Blogging the string in the labyrinth of Crete

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Bible in Schools

Many reasonable people who point out that religion has had a significant effect on society and is therefore worthwhile of study, even in public schools. Generally, because of the impact Christianty has had in American culture, they suggest Bible courses.

I don't have qualms with the argument itself -- the Supreme Court has recognized that while teaching religion is unconstitutional, teaching about religion is acceptable. Knowing about the world includes knowing about religion and how it affects us. There is even aesthetic value, as many authors and artists reference religious beliefs or scripture. There are serious reasons to worry considerably about the implementation of courses, however.

The ACLU recently filed Moreno v. Ector County School Board, a complaint by eight parents against a Texas district which initiated a 10th-grade Bible study elective course. In their complaint, the plaintiffs claim the curriculum of the course teaches a particular theological point of view. It should be noted that none are necessarily atheists, and at least one is specifically a Presbyterian minister. Generally, one might think suing on a viewpoint taught might be difficult from an evidentiary perspective. One recent New Jersey case would have gone uncorroborated if the student had not been plucky enough to audiotape the lectures (for which, incidentally, the school chastised him).

As all complaints, a statement of facts is included. These only tell the plaintiff's side, and have not yet been supported by evidence. However, certain assertions are almost certainly true, simply because verification would be simple:

  • The King James version (which the complaint says is a Protestant version) is used in the course.
  • Roman Catholic beliefs on communion are described in course text as "warped" and brought on by "mysticism"
  • Scriptures are memorized and at least one assignment asks students to discuss their significance to their own lives
  • A supplementary video uses many unconfirmed quotations of the founding fathers to argue a religious foundation for the government, without presenting contradictory quotations

A true-false exam presents a list of questions. The answers to all of the below, quoted verbatim, are "true":

  • Jesus was resurrected on a Sunday
  • During his prayer, Jesus sweated drops of blood
  • Judas was paid to show the Jewish officials where Jesus was
  • When Jesus dies, the sun goes black
  • Jesus ascended to heaven on the Mount of Olives

Perhaps those who are better educated about the Bible can tell me whether those represent specific religious viewpoints, but I would be quite surprised if all the Biblical faiths (including varieties of Christianity, Judaism, and Catholicism) all subscribed to these.

Many other claims and examples in the complaint will probably be disputed by the school district, including a claim that the selection of the particular curriculum was rigged in favor of a less objective curriculum. The claims, however, are believable. The complaint suggests that while two curricula were evaluated, only one was eventually presented to the Board. That the other may have been more objective is implied in an email from the Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Shannon Baker, in which she writes: "YES, WE ARE USING NCBCPS :) :) :)! HA! Take that you dang heathens!"

What does this tell us about religion classes in schools, and curriculum selection in general? Well, it may be fraught with corruption and personal interests. Baker's email suggests she's not only not trying to remain objective, but that she feels her religion requires her to advance a certain religious viewpoint. It's difficult to teach a Bible class objectively even when the materials and instructor both genuinely share that purpose. Given that people and processes are rarely so pure, Bible classes are dangerous enough that the decision of most schools to simply not offer them is a wise one.

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Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Crypticlife, I think it's terribly unethical for a teacher to push a particular religious viewpoint in a class on the Bible. But that can be a problem in almost any social studies class. I also think it's unethical to push a particular political point of view, but that happens, too. Unfortunately, there are teachers who do these things because they are stupid, unethical, or so arrogant that they think their beliefs should be preached to the young people under their charge.

By the way, right now I am reading AMERICAN GOSPEL, which as it says on the cover, is "a nimble examination of how American political leaders...have wrestled with God personally and publicly." It's a book that even an atheist might find interesting because it deals so much with the wisdom and importance of separation of church and state. By the way, how's my spelling this time?

4:28 PM  
Blogger CrypticLife said...

I agree it's unethical to push a particular political viewpoint -- but I do wonder how you avoid it. Do you deal with historical controversies in your class? Do you ever find presenting them in an even-handed fashion difficult?

I never found history in high school to be particularly interesting. I have only found it interesting where controversies and arguments are based on it, where it affects territorial disputes or politics today. I also found my most interesting classes in college were ones where the professor had a particularly strong opinion, regardless of whether I agreed with them.

I'll take a look at American Gospel -- I do try to read on religion from multiple perspectives when I can. (and your spelling's fine, btw)

3:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes Christianity has greatly affected American and Western culture, but other religions have as well. Islam and Judaism have changed Western culture more directly, and other faiths such as Hinduism and Budhism have done so less directly. I think that the best solution to this problem is a World Relgions class which covers all the major world religions, including Christianity, and treats them all equally. This would be a far more helpful class as the VAST majority of Americans and their children know about Chirstianity, but far fewer know about major religions around the world. In a world that is becoming smaller, and where larger numbers of non-Christians are coming into America, knowing what other people believe is more important than teaching about a religion most Americans learn in Sunday school anyway.

4:42 PM  
Blogger MICKY said...

About 3 years ago I dropped into a black hole – four months of absolute terror. I wanted to end my life, but somehow [Holy Spirit], I reached out to a friend who took me to hospital. I had three visits [hospital] in four months – I actually thought I was in hell. I imagine I was going through some sort of metamorphosis [mental, physical & spiritual]. I had been seeing a therapist [1994] on a regular basis, up until this point in time. I actually thought I would be locked away – but the hospital staff was very supportive [I had no control over my process]. I was released from hospital 16th September 2004, but my fear, pain & shame had only subsided a little. I remember this particular morning waking up [home] & my process would start up again [fear, pain, & shame]. No one could help me, not even my therapist [I was terrified]. I asked Jesus Christ to have mercy on me & forgive me my sins. Slowly, all my fear has dissipated & I believe Jesus delivered me from my “psychological prison.” I am a practicing Catholic & the Holy Spirit is my friend & strength; every day since then has been a joy & blessing. I deserve to go to hell for the life I have led, but Jesus through His sacrifice on the cross, delivered me from my inequities. John 3: 8, John 15: 26, are verses I can relate to, organically. He’s a real person who is with me all the time. I have so much joy & peace in my life, today, after a childhood spent in orphanages . God LOVES me so much. Fear, pain, & guilt, are no longer my constant companions. I just wanted to share my experience with you [Luke 8: 16 – 17].

8:12 AM  

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