asprin in your locker.

    But, tell the Nurse or Counselor you may be PG—-and they can take you in their personal vehicle to Planned Parenthood. Or they can bring the pregnancy test to school. And they will respect the childs right to privacy.

  7. I’m now just curious; I have never heard of this happening. Where? Is this after school? When the nurses are not acting within the bounds of their employment? During school? Really?

  8. Djinn, there’s much more than just another urban legend to some of these problems. You should look at some of the monstrosities that have come from the abortion-rights crowd’s influence in the schools. Examples:

    For perspective on how long this kind of thing has been pushed, look at this 1991 New York Times article on a New York law to permit Planned Parenthood services to minors without parental consent.

    A more recent story involves a A middle school in Maine that was preparing to give birth control to 11-year-olds without parental consent.

    Actually, there are many states where you can get an abortion without parental consent. Not a legend at all!

  9. I don’t recall Romney being grilled by the media about his religious belief when he was running for the senate in 1994 or when he ran for and won the governorship of Mass. Rather, he is attempting to court those (evangelicals) who have not shown a great fondness for LDS in the past. It’s not media-run; its purely pragmatic on Romney’s part.

  10. There is no legend in my comments. In fact my comments were “restrained”.
    Yes—-those deeds are done during school time. The school staff in matters of pregnancy act as advocates for the student.

    I could go on and on—–however–it is best that I do not.

  11. Hm . . . hate to break up the flow, but I just wanted to comment on this quote from the article: “teachers are about 9 to 11 percentage points more likely than other Americans as a whole to pray one or more times per day.”

    I laughed out loud when I read that. Do they know what kind of crap teachers put up with all day long? Of course they’re praying at least once a day.

  12. In 1994, Romney was running as being relatively pro-choice. And he wasn’t running for President who would appoint Supreme Court justices. The mainstream media had bigger fish to fry at that time. And if her were pro-choice now, I don’t think they would make much of his religious views.

    Religion is only a threat when it’s conservative, pro-life religion. Then, look out!

  13. Nowadays there’s just so much filth and terrible habits kids are exposed to in school…I would definitely recommend homeschooling their children for parents that find it just unacceptable.
    (Research Homeschooling, at least to be informed!)

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