The historical and religious antecedents of the New Beacon Series in Religious Education (1937)
Parke, David Boynton
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This study traces the tendencies of thought and the institutional processes which culminated in the New Beacon Series in Religious Education, inaugurated by the American Unitarian Association in 1937. This curriculum is still in use in the large majority of Unitarian Universalist churches today. This study is based both on published and manuscript sources and on interviews with the persons most involved in the creation of the series. The study begins with a chapter of historical background, in which the distinctive characteristics of Judaic, Christian, Unitarian, and progressive education are delineated. It is showm that religious and secular education were integrated in Judaism, in the Reformation, and in the moral education movement pioneered by Horace Mann and Horace Bushnell. This integrated approach, whereby the child is regarded as a unity and religion is regarded as indigenous to children's growth, achieved articulation in the twentieth century in the progressive education movement, and is foundational to the New Beacon Series. The immediate precursors of the New Beacon Series, namely the Beacon Series of 1909 and the Beacon Course of 1912, are described. While the innovations contained in these curricula derived primarily from the assumptions and methodology of progressive education, it is shown that the curricula also contained residues of what many Unitarians considered to be outmoded theological, ethical, and psychological worldviews which limited their usefulness. Of the many individuals and groups who contributed to the making of the series, three persons are studied in detail: Angus H. MacLean, who contributed to the climate of ideas out of which the series emerged; Ernest W. Kuebler, who administered the Division of Education of the--American Unitarian Association while the series was in process of creation; and Sophia L. Fahs, who was the prime mover of the series as Children's Editor. It is demonstrated that Mrs. Fahs successively (1) abandoned the concept of the deity of Christ in favor of a more liberal view of his humanity; (2) abandoned the concept that all religious instruction should be Bible-centered in favor of an extra-Biblical orientation including missionary biography and world stories; (3) modified the concept of formal classroom learning in favor of an experimental curriculum, as derived from the educational philosophy of John Dewey; and (4) augmented the life situation approach with a concept of vicarious learning based on the assumed congruity of childhood experience and early racial experience, as derived from the philosophy of G. Stanley Hall. The creation of the New Beacon Series is described book by book, from Beginnings of Earth and Sky in 1937, the initial volume, to Today's Children and Yesterday's Heritage in 1952, the definitive theoretical statement of its philosophy. No attempt is made to trace the development of the series after 1952. It is shown that the series evolved from the premise of progressive education that all learning is contingent upon the needs and capacities of the child. The approach to younger children presupposed the principle of growth, and emphasized social and natural experience. The approach to older children presupposed, in addition to the principle of growth, the principle of the equivalence of immediate and vicarious experience, and emphasized world culture and religious biography, drawing heavily upon the Christian Bible. In the New Beacon Series, three basic principles are shown to be operative. First, the child is the arbiter of his own growth; religious instruction conforms to the growth of the child, rather than the reve~se. Secondly, Biblical models are employed not for their inherent superiority but for their power to illustrate religious values. Thirdly, openness, tentativeness, and wonder are prized as evidence of continuing growth, and there is no end to the process of growth save more growth.
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RightsCopyright by David Boynton Parke 1965.