Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Christian Education in the Seventies

Post 1 in the series found here.

Before we dive into the 1970s, I have a question for you. If you read about the origins of Sunday school, and how it all changed when public education became more commonplace....then there is something else you must consider. Who taught children to read, write and do arithmetic before? Who taught them morals before? Who taught them religious theology before? Who was responsible for teaching children all this stuff before Sunday schools and public schools came into the picture?

Any guesses?

Now....let's move on and come back to that later. Just wanted you to think about that.

The reason I'm jumping all the way to the 70s is because that's what I know. I was raised in the 70s (and 80s) and my experience in Sunday school is what I can talk about. I grew up in church. Went every Sunday morning, every Sunday evening, and every Wednesday night. If the doors were open, there we were--and 20 minutes early to boot. I know your experience will be different if you grew up in a different type of church than I did, but here is how it went for me.

You started out in the Cradle Roll department. I have no idea why they called it that. They did not roll us around in cradles as far as I know. Promptly at 9:00 on Sunday mornings and 7:00 on Wednesday evenings, I was dropped off in the nursery and cared for by a lady named Mimi. Mimi kept babies at our church from the time Moses was a child until Paul the apostle was an adult. Or so it seemed. When you were old enough to sit up at the table, or in little jumpy chairs, you learned lessons from Winky Bear. I loved Winky Bear.
(That's baby S being patted on by Mimi in the cradle roll department, circa 1970.)

After that, you moved to the Preschool Department, then the Primary Department, then the Junior Department, etc. There were always teachers, songs, Bibles, a Bible lesson, prayers, memorization, stickers on a chart for remembering to bring things and do things, and even open house. I well remember putting on a skit of Elijah and the prophets of Baal for our parents on open house Sunday (they let the adult classes out early that day). I remember it well because we were in the 5th and 6th grade class and I got to be Elijah and S has to be one of the prophets of Baal and dance around pretending to cut himself. He thought I got the better part.

I should tell you this. Before I was born, or when I was an infant, our Sunday school changed DRAMATICALLY. My mom was one of the teachers or department heads on the Sunday they made the big change and she remembers waking up with a headache that morning because she was so nervous. Here's the deal: they changed from children sitting in rows of desks (yes, at Sunday school) and the teacher writing on the board in front of them, to "open concept" and "learning centers." They were way ahead of their time. Our church's education minister used all the current educational philosophy and transformed our Bible class time.

When I was in the preschool department, we moved from room to room (there were movable walls within the larger room to partition off separate rooms) and did different activities. I remember my mom led singing time in one room. Mr. John and Mrs. Mary Ann told the Bible story in the next room with a puppet that was a worm inside of a nest. If we were too noisy he got scared and wouldn't come out. They also used flannel boards. Then we went to the art center and cut out pictures from magazines and glued them on paper or something like that. Then we went to the play center and helped Mr. Norman take care of baby dolls while he talked with us about how God cares for us. The activities within each center varied. There were also puppets called Pibb and Charley and one of them got torn and Mom brought it home to sew it up and I thought we were clearly the luckiest family alive because Pibb and Charley were at our house!

Still, even with our radical new Sunday school format, many things remained from the old days. Like I mentioned: charts with stickers for attendance, Bible verse memorization, remembering your Bible, etc. We got prizes for memorizing the books of the Bible (Old and New). We had teachers, circle time, music time, a lesson, were divided by grade level, and took a paper home each time. It was a lot like school, only without a report card. Oh, and if you got in trouble, you got taken to your parents' class instead of the office.

Now, how much of this was a hold over from the original Sunday schools I do not know. It interests me to find out what happened in the 70+ years between yesterday's post and my experience in the 70s. Tomorrow I will share with you what I find out.

Next post in series here.


  1. from what I know cradle roll was originally a program- starting with infants and a way to teach them about God with a series of songs. Today they still use this program in many churches and i drove all the way to Dallas to learn about it to implement it at LIFE. It is an amazing program, but takes alot of people and you gotta sing! But great program!

    Your sunday school sounds about like mine! In fact pretty much exact minus Pibbs and Charley. Although we did have other puppets! wooden blocks dominated and all the rooms had those wood kitchens to play with. I remember stickers then they got wise to STAMPS and we started getting hand stamps! Very economical and green of them! Oh and snacks... little dixie cups and peanut butter crackers or vanilla wafers! yummo!

