Billy Graham: Going Backward

The consequences of a godless educational system

Billy Graham: Going Backward

The consequences of a godless educational system

Christian schools at all levels are facing intense pressure to ignore God’s Word and embrace immorality. More than 60 years ago, Billy Graham recognized the moral and spiritual devastation caused by so-called progressive education. His message, preached in 1959, has lost none of its relevance for students, parents and educators today


It is not unusual for a college to have a week of evangelistic meetings. Some years ago, it was my privilege to conduct a Crusade at Cambridge University in England, and later to conduct an evangelistic Crusade at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

A hundred years ago, Yale, Dartmouth and Princeton had a philosophy of education similar to strong Christian colleges today. But something happened to these great universities. Through a series of circumstances, they left their original moorings.

Since the advent of John Dewey, an insidious movement has been set in motion to undermine our traditional educational system. Stealthily and methodically, self-styled progressives have made great changes in our philosophy of education. They have used the classroom as a soapbox for their gospel of the new social order. And as writers of the nation’s textbooks, they are to a large degree responsible for the mass departure from traditional ideals and Biblical morals.

These so-called progressives have substituted instinct for knowledge, and emotion for reason. They contend that the old, the tried and proven and the heritages of the past must be replaced by new ideas. They scoff at the concept of a vital, personal faith in God. They belittle the framers of our Constitution in the eyes of our nation’s students. They decry our system of government as out-of-date and unfit for moderns.

While John Dewey is recognized as the father of this movement, its teachings are anything but new—much less progressive! Textbook makers have drawn from the writings of Thomas Huxley, Charles Darwin, Herbert Spencer and even on occasion Karl Marx. These so-called intellectuals brook no authority, make no allowances for the lessons of the past and scoff at traditional beliefs and morals.

You may have wondered why children lose their faith when they go off to college; why they become confused in their thinking and drift from their moral moorings. We are told that they have “learned better,” but the truth is that through the process of “progressive education” they have learned worse!

They regard man not as created in the image of God, but as a biological organism whose development is determined entirely from external stimuli. Through textbooks that are standard in many of our educational institutions, these exponents of progressive education advocate the following:

First, since man is solely physical, or animal, the spiritual concept of the soul is false, and beliefs about truth, ethics and morality are purely relative.

Second, they say that since the above is to be accepted as fact, we waste time if we look to religion for standards of conduct, ethics and truth.

Third, if there are no external verities, it follows that education should not be burdened with the knowledge and experience of the past. Man’s concern with the present is the only important thing. “Don’t think of history,” says the progressive; “that is past.” Then he says, “Don’t think of the future; for when you’re dead, you’re dead.” Hence, in one bold stroke these people try to sweep away all the history that the church and the Bible have taught through the centuries. The sad fact is that by systematic infiltration of our educational system, they have succeeded in convincing millions.

They have struck hard at two very vital areas of our American way of life.

First, our political life.

Don’t think for a minute that I believe that our form of government is the acme of perfection! We have many faults, weaknesses and imperfections. It is right and proper that we should recognize these and not condone them. But these progressives who have had such a devastating influence on the present education system actually despair of and make light of our traditional political concepts.

These “debunkers” of our American way of life have tiptoed into our classrooms and have put over a philosophy that is completely contradictory to our traditional way of life. They make fun of our Founding Fathers, teaching that our Constitution was framed by a privileged few who were out to feather their own nests. And this is done in the sanctity of the classroom—unbeknownst to the faithful and loyal American parents who foot the bills for our education!

For example, in one book, the question is raised: “Is the United States a land of opportunity for all people?” Then the insidious answer, which reads like a Soviet indoctrination paper, says: “The United States is not a land of opportunity for all our people, for one-fifth of the people do not earn any money at all. … The majority do not have any real security.”

Then they proceed, through their textbooks, to disillusion children of any preconceived ideas that America has a glorious history, or that the Founding Fathers were men of good intent. Rather, they teach that our form of society was designed to benefit only the minority of well-to-do citizens. The chief impression that the child gets through these false prophets of “progressive education” is that Washington and Jefferson and the others who founded this nation and helped to shape its ideals were members of the ruling class! The magnitude of their public service, their high ideals and the extent of their personal sacrifice are hardly mentioned.

