Religion and Public Schools
I've just finished reading TIME Magazine's "The Case for Teaching The Bible." The article was written by David Van Biema, and I agree with its premise. Van Biema makes the point that The Bible is the most influential book ever written and a key part of our culture, but as George Gallup has said, we are "a nation of biblical illiterates." I think there would be no subject more interesting for a social studies teacher to teach, but I would be flattering myself if I pretended to think that I am qualified to do so.
Although TIME's article gives examples of public school teachers who are apparently teaching The Bible successfully, I think it would be a very challenging job. I know how hard it is to walk the tightrope of trying to show impartiality in dealing with Democrats and Republicans in my A. P. Government class. That would be dwarfed by the problem of teaching The Bible while trying not to offend Catholics, Lutherans, fundamentalists, Bhuddists, or athiests. (We have all of those in Warroad, but--sorry--no Jews or Muslims.) According to TIME, Jennifer Kendrick, the teacher featured in the story, did a good job of this, but it's one thing to pull it off for one day while a national magazine has someone observing your class; it would be quite another to pull it off day after day for an entire semester when it's just the teacher and the kids.
Although people who take an absolute view of "the wall of separation" might become apopleptic at the idea of having classes on The Bible in public schools, I actually think that those who would end up raising the strongest objections in practice might be people to whom religion is important. Looking at The Bible objectively means that everything would be subject to question, and when it comes to the religious beliefs of their children, many religious parents would be squeamish about that.
Since I am writing about religion, I should probably tell where I am coming from on the subject. I am a Catholic, and although there are doctrines of the Church that I struggle with, I try to make my religious faith the major driving force in my life. I would have to let somebody else judge how successful I am at that. Non-religious people like to point out the terrible things that have been and are still being caused by religion, but I still believe that religious faith is usually a very good thing. I actually see that in my school all the time. I don't know what people in other areas of the country see, but in our community there seems to be a very clear difference between kids who attend church regularly and those who don't. The kids who go to church seem to have a kind of compass directing their lives that is lacked by most kids who don't. That is most obvious when it comes to having a sense of right and wrong, but it goes well beyond that. Yes, there are exceptions, and yes, you can definitely see some hypocrisy in many of the church-going kids from time to time, and yes, they can also be judgemental in ways that can be rather obnoxious. Nevertheless, based on what I have seen, if I were going to give advice to young parents who wanted to raise solid kids, one of the first things I'd say would be, "Go to church."
As the TIME article points out, while it is unconstitutional to teach religion, it is perfectly okay to teach about religion. Despite that, I think having classes on The Bible in public schools would actually be a very positive thing for religion in America. No matter how secular a teacher was in his or her approach to the class, it would be impossible for kids to avoid taking a good look at their own beliefs. A religious faith that has been examined is a much more mature and solid faith than one that hasn't, and I think this kind of faith is one that makes a more positive difference in people's lives. I also believe that examining one's faith would help to eliminate some of that hypocrisy and judgementalism that can turn so many people off. The TIME article suggests having a class on The Bible paired with a class on the other world religions--one semester each--and that idea makes sense. Whether that is the way schools do it or not, having classes on The Bible is a trend in public education that I like, despite the very real challenges it presents. I hope it continues and grows.