The Bible in Public Schools (Part I)

Another occasion has arisen for a departure from the primary purpose of my blogging about the Bible.  For the past few weeks there have been stories in the news about a new resource for teaching the Bible in public schools in the United States.  The new effort has received additional publicity because it is sponsored by Steve Green, the founder of the chain of craft stores called “Hobby Lobby,” who has been in the news a lot lately because of the ways his religious views influence the running of his business.  A small school district in Oklahoma has adopted Green’s new curriculum.  A high level of secrecy still surrounds Green’s curriculum, and I have not seen it yet, but have had a brief report from someone who has.  Because I am unable to evaluate the curriculum, it is best to develop some background on the issue by examining a similar case from several years ago.

In the 1990’s an organization was founded in North Carolina calling itself the National Council for Bible Curriculum in Public Schools.  They produced a curriculum that a number of public school districts began using in the early 2000’s.  Part of the strategy was not to produce a textbook for students, but a curricular guide for teachers, which they distributed in a very controlled manner for $150 per copy to the schools using it.  This strategy made widespread review of the curriculum very difficult.  The quasi-official sounding name was not their only act of deception.  They also grossly overstated to prospective users the number of schools already using the curriculum.  The NCBCPS website currently says 873 school districts and 2491 high schools use the curriculum, but they do not provide a list.  They also claimed that expert scholars produced the material, though they have refused to identify them.  The curriculum was poorly produced and promoted a view of the Bible typically found in very conservative Protestant churches.  It has run into several legal challenges which it has lost because the material is so blatantly sectarian.  A thorough report on the curriculum was produced by Dr. Mark Chancey, a religion professor at Southern Methodist University, and is available here:  http://www.tfn.org/site/DocServer/TX_Bible_Report_UPDATE_DEC-06.pdf?docID=167

It is uncertain how widespread the current use of the NCBCPS curriculum is.  Along with the exaggerated claims on their website, they list a group of “bible scholars” as an Advisory Board.  The first two names on the list, Dr. Roy W. Blizzard and Dr. Ronald W. Moseley, are credited with writing “a number of books” and “thirteen books” respectively, but searches of WorldCat and Amazon yield no books on the Bible written by persons with these names.  I could go on, but it is obvious this group is not trustworthy and not qualified to do what they claim to do.

There are well-developed federal guidelines for teaching the Bible in public schools, and Steve Green claims his curriculum follows these.  A thorough review awaits public release of the material, but they have already followed the example of the NCBCPS in two ominous ways.  The curriculum has been kept secret even though a public school district has already approved its use, and Green has thus far refused to identify the “scholars” who produced it.

One important thing revealed by these cases is that many people do not realize how subjective their understanding of the Bible is and how widely it differs from the views of other groups that regard it as a sacred text.  Some people involved in these efforts may have honestly thought they were producing a purely objective curriculum that looks at the Bible from historical and literary perspectives, but the results of their work in the NCBCPS case was nowhere close to that standard.  Perhaps this new effort will be better.

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