April 2019 Church & State Magazine - April 2019

Teaching About The Bible In Public Schools: How To Do It Right

  Rob Boston

Mark Chancey, professor of religious studies at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, examined dozens of “Bible literacy” courses in public schools for a report he prepared for Texas Freedom Network. Chancey found that successful courses share certain features. The following list is adapted from Chan­cey’s report:

  • They rely primarily on resources that are informed by a broad range of biblical scholarship, not just the scholars of one religious community, and that reflect sensitivity towards issues of religious diversity.
  • Their assignments offer intellectual challenges to students that require critical thinking, develop oral and written communication skills, allow for creativity and go beyond rote memorization.
  • They inform students about the different Bibles of different religious traditions (Jewish, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox).
  • They recognize that biblical translations themselves reflect particular religious orientations, and they are intentional in exposing students to translations associated with different religious traditions.
  • They are sensitive to the different ways various religious communities have read particular biblical passages and do not present one community’s interpretation as the norm.
  • They are respectful of the fact that some religious traditions regard the Bible as inspired without endorsing or rejecting inspiration themselves.
  • They recognize the importance of biblical texts as historical sources while avoiding a tone that assumes complete historical accuracy.
  • They discuss the theological, ethical and moral claims of the Bible without presenting them as authoritative for the students.
  • They treat Judaism as a religion in its own right and not merely as the background or foil for Christianity, and they help students understand how tensions between and within early Christianity and early Judaism are reflected in New Testament passages that have often been interpreted as anti-Jewish.
  • They recognize that the Bible is a religious text and not a science textbook.
  • If the classes discuss America’s religious heritage, they do so in a way that reflects a respectful understanding of the diversity of that heritage and that does not attempt to elevate one contemporary religious community above all others.
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