Ed has already mentioned that the Texas Freedom Network (TFN) has released its report on teaching the Bible in Texas’s public schools: Reading, Writing, and Religion. The author of the report is a Biblical Studies professor at Southern Methodist University, and he finds—surprise, surprise—that the bible courses offer Sunday school lessons more than they offer actual academic bible study. The teachers (and school districts) are simply not trained in bible scholarship and thus teach their classes from what they’ve learned in Sunday School.
That has always been one of my criticisms of Bible courses. Most districts do not have a teacher trained to know the difference between devotional study of the Bible and academic study of the Bible. Of course, that is exactly the point. Some districts picked teachers because they taught sunday school, while other districts went as far as having preachers come from outside the school system to teach their bible course.
Most of the citizens who push for Bible courses in public schools would probably be horrified to learn what an academic study of the Bible entails. Some people simply don’t like to give equal treatment to different faith traditions of the Bible. And more people don’t like scholarship that doesn’t treat the KJV bible as the completely accurate word of God. These are the types of people that go into fits over the Documentary Hypothesis, which is a must for any serious academic class on the Bible.
I think that students can benefit for an academic study of the bible, but it is nearly impossible to accomplish. Because of the lack of teacher training and the large ratio of bad materials to good materials, it is difficult for a school district to pull it off in a manner that satisfies constitutional and pedagogical concerns. And of course, if a school district happens to pull it off, many of the citizens who want their children in the class will be angered that the children would learns stuff about the Bible in school that contradicts what they learn about it in Church.
As a biologist, a specific worry for me about these courses is that they are often used to push creationism in public schools, which has a long legal history of being unconstitutional. In Finding 11, the TFN’s report states that “Bible courses are used to promote so-called ‘creation science’ and other forms of pseudo-science”. Some courses presented material from Carl Baugh and Kent Hovind as fact, while using their fake credentials to make them sound like authorities.
Brady High School, for example, has followed the suggestions of the NC BCPS and shown a creation science video on Noah’s flood produced by the Creation Evidence Museum in Glen Rose, Texas, an organization that advocates belief in a six-day creation, a 6000-year-old earth, and the coexistence of dinosaurs and humans. It has accepted donations to construct a biosphere intended to replicate the atmospheric conditions prevalent before Noah’s flood. Not content just to show students the Creation Evidence Museum’s video, Brady High School has also hosted Carl Baugh, the founder of the museum, as a guest lecturer. … Brady High School has also apparently followed the NC BCPS recommendation of presenting the well-known and completely discredited urban legend about NASA’ s supposed discovery of a missing day in time as factually accurate. …
In a recent school year, the Forsan High School Bible class spent two days watching the video Dinosaurs and the Bible, produced by Creation Science Evangelism. The course objective for those days is to “show agreement with Biblical record and paleontological discoveries.” An additional day is devoted to a video identified as “Eden and 800-year old men,” which is probably The Garden of Eden, produced by the same company. That day’s objective is characterized as: “Are there possible scientific explanations for long-lived humans in biblical times?” … Approximately half of the questions on a test over “Creation and Genesis Chronology” are devoted to the “young earth” theories of Kent Hovind, founder of Creation Science Evangelism. These include:
According to Dr. Hovind’s thoery an [blank] struck the earth, causing a global flood.
According to Dr. Hovind, fossilization can take place very slowly/quickly. (circle the correct answer)
Give two example of rapid fossilization.
ATDH (according to Dr. Hovind) which of the following can explain fossil stratification (layers) in a flood situation? (circle 4 correct answers) Age/Mobility/tv ads/Body density/Hair color/Intelligence/Habitat
Which of the following is not a proof that dinosaurs live after the Flood?
a. cave paintings by early native Americans
b. dinosaur engravings around Bishop Bell’s tomb at Carlisle cathedral in Britain
d. Bible desription of Leviathan and Behemoth
e. Fossil footprints.
Some districts even taught that Africans, Europeans, and Asians are descended from different sons of Noah, without realizing that such Bible stories presented as fact were used to support racism, slavery, and Jim Crow in the past.
I just hope this report makes districts think hard about what is required to teach an academic bible class in public schools.