Teaching the Bible in Public Schools Is a Bad Idea—For Christians
According to a recent USA Today report, conservative Christian lawmakers in several states have proposed legislation that would “require or encourage public schools to offer elective classes on the Bible’s literary and historical significance.” But if conservative Christians don’t trust public schools to teach their children about sex or science, Jonathan Merritt asked last week, why would they want to outsource instruction about sacred scripture to government employees?
I taught a Bible as Literature class for a number of years at the Bronx High School of Science. The course was a semester-long elective. One time a student declared surprise that there were people who wanted the Bible mandated for public schools: “Don’t they realize how much sex and violence there is in the Bible?”
My students came from every possible background, and I was proud that my course was universally popular, though I was a visibly orthodox Jew (I wore a yarmulke). The course did not ever generate complaints, even though I taught it to hundreds of students across almost a decade prior to my retirement in 2003. Of course it is very difficult to teach the course in such a way that Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, agnostics, and atheists would all appreciate the effort.
Henry J. Frisch
I’m an evangelical who grew up in a Christian home, spent time in public and religious schools and universities, and lived in the United Kingdom and the Middle East for many years. My own children are currently in a public school.
Yes, Christians believe the Bible to be God’s sacred word and our standard for belief and practice. However, it’s also clear that it is a body of literature written down by different human authors with different purposes in different genres over a vast period of time. Understanding the literary and sociological aspects of it can be enlightening for Christians and non-Christians both. There is also nothing surprising about the idea of non-Christians disagreeing with the spiritual interpretation of the Bible, and Christian parents who live in the real world should be prepared to help their children understand this. If they are not, I think they would not be willing to send their children to public school in the first place.
I think it’s mainly cultural Christians who might be threatened by a secular take on teaching the Bible in public schools. Those who truly believe know there is a simplicity and power to the scriptures that cannot be reasoned away. I say, let the Bible speak for itself, soli Deo gloria.
I am the former member of what some consider a cult and a former elementary- and middle-school teacher. The group/cult tried to convince us in subtle ways to promote our religion. I did not, because I did not want teachers influencing my daughter with their religious beliefs.
Looking back, and remembering how many of my children loved me, I am horrified by the notion of teachers teaching religion. I never mentioned my religion in class, and told kids that they could ask me off the clock and away from school about that. They never did, and I never tried to negotiate or manipulate a way to talk religion to them. Good thing, considering how warped the views of my former group were.
Religion is such a personal and emotional subject, I can’t imagine how any instructor could objectively impart info to students. Every word about the Bible would be tinged with their slant on the Bible. And remembering who I was and what I believed, that is a scary proposition.