Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Bible in the Classroom

"Oh just about everything's a sin. Have you ever sat down and read this thing?"--Reverend Lovejoy on the Bible.

Many of you probably recall the survey done by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life last summer, which revealed (surprise!) that the citizens of the most religious country in the world are rather ignorant about religion. Unfortunately, if your knowledge of religion is lacking, that handicaps your capacity to understand many other things, such as Iraqi politics, much of U.S. history, and virtually all literature written in English prior to 1870, to name three examples.

The survey merely confirmed what many educators, writers and thinkers have long known: that Americans know very little about one of the most powerful forces in human history. What's really staggering is American ignorance of a relatively small facet of the big subject we call religion: a little book known as the Bible, that book many of our boorish ancestors used as license to set up little enclaves of intolerance on the Eastern seaboard. According to the survey's findings fewer than half of Americans could name the four Gospels, and only about half know that the Golden Rule is not one of the Ten Commandments. In 2007 Representative Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA) called for the display of the Ten Commandments in the houses of Congress. It turns he couldn't even name them:

I've always been bemused by Republican Bible-thumping: if they actually opened theirs (if they have them) and read them once in a while they might have to question their own political positions: for instance, according to the Christian point of view helping the unfortunate not only isn't wrong, it's a divine command.

On the surface it's a laudable attempt to address this ignorance that Texas public schools were required to offer a Biblical studies elective as of 2009. And the Texas state legislature specifically declared that the aim was not to proselytize but to "teach students knowledge of biblical content, characters, poetry, and narratives that are prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture, including literature, art, music, mores, oratory, and public policy," and that the classes "shall not endorse, favor, or promote, or disfavor or show hostility toward, any particular religion or nonreligious faith or religious perspective."

All well and good. However, in spite of the law mandating that the study of the Bible's impact on Western culture be taught in a manner "that neither promotes nor disparages religion...[and not] "from a particular sectarian point of view," and that this would be ensured by teacher training and curriculum standards approved by the state attorney general, there's been a problem.

In fall of 2009 the Texas Education Agency announced it would not provide the training and materials because there was no funding from the state legislature.

Some school districts promptly canceled the class. Others forged ahead. In spite of the laudable intentions behind the law--and I have no doubt many Texas teachers have attempted to teach this class in a fully objective, academically acceptable spirit--I am also sure that in many communities this has been next to impossible. In many parts of this country you say the word "Bible" and immediately the listener's neocortex stops working. This is nowhere better illustrated than in one of the first articles I read on the Bible studies elective:

"I think it is a good thing because a lot of kids don't have that experience, and they already want to take prayer out of school as it is, and you see where our kids are ending up!" said Tyler resident Laura Tucker.

And this month the ACLU began investigating a Bible class being taught at the high school in Big Spring, Texas. Some residents objected--to the investigation, not the class.

"I found it to some degree offensive that someone could come in, any group or groups and basically tell you, you cant have a class that has any faith view that might be expressed," says parent Chipper Smith.

Some people in this country (most of them white Christians) will never grasp what the word public means in this country. That there's a sphere where it's not all about them. Where they don't get to dictate to the rest of us.

No comments:

Blog Archive