George Herbert Betts
By W. Alan Smith
George Herbert Betts (1868-1934), a contemporary of such "progressive" religious educators as George Albert Coe, Walter S. Athearn, Henry F. Cope, William Clayton Bower, and Luther A. Weigle, spent a career establishing and defending the connections among religious education, education, psychology, classroom management, and curriculum theory. A member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Betts was born in Iowa in 1868 and was influenced by rural life and a life-long love of reading and learning that was instilled in him by his parents. He was educated at Cornell College in Iowa, the University of Chicago, and Columbia University, from which he received his Ph.D. degree in 1909. His teaching career was shared between Cornell (Iowa) College, where he taught psychology (1901-1918), Boston University, where he taught Religious Education (1918-1919), and Northwestern University, where he taught Religious Education from 1919-1926 and served as Professor of Education and Director of Research from 1926 until his death in 1934. Some of Betts' most influential work in the field of Religious Education may be found in his analysis of surveys he administered concerning attitudes and practices of the church of his day.
Early Life and Education
George Herbert Betts was born on a farm near Clarksville, Iowa on April 1, 1868. The son of a Dutch father and an English/ Irish mother, Betts was raised to appreciate the soil and the hard work necessary to bring crops from it. He retained an interest in rural life and its impact upon education throughout his career. He was raised in a family that valued education. His widow, Anna (Freelove) Betts reported that the young George was surrounded by good books, including the works of Dickens, Thackery and other writers of that era (Booth 1931). Like most other young persons in Iowa, Betts was educated in a one room, red school house. When he had exhausted the educational resources of his community, Betts' family made arrangements for him to go to college and prepare himself for his chosen profession: education. He attended Cornell College in Iowa, receiving his A.B. degree in 1899, following his 1893 marriage to Anna Freelove and several years of work as a teacher and superintendent of schools in rural Iowa. His hard work, intelligence, and self-confidence made him successful in his first experience at living far from home. His gifts as an educator and scholar were evident early on, resulting in his appointment as Principal of Cornell College one year after his graduation from that institution.
Betts pursued further education while engaged in teaching, receiving his Ph.M. degree from the University of Chicago in 1904 and his Ph.D. degree from Teachers College at Columbia University in 1909. Betts was appointed to a Lectureship in Educational Psychology in the department of Extension Teaching at Teachers College while taking his graduate coursework. His dissertation, which was directed by E. L. Thorndike (professor of Educational Psychology at Teachers College), was entitled The distribution and functions of mental imagery (1909). His study involved research with Junior and Senior students from Cornell College, "extension"students (all practicing teachers), and both psychology faculty members and professional psychologists, concerning voluntary and spontaneous imagery, using surveys developed by Galton and Thorndike. The dissertation was published by Columbia University in 1909.
He served several significant roles in public education in Iowa before becoming Professor of Psychology at Cornell College, a role he served from 1901-1918. It was out of this position of teaching and research that Betts wrote and published his first book, The mind and its education (1906). This small book was an early example of the developing field of educational psychology. He focused his research on the ways the brain functions and its effects upon learning.
Betts took a leave of absence from the College in 1918-1919, during which time he taught as a visiting professor of Religious Education at Boston University while conducting research in the field. Upon the completion of that project, Betts resigned from the faculty at Cornell College and accepted a position as Professor of Religious Education at Northwestern University. He served in that capacity from 1919-1926. When Northwestern organized the School of Education in 1926, Betts was appointed Professor of Education and Director of Research, a position he held until his death in 1934.
The Betts' had two children: Muriel Marie and Harlan Cedric. Muriel, like her mother and father, pursued education as a profession, specializing in the nursery school. Harlan followed a career in business and accounting, becoming Auditor for the Chicago Daily News. Muriel's death, which preceded Betts' own death by almost four years, affected him deeply.
Betts was remembered by his students as a consummate teacher and a person of profound personal faith. He frequently taught his courses from a manuscript for one of his numerous books. He was said to be brilliant without being ostentatious. Dr. L. W. Crawford, Professor of Education at Peabody College stated, "Perhaps the strongest characterization of his teaching was its simplicity. The marvel of all his students was the fact that never did Dr. Betts parade his wealth of knowledge. He seemed to hide so inconspicuously behind a screen of modesty that we were never over-awed by the breadth and depth of his erudition." (Booth 1931, 86-7)
Paul H. Vieth considered Betts one of the most influential religious educators of the first two decades of the twentieth century. Vieth's study, based upon a questionnaire sent to over one hundred professors of religious education, listed Betts among a group of ten persons selected by their peers: Walter S. Athearn, Norman E. Richardson, Joseph M. Artman, Luther A. Weigle, Theodore G. Soares, George A. Coe, Hugh Hartshorne, Henry F. Cope, William C. Bower, and Betts. (Vieth 1928)
Betts made contributions to the fields of education, educational psychology, and religious education as a teacher, a researcher, an author, and an editor. In a dissertation that studied the Education Department at Northwestern University, Bruce William Colwell stated Betts was the most prolific scholar in a department that included John Stout and Norman Richardson. (Colwell 1988)
As a researcher, Betts surveyed clergy opinions about theological issues considered essential in the church (The beliefs of 700 ministers and their meaning for religious education, 1929), the significance of laboratory studies for education (Laboratory studies in educational psychology, 1924), and character education (The character outcome of present-day religion, 1931). Jack Seymour considers Betts' work as an educational researcher to be one of his greatest contributions to the field of religious education. (Seymour 1990)
Betts authored over twenty books, ranging in topic from curriculum theory, to classroom teaching method, to social principles of education, to character education, to agricultural and hygiene issues in the schools. Stephen Schmidt has indicated that most of Betts' books focused on educational method more than on theory. (Schmidt 1983)
Betts' work as editor of the Abingdon Series of Religious Education brought the scholarly work of religious education out of the graduate classroom and into the local church. Many volumes in this series were extensions of papers written by graduate students in courses he taught at Northwestern, and for these volumes Betts served as both mentor and editor. The Bobbs- Merrill series of textbooks for public schools, which he also edited, provided widely influential readers for students.
