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Saturday, April 29, 2006

Teaching the Bible in the School

There was a piece on ABC News a couple weeks ago about teaching the Bible in school, not in an attempt to convert, but rather as teaching about a book (or a Book, if you prefer) that has had great impact on American society. I found a 1974 article here suggesting that the Supreme Court rulings in the 1960s did NOT prohibit teaching about the Bible in school, only limited the manner in which it could be taught. This piece lays out the limitations as well.

There are a couple book publishers that provide textbooks for this purpose. This one has a self-proclaimed conservative agenda, while this one claims to be fair-minded.

So, being the curious librarian that I am, I was hoping that you can answer a couple questions for me:

1) Should the Bible, or Christianity, be taught in public schools?

2) Can the Bible, or Christianity, be taught in public schools objectively, without trying to "convert" the students?

3) What else should be taught in public schools? The Koran? Islam? Maybe some comparative religions course?


Roger Owen Green said...

1. Yes.

2. Yes, but one must be very careful.

3. yes, all of it.

Scott said...

I would answer them all in one shot. (Hate to mess up your system).

Yes, I believe the Bible should be taught in public schools, but it is probably best with a comparitive course. Mostly because we do have the freedom of religion here in the US, and just one religion shouldn't be "forced" on students. (Though the Bible does influence the "Big 3".) To those that would scoff at this, well shame on them. Religion teaches us good moral values, and that is something that should be / has to be taught in schools. There is a lot of history too in the Bible, so that also becomes important then just being religion. And yes I do believe it can be taught objectively. Just need to find the right teachers.

Claire said...

As a leftist atheist who was taught religion 5 days a week for 12 years of Catholic school (and also prayed and said the pledge of allegiance daily), I'm living proof that even the best efforts at indoctrination can fail.

That said, I think it important that comparative religion be taught--but I am highly skeptical that most teachers could teach it objectively. It would require putting the bible and the stories of Christ on an equal footing with, say, the Bagavad Gita and the tale of Ganesh having the head of an elephant. If you teach all religions as a continuum of human experience, then you open the floodgates to the possibility that bible is just another myth.

That's not to say that myths are not important, or valuable, or that spiritual truths are not embodied in these stories. Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" is till performed hundreds of years after its writing; people appreciate it for its truths about power and politics, not as a factual account of a historical figure. It is considered profound even if it is fiction. But I don't think most Christians, even those who are not fundamentalist, are ready to let their children be taught that the story of Christ is, quite possibly, just a story.

GayProf said...

Given how much the Bible influenced other forms of literature, it seems important for students to have some familiarity with it. I also tend to worship at the altar of free-speech, so I get leery when things are “forbidden” from being discussed.

Still, public education needs to provide students skills to make their own decisions. I would loathe a teacher of any faith using his/her power to indocrinate.

Greg said...

I would have to say "no," unless you're teaching simply the big stories of the Old Testament. The problem, as Claire points out, is that you would have to teach it in a comparative religion class, and then you would have to call it myth, and that would open a HUGE can of worms, even with sticking to the OT. You can't teach it in a history class, and in a literature class, you might be able to get away with it, but the teacher has to lay down the law at the beginning of the class that it will not be taught as a religious document. It's pretty hard to do - it can be done, of course, but so can a lot of things. This bugs me, because I want it and the Koran and other religions to be taught in high school, but I think it's too difficult. Let the kids learn about the Bible in Sunday School and take comparative religion classes in college.

EM said...

My high school had a "Bible as literature" type course that was offered in the English dept from time to time. I never took it, but I did have the woman who taught it for several other courses. She was really cool. I wish I knew more about the course content and her approach, but I can't see her doing anything remotely resemblng indoctrination, even in my conservative little backwater hometown. I mean, she used to let me write papers about comic books!