Monday, August 01, 2005

Teaching the Bible

The New York Times reported today on the controversy over teaching the Bible in public schools. The report centered on a unanimous vote by the school board in Odessa, Texas to add an elective Bible study course to their 2006 high school curriculum. This is said to be another success for the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, which has been conducting a campaign for 12 years to get bible study into public schools.

The New York Times, of course, is against it. I'm against it, too, in a mild and general way. That's not because I'm afflicted with the standard knee-jerk liberal objection to any teaching of Christianity to impressionable youngsters. (Islamic studies, as we've seen, are not nearly as objectionable.)

I'm against it because I don't think public schools need to be in the business of teaching religion, as a matter of principle. My objection is mild, however, because the course is elective. If parents don't want their kids to take the course, they don't have to. They can continue teaching their preferred version of religion at home, where it belongs.

What really attracted my attention was this:

The critics say it [the curriculum] ignores evolution in favor of creationism and gives credence to dubious assertions that the Constitution is based on the Scriptures, and that "documented research through NASA" backs the biblical account of the sun standing still. ... It cites supposed NASA findings to suggest that the earth stopped twice in its orbit, in support of the literal truth of the biblical text that the sun stood still in Joshua and II Kings.

I don't care much about evolution versus creationism. Seems pretty obvious, and I'd rather focus on the present without getting lathered up about how it all started. I also get bored with nit-picking debate about the influence of Christianity on the Constitution and the founding of our country. Our Founding Fathers were Christians, and that worldview, along with other influences, informed their writing of the Constitution. Plain and simple.

What struck me was that NASA supposedly supports the notion that the sun stood still and "the earth stopped twice in its orbit...." The NASA part of this is an urban myth, as reported by Snopes.com. Beyond that, the idea is so cockamamie that the curriculum should be banned just for being stupid, and the teachers who teach it should have to pay double dues to the NEA.

The issue that bothers me most about this whole thing is the principle of local control over education. That control has been steadily eroded over the past few decades by Democrats and Republicans alike. I still believe that elected local school boards should make public education decisions for their communities. If they want to teach that God brought the Earth to a screeching halt a couple of times, so be it. At least the course is elective.

11 Comments:

Anonymous Schmedlap said...

If we did not have government schools, then this would not even be an issue, nor would "sex education," "ebonics," or a wide range of other ridiculous issues.

12:54 PM, August 01, 2005  
Blogger Amal said...

Welcome back Tom, missed you!

11:39 PM, August 01, 2005  
Blogger Esther said...

I second what amal said. Welcome back!

11:41 PM, August 01, 2005  
Blogger John Walter said...

Good to hear your opinions again, Tom.

I wouldn't mind seeing some generic, interfaith prayer in schools. But I think the idea of teaching a Bible course for credit is a very bad one. A Bible course does specifically place the state in the position of promoting a specific belief system. The Federal district court will strike it down in a heartbeat, and the appeals court will refuse to even hear it. Furthermore, the secularists will mock it and rub the noses of civic-minded evangelicals and fundamentalists in it for years to come, especially the creation science part.

And the worst thing is that the secularists will be right on this score.

11:59 AM, August 02, 2005  
Blogger John Walter said...

Wait as sec,

I just read through the NYT piece. And then I did a google search to find the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools. It can be found, incidentaly, at:

http://www.bibleinschools.net/sdm.asp

All the claims about earth stopping and the NASA data is purely on the word of the critics of the curriculum. These critics, including such outfits as "Americans for the Separation of Church and State" are the same people that want to eliminate Congressional and military chaplains and erase "In God we Trust" from our coinage and bills.

The course syllabus contents, found at the website for the National Council on... you know, doesn't say a thing about all NASA and planets stopping and Dinosaurs missing the ark. The creation and flood stories are only one half of one unit in the course. There are seventeen units overall: the vast majority of which seems to be old testament (Jewish) history.

The impression I get looking at the syllabus Contents is that this is not a Bible study course, but a Bible history course: a course on Israel, Judea, early Judaism, and early Christianity: which is a wholly appropriate and highly relevant topic even for a public school.

I don't know, because the detailed syllabus costs $150, but it seems from the published contents page unlikely that there is any creation science nonsense taught as truth in there, and it seems somewhat likely that the NYT might have been doing a hatchet job on the Bible course people.

The NYT could have bought their own copy of the syllabus, and then they would not have had to rely on someone else's word about what offensive stuff might be in that course.

Even if teaching a Bible course does prove judicially impossible, I am beginning to think (as a raving Christian) it might be worth a try.