Betts held memberships in the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Association of University Professors. He was active in the Religious Education Association throughout his career and applied empirical studies of religion and religious education to the theoretical work being done by such contemporaries as Coe, Weigel, and Bower. He remained an active member of the Methodist church throughout his life and, upon his death on December 8, 1934, funeral services were held at the chapel of the First Methodist Church of Evanston, Illinois. (Obituary, The Evanston Review, December 12, 1934) His wife reported that his last words were, "I am going; it is all right." (Booth 1931)
Contributions to Christian Education
George Herbert Betts was an influential voice in the development of religious education as a legitimate focus of the ministry of the church as well as a significant segment of the larger field of education. Jack Seymour claims that, "[f]undamental to Betts' understanding was the conviction that the church had finally awakened to the importance of education in the process of Christianization." (Seymour 1982, 155) H. Shelton Smith stated, "In 1921, Betts urged that 'control of the church should gradually, but without unnecessary delay, be taken over' by the religious educator." (Smith 1942, 101) Betts' work in the first three decades of the twentieth century brought the insights of educational theory, psychology, and sociology to an approach to religious education that reflected the theological and philosophical influences of liberal, progressive ideas. Betts never considered himself a theologian, and contented himself with a consistent focus on educational method throughout his career. The work of his later career applied empirical studies of educational and religious practice to his claims that religious education should result in character change in those who had come under its influence. His contributions to religious education can be divided into three areas: theological and philosophical foundations, educational method, and empirical studies.
Theological and Philosophical Foundations
George Herbert Betts "contributed in a number of important ways to the practical fleshing out of the liberal theological model." (Schmidt 1983, 84) He was profoundly influenced by the thought of George A. Coe, with whom he was linked by such critics of the liberal progressive approach to religious education as H. Shelton Smith. Betts agreed with liberal progressive assumptions about the nature of humanity. In a passage that was reminiscent of Horace Bushnell, Betts rejected the concept of the child as sinful and in need of repentance:
We no longer insist with the older theologies that [the child] is completely under the curse of 'original sin', nor do we believe with certain sentimentalists that he comes 'trailing clouds of glory.' We believe that he has infinite capacities for good, and equally infinite capacities for evil, either of which may be developed. We know that at the beginning the child is sinless, pure of heart, his life undefiled. To know this is enough to show us our part. This is to lead the child aright until he is old enough to follow the right path of his own accord, to ground him in the motives and habits that tend to right living, and so to turn his mind, heart, and will to God that his whole being seeks accord with the Infinite… It means that the child need never know a time when he is not within the Kingdom, and growing to fuller stature therein. It means that we should set our aim at conservation instead of reclamation as the end of our religious training. (Betts 1919, 32-33)
In his dissertation at Vanderbilt University, J. C. Booth likewise identified the influence of Bushnell's "Christian Nurture" as the "all inclusive method" used by Betts. (Booth 1931)
Betts focused much of his theological and methodological discussion on how best to present the Christian faith to children. For example, he discussed the "concept of God which the child needs" to focus on God as loving Father, as Friend, as friendly Protector, as one who can understand and sympathize with children, as Creator, and as one who fills the heart with love and gladness. (Betts 1919, 62-63) One of the most influential examples of his empirical studies (The beliefs of 700 ministers and their meaning for religious education 1929) discovered that the only theological statement on which all of the ordained ministers who participated in the study could agree was belief in the existence of God. Beyond that simple statement of belief, the clergy of his time were divided on virtually every other doctrinal issue.
Similarly, Betts considered the Bible as "the storehouse of spiritual wisdom of the ages, the matchless book of religion", but claimed the knowledge of the Bible that would be of most use to children was a functioning knowledge which could be put to use in helping the child reach a "true sense of moral values." (1929, 68-69) He maintained that, while the Bible must be the center and foundation for the religious curriculum, the curriculum must also address issues experienced in literature, music, and art, in nature, and experienced through life itself. "We can love and prize the Bible for all that it means and has meant to the world, and yet treat it as a means and not an end in itself." (1929, 113) This attitude toward the Bible was consistent with statements made by Bower, Coe, and numerous other representatives of liberal theology and progressive religious education.
