I often get emails from students and parents asking about “Bible as literature” or “Bible as history” courses — are they legal? Can we stop them? My usual response is that they are legal… as long as the Bible is not being taught as fact.
The Texas Freedom Network, a conservative watchdog group, just released a report on public school Bible courses throughout the state — they studied courses in 57 public school districts and three charter schools — and have some alarming news for anyone who thought this was anything but a backdoor approach to forcing Christianity into the school system.
Their information comes courtesy of their analysis of “instructional materials, records related to teacher training and other relevant documents.”
Among their findings:
- Many Bible course teachers lack the proper training required by the Legislature. Moreover, curriculum standards adopted by the State Board of Education are far too broad to help school districts create academically sound and legally appropriate courses. Consequently, many courses are not academically rigorous and include numerous errors, distortions and other problems.
- Many Bible courses reflect the religious beliefs of the teachers and sectarian instructional materials they use in their classrooms. In every course in which religious bias is present, instruction reflects a Protestant — most often a conservative Protestant — perspective, including a literal interpretation of the Bible.
- Many courses teach students to interpret the Bible and even Judaism through a distinctly Christian lens. Anti-Jewish bias — sometimes intentional but often not — is not uncommon.
- A number of courses and their instructional materials incorporate pseudo-scholarship, including claims that the Bible provides scientific proof of a 6,000-year-old Earth (young Earth creationism) and that the United States was founded as a Christian nation based on biblical Christian principles. At least one district’s Bible course includes materials suggesting that the origins of racial diversity among humans today can be traced back to a curse placed on Noah’s son in the biblical story of the flood. Such claims have long been a foundational component of some forms of racism.
- Despite the state’s failure to implement HB 1287 effectively, a number of school districts did succeed in offering Bible courses that largely comply with legal and constitutional requirements, are academically serious and avoid many of the serious problems noted in most other districts. These successful courses can be found in urban, suburban and rural districts.
How do we fix all these problems? TFN suggests actions that the Legislature, State Board of Education, and district officials can take. They involve enforcing current mandates and doing a better job of monitoring the classes themselves… but none of the recommendations say that the classes (even the obviously problematic ones) should be shut down until they can be properly taught.
The responsibility for what happens in these classes lies entirely with the schools’ administrators. If they’re letting these classes be taught by people who are untrained, or if they’re allowing textbooks and classroom material that are clearly biased (with nothing to counter them), they’re not doing their jobs and should be punished for it.
That’s never going to happen, though. Remember: We’re talking about Texas. We’re talking about a State Board of Education that cared so little about facts, they had a documentary made about how crazy they were. Even if those characters have been replaced, we can’t rely on them to do the right thing. It’s up to school administrators to do their job — and we’re relying on parents and students to be alert as to what’s happening in the classroom. If a teacher crosses the line, we need brave students to report it.