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The Bible Makes A Comeback


Schools across the country are offering courses on the Bible in order to promote students' understanding of history, literature, fine arts, current events, and even popular culture.

As Harriet Kisilinsky, an English teacher in Jacksonville, Fla., says in this Education Week article, "How can you expect [students] to read Dante's Inferno and write about it if they don't understand his nine circles of hell?"

Many educators and policymakers, however, worry that the courses open the door for religious instruction in public schools under the guise of "biblical literacy."

What do you think? Is there a place for the Bible in public education?


I think that religion should be taught in school. Although, it should be by choice. Everyone doesn't believe in the same things and that could cause a problem if it is forced on them. But, a lot of kids would be better off if they had some type of knowledge from the Bible. My children are in elementary school and I teach them about the Bible at home.

Teaching the Bible is a gold mine for literature but a minefield for misapplied enthusiasms. The problems and conflicts it would create would only be intensified if science and rational thinking were introduced to this field of study. I taught mythology for years at the ninth grade level. Origin stories always brought calls from fundamentalist/literalists who threatened to transfer Billy-Bob or Sally-May into someone else's class who either didn't tackle the topic or who prefaced the material with "Those pagans and their myths were all wrong; the Bible and those who wrote the stories were inspired to tell the truth." You can't reason or argue with someone who "believes" the truth is in every word written in the Bible, regardless of how illogical or contradictory those words may be when analyzed under the microsope of science and reason.

Kathleen's article is so accurate. I am presently teaching two courses entitled the Bible and Its Influence A & B. These courses present the Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament to average ability secondary students who now recognize biblical allusions in media, literature, advertising,and politics. My students are enthusiastically engaged in O.T. and N.T. books that present them with enticing characters and plots that rival any other book they have seen. The questions they generate in class suggest the compelling need we have to present them with the source of so many "things" they see, know, and read. Why not introduce them to this book that has so influenced western civilization and allow them to see some of the material they examine with educated eyes?

My husband has taught the Bible as literature for 33 years. He has built the course into one of the most popular elective courses at Carmel High School. He currently has about 33 students in a class and teaches 5 sections of the course. He teaches both the Old and New Testaments. The students learn a lot about the chronological order of events and about the rich history of the Bible.

I had absolutely no Bible instruction as a child, period. Not only did I have no trouble in school, I graduated high school at age 16, in all Honor Societies etc etc, and I am now a lawyer. I do not agree that it is very important to have a formal Biblical education to understand all Biblical references in literature; I succeeded just fine without one. Now I teach Sunday School (as a Unitarian) and I still don;t think I missed anything as a child. The "rich history" of the Bible is less history than rich fables, and is Euro-Centric. Why not also teach the "rich history" of other religious traditions, from Africa, Asia, etc?

I have to agree with the previous poster. I didn't have any bible study until I attended a Catholic high school. However, I do not feel that the one semester course on reading the bible has made any significant impact. Yes, there are a few references here and there that I get because of having read the bible but not anything significant.I feel that the bible should be read but in a religious school/church setting. There are quite a few differences in different versions of the bible. It would be hard to choose even a version to teach. I feel that this is just another pretext to get the bible and the beliefs of some into public schools.

I'm reminded of the comment of a friend who taught literature to Yale undergraduates. She said she spent half her class time teaching the students to recognize biblical allusions when they encountered them! Any literate person -- whether or not he's a religious believer -- ought to have some knowledge of the Bible, which is surely a foundational document for western culture. It's ironic that some fear the Bible will be taught at a Sunday School level, as previous generations who *were* exposed to it in Sunday School didn't require "remedial" education later at their public schools!

This article implies that I am not capable of being 'fully educated' because I have not been taught Bible stories- by who's standards? Also to imply that I can not effectively participate in debates on abortion, capital punishment or the environment because I lack Bible study is offensive. I can certainly agree that understanding the Bible and how it has affected society is worthy knowledge. In fact there are many worthy disciplines, such as astronomy or environmental sciences for example that have far reaching impact on society and history as well. To imply that the Bible of all things provides the one foundation needed to be more 'fully educated' is ludicrous. Based on the health of our society and the world today, public schools should teach our children an awareness of world issues like the environment or child soldiers in Africa. Or better yet, we should teach them information literacy skills so they are equipped to figure out on their own what the 'Flood' refers to if they ever find themselves reading Marvell's poetry.

How can one who walked in darkness know what all he missed seeing? I am amused at people who feel they did not miss anything because they had no Bible Study as a child. Unless they have, as an adult, read the Bible for themselves, they are in no position to discredit the value of the Bible and what effect it may have the on the life of a child. The Bible makes me feel a unity with people from thousands of years ago, as well as a unity with people from other cultures.
After all, it is the book that has been translated into more languages than any other book in the world, is the most widely circulated book, and the most quoted book of all times. How can any person who wants to call himself educated neglect this book and fail to teach children about it?