One of Betts' goals as a teacher and author was to apply the research into educational method being done in public school classrooms to the teaching of the Christian faith. The centrality of questions of method in religious education can be seen in Social principles of education (1912), Class-room method and management (1917), How to teach religion (1919), The new program of religious education (1921), The curriculum of religious education (1924), and Method in teaching religion (1925). In all of these books, as well as in numerous articles in journals, Betts maintained that the primary focus of religious education, and the main objective of teaching, was the child being taught. (Betts 1919) Harold Burgess maintains, "[t]he fundamental assumption upon which his understanding of aim is based is that 'children can be brought to a religious character and experience through right nurture and training in religion.' The end which religious education seeks is certain desired changes in the life, thought, and experiences of the learner." (Burgess 1996, 91)
Betts believed that content-oriented teaching merely disseminates nonfunctional facts, which "play no part in shaping life's ideals" (Burgess 1996, 92-93) "Betts maintains that two principles are to be observed in the selection of content: 1) it is to be suited to the aims that are sought and 2) it is to be adapted to the student." (Burgess 1996, 95) The student remains the primary focus of education in religion.
Jack Seymour claims that Betts emphasized five tasks for religious education: 1) training ministers in education; 2) the development of true educational standards for church schools; 3) the improvement of church school teachers; 4) clarification of developmental and conduct goals for religious education; and 5) relating of home and church in Christian education. (Seymour 1982) This commitment to the improvement of method in religious education is especially evident in The new program of religious education (1921) and in Betts' 1928 article in Religious Education 23, "Perennial Tasks of Religious Education."
Betts was convinced that the chief objective of religious instruction was "spiritual changes and growth to be brought about in the children they teach." (Booth 1931, 24) In How to teach religion (1919), Betts claimed that the teacher must have his or her own religious experience to properly teach the child, and that the teacher of religion required continuous preparation, needing to know not only the Bible, but also the students. In order to accomplish all this, "he must be a student himself." (Booth 1931, 25)
Like other progressive religious educators, Betts emphasized a functional approach to education, with a focus on helping children achieve a continuous growth in moral values and the ability to live one's life in ways that were consistent with the Christian faith. As Harold Burgess states,
Thus Betts contends that teaching ought not be evaluated simply on the basis of how many facts have been acquired by the learner. The real issue has more to do with how much effect has been made upon the learner's life, character, and conduct. The final test of teaching, Betts argues, is whether the learner, as a result of religious instruction, actually lives differently here and now in the home, school, church, and community. (Burgess 1996, 104)
George A. Coe was especially appreciative of Betts' book, Method in teaching religion, which Coe regarded as a "highly practical handbook" (Coe 1922, 322). The "methods" of teaching Betts identified included project lessons, story telling, dramatics, manual arts, and discussion. This book appears to have been addressed to the volunteer teacher in the church and presented both principles behind teaching methods and their "application to classroom practices." (Booth 1931, 31)
Betts was one of the first religious educators to intentionally address the nature of curriculum in the church. Kendig Cully lists Betts' The curriculum of religious education (1924), along with William Clayton Bower's book by the same title, as the two standard works on the subject up until Campbell Wyckoff's work in the area, published in 1961. (Cully 1965, 190) Betts' book combines a survey of the development of Sunday school curriculum throughout the history of the church with a rationale for the "evolution of a graded curriculum" (Betts 1924, 137). A major feature of the discussion of the "new" approach to curriculum he proposed was his attempt to apply the "scientific method" to the curriculum. (1924, 184-193).
