I read a controversial article the other day in TIME Magazine: “The Case for Teaching The Bible”, which makes a clear call for courses teaching about the Bible in public high schools. The author, David Van Biema, TIME’s senior religion writer, carefully couches his call with some guidelines, namely that such teaching must be entirely secular and constitutional. The emphasis within the teaching should be on the Bible’s impact on Western history, literature, and culture.
The article mentions a couple of groups producing texts for such classes, including The Bible Literacy Project, which, in cooperation with The First Amendment Center, published a document in 1999 called “The Bible & Public Schools: A First Amendment Guide” and has more recently released a textbook called The Bible and Its Influence.
I think Van Biema makes a critical statement near the middle of his article, when he asks and answers his own question:
bq.. Doesn’t secular teaching about the Bible play into the hands of the religious right and the secular left?
Yes. Both. Which may suggest that each is exaggerating its claim.
p. In other words, the religious right wins by getting the Bible into schools, but loses because of the secular spin, and vice versa for the secular left. There are strong reasons why both groups should oppose this, and, on the other hand, good reasons why they should cooperate to make sure it happens.
Van Biema’s careful criteria for Bible literacy courses in public schools, as provided near the end of his article, goes something like this:
* The Bible literacy course shouldn’t be mandatory.
* The course should be coupled mandatorily with a world religions course, even if that would mean just a semester of each.
* No one should take the course but juniors and seniors.
* The Bible’s harmful as well as helpful uses must be addressed.
* The course should have a strong accompanying textbook. It shouldn’t use the Bible as its primary text.
* Teacher training is a must: at a bare minimum, about their constitutional obligations.
I personally agree with Van Biema’s criteria and his conclusion and would welcome the academic teaching of the Bible in public schools.
As an aside, in trying to think about this from the perspective of someone who is not Christian, I’m trying to imagine what it would be like to have secular teaching of the Quran in high schools. The more I think about that, the more I wish I could’ve taken such a class in high school. I think it would’ve prepared me better (and, if offered today, would prepare our children) to deal better with and think more rationally about current events in the middle east.