Bible Literacy Project News
Bible knowledge can give students an edge
Do Bible-literate students have an advantage in their English and
American literature classes?
The Freelance Star
April 30, 2005 1:07 am
By JESSICA ALLEN
WASHINGTON--Not familiar with the biblical story of Ishmael?
Experts say that might hinder your understanding of Herman
Melville's "Moby Dick."
The classic novel is narrated by "Ishmael," one of the sailors whose
travels on the fated whaler mirror the biblical Ishmael's wandering
in the desert.
Those familiar with the Old Testament's Ishmael, Abraham's son with
Hagar who was forced to roam the wilderness, might see the
connection and, therefore, get more out of the literature, a study
released this week reports.
The Bible Literacy Project's study reveals that respected high
school English teachers surveyed believe Bible literacy gives
students a distinct educational advantage.
Students with Bible knowledge can easily understand the themes,
imagery and plots of Western literature because it's steeped in
biblical allusions, said Marie Wachlin, who conducted the 41
interviews with teachers from 10 states for the Fairfax-based
"The Bible is important as literature and in literature," she said.
"It's necessary for a well-rounded education."
Fredericksburg-area teachers agree that familiarity with the Bible
is helpful when studying English and American literature.
Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter" and John Steinbeck's
works such as "Of Mice and Men" and "The Grapes of Wrath" are great
examples, said Rosemary Balgavy, the English coordinator for
Stafford County public schools.
Writers use biblical themes such as sin and retribution in their
pieces because the Bible is old and well-read, she said. Many
readers will have an easier time understanding the literary work if
they are familiar with the biblical stories, Balgavy said.
Early American works written by Puritans often refer to Old
Testament stories or mention the prophets.
"Religion and religious freedom were so imperative for the people
who initially settled the Colonies," she said.
Balgavy, who teaches at Brooke Point High School, said some of her
students will recognize passages in a book or poem because they are
mentioned in the Bible.
Her 10th-grade class this year read Stephen Vincent Benet's "By the
Waters of Babylon."
The short story's title refers to a verse in Psalm 137, she said.
"The story is about a young boy who is on a quest to find his roots
and weeps for the lost culture just like the psalm's passage," she
said. "It was interesting to see several students recognize the
Wachlin, a former public school teacher who conducts teacher
training at Concordia University in Portland, Ore., presented the
study during a news conference in Washington this week.
She interviewed educators who taught at public and private schools
and had an average of 20 years in the profession. Two schools
provided Bible classes, she said.
The report also included a Gallup survey that interviewed 1,002
teens between May 20 and June 27, 2004. Most students recognized
Adam and Eve, Moses, the Golden Rule and the good Samaritan.
Slightly less than half of them didn't know what happened during the
wedding at Cana, where Jesus Christ turned water into wine.
The Bible Literacy Project, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization,
is pushing for schools to teach the Bible as a form of literature.
In the Fall of 2005, the group plans to release a textbook designed for
public school use.
"Without Bible knowledge students are confused and clueless,"
Wachlin said. "Teachers need to explain the biblical meaning without
offending anyone or coming across as preaching."
Bible classes are required at Fredericksburg Christian High School
in Spotsylvania County.
Chris Barham, an English teacher at the school, said she's had
students who have difficulty picking up the biblical reference in a
story despite having a Bible class.
When reading John Milton's "Paradise Lost" her students "who know
the Bible had to look back to the Bible to understand," she said.
"Those who aren't familiar with the Bible are lost to understanding
great works of our culture."
Zara Haq, a sophomore at the University of Mary Washington, has
The 19-year-old Muslim never read the Bible and excelled in her
English classes. It was her favorite subject, she said.
Haq, who was born and raised in Virginia, said she read several
books "heavy on biblical references" and didn't have a hard time
picking up on it in school.
"America is a Christian culture and you learn about Christianity and
its traditions everywhere," she said.
Haq, who is a sophomore studying philosophy and religion, said she
wouldn't mind if there were a Bible class in schools.
"But they should also have classes for other religions [text] as
well, not just the Bible," she said.
To reach JESSICA ALLEN: 540/368-5036
Copyright 2005 The Free Lance-Star Publishing Company.