Public schools in the United States

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Public schools in the United States are atheistic government institutions that employ 3 million workers, train 50 million students, and offer diplomas to the students who complete the 12th grade. Spoken prayer and display of the Ten Commandments are expressly forbidden in public schools' classrooms during school hours, and teaching of morality is implicitly disfavored.[1][2] In the United Kingdom, however, the term "public school" means the exact opposite of its American usage, and refers to the most expensive and prestigious private schools, such as Eton College, Harrow, and a few others.

In response to the perception that schools have stopped teaching morality, many state education departments have or are in the process of developing "morality" that avoid good and evil, right and wrong, and instead present under the heading of "character" education.[3] The lack of appreciation for right and wrong can surprise outsiders, and even school principles. When one public school student was charged with felony computer crime for altering the grades of 20 students, the principal said, we "want to teach them what's right and wrong, and it's tough for some kids to catch on to the idea that changing grades is the wrong thing to do." [4]


In 1647, Massachusetts Puritans enacted the second law, after Scotland in 1616,[4] establishing universal public schools in the English-speaking world to block the attempts by "ould deluder Satan to keepe men from the whole knowledge of the Scriptures".[5] Each settlement larger than 50 families was required to pay a schoolmaster to teach reading, writing and religious doctrine to the children in the community. Beginning in 1670, Massachusetts provided tax funding for school maintenance. This model was then copied throughout the colonies, and even throughout the world.

Many children did not attend public school for the first two centuries. It was not until 1852 that Massachusetts became the first state to require attendance by students aged 6 through 16, and it was not until 1918 that all states had compulsory attendance laws. High schools did not generally exist until after the Civil War, and kindergarten did not exist until it was created in St. Louis in 1873.

Student Prayer in Public Schools

The White House announced the release of Revised Religious Guidelines for America's Public Schools on May 29, 1998. Within this announcement, President Clinton stated, "Nothing in the First Amendment converts our public schools into religion-free zones, or requires all religious expression to be left behind at the school house door." --President Clinton, July 12, 1995[6]

In 2003, the Education Department released the following guidelines that clarified and added requirements to Public Schools to ensure the religious rights of students.[7]

Schools that don’t allow students to pray outside the classroom or that prohibit teachers from holding religious meetings among themselves could lose federal money, the Education Department said late last week.

The guidance reflects the Bush administration’s push to ensure that schools give teachers and students as much freedom to pray as the courts have allowed. The department makes clear that teachers cannot pray with students or attempt to shape their religious views. The instructions, released by the department on Feb. 7, broadly follow the same direction given by the Clinton administration and the courts. Prayer is generally allowed provided it happens outside the class and is initiated by students, not by school officials.

The department, however, also offered some significant additions, including more details on such contentious matters as moments of silence and prayer in student assemblies. And for the first time, federal funds are tied to compliance with the guidelines. The burden is on schools to prove compliance through a yearly report.

Prominent Americans educated at public schools before Engel v. Vitale

Given that public schools educate about 90% of Americans, it is astounding how few prominent Americans attended public school after the banning of school prayer in 1962. Nearly all the examples of prominent Americans who attended public school predate 1962 in their attendance:

  • Ronald Reagan[8] graduated from Dixon High School, Illinois
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower[9] attended Abilene High School in Abilene, Kansas
  • Richard M. Nixon[10] attended Fullerton and Whittier High Schools, California
  • William J. Clinton[11] attended Hot Springs High School, Arkansas
  • Gerald Ford[12] attended Grand Rapids South High School, Michigan
  • Lyndon B. Johnson[13] attended Johnson City High School, Texas
  • Harry S Truman[14] attended Independence High School, Missouri
  • H. Ross Perot[15] attended public schools and Texarkana Junior College, Texas
  • Richard Cheney[16] graduated from Natrona County High School in Casper, Wyoming.
  • Colin Powell graduated from Morris High School, NY in 1954 and received his B.A. in geology from the City College of New York in 1958 [17]
  • Billy Graham graduated from Sharon High School, NC in May 1936[18]
  • Michael Medved graduated from Palisades High School, CA [19]
  • The Wright Brothers attended public schools in Richmond, India and Dayton OH but did not graduate [20]
  • Oliver North, US Army Officer, political commentator, graduated from Ockawamick High School in 1961. [21]
  • Roy Jay Glauber, Nobel laureate, graduated from Bronx High School of Science, Bronx, NY in 1941. [22]
  • Frederick Reines, Nobel laureate, attended Union Hill High School, NJ, during the late 1930's. [23]

Celebrities, Businessmen, Astronauts, Nobel Laureates and Candidates who attended or graduated public schools after the mid-fifties

  • Pat Tillman, NFL football player and US Army soldier graduated from Leland High School CA [24]
  • Jeff Bezos, founder of, attended Miami Palmetto Senior High School FL.[25]
  • Jerry Yang, co-founder of, graduated from Sierramont Middle School, and Piedmont Hills High School, CA. [26]
  • David Filo, co-founder of graduated from Sam Houston High School TX. [27]
  • Kathryn D. Sullivan, NASA astronaut and first American woman to walk in space, graduated from Taft High School, Woodland Hills, California, in 1969. [28]
  • S. Christa Mcauliffe, astronaut participant, graduated from Marian High School, Framingham, Massachusetts, in 1966. [29]
  • Mae C. Jemison, NASA astronaut and first African-America woman in space, graduated from Morgan Park High School, Chicago, Illinois, in 1973. [30]
  • Ellen Ochoa, NASA astronaut and the first Hispanic-American woman astronaut, graduated from Grossmont High School, La Mesa, California, in 1975. [31]
  • Jeana Yeager, aviator, graduated from Commerce High School GA in 1970.[32]
  • Brad Pitt, actor, graduated from Kickapoo High School in Springfield, Missouri, 1981. [33]
  • Tom Cruise, actor, attended several public high schools including Glen Ridge High School, New Jersey during the 1970's. [34]
  • John Sununu, Senator, graduated from Salem High School in the 1970's. [35]
  • John Edwards, politician, attended public school in Robbins, N.C. during the 1960's.[36]
  • Spike Lee, producer, actor, graduated from John Dewey High School, Brooklyn, NY.[37]
  • Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, left public school after attending in Seattle until the age of twelve.[38]
  • Rush Limbaugh graduated from Central High School, MO in 1969 and attended Southeast Missouri State University for two semesters [39]
  • John Cromwell Mather, Nobel laureate, graduated from Newton High School, Newton, NJ in 1964. [40]
  • George Fitzgerald Smoot, Nobel laureate, graduated from Upper Arlington High School, Upper Arlington, OH in 1962. [41]
  • Hugh David Politzer, Nobel laureate, graduated from Bronx High School of Science, Bronx, NY in 1966. [42]
  • Frank Wilczek, Nobel laureate, attended Martin Van Buren High School, Queens, NY, during the late 1960's. [43]
  • Laura Bush attended James Bowie Elementary School, San Jacinto Junior High School, and Midland Lee High School in Midland, Texas (Graduated 1964).[44][45]


  1. See, e.g., Stone v. Graham (1980) (excluding Ten Commandments from public school).
  2. A public school banned Bible study by children ... during recess. A teacher complained about the use of the Bible and the principle then censored the study activity, according to a sworn statement by a teacher told to stop it. [1]
  3. [2]
  4. The Social, Economic & Political Reasons for the Decline of Gaelic in Scotland [3]
  5. Family Encyclopedia of American History (Reader's Digest 1975)
  44. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named BushChildhood
  45. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named BrittanicaLauraBush

See Also

Teacher Pay