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Cape Cod Times:
Good Book

September 28, 2005

It's the genesis of how we view the world, how we describe things, how we decorate the stories we tell.

It's why snakes have a bad reputation; it's how generations of little Davids learned to stand up to big, scary bullies; it's why no wedding would be complete without the lesson on love from 1 Corinthians.

It's the Bible. Fully 60 percent of the allusions in a recent Advanced-Placement English exam were from its pages. Too bad so much of its contents would come as a revelation to today's young people.

Public schools tend to keep scripture at arm's length except for brief mentions in world religion classes. The problem: How to teach an appreciation of the Bible as an historic religious document and as literary wellspring without seeming to endorse the Christian religion.

Last week a textbook was introduced that may solve that problem.

''The Bible and Its Influence'' was produced over five years by the nonprofit Bible Literacy Project of Fairfax, Va. It will retail for about $50. A Teacher's Edition is in the works.

The working group of advisors included Biblical scholars from different Christian denominations, Jewish groups and the First Amendment Center, an offshoot of the Gannett media empire that studies and promotes constitutional freedoms. In 1999 it forged an agreement, ''The Bible and Public Schools,'' that balanced the views and concerns of educators and Christian, Jewish and Muslim groups. The editors of the new text drew on that agreement.

Some of us remember a ''Bible as Literature'' course in public school. It at least gave passing familiarity to those allusions and great poetry like the Psalms and Song of Solomon. At the news conference introducing the new text, the First Amendment Center's Charles Haynes said that literary approach was the problem with the one previous text of which he was aware: it did not deal with the scripture's religious significance throughout history. That's a cop-out, half a loaf.

Contrary to popular belief, the Bible has not been banned in public schools. Back in 1963 the Supreme Court ruled against readings and recitations from the Bible in public schools, but said ''the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities'' if the overall program were secular.

Let's hope the new textbook encourages more public schools to take a chance on this touchstone document of modern civilization.

(Published: September 28, 2005)

Copyright 2005 Cape Cod Times

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