Were American public schools ever Christian, I mean really Christian in orientation? Were California public schools, especially, ever even remotely Christian? Take a look at some selections from the California State Series Third Reader of 1886 and see what you think. These selections are reprinted in Pious to Progressive: A Century of American Readers. The first piece in the California reader is America. We may forget that it is a hymn because we so seldom see the final stanza; it reminds us that our only king, is God.


S. F. Smith*

My country! ‘tis of thee,

Sweet land of liberty.

Of thee I sing;

Land where my fathers died,

Land of the pilgrim’s pride;

From every mountain side,

Let freedom ring.

My native country! thee,

Land of the noble free,

Thy name I love:

I love thy rocks and rills,

Thy woods and templed hills;

My heart with rapture thrills,

Like that above.

Let music swell the breeze,

And ring from all the trees,

Sweet freedom’s song;

Let mortal tongues awake,

Let all that breathe partake,

Let rocks their silence break,

The sound prolong.

Our fathers’ God! to thee,

Author of liberty!

To thee we sing;

Long may our land be bright

With freedom’s holy light;

Protect us by thy might,

Great God, our King!

California State Series Third Reader, 1886




Courage, brother! do not stumble,

Though thy path be dark as night;

There’s a star to guide the humble –

Trust in God and do the right.

Let the road be long and dreary,

And its ending out of sight;

Foot it bravely – strong or weary,

Trust in God and do the right.

California State Series Third Reader, 1886



William Cullen Bryant*

When the radiant morn of creation broke,

And the world in the smile of God awoke,

And the empty realms of darkness and death

Were moved through their depths by His mighty breath,

And orbs of beauty, and spheres of flame,

From the void abyss by myriads came,

In the joy of youth as they darted away,

Through the widening wastes of space to play;

Their silver voices, in chorus rang,

And this was the song the bright ones sang:

“Away, away, through the wide wide sky,

The fair blue fields that before us lie;

Each sun with the worlds that round him roll,

Each planet poised on her turning pole,

With her isles of green,and her clouds of white,

And her waters that lie like fluid light.

“For the source of glory uncovers his face,

And the brightness o’erflows unbounded space.”

California State Series, Third Reader, 1886

*Bryant (1794 -1878) was a prominent American poet.




Come, and I will show you what is beautiful. It is a rose fully blown. See how she sits upon her mossy stem, the queen of flowers. Her leaves glow like fire. The air is filled with her sweet odor. She is the delight of every eye.

But there is one fairer than the rose. He that made the rose is more beautiful than the rose. He is altogether lovely. He is the delight of every heart.

I will show you what is strong. The lion is strong. When he raiseth himself up from his lair, when he shaketh his mane, when the voice of his roaring is heard, the cattle of the field fly, and the wild beasts of the desert hide themselves; for he is terrible.

But He who made the lion is stronger than the lion. He can do all things. He gave us life, and in a moment, can take it away, and no one can save us from His hand.

I will show you what is glorious. The sun is glorious. When he shineth in the clear sky, when he sitteth on his throne in the heavens, and looketh abroad over the earth, he is the most glorious and excellent object the eye can behold.

But He who made the sun is more glorious than the sun. The eye cannot look on His dazzling brightness. He seeth all dark places, by night as well as by day. The light of His countenance is over all the world.

This great Being is God. He made all things, but He is more excellent than all that He has made. He is the Creator, they are the creatures. They may be beautiful, but He is beauty. They may be strong, but He is strength. They may be perfect, but he is perfection.

California State Series, Third Reader, 1886



Rev. C. H. Spurgeon*

The world hath its night. It seemeth necessary that it should have one. The sun shineth by day, and men go forth to heir labors; but they grow weary, and nightfall cometh on, like a sweet boon (gift) from heaven. The darkness draweth the curtains, and shutteth out the light, which might prevent our eyes from slumber; while the sweet, calm stillness of the night permits us to rest upon the lap of ease, and there forget awhile our cares, until the morning sun appeareth, and an angel puts his hand upon the curtain, and undraws it once again, touches our eyelids, and bids us rise, and proceed to the labors of the day.

