By Dr. Chuck Missler
The Kentucky state legislature is out to provide a curriculum for public high school Bible courses. Many teachers and students in Kentucky are all for the bill, agreeing that it serves a useful purpose in the classroom. Others, of course, want to know what public schools are doing teaching the Bible. Still others distrust the way that the curriculum will treat the Bible.
As written, Senate Bill 56 will not give Kentucky public schools permission to teach the Bible as an elective course. Those classes are already permitted. Schools across the nation offer elective Bible classes with the blessing of the US Constitution. The purpose of the bill is to choose curriculum that public schools could use if they wanted to offer an elective Bible class. The real question should be, "Is this a good curriculum?" Unfortunately, these sorts of issues always bring up the oft-answered question about whether the Bible should be taught in public schools at all, regardless of the curriculum used.
Thus far, the bill has passed the state Senate but still needs a thumbs up from the state House Education Committee. Of course, the very existence of a bill like this spits gas on the coals of the separation of church and state debate. Opponents fear that a Bible class will be used to indoctrinate students, while proponents insist the course would maintain a secular purpose.
The bill calls for curriculum to be developed for "an elective social studies course" and requires "that the course provide students knowledge of biblical content, characters, poetry, and narratives that are prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture, including literature, art, music, mores, oratory and public policy."
Some Americans balk at the idea of offering a Bible class in a public school, arguing that if students are learning the Bible, they should be equally exposed to other religious books. These arguments miss the point, which the bill's sponsor Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro rightfully noted after the bill passed the state Senate, saying,
"This book has had a greater influence on our society than any publication ever brought forward, and to understand the Bible is to understand how we got to where we are today."A 2009 study by The National Biblical Literacy Survey found that Bible literacy is declining among people under the age of 45 in the UK. A majority of young people didn't know some of the most basic Bible stories. For instance, 62 percent of respondents didn't know about the Prodigal Son, and another 60 percent couldn't tell who the Good Samaritan was. These same people might turn to the Bible in a time of stress, but a significant number thought it was an outdated irrelevant book. There is an obvious lack of appreciation in today's Western culture for the value of Bible knowledge.
Students and teachers alike seem interested in the curriculum in Kentucky, however. "Studying the Bible is hard, it depends on how they will teach it," student Mariah Humphrey said.
Fairview High School history teacher Jeff Fletcher already teaches the Bible in his classroom, emphasizing the importance of the book in the story of America.
"There are many who would strike religion from our history books," Jeff said, "but it's what our founding fathers started this country on - we did not want that king's one church."
Kentucky is not new to church-state separation battles. However, teaching the Bible in schools is not a big constitutional problem. As long as schools stick to the rules and teach the Bible objectively, students will simply learn more about the Bible and be free to draw their own religious and spiritual conclusions about its contents. The legal problems sprout up when teachers treat the Bible with hostility or turn the class time into a prayer meeting.
Even completely secular educators, though, can argue that schools should offer Bible classes. This can be seen simply from a quick look at Shakespeare.
Shakespeare and the Bible
Shakespeare helped create the English language. We teach Shakespeare to unappreciative school children because his works offer excellent literature, and his stories are entertaining to boot. A knowledge of Shakespeare is useful toward a good education for another reason; a massive number of common idioms and phrases have come to the world through his plays.
The same is true of the Bible. The Bible gives us poetry and drama, legal documents, history, and romance, and is arguable the world's most excellent collection of literature, ancient or otherwise. Not only are the Bible stories worthy reads in themselves, but a massive number of common idioms and sayings come to us from the Bible. In fact, a knowledge of the Bible is vital for understanding much of Western literature where allusions to the Scriptures constantly pop up. We don't only find the Bible in obvious places like Paradise Lost by John Milton, but in the writings of John Steinbeck and O. Henry, Mark Twain and William Faulkner. Biblical references pervade our greatest books.
In fact, Shakespeare himself alludes to the Bible so regularly that some folks have speculated he was one of the scholars that translated the King James Version. The story of Cain and Abel alone shows up in Shakespeare 25 times, and a conservative estimate of Shakespeare's biblical allusions runs about 1200 in number. Shakespeare used the Bible with relish.
Shakespeare also refers to Greek and Roman mythology a great deal. Frankly, students who are ignorant of Greek and Roman myths will be hard pressed to understand many of Shakespeare's allusions. Nobody would question a course on Greek mythology in a public school classroom. Courses on the Bible should absolutely be offered for the benefit of a well-educated populace. The Bible has influenced Western history and law, literature and society far more than even the Greeks have.
And that's the point. Not only is it okay that the Bible be taught in public schools, but it is vital if students are to have a good understanding of Western literature and culture. People should not be attacking public schools for offering classes on the Bible. They should be upset if schools fail to offer classes on Bible literacy. Leaving it out for fear of breaking the sacred church and state barrier is detrimental to the basic education of our students.
Next week we will begin examining two different curriculums for teaching the Bible in schools, starting with The Bible Literacy Project curriculum promoted by the Kentucky Senate Bill 56.
Bible Classes In Public Schools Debated - WSAZ
Bible Class In Public Schools Questioned - The Kentucky Enquirer
America's Christian Heritage - SpiritandTruth.org (Andy Woods)
Shakespeare and the Geneva Bible - Reformation 21
Knowledge of Bible 'in decline' - BBC News