In addition, Betts emphasized the importance of what he described as the "social origins" of curriculum, including the influences of both psychology and sociology. The "primary sources" of curriculum content were said to be "the first-hand contacts of man with God as he meets him directly in his everyday living, mediated as it is by his physical and social environment." The "secondary sources" were "the records other men have made of God, the record of their beliefs, hopes, fears, inspirations, as these matters have been written down for us in books," including the Bible and theological interpretations of human religious experience. (1924, 214)
Toward the end of his career, Betts emphasized the role of religious education in character formation as the key to the educational ministry of the church. Jack Seymour claims that The character outcome of present-day religion (1931) is an example of the thought of one who "substituted a kind of middle-class character study for [Coe's] radical social prophecy." (Seymour 1982, 132) Similarly, L. W. Crawford, Professor of English and Religious Education at Peabody College for Teachers in Nashville, Tennessee in the 1930s, and a former graduate student of Betts, both at Boston University (where Betts taught from 1918-1919) and at Northwestern University, saw Betts gradually leaning "toward character education for he looked upon character as the vital every-day exemplification of religion and religious teaching." (Booth 1931, 90)
One of the more significant contributions to the field of religious education that can be attributed to George Herbert Betts is his insistence that method in religious education and curriculum in the church be based upon empirical evidence and sound scientific method. Stephen Schmidt claims,Betts typified the REA progressive religious education. He sought to improve religious education by taking seriously the scientific data available and making application to the work of religious instruction. His major contribution was to inform the religious education community of the prevailing theories growing out of psychology and public education theory and adapting those theories to religious education. Never claiming to be a theologian, he sought insight from his own discipline, psychology. (Schmidt 1983, 82)
Betts' commitment to this "scientific data" was evident throughout his career. His first book, The mind and its education (1906), written while teaching at Cornell College in his native Iowa, was a study of the psychology of learning and gave attention to the nature of the mind, the functioning of the brain and nervous system, and such topics as sensation and perception, memory, and imagination. He was an early advocate of developmental psychology and argued in favor of the graded curriculum on this basis. His church curriculum theory was an embodiment of the social theory of religious education that was advocated by fellow progressive religious educators. As Stephen Schmidt has argued, "[h]is proposals were consistent with the REA tradition, one should teach only those values that are derived from reasonable human experience." (Schmidt 1983, 80)
One of the more recognizable features of Betts' commitment to empirical studies in religious education is a series of books and articles he authored, based upon surveys conducted among religious educators, ministers, and professors. Jack Seymour claims that Betts' most important contribution to the field of religious education was applying empirical research to the study of religion and education. (Seymour 1990, 59-60)
The beliefs of 700 ministers and their meaning for religious education (1929) was the result of a questionnaire, devised by Betts, that was distributed to 1500 members of the Protestant clergy, mostly persons from the Chicago area. The fifty-six questions on the questionnaire addressed doctrinal and theological issues ranging from the nature of God, to the inspiration and authority of the Bible, the humanity and divinity of Christ, and other major tenets of orthodox Protestant teaching. The study revealed a wide range of belief in these areas of religious thought. There was little agreement about even the most commonly accepted doctrinal issues as the use of the Apostles' Creed and the Doctrine of the Trinity (only 20% of the Methodist clergy in the survey accepted this doctrine). Only the Lutherans showed uniformity of belief. The only theological claim that was accepted by virtually every respondent was belief in the existence of God. The theological students who responded to the questionnaire showed even more diversity of theological opinion.
As Schmidt states, "Betts concluded no Protestant denomination except the Lutherans 'has any right to demand of its religious educators the teaching of specific doctrinal standards, for the clergy themselves do not agree.'" Betts called for an interdenominational commission to develop a new creedal statement, based upon "universal human experience, proved knowledge, and reasoned conclusions." (Schmidt 1983, 80)
A second significant study was conducted two years later. In The character outcome of present-day religion (1931), Betts put two questions to those attending Northwestern University's conference on religion and conduct: 1) do our churches today preach a religion that can effectively influence conduct and character? and 2) if they do, why is it not working better to that end? The result was that 28% of the 300 church leaders who responded answered yes, with 36% answering no, and 36% offering a "qualified" response. The responses to the second question were equally diverse.
A 1929 conference, also at Northwestern, included a survey of attendees who were asked "Whether religion as we interpret, teach, and practice it to-day, is capable of motivating life." The results of the study were reported in Religion and conduct (1929).
George Herbert Betts was among the more influential representatives of the progressive era in religious education. His major contributions were in the areas of curriculum theory, the influences of psychology and sociology on religious education and education in general, the practical application of progressive approaches to theology and religious education, and the importance of empirical studies and scientific data to the effective teaching of religion. His students remembered Betts as an effective, engaging, and modest teacher. His prolific writing career influenced generations of leaders in the field. When growing deafness began to limit his ability to function in the classroom as well as he had previously, Betts adapted his teaching style to accommodate his condition.
Throughout his three decades of teaching, Betts consistently emphasized his claim that education in the Christian faith should result in measurable changes in the character of the individual. Toward the end of his life, Betts was progressively more convinced that the development of character was the ultimate goal of religious education. As J. C. Booth stated, "his belief in God and in Divine Providence and the eternal values of God's goodness never wavered" even when his scholarly focus had shifted toward character education and away from religious education per se. (Booth 1931, 9)
- Betts, G. H. (1906). The mind and its education. New York: D. Appleton and Company.
- _______ (1919). How to teach religion. New York: Abingdon Press.
- _______ (1924). The curriculum of religious education. New York: Abingdon Press.
- _______ (1929). The beliefs of 700 ministers and their meaning for religious education. New York: Abingdon Press.
- _______ (1929). Religion and conduct: A conference report. New York: Abingdon Press.
- _______ (1931). The character outcome of present-day religion. New York: Abingdon Press.
- Booth, J. C. (1931). Life and works of George Herbert Betts. A thesis. Nashville: Vanderbilt University.
- Burgess, H. J. (1996). Models of religious education: Theory and practice in historical and contemporary perspective. Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
- Coe, G. A. (1929). Review of Betts, G. H. Method in teaching religion. Religious Education 28, 322.
- Colwell, B. W. (1988). The study of education at Northwestern University, 1900-1945: Institutional conflicts of mission and men. Dissertation, Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University.
- Cully, K. B. (1965). The search for a Christian education-since 1940. Philadelphia: Westminster Press.
