Of the many roles that public school plays in the culture, perhaps the most important role is being the physical manifestation of the state religion. Many critics of the system have pondered the religious aspect of public school. Ivan Illich had this to say in his 1971 book Deschooling Society:
School has become the world religion of a modernized proletariat and makes futile promises of salvation to the poor of the technological age. The nation-state has adopted it, drafting all citizens into a graded curriculum leading to sequential diplomas not unlike the initiation rituals and hieratic promotions of former times. The modern state has assumed the duty of enforcing the judgment of its educators through well-meant truant officers and job requirements, much as did the Spanish kings who enforced the judgments of their theologians through the conquistadors and the Inquisition.
Children are protected by neither the First nor the Fifth Amendment when they stand before that secular priest, the teacher. The child must confront a man who wears an invisible triple crown, like the papal tiara, the symbol of triple authority combined in one person. For the child, the teacher pontificates as pastor, prophet, and priest - he is at once guide, teacher, and administrator of a sacred ritual. He combines the claims of medieval popes in a society [ostensibly] constituted under the guarantee that these claims shall never be exercised together by one established and obligatory institution - church or state.
Schoolteachers and ministers are the only professionals who feel entitled to pry into the private affairs of their clients at the same time as they preach to a captive audience.
Another view of the religious aspects of school is found in Samuel Blumenfeld’s Is Public Education Necessary?:
The youngster who passes through its classrooms emerges indoctrinated in a body of secular values as if he had gone to a sort of governmental parochial school . It may not be a very coherent body of values and it may conflict with the values of his parents or religion; but that very incoherence and conflict, combined with a general philosophical confusion, become the dominant frame of mind of the graduate .
Thus the school building itself seems to have its own spiritual aura, as palpable as that of any church with its peculiarly spiritual architecture. The textbook, with its litany of questions and topics for discussion, takes the place of the prayer book, dispensing moral as well as instructional information . This is particularly true in the social sciences, where a secular humanist view of the world is presented
virtually as a revealed religion based on an unquestioned faith in science and materialism . Thus, the rituals of school life replace the rituals of the church to fill the youngster’s days with a formalism called “education.” No one is sure what it all means, for there is in America as much confusion and vagueness surrounding the word “education” as there is surrounding the word religion .
The secularist organization Americans United for the Separation of Church and State has made this pronouncement: “The classroom is an inappropriate place for school-sponsored worship. School officials should not prescribe prayers or teach religious doctrines, such as creationism, in the classroom.” If one even slightly scratches the surface of this issue, it can easily be seen that such statements are either deceptive or naive.