Night is one of the greatest blessing men enjoy; we have many reasons to thank God for it. Yet night is to many a gloomy season. There is “the pestilence that walketh in darkness;” there is “the terror by night;” there is the dread of robbers and of fell disease, with all those fears that the timorous know, when they have no light wherewith they can discern objects.

It is then they fancy that spiritual creatures walk the earth; though, if they knew rightly, they would find it to be true, that “millions of spiritual creatures walk this earth unseen, both when we sleep and when we wake;” and that at all times they are round about us, not more by night than by day.

Night is the season of terror and alarm to most men. Yet even night hath its songs. Have you never stood by the seaside at night, and heard the pebbles sing, and the waves chant God’s glories? Or have you never risen from your couch, and thrown up the window of your chamber, and listened there?

Listened to what? Silence—save now and then a murmuring sound, which seems sweet music then. And have you not fancied that you heard the harp of God playing in heaven? Did you not conceive, that yon stars, those eyes of God, looking down on you, were also mouths of song—that every star was singing God’s glory, singing, as it shone, its mighty Maker, and his lawful, well-deserved praise?

Night hath its songs. We need not much poetry in our spirit to catch the song of night, and hear the spheres as they chant praises which are loud to the heart, though they be silent to the ear,—the praises of the mighty God who bears up the unpillared (not supported by pillars) arch of heaven, and moves the stars in their courses.

California State Series, Third Reader, 1886

*Rev. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, 18341892, was an English Baptist Preacher and writer of great influence in his day, and whose sermons are still widely studied.



Joseph Addison*

The spacious firmament on high

With all the blue ethereal sky

And spangled heavens, a shining frame,

Their great Original proclaim.

The unwearied sun, from day to day,

Does his Creator’s power display,

And publishes to every land,

The work of an Almighty hand.

Soon as the evening shades prevail,

The moon takes up the wondrous tale,

And, nightly, to the listening earth

Repeats the story of her birth;

Whilst all the stars that round her burn,

And all the planets in their turn,

Confirm the tidings as they roll,

And spread the truth from pole to pole.

What though in solemn silence all

move round the dark terrestrial ball,

What though no real voice nor sound

Amid their radiant orbs be found,

In reason’s ear they all rejoice,

And utter forth a glorious voice

Forever singing, as they shine,

“The hand that made us is divine.”

California State Series, Third Reader, 1886

*Addison, 1672 – 1719, was a prominent British essayist.



Mrs. Anna Letitia Barbauld*


I have seen the rose in its beauty; it spreads its leaves to the morning sun. I returned: it was dying on the stalk; the grace of the form was gone, its loveliness was vanished away; its leaves were scattered on the ground, and no one gathered them again.

A stately tree grew on the plain; its branches were covered with verdure; its boughs spread wide, and made a goodly shadow; the trunk was like a strong pillar; the roots were like crooked fangs. I returned: the verdure was nipped by the east wind; the branches were lopped away by the ax; the worm had made its way into the trunk, and the heart thereof was decayed; it moldered away, and fell to the ground.

I have seen the insects sporting in the sunshine, and darting along the streams, their wings glittered with gold and purple; their bodies shone like the green emerald; they were more numerous than I could count; their motions were quicker than my eye could glance. I returned: they were brushed into the pool; they were perishing with the evening breeze; the swallow had devoured them, the pike had seized them; there were found none of so great a multitude.

I have seen man in the pride of his strength; his cheeks glowing with beauty, his limbs full of activity; he leaped; he ran; he rejoiced in that he was more than those. I returned: he lay stiff and cold upon the bare ground; his feet could no longer move, nor his hands stretch themselves out; his life was departed from him; and the breath was gone out of his nostrils.