  2. It will be interesting to see what you find. I was raised Catholic. I went to Catholic school with the nuns, and we had religion classes in school every day. Public school kids who were Catholic got religious instruction from the nuns in Sunday School just before the 9:00 a.m. "Children's Mass." "Children's Mass" was simply a regular mass, no different from any other mass, but children were encouraged to attend THAT mass rather than the other ones (we had a large parish, with a mass every hour on the hour from 7:00 a.m. till 1:00 p.m.), because that was the mass where the nuns were in attendance and could keep an eye on the kids. Us Catholic school kids were REQUIRED to attend the 9:00 a.m. "Children's Mass," and God help you if you attended a different one at another time. Mary R.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Mary, where I taught in the 90s was majority Catholic (but a very small town) and I know those students got a very good religious education in the form of "CCE" classes. They were held on weeknights.

  5. Nice posting at blog spot blog Nice blog and excellent post i really appreciate on hard work.

    Dissertation writing
    Literature review
    Dissertation Sample

  6. My parents were Catholic, but only three times a year did they go. Mothers Day, Easter and Christmas. I never attended Sunday School or even church on a regular basis till I was 30 years old.

  7. Personally, I love Sunday School when done right. I love it for the kids, and I love it for my husband and I. Only it's wrong if it takes place only for children during the main worship service. Ours is BEFORE church, and children and everyone else go to church together. I'm totally against children's church and stuff like that. But Sunday School, for all ages, before church, can be awesome. My boys love it too.

    Some kind of at least private schools have been around since Bible times. Paul was not home schooled...he was schooled privately by rich and famous men. So some kind of structured schooling has been around at least that long.

    Hannah did not home school her son, in fact she handed Samuel over to the high priest to be raised.

    I know you haven't talked much about any of this yet, but I think that's probably where you are headed...trying to make out that kids were only home schooled before the event of public schools, but that is not so.

    I'm actually thinking of home schooling mine now, at least until they enter the first grade. One of my sons is advanced in academics and I don't want them dumbing him down and holding him back. We'd love to afford a private school one day.

  8. Mrs. W--I guess I didn't word my question very well. I was thinking of "in America." Yes, you are correct. Paul would have been educated outside of the home as all Jewish boys were. And that's not quite my final conclusion....I'm getting there.

  9. Yes, I received a good religious instruction in Catholic school. Lots of memorization in the Catechism, however, by the time I was in high school (I left Catholic school after 8th grade), I didn't remember a word of it, nor do I now. It's funny like that about memorization. Also, once I left high school (I did not take advantage of Confraternity or CCD -- kind of the equivalent of Catholic youth groups), I left the Catholic church. My family were not church goers -- my dad dropped us off.

    At public school, I met my now-husband (we have been married 40 years this month!) and he told me that the Catholic church did not go by the Bible (I had assumed we did) and that I should go to a church that went by the Bible. I had, however, been taught to revere the Bible, so, this made sense to me. So, after I was married, we didn't go to church anywhere for the first year, and then (my husband was by then in the Army -- 1970) we were invited to a service of the non-instrumental churches of Christ, and joined them. Long story. Mary R.

    In the end, it is the child's choice, once the parents have done their best. My family was angry that I left the Catholic church.

  10. We were "added to" the non-instrumental churches of Christ, I should say. They are picky about that. Having come from the Catholic church, which when I was young taught that they were the "one true church," it was not hard for me to switch that thinking over to the non-instrumental churches of Christ, which taught at that time that they were the "one true church, actually "the" church. To look at both, they seemed very different, but when you boiled it down, both taught "saved by sacrament, kept by works," so I had simply exchanged one for another. Both my husband and I experienced true salvation when we had been married about 9 years, a few years after we graduated from Abilene Christian in Texas. Don't know if you want to know all this.

    Bottom line: religious instruction is important for children. My husband went to Sunday School as a child. We were both taught the basics about God. Very important.

  11. Mary R---how much I understand what you are saying! :)


I don't get to talk to a lot of actual grown-ups during the day, so your comments make me really happy! :)