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.