Imagine a group of students on a summer tour of Florence, Italy,
standing before Michelangelo’s magnificent statue of David inquiring
of their guide, “David who?”
Or when given a copy of John Steinbeck’s “East of Eden” in a course
on American literature, these same students ask unknowingly, “Where
or what is Eden?”
Or in a class on government, they have only puzzled looks when the
teacher begins to speak about the “Good Samaritan Laws” in our
country – “Good who,” they ask?
These same students will see the movie “The DaVinci Code” and have
no reason not to think that it is the truth, and may even use the
term “gospel truth,” unaware of what a gospel is.
There is a growing concern in our nation that more and more of our
young people know less and less about what is arguably the most
significant book in western civilization, the Bible.
Unless these young Americans are churchgoers and/or attend Sunday
school or religious education classes, they will find themselves at
a serious disadvantage in understanding the fundamentals of art,
literature and government upon which our culture was founded.
Can our children understand American society without knowing the
biblical context of “covenant,” “promised land” or the “shining city
on a hill?”
A year ago, the Bible Literacy Project, in association with the
Gallup Organization, published a fascinating, yet disturbing study
of what American teens need to know about the Bible and what they
actually do know.
Titled “The Bible Literacy Report,” this study first presents
qualitative research of what the best high school English teachers
think their students need to know about the Bible.
The second half of the report presents the results of the only
recent nationally representative survey of American teens’ religious
knowledge and what they know about the Bible and other religious
The results? Ninety-eight percent of surveyed English teachers
believe that knowledge of the Bible confers a distinct educational
advantage on students, whether in the field of art or literature.
Further, the report indicates that only a minority of students
appear to be “Bible literate,” that is, knowing the basic characters
and stories which have shaped our culture.
Dare I say it? It is time for our public schools to offer a
well-rounded education to our young people by offering an elective
course on the “Bible as Literature.”
The national initiative for this Bible literacy is spearheaded by
the Bible Literacy Project. This is a nonpartisan, nonprofit
organization dedicated to research and public education on the
academic study of the Bible in public and private schools.
The recent publication of its student textbook, “The Bible and Its
Influence,” has been applauded by parents, scholars and educators
alike as a significant step forward in this regard. It presents a
study about the Bible, which is respectful of various faith
Teaching about religion in public schools is also in keeping with
First Amendment concerns. In the Supreme Court decision that ruled
that public schools may not require devotional use of the Bible, it
went on to explicitly acknowledge that academic study of the Bible
in public schools is constitutional and a part of a good education.
In the majority opinion of that decision (Abington v. Schempp) in
1963, Justice Thomas Clark wrote, “Study of … the history of
religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization. …
Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or
of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program
of education, may not be effected consistently with the First
Promoting an inclusion of an elective course on the Bible in our
public schools is not advocacy for teaching religious belief. Even
less is it a matter of indoctrination. Rather, a course on the study
of the Bible as literature fulfills the complete educational needs
of students, who deserve to learn the content of one of the most
widely read books in the world.
It is time for serious public discussion of the need to promote
Bible literacy in our schools.
Concerned parents and teachers can educate themselves on this
national initiative by logging on to wBI.
School boards can better serve their constituencies by studying this
issue and considering ways for curricular revisions which meet this
need for an academic study of the Bible.
A meeting to discuss the importance of Bible education in our public
high schools will be held at 7 p.m. May 18 at the John Paul II
Center at St. Benedict's church, 2310 Bedford St., Geistown.
Monsignor Michael A. Becker is a
parochial vicar at St. Benedict’s Roman Catholic Church in Geistown
and an instructor of religion at St. Benedict’s Grade School and
Bishop McCort High School.
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