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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Bible stories should be cultural literacy, not forbidden fruit

Teaching students about religion is fine in public schools, writes Natalie Wexler. "Inculcating specific religious beliefs" is not. Critics say Texas crosses that line, adding Bible stories -- mostly from the Old and New Testament -- into the suggested elementary literacy curriculum.


First graders will learn the story of the prodigal son.

Teaching Western culture, including Bible stories, makes sense in American schools, writes Wexler. "Students are more likely to encounter a reference to the story of Achilles’ heel than one to a story from, say, the Bhagavad Gita."


Texas modified Amplify's high-quality Core Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA) curriculum to meet objections from parents who complained there was too much on mythology, too little discussion of Christianity, she writes. With modest changes -- "according to the Bible" would be better than "the Bible explains" -- Texas will have a coherent, knowledge-building curriculum that will help students understand what they read.


"Kindergartners learn about the five senses, fairy tales and folktales, and plants," she writes. "Second-graders learn about the War of 1812 and insects — as well as Ancient Greek civilization and Greek myths."


Texas made some changes: "Ancient India and China, along with discussions of their religions, are gone, as are Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia."


In a second-grade unit on “Fighting for a Cause,” Susan B. Anthony and Eleanor Roosevelt have been replaced by Queen Esther and William Penn, for a subunit on “people who fought for religious freedom.” On the other hand, Jackie Robinson, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Cesar Chavez are all still there.

The Texas curriculum tells first-graders that the inscription on the Liberty Bell comes from Leviticus, she writes. Is this really necessary?


My sister and I had read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe several times before my sister said, "You know, I think Aslan is supposed to be a Christ figure. He dies for Edmund's sin and is resurrected." (Though Jewish, we knew the basics about Christianity.) "Gee, I think you're right," I said. The Texas curriculum makes that explicit for students. Is that really necessary?





"Music, art, literature and philosophy all draw on and are rooted in religion," writes Matthew Levey. "To make sense of the world and enjoy the active and engaged citizenship that our democracy requires, students must draw on this background knowledge."


He imagines students singing “Go Down Moses” in chorus without knowing "where Moses went or why African American slaves identified with the story of the Exodus," or trying to understand the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech or "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" without knowing Biblical references.


Disadvantaged students and English learners in particular need to be taught "literature, history, science, the arts, and yes, the Bible -- the robust array of mental furniture that their well-off peers take for granted, and upon which mature language proficiency depends," writes Robert Pondiscio. "Equity demands" it.


The curriculum is being reviewed, so there's time to fix the problems. Schools don't have to use it, but they get $60 per student, if they do, so it's likely to be popular.

4 Comments


rob
Jun 24

I think everyone should be familiar with the Bible... just as they should be familiar with the Quran, the Vedas and Upanishads, the Tao Te Ching and several others. Students should also be exposed to Greek mythology, Norse mythology and so on. No need to single out Chrisianity, just make sure it is properly represented in the mix.


I would think a hour-long conversation with your favorite AI could easily lead to general outline.

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mrmillermathteacher
mrmillermathteacher
Jun 23

There are enough phrases in English--the road to Damascus, the prodigal son, the good Samaritan-- that teaching these cultural signpost seems warranted.


Imagine hearing the lyrics to the old song:

Cupid, draw back your bow

And let your arrow go...


without knowing the historical reference.


Of course, I understand the concern that some, especially in the so-called Bible Belt, will go too far. Penalize going to far, don't keep the knowledge from the students.

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m_t_anderson
Jun 21

Good idea to do this in moderation. The two greatest bodies of literature in the English language are the works of Shakespeare and the King James Bible. We barely expose students to the first and pretend the second doesn't exist. No wonder we're graduating a cavalcade of ignoramuses.


All the folks bitching and moaning about the establishment of a state religion need to apply the same critiques to climate catastrophism, critical race theory, and gender fluid-ism, the Sacred Cows of our era. Sauce for the goose, don'cha know?


#Where'sBeowulfWhenWeNeedHim

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Bruce Smith
Bruce Smith
Jun 21

Texas is hereby establishing biblical religion as superior to others, so I can't imagine this passing judicial review, nor will Louisiana's posting of the Ten Commandments -- if they do survive it, then stare decisis in the United States is dead, and the whole nation becomes an unpredictable economy in which to invest.

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