CSEE started out as the “National Preparatory School Committee of the YMCA” in 1898 at Peddie School in Hightstown, New Jersey. It was an informal, non-denominational organization started by four school heads that felt a need to support religion in schools and student religious organizations. By 1911, over 100 schools had some connection to the NPSC.
NPSC had a consistent message from the beginning: “academic ability, social prominence, going to the ‘right schools’ are no guarantee of virtue.” Frequent questions asked of students were: “who am I?” and “where am I going?”
After WWII (1951), the NPSC separated from the YMCA, a move that allowed more freedom to determine policies, program, personnel and budget. The name of the organization was formally changed to the Council for Religion in Independent Schools (CRIS).
From Students to Faculty
Over the years CRIS membership always included a variety of schools with differing approaches to religious education. But during the 1970’s, religion was becoming less important in society, students were generally disenfranchised with “the establishment,” and schools were becoming pluralistic communities. CRIS began focusing on teachers and administrators instead of students, developing teaching material in religious and ethical studies that addressed the broader development of young people.
In 1997, faced with the increasing secularization of American culture and the increasing number of non-religiously affiliated schools seeking membership, CRIS change its name to the “Council for Spiritual and Ethical Education.” Our most recent name change, from "Council" to the "Center for Spiritual and Ethical Education," was decided by unanimous vote of trustees in the summer of 2009, to reflect a sense of greater participation and sharing of resources.
Over 100 years later, CSEE still advocates for “educating students to ask the most profound questions, to extend a hand to those in need, to live a life reflectively and in response to... [something] greater than themselves, to be moral beings and to understand the nature of reverence.” Thank you to the hundreds of schools and foundations that have supported us over the years and allowed us to continue the important work of educating the heart of students.
Taken extensively from “Voices of Religion in Independent School: The Evolution of The Council for Religion In Independent Schools” by Robert A. Moss (1993). Photo of NPSC Director Henry Poor at annual conference (1950’s).