There is no book more influential in American culture than the Bible. It’s by far the world’s all-time bestselling book. Close to 4 billion copies have been sold worldwide in the past 50 years.
Yet some are terrified, horrified and petrified by the possibility a student might be exposed to as much as a modicum of the religion of Christianity in a public school setting. As a result, the Bible seems for the most part ignored in public schools.
In 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled teaching the Bible as literature in public schools is constitutional. And it’s certainly possible to teach the Bible as literature without proselytizing.
A Livingston Parish public high school is looking to bring back a course next year called "Bible as Literature" for the first time in over a decade.
In Livingston Parish, enough students have requested a class on the Bible that the high school is considering bringing back a course next year called "Bible as Literature.” It’s been at least 10 years since such a class has been taught at the school.
The Advocate reported a class on the Bible as literature is not offered in neighboring East Baton Rouge Parish or Ascension Parish schools.
A recent survey by a Bible curriculum company found 96 percent of English teachers believe young people are disadvantaged when studying English literature without knowledge of the Bible. At the college level, 39 university English professors supplied an aggregate of 72 books they collectively teach in the freshman year that require a knowledge of the Bible.
“The most recent national survey that we conducted in May 2017, 80 percent of Americans wanted the Bible taught in public schools. However, we know from other surveys that only about 8 percent of public schools do so,” said Chuck Stetson, CEO of Essentials in Education, an organization promoting Bible curriculum in public schools.
“Given that 80 percent of Americans want the Bible taught and only 2 percent are taught this is an eye-opening disconnect, “ said Stetson.
Stetson says there are more than 1,200 documented references to the Bible in Shakespeare’s 36 plays alone.
“You can’t get past the first sentence of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick — “Call me Ishmael” — if you don’t understand who Ishmael was in the Bible,” says Stetson.
The Bible as literature class being considered in Livingston Parish would be taught as an elective. So those who might be offended by the Bible or worried about becoming a convert to Christianity could simply not take the class.
Denham Springs High School would be the only school in the parish offering the course — and only if enough students sign up to take it.
“Generally, the ‘Bible as Literature’ class will look at the Old Testament and New Testament as a literary and historical document. That focus is simply done without imposing the doctrine of any particular religious sector,” said Jody Purvis, supervisor of high school instruction for Livingston Parish.
Given the Bible's role in American history, it’s odd that so few public schools offer a class on it.
According to Kevin Calbert, communications manager for the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, school districts have "autonomy to determine their curriculum, lessons and materials used in their schools to meet state academic standards.
“The board does not accredit individual courses or dictate which courses and instructional materials districts may offer,” he said. Calbert also says the Bible as a literature class, as described, fits within what the Constitution allows.
According to Calbert, Louisiana schools are currently free to offer the Bible as literature classes. Apparently, as is the case with Livingston Parish, students will have to take the initiative to make it happen.
But many students may not realize they have the option of encouraging public educators to offer a course on the Bible as literature. To deprive students of an education on such an important work of literature as the Bible for fear they may be converted to Christianity makes no sense.
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