- Schmidt, S. A. (1983). A history of the Religious Education Association. Birmingham, Ala.: Religious Education Press.
- Seymour, J. L. (1982). From Sunday school to church school: Continuities in Protestant church education in the United States, 1860-1929. Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, Inc.
- _______ (1990). George Herbert Betts. In I. V. Cully and K. B. Cully (Eds.), Harper's encyclopedia of religious education. (pp. 59-60). San Francisco: Harper & Row.
- Smith, H. S. (1942). Faith and nurture. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
- Vieth, P. H. (1928). Who are the leaders of thought in religious education? International Journal of Religious Education. 6-15.
- (1906). The mind and its education. New York: D. Appleton and Company.
- (1909). The distribution and functions of mental imagery. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University.
- (1911). The recitation. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company (Riverside Educational Monographs)
- (1912). Social principles of education. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
- (1913). New ideals in rural schools. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.
- With O. H. Benson. (1914). Better rural schools. Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company.
- With O.H. Benson. (1915). Agriculture: a text for the school and the farm. Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company.
- (1915). Fathers and mothers. Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company.
- (1915). My chance to achieve. Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company.
- (1915). Parenthood and heredity. New York: Abingdon Press.
- With O. H. Benson. (1917). Agriculture and the farming business. Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company.
- (1917). Class-room method and management. Indianapolis: The Bobbs- Merrill Company.
- With O.H. Benson. (1918). Agriculture. Southern edition. Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company.
- (1919). How to teach religion. New York: Abingdon Press.
- With A. L. Ryan. (1920). When we join the church. New York: Abingdon Press.
- (1921). The new program of religious education. New York: Abingdon Press.
- With C. P. Emerson. (1922). Hygiene and health. Indianapolis: The Bobbs- Merrill Company.
- With C. P. Emerson. (1922). Physiology and Hygiene. Indianapolis: The Bobbs- Merrill Company.
- With C.B. Baker and E.D. Baker. (1923). Reading for children. Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company.
- With C.B. Baker and E. D. Baker. (1923-1940). Bobbs-Merrill Readers. Indianapolis: The Bobs-Merrill Company. Primer (1923, 1929, 1936), First-Sixth Reader (1923-1924),First Reader (1924), First- (Second) Reader (1924), Second Reader (1924, 1926, 1930), Second-Third Reader (1924), Third reader (1924), Fourth Reader (1924), Fifth Reader (1924), Sixth Reader (1924, 1926), Concordia Edition (1929; Concordia Publishing), Manuals (1940), Pupil Accomplishment tests (1940)
- With O.H. Benson. (1924). Agriculture. Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company.
- (1924). The curriculum of religious education. New York: Abingdon Press.
- With E. M. Turner. (1924). Laboratory studies in educational psychology. New York: d. Appleton and Company.
- With M. O. Hawthorne. (1925). Method in teaching religion. New York: Abingdon Press (Abingdon Religious Education Texts).
- With C.P. Emerson. (1926). Syllabus and course of study based upon Emerson and Betts' Hygiene and health series. Indianapolis: Wm. B. Burford.
- (1929). The beliefs of 700 ministers and their meaning for religious education. New York: Abingdon Press (Abingdon Religious Education Monographs. J.W. Langdale, general editor, G. H. Betts, editor)
- (1929). Foreign language equipment of 2325 doctors of philosophy. Bloomington, Ill: Public School Publishing Company.
- (1929). Religion and conduct: A conference report. New York: Abingdon Press.
- (1931). The character outcome of present-day religion. New York: Abingdon Press.
- With C.P. Emerson. (1931). Living at our best. Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company.
- With H.W. Gentles. (1932). Habits for safety, a text-book for schools. Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company.
- (1934). Teaching religion to-day. New York: Abingdon Press.
- With C.P. Emerson. (1936). Habits for health. Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company.
- (1937). Foundations of character and personality: An introduction to the psychology of adjustment. Ed. Raymond A. Kent. Published posthumously, with final chapter prepared by G. E. Hill. Indianapolis: The Bobbs- Merrill Company.
- (n.d.). The week-day church school, how to organize and conduct it. New York: Abingdon Press.
- (1920). The renaissance of the religious education. The Church School 1, 31.
- (1920). The curriculum of religious education. Religious Education 15, 5-20.
- (1920). What does religious education mean to the church? Religious Education 15, 161.
- (1921). Standards in Week-day religious education. The Church School 2, 497.
- (1922). Correlation between Sunday and week-day schools. The Church School 3, 184.
- (1922). The aims of week-day religious education. Religious Education 17, 11-15.
- (1923). What makes education religious? Religious Education 18, 84-88.
- (1923). The meaning of correlation-relating material and methods to experience. The Church School 5, 11.
- (1925). If the Sunday school fails. The Christian Century 45, 154-155.
- (1925). Is week-day religious instruction here to stay? International Journal of Religious Education 1, 21.
- (1926). Principles of curriculum making. Religious Education 21, 574-581.
- (1927). College students' reaction to education courses. School and Society 25, 494-6.
- (1927). Give us the facts. Religious Education 22, 180-82.
