TEACHING THE BIBLE IN SCHOOLS: A CURRICULUM COMPARISON
Part 1: The Bible Literacy Project
Mandatory reading of the Bible in public schools was banned as a result of the 1963 Supreme Court decision Abington Township v. Schempp. The Bible still makes its way into public schools, however, in at least two ways. The first, of course, is that students have the liberty to bring their Bibles to school and read them during free time. A second way the Bible enters public schools is in the form of classes that teach the Bible in a non-sectarian manner – as history or literature, for instance.
Two specific Bible curriculums have made it successfully into public schools and have gained popularity in recent years. Both classes are careful to avoid teaching the Bible in a religious way, and therefore pass the First Amendment test. These two sets of curriculum are quite different in their approach, however. We want to compare and contrast these two different Bible class curriculums, especially in light of how they teach public school students to view the Bible. In Part I, we’ll consider the Bible Literacy Project, and in Part II we’ll look at the curriculum offered by the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools.
The Bible Literacy Project
Textbook: The Bible and Its Influence by Cullen Schippe, Chuck Stetson
The Bible and Its Influence has generated a great deal of controversy in both conservative and liberal circles. Some major evangelicals like Chuck Colson and Ted Haggard have endorsed the textbook as a great way to teach students about the Bible. Conservatives like Berit Kjos, on the other hand, argue that the book is communitarianism (communism for those who believe in God) lite. Berit Kjos sees evidence in the textbook that its authors are trying to undermine Christianity and promote the notion that all world religions are of equal value. She cites the following selections from the textbook as examples of this:
Undermines the heart of Christianity: “Jesus was also seen as an example of self sacrifice that can be imitated.” … “On your own, try to find examples of such Christ figures in literature, film or even music.”
Blends pagan images with Biblical references: “Look up some examples of other ancient literature and mythology of the origins of the world (such as Enuma Elish, Gilgamesh, or Praise of the Pickax). Compare what you read there with the first two chapters of Genesis. Share your comparisons.”
On the other hand, Joseph L. Conn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State is suspicious of the textbook because one of its major editors, Chuck Stetson, is a Christian and a conservative whom Conn sees as a promoter of religion in public schools. Conn notes that Stetson is a force behind the National Bible Association, the Network of Bible Storytellers, and School Ministries, “an outfit that promotes released-time religious education for public school students.” Conn also notes, however, that Stetson is not an author of the book. Conn writes:
Is Stetson’s “biblical worldview” reflected in the BLP’s new book?Yes and no. The book was apparently compiled by a committee, and the ideological tilt varies. Readers will find it an interesting mix of conservative and liberal concepts. Stetson was apparently willing to include progressive voices in the volume as the price he had to pay to get endorsements from the moderate end of the civil liberties spectrum.
Conn still faults the textbook for being too positive about the Bible, saying, “The Bible is repeatedly promoted as having an overwhelmingly positive impact on individuals, American history and, indeed, the whole world.” He includes in his criticism that, “A ‘unit feature’ treats farm workers’ rights advocate Cesar Chavez, Holocaust author Elie Wiesel and the peace-promoting American Friends Service Committee as examples of modern-day prophets!”
Such claims should raise concerns. It is also telling that the textbook is supported by groups like the Texas Freedom Network, a liberal organization (though they claim to be mainstream) formed for the purpose of countering “the religious right.” While the Bible Literacy Project promotes the education of public school students on the Bible, some of the contents of the book are problematic for those who take the Bible seriously as the Word of God.
Stay tuned next week for Part II, an examination of the Bible curriculum created by the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools.
• Training Students to Rethink God’s Word – Kjos Ministries
• What Scholars and Leaders Are Saying About The Bible and Its Influence – BLP
• The Bible Literacy Project: Chuck Stetson’s Trojan Horse? – Americans United For Separation of Church and State
• Abington Township v. Schempp – US Supreme Court
• Texas Freedom Network – Organization Website
• Faith in the Classroom – Koinonia House
• The Un-Neighborly Neighbor – Koinonia House