Therefore do I weep because death is in the world; the spoiler is among the works of God: all that is made must be destroyed; all that is born must die: let me alone, for I will weep yet longer.


I have seen the flower withering on the stalk, and its bright leaves spread on the ground. I looked again; it sprung forth afresh; its stem was crowned with new buds, and its sweetness filled the air.

I have seen the sun set in the west, and shades of night shut in the wide horizon; there was no color, nor shape, nor beauty, nor music; gloom and darkness brooded around. I looked again: the sun broke from the east, and glided past the mountain tops; the lark rose to meet him from her low nest, and the shades of darkness fled away. I have seen the insect being come to its full size, languish, and refuse to eat; it spun itself a tomb, and was shrouded in the silken cone; it lay without feet or shape, or power to move. I looked again: it had burst its tomb; it was full of life, and sailed on colored wings through the soft air; it rejoiced in its new being.

Thus shall it be with thee, O man! and so shall thy life be renewed. Beauty shall spring out of ashes, and life out of the dust. A little while shalt thou lie in the ground, as the seed lies in the bosom of the earth: but thou shalt be raised again; and thou shalt never die anymore.

California Third Reader, 1886

*Barbauld, 1743 – 1825, was a prominent English poet, and essayist.


Thomas S. Grimke*

There is a classic, the best the world has ever seen, the noblest that has ever honored and dignified the language of mortals. If we look into its antiquity, we discover a title to our veneration unrivaled in the history of literature. If we have respect to its evidences, they are found in the testimony of miracle and prophecy; in the ministry of man, of nature, and angels, yea, even of “God”, manifest in the flesh,” of “God blessed forever.”

If we consider its authenticity, no other pages have survived the lapse of time that can compare with it. If we examine its authority, for it speaks as never man spoke, we discover it came from heaven in vision, and prophecy, under the sanction of Him who is Creator of all things, and giver of every good and perfect gift.

If we reflect on its truths, they are lovely and spotless, sublime and holy as God himself, unchangeable in his nature, durable as his righteous dominion, and versatile as the moral condition of mankind. If we regard the value of its treasures, we must estimate them, not like the relics of classical antiquity, by the perishable glory and beauty, virtue and happiness of the world, but by the enduring perfection and and supreme felicity of an eternal kingdom.

If we inquire who are the men that have recorded its truths, vindicated its rights, and illustrated the excellence of its scheme, from the depths of ages and from the living world, from the populous continent and the isles of the sea, comes forth the answer: “The patriarch and the prophet, the evangelist and the martyr.”

If we look abroad through the world of men, the victims of folly or vice, the prey of cruelty, of injustice, and inquire what are its benefits even in this temporal state, the great and the humble, the rich and the poor, the powerful and the weak, the learned and the ignorant reply, as with one voice, that humility and resignation, purity, order, and peace, faith, hope, and charity, are its blessings upon earth.

And, if raising our eyes from time to eternity; from the world of mortals to the world of just men made perfect; from the visible creation, marvelous, beautiful, and glorious as it is, to the invisible creation of angels and seraphs; from the footstool of God to the throne of God himself, we ask, what are the blessings that flow from this single volume, let the question be answered by the pen of the evangelist, the harp of the prophet, and the records of the book of life.

California Third Reader, 1886

Thomas Smith Grimke, 1786 – 1834, when he died of cholera), was a distinguished jurist, Christian scholar, and writer in South Carolina.


Yes, emphatically Yes! American, even California, public schools were once indisputably Christian. But stealthily at first, then progressively more boldly, over generations, the ideals of public education, the reputation of public education, the institutions of public education, and ultimately, the product of public education have been embezzled, corrupted, and damaged, probably beyond repair, even if a will to reverse course manifested itself. That is a terrible tragedy; for public education, as initially conceived, was a good thing for America. Now it is toxic, and we all suffer.

Bill Kitchens,

Bill Kitchens

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