- (1927). Teachers' diagnosis of classroom difficulties. Elementary School Journal 27, 600-8.
- (1928). Of the making of many books. International Journal of Religious Education 4, 17-18.
- (1928). How the child learns to know and love God. International Journal of Religious Education 4, 9-10.
- (1928). Possibilities of experiment with religious education. Religious Education 23, 229-232.
- (1928). Will the Public school movement for character education supervede the church school? Religious Education 23, 699-703.
- (1928). Character education as an objective in the public school. International Journal of Religious Education 5, 11.
- (1928). Teachers' remedies for classroom difficulties. Elementary School Journal 29, 54-62.
- (1929). Direct or indirect character education. National Education Association Journal 18, 141-3.
- (1930). Language requirements for doctors of philosophy. School and Society 31, 343-6.
- (1931). Outlook for religious education. Christian Century 48, 896-9
- (1931). Plateau of religious education. Christian Century 48, 1138-41.
- With G. E. Hill. (1932). Current practices in character education in the public schools. Tab School and Society 36, 154-8.
- (1933). General information possessed by graduate students in education. School and Society 37, 821-4.
- (1934). Religious ideas of children. Christian Century 51, 626-9.
- (1934). Rethink religious education! Christian Century 51, 360-2.
- (1934). Obituary. Christian Century 51, 1629.
- (1934). Obituary. Publishers Weekly 126, 2153.
Writings about George Herbert Betts
- Booth, J. C. (1931). Life and works of George Herbert Betts. A thesis. (Doctoral dissertation, Vanderbilt University, 1931).
- Burgess, H. J. (1996). Models of religious education: Theory and practice in historical and contemporary perspective. Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books. 84-105.
- Colwell, B. W. (1988). The study of education at Northwestern University, 1900-1945: Institutional conflicts of mission and men. (Doctoral dissertation, Northwestern University,1988). Dissertation Abstracts International, 49, no. 08A.
- Cully, K. B. (1965). The search for a Christian education-since 1940. Philadelphia: Westminster Press. 190.
- Pittman, Riley H. (1946). The meaning of salvation in the thought of George Albert Coe, William Clayton Bower, and George Herbert Betts. (Doctoral dissertation, University of Southern California, 1946). American Doctoral Dissertations, Accession Number AAG0158832.
- Schmidt, S. A. (1983). A history of the Religious Education Association. Birmingham, Ala." Religious Education Press. 65-93.
- Seymour, J. L. (1982). From Sunday school to church school: Continuities in Protestant church education in the United States, 1860-1929. Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, Inc. 132-156.
- _______. (1990). George Herbert Betts. In I. V. Cully and K. B. Cully (Eds.) Harper's encyclopedia of religious education. San Francisco: Harper and Row. 59-60.
- Smith, H. S. (1942). Faith and Nurture. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. 101-121.
- Vieth, P. H. (1928). Who are the leaders of thought in religious education? International journal of religious education. 6-15.
Reviews of publications by George H Betts
- Bobbitt, J. F. (1913). Review of the book New ideals in rural schools. Boston Transcript, April 30, 1.
- Chaffee, E. B. (1929). Review of the book Beliefs of 700 ministers. Outlook 152, 230.
- Chave, E. J. (1934). Review of the book Teaching religion to-day. Journal of Religion 14, 462.
- Cole, S. J. (1934). Review of the book Teaching religion to-day. Christian Century 51, 998.
- Coe, G. A. (1929). Review of the book Method in teaching religion. Religious Education 24, 322.
- Howard, R., Jr. (1913). Review of the book New ideals in rural schools. Survey 30, 439.
- Marlatt, E. (1929). Review of the book Beliefs of 700 ministers. Christian Century 46, 576.
- Parker, C. (1929). Review of the book Beliefs of 700 ministers. Religious Education 24, 683.
- Snedden (no first name). (1917). Review of the book Classroom Methods and Management. Education Review 54, 203.
- Werner, C. (1914). Review of the book Better rural schools. School Review 22, 704.
Reviews of books by Betts (Authors not identified)
- (1911). Review of the book The recitation. Booklist 7, 410.
- (1911). Review of the book The recitation. Education Review 42, 318.
- (1913). Review of the book New ideals in rural schools. Booklist 9, 417
- (1914). Review of the book Better rural schools. Booklist 10, 383.
- (1914). Review of the book Better rural schools. Review of Research 49, 637.
- (1916). Review of the book Fathers and mothers. Booklist 12, 312.
- (1916). Review of the book Fathers and mothers. Wisconsin Library Bulletin 12, 36.
- (1917). Review of the book Classroom methods and management. Elementary School Journal 17, 687.
- (1919, August 9). Review of the book How to teach religion. Boston Transcript, page 10
- (1919). Review of the book How to teach religion. Booklist 16, 73.
- (1919). Review of the book How to teach religion. Dialogue 67, 274.
- (1919). Review of the book How to teach religion. Outlook 124, 29.
- (1919, November 16). Review of the book How to teach religion. Springfield (Ill.) Republican, page 15.
