So, back in 2007, the Texas legislature passed a law mandating that all public schools in the state include instruction on “the Hebrew Scriptures” and the New Testament and their impact on literature and history. Don’t worry, supporters of the law said, we aren’t going to be teaching religious doctrine, this law is all about teaching the cultural importance of the Bible. And in fact the law was written to comply with court cases governing how the Bible can legally be taught in schools. The law states its purpose is to
teach students knowledge of biblical content, characters, poetry, and narratives that are prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture, including literature, art, music, mores, oratory, and public policy
See? All nice and secular-like! We just want kids to be able to understand the allusions in Shakespeare, supporters said. You want kids to understand Shakespeare, dontcha?
Oh, and while the law included guidelines aimed at keeping the new Bible classes constitutional, the legislature didn’t allocate funds for curriculum development or for teacher training, leaving districts and teachers to make it up as they went along. Which may be why the Texas Freedom Network published a report last week finding that many Texas schools’ Bible classes are teaching that the Bible is literally true, that the Earth is 6000 years old, and that the Rapture is imminent. Oops.
The report (PDF) by Dr. Mark Chancey, a religious studies professor at Southern Methodist University, found that despite the law’s statement that Bible classes “shall not endorse, favor, or promote” any particular religious perspective, several districts nonetheless had curricula that
go into detail about the nature and implications of divine inspiration by suggesting that God dictated the words of the Bible to its writers; that the Bible’s inspiration guarantees that it is free of any historical, scientific or theological error; or that God safeguarded the copying of the biblical text through the centuries and thus prevented any significant scribal errors or variations between manuscripts.
Of course, we’ve all met those Christians who insist that they’re simply sharing the truth, not a “religion,” so of course it’s OK to say that the Bible is inerrant — because, after all, it just is. One district’s materials flatly state that God dictated the Pentateuch to Moses, and another says that the Bible was “was written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit by over 40 different authors.”
In many course materials, teachers are careful to say that they will “teach about” Christian beliefs but “will not actually promote those theological claims,” but Chancey notes that the distinction is often dubious, since what is taught is often only a single version of Christian theology anyway — Protestant fundamentalism (which, as those of you reading our Sunday textbook series know, is the only legitimate Christianity anyway…) As for the “Judeo” part of the ol’ Judeo-Christian heritage, the report warns
Anti-Jewish bias — intentional or not — is not uncommon. Some courses even portray Judaism as a flawed and incomplete religion that has been replaced by Christianity.
The report also finds that, instead of teaching about the Bible in history, many schools simply present the Bible as an accurate source of history, with timelines of Earth’s history beginning in 4000 BC with Adam and Eve and including such “historical” events as the Flood, the parting of the Red Sea, and our favorite, “Jesus returns to Judea, is crucified, and resurrected… Jesus ascends to the Father’s right hand” in “33 (or 30) AD.”
The classes also teach all sorts of fun pseudoscience, including of course Creationism. While creationism isn’t actually being taught in science classes under this law, many schools’ Bible classes offer the next best thing — they just tell the kids that Genesis is correct and that evolution is impossible, so go ahead and ignore your science teacher, kids! Another district offers this lovely chart, which could have come straight out of our ABeka textbook, explaining how, after the Flood, the various “races” descended from Noah’s sons:
Not only is it an amusing little bit of non-science, but as Chancey notes,
The belief that Africans were akin to Canaanites and subject to the “curse of Ham” placed by Noah (Gen. 9:18, 22, 25)undergirded nineteenth-century defenses of slavery and is still cited in racist theory.
While the two school districts using this fact-free anthropology don’t mention the supposed “curse of Ham,” they also make no mention of “the tragic role played in American history by literalistic interpretations of the sort they advocate.” Which maybe is good, because as we know, talking about slavery just makes people unhappy anyway.
Oh, yes, and these issues were found among the districts that actually have a formal curriculum for their Bible classes. The report also found that
Academic rigor is so poor that many courses rely mostly on memorization of Bible verses and factoids from Bible stories rather than teaching students how to analyze what they are studying. One district relies heavily on Bible cartoons from Hanna-Barbera for its high school class. Students in another district spend two days watching what lesson plans describe a “the historic documentary Ancient Aliens,” which presents “a new interpretation of angelic beings described as extraterrestrials.”
Cool! Jesus died for the Aliens’ sins, too!
In short, looks like Texas wrote a law that would pass constitutional muster, confident in knowing that school districts would do such a piss-poor job of actually following it that, yay, the Bible is back in the classroom, being taught as the True Word of God. At least they aren’t indoctrinating kids with Islam.