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National Review:
Know Thy Bible
Donít fear Scripture teaching

By Rich Lowry
National Review Editor
October 14, 2005

It's time to get the Bible back in public schools. And not through the back door of creationism disguised as Intelligent Design.

America is a Bible-soaked nation, from the Puritans to Abraham Lincoln to Martin Luther King Jr. Without a basic grasp of the Bible, it is impossible to understand the well springs of our country and the basis of Western civilization. Which is why it is a scandal that Bible education has been chased out of the schools and why the work of the Bible Literacy Project to put it back there is so admirable.

The nonpartisan, Virginia-based Bible Literacy Project has set out methodically to return Bible education to the schools by answering the questions: Is it legal? Is it needed? How can it be done? "The Bible and Its Influence," a just-published textbook for use in grades 9-12, is the culmination of this effort. Rarely is a textbook an occasion for celebration or anything but moaning on the part of students, but this substantial, gorgeously produced, thoroughly vetted volume is an emphatic exception.

A few years ago, the Bible Literacy Project published together with the First Amendment Center a guide on how to teach the Bible in schools. The list of groups that have endorsed this consensus statement reads like a who's who from the clashing sides in the culture war, with People For the American Way Foundation on the one hand and National Association of Evangelicals on the other. In 1963, the guide notes, the Supreme Court struck down devotional Bible reading in schools as unconstitutional. But the court said schools may teach the Bible as long as it is "presented objectively as part of a secular program of education" ó a message lost on most lawsuit-averse school boards.

So, Bible education is legal, but is it necessary? Well, only if you want to be educated. By one count, there are 1,300 biblical references in Shakespeare's plays, working out to an average of 40 per play. Bible literacy will lead to a deeper understanding of authors from Herman Melville to Charles Dickens, from William Faulkner to Toni Morrison. The Bible has inspired the world's greatest poets, painters and composers, some of its most influential reformers, and the founding of a great nation (ours).

But only 8 percent of public-school teenagers report that their school offers the Bible or religion as part of the curriculum. A Gallup survey of high-school students found that large numbers know the very basics (Adam and Eve, etc.), but not much more. Two-thirds of teens couldn't correctly identify, given four options, a quotation from the Sermon on the Mount. They didn't know what happened on the road to Damascus. About ten percent think Moses was one of the Twelve Apostles.

As a Bible Literacy Project report put it, "No other book of comparable influence and importance could be deliberately excluded from public-school curricula without drawing sharp criticism from the educational and scientific elites." Secularists love debates like that over Intelligent Design that supposedly pit religion against the dictates of sound education. Here is a debate that has long pitted Bible-fearing (in their own peculiar way) ACLU-types against the obvious educational imperative of familiarizing students with the most influential book of all time.

"The Bible and Its Influence," carefully crafted to be within legal parameters and approved by dozens of scholars from diverse religious backgrounds, takes away any excuse to shy away from Bible education. It is Michael Newdow-proof. Charles Haynes of the First Amendment Center has written, "At long last, here is an answer for beleaguered school districts that want to offer a Bible course, but don't want to get sued."
But inertia is a strong force, especially for overly cautious school boards. Parents who think the Bible should be part of education need to tell their school systems about this new book. It is a way to return the Bible to schools, without lawsuits or sectarian rancor.

(c) 2005 King Features Syndicate

 
 

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