- (1929). Review of the book The beliefs of 700 ministers. Nation 128, 663.
- (1932, January 6). Review of the book The character outcome of present-day religion. Boston Transcript, page 3.
- (1932). Review of the book The character outcome of present-day religion. Christian Century 49, 164.
- (1932). Review of the book The character outcome of present-day religion. Christian Century 49, 514.
- (1934). Review of the book Teaching religion to-day. Living Church 90, 960.
- (1934, August 4). Review of the book Teaching religion to-day. Boston Transcript, page 1.
Excerpts from Publications
(1919). How to teach religion. New York: Abingdon Press
Children can be brought to a religious character and experience through right nurture and training in religion. This is the fundamental assumption on which the present volume rests and it makes the religious education of children the most strategic opportunity and greatest responsibility of the church, standing out above all other obligations whatever. (11)
We no longer insist with the older theologies that [the child] is completely under the curse of 'original sin,' nor do we believe with certain sentimentalists that he comes 'trailing clouds of glory.' We believe that he has infinite capacities for good, and equally infinite capacities for evil, either of which may be developed. We know that at the beginning the child is sinless, pure of heart, his life undefiled. To know this is enough to show us our part. This is to lead the child aright until he is old enough to follow the right path of his own accord, to ground him in the motives and habits that tend to right living, and so to turn his mind, heart, and will to God that his whole being seeks accord with the Infinite.
If our leading of the child is wise, and his response is ready, there will be no falling away from a normal Christian life and a growing consciousness of God… It means, rather, that the whole attitude of mind, and the complete trend of the life of the child will be religious… It means that the child need never know a time when he is not within the Kingdom, and growing to a fuller stature therein. It means that we should set our aim at conservation instead of reclamation as the end of our religious training. (32-33)
For whatever age or stage of the child's development we are responsible, we will follow the same principle. Because we want to cultivate in the child a deep and continuing interest in the Bible and the things for which it stands, we will seek always to bring to him such material as will appeal to his interest, stir his imagination, and quicken his sense of spiritual values. Since we desire to influence the learner's deeds and shape his conduct through our teaching, we will present to him those lessons from the Bible which are most naturally and inevitably translated into daily living. First we will know what impression we seek to make or what application we hope to secure, and then wisely choose from the rich Bible sources the material which will most surely accomplish this end. (118)
(1924). The curriculum of religious education. New York: Abingdon Press.
[The church] is coming to realize that the religious nurture and training of its childhood and youth is the primary responsibility and the chief opportunity of the church, outranking all other functions whatsoever. The truth is therefore dawning on the church that religious education must be placed at the head instead of at the foot of its enterprise, where it has been for so long. The church is increasingly conscious of the fact that religion, equally with subjects fitting into other phases of human experience, can and must be taught. (32-33)
The outstanding characteristic of our age is evaluation… This investigating attitude has extended to the realm of the spirit as well as to that of matter. In their religion men have turned to examine the foundations of age-long beliefs to make sure of their validity…So also in education. Standards accepted for centuries are being ruthlessly tested and examined, Methods used for generations are obliged to defend their position. Nothing is secure that cannot prove its right to its place. Nothing is too sacred to be summoned to the laboratory or reduced to medians and standard deviations. Measure, evaluate, test - these are the watchwords of present-day education.
In accord with the scientific character of the age the spirit of evaluation carries over to the religious curriculum. Many scholars are to-day seeking for definite standards of value that may guide in the present fundamental reconstruction that is going on. In the materials we are offering in our church schools great changes are already under way and still others in sight. A new Renaissance of thought is upon us in the field of subject matter for religion and morals. It behooved us to know whither it tends. It is our purpose, therefore, in this chapter to study the application of scientific method, or if you prefer, the scientific spirit, to the evaluation and construction of curriculum materials for the chirch schools. (177-178)
Scientific method does not deny faith, for it recognizes the limitations of human knowledge and, by analogy, is aware that realms of religious reality may exist beyond what have been explored. But it asks that faith shall be intelligent, and that it shall not run counter to what man has learned by observation, reason, experience. A faith that contradicts the rational system running through the universe, as reason based on investigation understands it, is rejected by scientific method no matter how strongly that faith may be supported by tradition, authority, or sentiment… There is, therefore, no conflict between science and faith. (179-180)This selected and abridged body of subject matter when properly organized for the purposes of study, learning, and instruction, is called a curriculum. The curriculum should embody the cream of culture material from all ages of the past. It should be in a constant state of reconstruction and o readjustment to meet the needs of each new generation. In this way the children of to-day are enabled to relive in their individual experiences the best of what the race in its longer life has lived, the high points of its most significant experiences. (207)
(1912). Social principles of education. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
This book represents one of the earliest examples of Betts' life-long attempt to bring the contributions of the social sciences, especially psychology and sociology, into the dialogue surrounding religious education. The focus of this volume is on moving the discussion of progressive understandings of education from the realm of theory into a consideration of teaching method.
(1919). How to teach religion. New York: Abingdon Press.
