Bible Literacy Project News
The Washington Times:
Top English teachers see value of teaching Bible as literature
By Amy Doolittle
May 1, 2005
Some of the nation's top English teachers say the Bible should be
part of any high school class covering the finest works of Western
literature, according to a new report issued by the Bible Literacy
The Bible is "one of the basic pieces of literature that in Western
civilization has influenced laws, morals, politics and other
literature," says Laurance Levy, a teacher at McDonogh School in
Owings Mills, Md., who participated in the national survey.
Researchers spoke with 41 teachers in 10 states, from both religious
and nonreligious backgrounds, who are regarded as outstanding by
colleagues. Teachers at four private schools and 30 public schools
were part of the study.
Nine out of 10 teachers who participated argued that knowledge of
the Bible is crucial for a good education; 40 of the 41 teachers
said Bible literacy is an educational advantage.
The study by the Bible
Literacy Project, backed by Wall Street financier John
Templeton, was conducted in tandem with a poll by the Gallup
Organization that quizzed 1,002 teenagers on their knowledge of the
The Gallup poll found that fewer than half of the teens surveyed
knew that the Bible says Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding.
Nearly two-thirds couldn't identify a quote from Jesus' Sermon on
the Mount, or the relation of the road to Damascus to the Apostle
The Gallup survey, with a margin of error of 3 percentage points,
also found that 63 percent of private schools in the United States
offer classes on the Bible as literature, but only 26 percent of
public schools do.
McDonogh, a private school, does not have a unit on the Bible as
literature, Mr. Levy says. Scripture, he says, does "not at all top
our list of critical topics to teach."
The Bible Literacy Project,
a nonpartisan organization in Fairfax that promotes academic study
of the Bible, plans to release a textbook in the Fall of 2005 designed for
use in public schools.
Bryan Borah, chairman of the English department at Centreville High
School, says the Bible is important, but adding the book to an
already crowded curriculum would be tough.
"I understand philosophically the importance of biblical works and
that it does affect mind-sets and attitudes," he says. "But
logistically, can I squeeze it in? I can barely get in a
Other school officials are making a place for the Bible.
In West Texas, the Ector County school board voted Tuesday to add an
elective Bible class in two high schools in fall 2006. The class
would be taught as a history or literature course.
"The research I've done is that you can't hardly go back and look at
history without the history of the Bible or the literature in the
Bible. It's an integral part of American heritage, and we need it to
be a more integral part of American society today," Ector school
board member L. V. "Butch" Foreman III says. "I see [the Bible] as
no different than any another book that will be used to educate
A group of parents asked the school board in March to approve the
The Massachusetts State Department of Education requires selections
from the Bible to be taught as part of high school English classes,
spokeswoman Heidi Perlman says.
"The Bible is in our English language-arts framework to be used as
another type of literature, but by no means do we condone the
teaching of religion in our classrooms," Ms. Perlman says.
Marie Wachlin, author of the Bible Literacy Project report, says
that when it comes to teaching the Bible, teachers are affected by
"political correctness issues."
"Teachers implied they were very cautious, even fearful about
teaching the Bible in class," she says, often out of a
misinterpretation of the First Amendment's ban on government
establishment of religion.
That fear is ungrounded, says
Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the
"Contrary to popular belief, the Supreme Court did not ban the Bible
from public schools," Mr. Haynes says. Rather, he says, the high
court barred public schools from supporting religion.
Incorporating the Bible in a public school curriculum is not
unconstitutional, writes Chuck Stetson, founder of the Bible
Literacy Project and former vice president of the National Bible
"The great authors of literature made an assumption that the general
population understood the basic themes of the Bible," he writes.
"Yet, our study reveals that we are losing this knowledge and
raising a generation that teachers say is 'clueless' about the
context for some of the most basic phrases in our common language."
Christians who regard the Bible as the inspired word of God also
generally are supportive of its being studied as literature, says
the Rev. Joseph Jenson, executive secretary of the Catholic Biblical
"The Bible is fundamentally a foundation in many ways [throughout]
our culture and the Western world," Father Jenson says. "A lot of
the narratives in the Bible are very fine examples of good
literature and the study of them can only be a help to people."
Teaching the Bible as literature doesn't "take anything away from
it, because they're not discussing it in a spiritual realm," says
Kiera McCaffrey, a spokeswoman for the Catholic League, which
promotes religious and civil liberties. "Anything teachers can do to
impart knowledge of the Bible to their students, we're behind it."
Copyright 2005 News World Communications, Inc.