I appreciate the comments of those of you who are in support of the idea of treaching the Bible as an academic work. It is essential that we give our students the opportunity to discover and learn the richness that is the Bible and its influence that we see everyday.
I want to make it clear to those who believe that this is a course of "Bible stories". I don't teach those; they are for Sunday school or Hebrew School or whatever religious study one may choose. I teach archetypes, themes, character analysis, poetry, universality, and so forth. My text is the Bible along with a score of other resources.
We do a great diservice to the future as we dismiss the literature of the past because we are afraid someone will call it religion. Collectively we need to get off of our high horses and give these kids the tools and background they need to watch a movie, read a book, listen to music, or simply finction in a society that is based on an ethic that comes from a book called the Bible.

In the mid-1970s, I attended John Dewey HS - a NYC public school - which lived up to its namesake's philosophy. Friends of mine joked that it was a "commie school."

This radical educational program allowed students to select courses, following a broad outline of requirements. Two such courses on the literature list were "The Bible as Literature" (Part One: Hebrew Scriptures; Part Two: Christian Scriptures).

The text was the Bible. We had to bring in the translation of our own choosing. The teacher directed lessons around the key images one finds referred to in the arts & literature. We did not discuss the "history" as much, since various religions have different views concernng the historicity of various passages--though he did ask provocative questions to get the class to delve into and discuss the text as literature. We compared our translations by reading the most popular verses from various bibles.

And would have been educational to explain that a certain passage is interpretted this way by group X, and that way by group Y, and yet again in another way by group Z.

I never remember anyone being offended by another's comment, but found the various viewpoints interesting for personal reflection on my own journey as a person of faith (outside the classroom, of course!).

In my twenties and thirties, I worked in churches of various denominations (Roman Catholic and Protestant) as a Christian educator, worship planner, and musician with all age groups--nursery to adult.

Today, I presently teach music in an elementary public school that, in the upper grades, includes religious music at the December performance (Ramadan, Christmas, Hanukkah).

Am I "evangelizing?" The answer to this rightful accusation can be found in the highest praise I have ever received from a student during the December rehearsals:

The student asked me, "So, what holiday do YOU celebrate?" Mission accomplished: I have taught all the observances equally. (And I did not share what holiday I celebrate, though I did thank the child for the compliment--and why it was a compliment.)

I expect no less from those who teach the Bible in the Public Schools.

Our students in the United States need to have studies in "Comparative Religion" in order to have a better understanding of the world they live in. Not only do they need a knowledge of the Bible as great literature and history, they also need to have knowlege of the other religions of the world such as Islam, Buddism, Hindu, Catholicism, Morman, Scientology, etc. As a teacher, wish that as a child I had been able to learn more about the religions of the world. By learning about the world's religions,we can have a greater understanding of their thinking and belief systems.

I taught a senior honors elective in literature for a number of years. "The Bible" was one of our areas of study. Although I grew up hearing text at least twice a week, I read a great deal before I began to teach -- R. Alter (UCB) and Jack Miles, two great collections of essays edited by David Rosenberg,Harold Bloom, Reynolds Price and more. I also took a course in Jewish History as seen thro' the Torah. Every year, new things were published and I read them. It's a scholarly undertaking to do this well and to feel comfortable with it.
One method I used with both the Bible and with The Odyssey and, say, Oedpius Rex, was to pair them with analogs. For example, Ruth's story with a B. Malamud short story; Cain and Abel with the film version of "East of Eden." There are many poems or poem cycles - - Linda Pastan's, for example.
Teachers need to be open themselves - - to study and the rich discussion and exchanges that take place in class. All of us, students and teacher, shared their religious orientations, experiences and questions before we began reading.
The elective nature of the course was an important factor, I believe.

As a Jew who lived in the deep south for 5 years, I witnessed a tremendous amount of bickering over what does or does not constitute a "good" Christian and therefore a "good" teacher/politician/etc. Judaism was invisible, as I'm sure were many other religions, at least to the vocal minority. I have a hard time seeing how teaching the Bible in school will do anything but enforce this religious tunnel vision, unless it follows the exceptional format that Julie Fisher recommended - comparative religion.

I can agree with teaching the Bible (a religious, holy text) in a school classroom only if I can (and do) teach other major religious, holy texts from the world. I might supplement literary works like "Dante's Inferno" with the Old and New Testaments, of course, just as I might supplement "The Satanic Verses" with the Quran, or as I might teach parts of the Torah to supplement the Pullman trilogy "His Dark Materials." However, I do not agree that the use of religious texts is really necessary to provide supplementation to major literary works. Students may read these on their own, should they choose (and I do agree that students are to be encouraged to read anything). But I can provide, in minutes, the necessary supplemental ideas so that my students from non-American cultures may understand concepts like "Hell" and "Heaven." I do not need them to read passages or entire texts.

