According to the syllabus for a seventh-grade English teacher at Benjamin Franklin Charter School in Arizona, students will soon be reading selections from the Old Testament… a book that was apparently written 6000 years ago.
(Why on earth would seventh graders at a public school be reading Genesis and Exodus, anyway?)
The syllabus also includes selections from the New Testament, Pilgrim’s Progress (a Christian allegory), and a C.S. Lewis book.
You could make an argument that teaching selections from the Bible makes perfect sense in an English class, given that there are biblical references in so much of American literature. But even then, a teacher should tread lightly.
Here, Christianity permeates the curriculum every quarter. Add to that the fact that the teacher, Mrs. Kasten, attended Hope International University, a private Christian school with a mission to “empower students through Christian higher education to serve the Church and impact the world for Christ.”
Now it seems pretty obvious what’s going on.
The pervasiveness of religiosity in this public school setting is of great concern to those parents and children who would prefer that their schools reflect religious neutrality, as required by law. For this reason, we highly recommend that this curriculum be revised and that serious consideration be given to whether an effort is being made here, consciously or not, to promote a Christian agenda. Perhaps Mrs. Kasten, having been educated at a fundamentalist Christian college, gives undue weight to the need to include theological material in her class, and if so the administration must step in to ensure that the curriculum is academically sound and not religiously biased.
David Niose, the AHLC’s legal director, added:
“Teaching that promotes Christianity and presents a biblical literalist perspective of the Old Testament is a violation of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution… Students deserve a sound education based on fact, not religious belief.”
In case you’re wondering how a teacher could even get away with this, it’s worth noting that the charter school in question is run by Eddie Farnsworth, who moonlights as a Republican state representative in the Arizona House.
The school can avoid a lawsuit by just modifying the syllabus and monitoring Kasten’s class to make sure she’s teaching religion objectively, if at all.
***Update*** (12:50p) : Farnsworth now says the curriculum isn’t changing at all:
However, Eddie Farnsworth, executive director of Benjamin Franklin Charter Schools, said he believes the syllabus is within legal guidelines and that the texts are included in the curriculum to teach the history of Western literature, not indoctrinate students.
“To jump to the conclusion that somehow this has to be religious teaching because we’re using books they disapprove of, again, is irresponsible,” Farnsworth said.
“This is an organization that is kind of grasping at straws, in my opinion, to try to make an organization like ours that has always been in good standing look like it’s doing something inappropriate,” [Farnsworth] said.
“They’ve never sat in a classroom, they’ve never discussed it with us,” he added. “They simply sent out a threatening letter, and I find that to be irresponsible.”
Farnsworth said Kasten would have had input in the syllabus but did not develop it and that the readings and course requirements are standardized and approved by the school principal.