12:44 PM, August 02, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

Amal, Esther, and John, thanks! I was sojourning among relatives in Texas for all of July, and I wasn't able to keep up with posting, commenting, or much of anything else.

Schmedlap, I'm not sure what your alternative to "government schools" is. Do you advocate that all children be home-schooled or taught in religious schools? That's the equivalent to returning to a "state of nature," and it isn't the answer. I think our system of local control of schools through elected school boards is great, if we can just keep the feds and other busybodies out of the process. If schools in San Francisco or other centers of leftist silliness want to teach "ebonics," let them. I think the majority of parents are smart enough to prevent that in most cases.

John, I'm sure you're right that The New York Times picked the most negative examples. They don't report news so much as they push an agenda, and we all know that. However, if there's even one sentence in the curriculum that says the earth stopped twice in its orbit, then it's stupid. The fact is, it's not the business of the NYT or their leftist supporters to try to interfere in decisions of the school board in Odessa, Texas, even if they're being stupid. To paraphrase the old adage, the voters of Odessa will get the school board they deserve. And that's democracy at work.

2:25 AM, August 03, 2005  
Anonymous Kevin said...

The one problem I have with giving the local school boards too much control is that one risks churning out kids with basically worthless diplomas. Or at least with diplomas of wildely varying value in terms of being a benchmark of their knowledge.

It seems to me that the "No Child Left Behind" philosophy sought to address this very issue. N'est pas? All the criticisms I've heard about NCLB revolve around funding problems rather than a philosophical disagreement with it's stated goal.

12:30 PM, August 03, 2005  
Blogger carla said...

The New York Times, of course, is against it. I'm against it, too, in a mild and general way. That's not because I'm afflicted with the standard knee-jerk liberal objection to any teaching of Christianity to impressionable youngsters. (Islamic studies, as we've seen, are not nearly as objectionable.)

Neither is appropriately taught in the public school system, frankly. With the exception of teaching them in an overall study of world religions..they don't have a place in a publicly funded school system.

Our Founding Fathers were Christians, and that worldview, along with other influences, informed their writing of the Constitution. Plain and simple.

Not all of our founders were Christians. Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine were Deists. And even Christian founder John Adams stated that the United States was in no way founded on the Christian religion (Treaty of Tripoli).

The problem isn't the teaching of Intelligent Design. The problem is the attempt to elevate ID with Evolution. There has never been a single peer reviewed scientific study that backs Intelligent Design. It's not good science at all. Pretending it is and teaching children that it is...is wrong.

I do agree with one thing...the fact that local control of education has been wrestled away by both sides. I'm a liberal and I've continually advocated for local control of education.

10:52 PM, August 03, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

Kevin, I don't think federal control of education is the answer. After decades of increasing federal interference, many of our schools are performing disgracefully, in terms of producing even minimally educated high school graduates. However, those are, shall we say, social and class problems that won't be improved simply by further eroding local control. Even a cursory look at school systems that perform well as compared to those that don't make the point.

NCLB basically attempts to set standards and to provide funding for various education improvements, as I understand it. Even without funding problems, how would it improve things? Local school board control, plus state standards and accreditation standards, worked well for a very long time. I think we're trying to treat effects, not causes

Carla, I grant that some were deists or unitarians. I think it would be safe to say that back then even rejecting the trinity doctrine and the minute control of God over every detail of existence was closer to Christianity than it may be today. Then, as now, some rejected the trinity while still claiming to be Christian, which is a real mind-bender. In any case, they were fish swimming in a Christian sea, and they responded to the same principles.

I think public schools should teach comparative religion, in an environment that respects the beliefs of all students and makes no effort to validate any particular form of religion. If parents want their children educated within the boundaries of a particular form of religion, they (not the state, in any form) should pay for them to go to religious schools. By the way, the fact that religious schools perform consistently better than public schools, in general, comes back to the social and class issues I was talking about earlier.

3:01 AM, August 04, 2005  
Blogger carla said...

By the way, the fact that religious schools perform consistently better than public schools, in general, comes back to the social and class issues I was talking about earlier.

That's true for private schools in general, Tom. Not necessarily religious schools. This has less to do with social and class issues and more to do with the fact that private schools can pick and choose the students/families that they take in. Public schools can't.

The best private school in my area isn't affiliated with any religion, incidentally.

9:54 AM, August 04, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

I agree, Carla. Private schools of all kinds do better because they take students from families who value education (even if they can't really afford the cost), and they seek better alternatives than today's public schools. The parents are also much more involved in the operation of the school and in their kids' lives. In reality, we're still at social and class issues.

4:52 PM, August 11, 2005  

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