Betts establishes himself squarely within the camp of progressive religious education as he discusses methods of teaching children what it means to be Christian. He understands religious education to be a process of nurturing children within a community that lives the Christian faith and surrounds the child in that culture. The methods of teaching he presents are directed toward helping children develop through spiritual change and through re-directing their growth under the direction of teachers of the faith who are themselves constant students of the faith as well.
Baxter, E. (1960). Teaching the New Testament. Philadelphia: United Church Press.
This book grew out of many years of supervising graduate students in fieldwork in the Saturday School of Religion and her many courses in Religious education. Part One is devoted to the content of the New Testament, and Part Two includes a variety of methods for the use of the New Testament in teaching youth and children at different age levels.
(1921). The new program of religious education. New York: Abingdon Press.
Betts maintains that the success of the church throughout its history had been the result of effective teaching of the faith, but laments the "recent" shift of emphasis away from the significance of religious education and toward other priorities of the church. In this book, he lists a series of changes he believes must take place for the church to return to the central role of religious education: reforms in the professional training of ministers; emphasis upon a specialized ministry of religious education; a new emphasis in developing educational programs; adequate budgets to carry out the educational program; applying educational standards to the work of the church school.
(1924). The curriculum of religious education. New York: Abingdon Press.
This seems to be the first book written to specifically address the history, theory, and development of the church school curriculum. Betts presents a rationale that supports the development of the "graded Sunday school curriculum", and claims that this stage of the history of curriculum series takes seriously the effects of developmental differences among children at varying ages and stages. He also emphasizes the influence of scientific method on this form of curriculum. The purpose of the curriculum is to help the child develop a healthy, modern, integrated life philosophy. Betts claims the focus of the curriculum is to be the life of the student, rather than the content of the subject area being taught.
(1929). The beliefs of 700 ministers and their meaning for religious education. New York: Abingdon Press.
This volume, which was part of the Abingdon Religious Education monograph series that Betts edited, is one example of Betts' interest in empirical surveys of the work of theology, ministry, and religious education. He sent a questionnaire to more than 1300 Protestant ministers from twenty denominations and received responses from roughly 700 of those persons. The questionnaire asked a series of fifty-six questions about theological doctrine, the nature and authority of the Bible, the understanding of the person and role of Jesus, and numerous other belief categories. The book presents a portrait of Protestant faith in the United States at the end of the 1920s, at least from the perspective of its clergy. His results show a wide diversity of belief, with only the Lutherans demonstrating a unity of doctrine. Indeed, the only statement among the fifty-six questions that was almost universally accepted was belief in the existence of God. Betts concluded that no denomination, with the possible exception of the Lutherans, should insist on doctrinal agreement among its members, since even the clergy could not agree of doctrinal issues. He also called for an interfaith discussion of theological claims, with the goal of developing a new creedal statement that would be based upon proven knowledge and reasoned conclusions.
(1929). Religion and conduct: A conference report. New York: Abingdon Press.
Betts wrote this book as a report of a conference on education and religious education held at Northwestern University in 1929. As a part of the deliberations at the conference, Betts asked the participants to answer one question: "Whether religion as we interpret, teach, and practice it to-day is capable of motivating life." He tabulated the responses, categorized them, and concluded that the majority of the respondents believed religion could affect the behavior and character of persons, if taught effectively. The book is primarily an editing of the papers presented at the conference.
(1931). The character outcome of present-day religion. New York: Abingdon Press.
This book is a study of the responses of three hundred participants in the 1929 conference on religion and conduct at Northwestern University to two questions Betts addressed to them: do our churches today preach a religion that can effectively influence conduct and character? and if so, why is it not working better to that end? The responses to the two questions were varied, with clergy, directors of Christian education, professors, and active laity responding to the first question with an average of 28% "Yes", over 35% "No", and roughly 35% giving a qualified response. Only members of denominational judicatory bodies and administrators offered more positive responses (27%) than negative ones (20%), with 53% offering a qualified answer. Betts concluded that the church needs to focus its teaching and preaching on the task of influencing the conduct and character of its members and develop teaching methods that present "real life" questions.
(1934). Teaching religion to-day. New York: Abingdon Press.
In one of the last examples of Betts prolific writing career, he directed his attention, once again, toward the curriculum used to teach children the Christian faith. He was critical of content-centered curriculum, which he saw as being too "rigidly fixed" and too oriented toward the presentation of facts and knowledge about the faith. He believed the curriculum of the church was the sum of all those experiences and influences that affect the development of character in the child. He presented a "life-centered" teaching program as the proper way to educate persons in the faith. The surviving archives of George Herbert Betts' work can be found at Northwestern University's library.
W. Alan Smith
W. Alan Smith received his B.A. in Religion from Florida State University (1972), M.Div. (1976) and D. Min. (1983) from The Divinity School, Vanderbilt University, and Ph.D. in Theology and Personality with an Emphasis in Religious Education from the Claremont School of Theology (1991) and has taken additional graduate work at Florida State University and the School of Theology, the University of the South. He is currently Professor of Religion at Florida Southern College, where he has been on the faculty of the Department of Religion and Philosophy since 1987. He is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).