However, the greatest thrust has been against religion! For well do these “progressive planners” know the close relationship between faith and freedom.

Horace Mann, the revered author of many of our honored educational ideals in America, said: “I hold it to be one of the laws of God that the talents of man can be developed in the best way and can produce the most beneficial results only when they are in full conscience with all the precepts and principles of religion. The pursuit of knowledge and science is the pursuit of truth.”

How different, this, from the teaching of John Dewey, the apostle of “change and progressivism,” who said: “As a drowning man grasps for a straw, so men, who lack instruments and skills, developed in later days, snatched at whatever, by any stretch of the imagination, could be regarded as a source of help in time of trouble. In such an atmosphere … religion was born and is fostered.”

This statement of Dewey has “Karl Marx” written across it. Marx said, “Religion is the sighing of a creature oppressed by misfortune, it is the soul of the world that has no heart, as it is the intelligence of an unintelligent epoch. It is the opium of the people.”

Separation of church and state was never meant to separate schoolchildren from God! This trend of extricating God and moral teachings from the school is a diabolical scheme, and is bearing its fruit in the deluge of juvenile delinquency that is overwhelming our nation. As the Bible says: “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (Jeremiah 31:29).

This is the basis of much of the terrifying teenage crime that is taking place in our metropolitan areas today. We have ruled out moral convictions and taken God from the hearts of our young people. They have no rock upon which to build their lives. They are floundering, restless and confused. This is one of the reasons the nation is being flooded with an abnormal obsession with sex that could eventually destroy this country.

Of all the ideas that shape the destinies of people, the religious concept is basic. By religion, I mean neither sectarianism nor secular dogma, but the broad need for people to understand their existence and relationship to their Maker. Humans need to worship, need incitement to love, and above all need a spiritual rebirth and the reconciliation offered by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Our Republic was born in a religious atmosphere. Every thinking American recognizes the influence of true Christianity upon our national life.

Justice William Douglas declared to New York’s board of higher education in 1953: “God’s order in man’s world includes a moral code, based upon man’s nature and not subject to man’s repeal, suspension or amendment.”

Education, progressive or otherwise, cannot fill the void of men’s hearts. Neither can secular success or social and economic security. You cannot void the fact of God by a cleverly worded phrase as attempted by Karl Marx or John Dewey. Across your life is indelibly written: “Made in the image of God.” And try as you might, you can never get away from it!

The Christian faith gives man something that he needs even when he has obtained all other things. This is the ultimate certainty that neither science nor philosophy can supply.

The cross of Christ is now, and always has been, “foolishness” to a world that is too arrogant to accept a Superior. But this fact remains: Those who have put their faith in the merits of Jesus Christ have found something that cannot be found in human philosophy and secular society.

Solomon, who was the greatest of all the men of his day, said: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). Learning minus God equals confusion and chaos—just as a house with good design minus a foundation equals disaster.

You, with millions of others, have been caught in the vortex of self-styled progressivism. Perhaps you have said: “Something deep inside me yearns for God, but the textbooks have told me that I am just another animal bound for oblivion. Why should I take up all the restrictions of the Christian faith, when I will die like an animal?”

Don’t you believe it! Your conscience, your reason and the signposts of history point to the all-important fact of God! Even now, the Holy Spirit is saying to you, “You ought to get right with God. You need God. You ought to live for Him.”

You were not made for frustration. You were not made to be a confused animal. You were not made to be torn apart by temptation and shot through with sin and its consequences. You were made for God!

Jesus said—and this is more true than the Law of Gravity—“He who has the Son has life” (1 John 5:12). Do you have Jesus Christ? Have you trusted Him for salvation? Have you said goodbye to those forces of selfishness, lust and sin that seek to destroy you? You can do it today. You can accept Christ and experience His peace and joy in your heart. Jesus said, “The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37). Do it now, before it’s too late! ©1959 BGEA


Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version. 

Above: Billy Graham speaks with students in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1972.

Photo: Russ Busby/©1972 BGEA

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