On the other hand, a high school class in Comparitive Religion would be ideal. I am certain parents would encourage their adolescents to learn about many faiths, each with their own texts, each with their own viewpoints on the afterlife, salvation, proper morality, and sociocultural (mundane) behaviors. Yet I suspect this egalitarian and scholastic approach would suit not at all the vast majority of public schools which want to introduce Biblical lessons and interpretations on modern American culture.

I hope that educators who teach a Bible course are "highly qualified," in that they have studied and can present (1) the interpretations and historical accuracy provided by theologians who have thoroughly studied the Bible as a whole -- not their own interpretations and not Bible just as literature, and (2) are able to compare and contrast the teachings of the Bible with those of other religions.

As a young person, I asked a church teacher to teach us more about the BIBLE, not just moral affirmatives. The response was a presentation of Bible history, which did nothing for me in the absence of meaning. I wanted to fully understand the teachings of the Bible -- the history, the interpretations, the parables, and so on. As I grew older, I was keen to understand how the Christian beliefs I had been taught stacked up against those of other faiths.

America was founded within the Christian faith and, within this founding, secures unparalled freedom of religion and freedom of speech. The God of the Bible continues to stand in the center of our unique country. As citizens, I believe it is our responsibility (and privilege) to learn about the God of our founding fathers and why our MONEY says "In God We Trust." Why does our government include prayer to God in its business? Why do Presidents talk about their faith? Why did people across the nation, including legislators on the steps of the Capitol, sing "God Bless America" after planes hit our twin towers? Whether one agrees with it or not -- why did we, along the way, add God to our Pledge of Allegiance? We do these things, and these things come from the Bible -- so what does the Bible say, anyway?

From such a knowledge base, individuals can draw the conclusions they choose or, hopefully, go on to further study. I went on to further study and as I develop more and more understanding of the Bible, I am better able to understand the differences of other faiths.

Alida Goodkin may not agree with my comments, but I agree with hers.

It is amazing how a discussion of teaching students information which will help them understand myriad cultural references turns into a religious controversy dominated by one's position on the Christian religion, either pro or con. Literature, politics, pop culture, all around our students exists a rich subtext that they miss because they are not taught the basics of the Bible. Comparative religion might be a great course, but here in the USA we do not have a lot of Quran or Buddhist references in our cultural communication. The point is that the students should be able to pick up on a reference to the Prodigal Son in the same way they can pick up a reference to the Civil War or to Hamlet, and that currently most are not able to do so.

When I was in high school, my AP English, History, and Fine Arts teachers taught us the importance of the Bible, Torah, and Koran as literary, historical, and theoretical documents and works. Passages, parables, and differences must be taught because so many other literary, historical, and artistic pieces allude to them. They must remain part of our curricula for academic and not necessarily religious reasons in public education. For example, I am a Christian, but I would like for my children to learn religious teachings from me, our church, or our chosen parochial school.

I feel it is imperative that all are exposed to the information from the Bible. They are not being forced upon a religion it is simply a study.

It is important for students to learn about the Bible and the importance it has had throughout history. Students are not being forced to change their religious faith or values, but are being taught about different religions. Students just need to be reminded that when discussing religion they need to be respectful of others opinions. By teaching about religion, we are expanding the knowledge that students have on history, culture, society, literature and art.

It is important for students to study a wide range of material that helps them navigate through the culture that we live in. It cannot be denied that The Bible is a part of our culture just as The Declaration of Independence, Uncle Tom's Cabin, or Mother Goose is. We do not need to teach The Bible for moral or religious reasons, but rather as a tool to better understand our culture as well as the context many important literary works. I also agree that other religious texts should be studied, but as far as Western literate, history, and culture is concerned, The Bible is the most essential religious text for students of the Western world to understand.

"They are not being forced upon a religion..."
"Students are not being forced to change their religious faith or values..."

They're brighter than you give them credit for, and they get the hidden curriculum that your religion is worth teaching but his/hers/theirs/mine isn't. Why not teach a course on the history of religious persecution? That would provide a fantastic introduction to why the founders of this country felt so strongly about religious freedom that that they saw the necessity of protecting it even for religions other than their own.

Hello, I really enjoyed the post about how so many people feel they have not missed anyhting by not being taught the Bible, however I understand you can not miss something you never had. I feel very fortunate to have been taught the Bible as a child and feel it has made me a better person. That is what is wrong with today's society. We have no morels; our country has been taught to accept things even if they are wrong. The Bible should be taught optional- The world needs to get their heads out of the clouds and focas more on what this country was founded on.

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