by Chuck Missler Texas high schools will be offering Bible literacy classes this fall, according to a 2007 Texas law now officially going into effect. As expected, plenty of people are criticizing Texas for weakening the Church-State boundary. Others, though, laud the law for working to brick in an essential part of high schoolers' education.
In 2007, Texas passed House Bill 1287, which requires that Texas public high schools offer "elective courses on the Bible's Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and New Testament and their impact on the history and literature of Western civilization." Problems with funding and training put the law on hold for two years, but this year the classes will be available all over the state. The law stipulates that the lessons are to be taught objectively, in an academic manner and should neither promote or disparage religion. Instead, they should "teach students knowledge of biblical content, characters, poetry, and narratives that are prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture." Teachers have to get a special certification that qualifies them to teach the course, lest the class become a daily devotional time.
School districts have some flexibility about how to implement the law in their own high schools. Wylie High School will offer a Bible literacy class, using a textbook approved by the Texas Education Agency. Abilene Independent School District, though, will simply include Bible literacy information in other classes on literature or history.
Social studies teacher Jennifer Kendrick taught a Bible literacy course at New Braunfels High School three years ago, and 25 students have signed up for it this year.
"We cover comparative religion and study the archetypes in the Bible, as well as its influence on literature and Western civilization," Kendrick said. "One unit talks about the books of the Bible and the other is more of a comparison of other religions," and their history, she said.
"This is not Christianity 101," said Eric Thaxton, an English teacher who will be teaching the class at Wylie High School. "This is the Bible and its influence. If someone in the class is not a Christian, I hope they get the same out of it as everyone else." Plenty of people have already accused Texas of failing to recognize the separation of Church and State over this law. Some have blamed Texas with one-upping the Taliban, and others have insisted that education on the Bible be relegated to the Sunday School classroom. Some parents are concerned their kids will be taught that the Bible is true. Others fear the opposite, that their kids will be taught that the Bible stories are merely mythology. 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.
Even completely secular educators, though, can argue that Texas is in the right. This can be seen from just 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 in 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. And 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, because allusions to the Bible pop up constantly. 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 Western literature.
In fact, Shakespeare himself alludes to the Bible so regularly that some scholars argue he was one of the scholars who helped translate 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 also refers to Greek and Roman mythology a great deal, and 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. The Bible, though, has influenced Western history and law, literature and society far more than even the Greeks. 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 feared Church and State barrier is detrimental to the basic education of our students.