May 14, 2005
Should Public Schools Teach The Bible?
Can the ACLU, the National Association of
Evangelicals, American Jewish Committee, National Education Association, and
the National Council of Churches agree on anything?
Yes - that the Bible ought to be taught in public
school "in courses such as literature and history. Knowledge of biblical
stories and concepts contributes to our understanding of literature,
history, law, art and contemporary society," according to "The Bible &
Schools: A First Amendment Guide" recently published by The Bible Literacy
Hasn't the Supreme Court outlawed courses about the
Bible? No, as long as such
teaching is "presented objectively as part of a secular program of
education," says the Court.
However, only 8 percent of 1002 teens polled say that
their public school offers an
elective course on the Bible. Yet half of teens in private schools say they
can take such a course.
The result, according to a recent Gallup Poll is that
most teens are "Bible Illiterates,"
reported George Gallup, Jr. Fewer than half of teens know what
happened at the wedding of Cana (water was turned into wine). Ask a teen
what's meant by "the road to
Damascus," and two-thirds of do not know it refers to Paul's conversion.
Only 31 percent knew the name of the sacred book of
Islam is the Koran. When asked whether David tried to kill King Saul,
two-thirds incorrectly said yes.
Is this illiteracy harmful to students?
The Bible Literacy Project asked 41 of the "best"
English teachers, "Considering the
literature you are teaching, how does it advantage or disadvantage students
to know about the Bible?" All but one of the teachers said that Bible
knowledge gives students a distinct
"Actually, I think it's very, very important because
basically, in my opinion, the Bible is
almost embedded in every single one of the works (that I teach)," replied
one teacher who is not religious.
"So when they don't have biblical knowledge, they're
really missing part of what the
author has to say. And typically, I don't have time to go back and
explain all the biblical
allusions," said another.
For example, there are 1,300 Biblical references in
Shakespeare. "Hamlet compares
himself with Abraham and Isaac," said one teacher.
A Catholic teacher noted that when Romeo spends 40
pieces of gold to buy the poison, today's students don't understand the
reference. But "Shakespeare's audience
would have said immediately, "Forty - not 30 - 40! Not silver - gold!" Romeo
is committing heresy now. He's out Judas-ing Judas."
A teacher said only some students understood in "Animal Farm" the allusion to "Moses
the raven, who was trying to lead the animals out of their slavery."
Why did Steinbeck call his great novels, "East of Eden"
or "The Grapes of Wrath?"
In Steinbeck's "The Pearl," a woman is saying the "Hail
Mary" over a child to bring it
back to health. One kid raised his hand and asked, "Why would they
wont to put hail on Mary? Who's Mary, anyway? Is that her name? I
thought her name was Juana. Now she's Mary."
The teachers developed a list of 75 people or ideas
that students need to know to
understand literature. Examples: Cain and Abel; Judas Iscariot; Let there be
light; Noah's ark; Walking on water; Cast the first stone; Lord's Prayer;
Golden rule; Eye for an eye; Solomon; Prodigal son; Apocalypse.
Fully 56 percent of the teachers said there was no
political or legal obstacles to teaching the Bible as literature, though 20
percent were concerned that they lacked a
resource or reference book. Others feared criticism by students of teaching
the Bible as truth rather than literature.
Therefore, the Bible Literacy Project, funded in part
by the John Templeton Foundation, has developed a new student textbook with
Catholic, Protestant and Jewish
reviewers, a teacher's edition and teacher training which will be piloted in
the fall. For more information, go to
The public has a great misconception. When the Supreme
Court ruled in 1963 that public schools may not require devotional use of
the Bible, it added:
"It might well be said that one's education is not
complete without a study of the ...history of religion and its relationship
to the advancement of civilization. ...Nothing
we have said here indicates that such a study of the Bible or of religion,
objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected
consistently with the First Amendment."
Parents, here is a cause worthy of your best efforts.
Help bring a course in the Bible to
your children's school.
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