I’m up to my eyeballs in my book manuscript about conservative educational activism in the 20th century. There are plenty of recurring themes. Just like every other sort of activist, conservatives return again and again to images or ideas that work. On a recent research trip I found another example of a common theme among educational conservatives: the Pied Piper. For decades, conservatives have warned of Pied Pipers leading children out of their schoolhouses and into damnation. The specific tune might change. Sometimes, it is the dangerous sound of evolution. At other times, it is communism, or atheism, or lack of Bible awareness. I’ll include a few of the most striking images here. Enjoy!
I thought the cartoon above captured the spirit of the 1920s Protestant fundamentalist school campaigns so well that I used it as the cover of my first book. It comes from a wonderful book of cartoons by the evangelical artist EJ Pace.
This is another gem from EJ Pace. This one appeared in the newsletter of the Evangelical Theological College, a seminary new in the 1920s. It later became the Dallas Theological Seminary, a leading training school for conservative Protestant ministers. Of course, there’s not an actual Pied Piper here, but I’m including it because it has the same theme of students being led from their school (you can see it way in the background) down to the chasm of unbelief in God. The cartoon was an advertisement for a Bible campaign that never really got off the ground. The plan was to deliver 1,000,000 Bibles to college students so that they might better resist the intellectual and spiritual dangers of higher education.
Here we see a different sort of Pied Piper. Instead of evolution or the lack of Bibles, the threat here is communistic school textbooks. Stalin as Piper is able to lead the students out of their little red schoolhouse down a dangerous path. In this use of the Pied Piper theme, the danger comes from improper, un-American teaching. But the basic message is the same.
I imagine there are lots of Pied Piper cartoons floating around out there for all different sorts of educational ideas. The idea that improper education–whatever that might mean–is leading our young people down a dangerous path is too obvious to be restricted only to patriotic or religious conservatives. However, I don’t know if any other cartoon could possibly match the excitement of seeing Stalin in tights and pointy-toed shoes.