Last month, the Missouri House passed a bill that would allow public school districts to offer elective Bible classes to students. HB 267 wouldn’t force districts to offer the classes like a similar bill in Florida, but it still opens the schools up to possible legal troubles if the classes aren’t taught objectively.
The bill is currently in the State Senate, and there was a hearing on it this past Tuesday. There’s no video of that hearing, unfortunately, but there was one moment during a debate on the bill worth talking about.
State Senator Ed Emery, a Republican, was one of the politicians eagerly lobbying for the passage of this bill. And he cited one specific study in his defense.
According to Professor William Jeynes of California State University, Emery said, students who studied the Bible had a GPA that was one point higher than their non-Bible-class peers. (That’s the difference between getting straight Bs on your report card and getting straight As.)
Just one problem: He completely misrepresented the study.
Dr. James Croft, my Patheos colleague and the Outreach Director for the Ethical Society of St. Louis, was also at that hearing (arguing against the bill) and he made it clear to the legislators (after the hearing, via email) that Emery was basically lying to them.
In short, the outcome of that study is true — if you take Bible classes, you’ll likely have a higher GPA — but the reason for that is more complicated. It’s the old “correlation does not imply causation” fallacy: The type of student likely to take an elective Bible class is probably a better student to begin with. (Just as a student who takes Latin for fun is probably not the type of kid who will drop out before graduation.)
The point is that offering public school Bible classes won’t make kids smarter… even though that’s what Emery was implying.
Exactly one of the eleven studies in Jeynes’ meta-analysis does any work to establish a causal relationship between bible literacy classes and academic achievement. In fact, only one of them analyzes the effects of any educational intervention at all — and this is an unpublished doctoral dissertation which says nothing about academic achievement. So any causal implications made on the basis of this meta-analysis are merely speculations consistent with the data, not statements evidenced by the data.
Croft also said many of those 11 studies used in the meta-analysis had their own problems, leading him to this mic drop of a conclusion:
The use of this manifestly inadequate research to promote their political agenda reveals that the politicians involved have either completely misunderstood it and are misrepresenting it by accident, or are willing to ignore the problems with it and are misrepresenting it on purpose. In either case, they should stop.
Emery has to know what he’s doing here. After all, he’s head of the Missouri Prayer Caucus Network, which is affiliated with the group known for promoting the Christian Right’s Project Blitz. Their goal is to shove Christianity into our public institutions (including public schools). Why let a misleading study get in the way of that, right?
Missouri legislators should realize there’s no good reason to offer these classes in public schools. They always create more problems than they solve and the people pushing for it have a very clear agenda of shoving their faith down everyone’s throat, not objectively educating students about their religion. For that reason, every state senator should vote against this bill when the time comes.
(Screenshot via YouTube)