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From Essays, Literary, Moral and Philosophical by Benjamin Rush:
It is now several months since I promised to give you my reasons for preferring the Bible as a schoolbook, to all other compositions. I shall not trouble you with an apology for my delaying so to comply with my promise but shall proceed immediately to the subject of my letter.
Before I state my arguments in favor of teaching children to read by means of the Bible I shall assume the five following propositions:
I. That Christianity is the only true and perfect religion and that in proportion as mankind adopt its principles, and obey its precepts, they will be wise, and happy.
II. That a better knowledge of this religion is to be acquired by reading the Bible, than in any other way.
III. That the Bible contains more knowledge necessary to man in his present state than any other book in the world .
IV. That knowledge is most durable, and religious instruction most useful, when imparted early in life.
V. That the Bible, when not read in schools, is seldom read in any subsequent period of life.
My arguments in favor of the use of the Bible as a schoolbook are founded: In the constitution of the human mind.
I. The memory is the first faculty which opens in the minds of children. Of how much consequence, then, must it be, to impress it with the great truths of Christianity before it is preoccupied with less interesting subjects! As all the liquors, which are poured into a cup, generally taste of that which first filled it, to all the knowledge, which is added to that which is treasured up in the memory from the Bible, generally receives an agreeable and useful tincture from it.
II. There is a peculiar aptitude in the minds of children for religious knowledge I have constantly found them in the first six or seven years of their lives, more inquisitive upon religious subjects, than upon any others: and an ingenious instructor of youth has informed me, that he has found young children more capable of receiving just ideas upon the most difficult tenets of religion, than upon the most simple branches of human knowledge. It would be strange if it were otherwise; for God creates all his means to suit all his ends. There must of course be a fitness between the human mind, and the truths which are essential to its happiness.
III. The influence of prejudice is derived from the impressions, which are made upon the mind in early life; prejudices are of two kinds, true and false. In a world where false prejudices do so much mischief, it would discover great weakness not to oppose them, by much as are true.
I grant that many men have rejected the prejudices derived from the Bible: but I believe no man ever did so, without having been made wiser or better, by the early operation of these prejudices upon his mind. Every just principle that is to be found in the writings of Voltaire, is borrowed from the Bible: and the morality of the Deists, which has been so much admired and praised, is, I believe, in most cases, the effect of habits, produced by early instruction in the principles of Christianity.
IV. We are subject, by a general law in our natures, to what is called habit. Now if the study of the scriptures be necessary to our happiness at any time of our lives, the sooner we begin to read them, the more we shall be attached to them; for it is peculiar to all the acts of habit, to become easy, strong and agreeable by repetition.
V. It is a law in our natures, that we remember longest the knowledge we acquire by the greatest number of our senses. Now a knowledge of the contents of the Bible is acquired in school by the aid of the eyes and the ears; for children after getting their lessons, always say them to their masters in an audible voice; of course there is a presumption, that this knowledge will be retained much longer than if it had been acquired in any other way.
July 21, 2013 Sunday at 9:12 pm