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The Herald-Zeitung: March 31, 2007
A class by themselves

By Jessica Sanders
The Herald-Zeitung
New Braunfels, TX

Emily Bock didn’t think the Bible had a place in public schools, but she’s had a change of heart.

The 18-year-old voted against the addition of a Bible literacy class at New Braunfels High School during a student poll last year. However, she ended up on the class roster this semester when she dropped her statistics class, and said she’s found the course to be balanced and informative.

Bible Literacy: The Herald-Zeitung: March 31, 2007: A class by themselves“Because of separation of church and state I didn’t really think it was appropriate,” said Bock, a New Braunfels senior. “I thought it would be like Bible study because this is New Braunfels and we’re conservative — but now it’s my favorite class.”

Time magazine also was drawn to the potential for controversy — and the apparent objectivity — of the New Braunfels High School class called “The Bible and its Influence.”

The course, taught by Jennifer Kendrick, is featured in a April 2 cover story in Time. The social studies elective was approved by the New Braunfels Independent School District trustees in December 2006 and was offered for the first time this semester.

“I was kind of surprised to see how positive the story was,” Kendrick said. “It was pretty exciting to see myself in a magazine, I can’t imagine how exciting it was for the students.”

Senior Tyler McKee, 17, said the article showed the course in a positive light and will help show that Bible classes don’t equal church.

“It’s not preachy,” he said of the course. “I think the article was good exposure.”

The story, by Time’s senior religion writer David Van Biema, discusses Bible classes taught in public schools, while also going into issues such as First Amendment rights and the relevance of Biblical knowledge in education.

Rosalyn Bratcher, New Braunfels Independent School District’s superintendent of curriculum and instruction, said Van Biema found New Braunfels High School through the Bible Literacy Project, a group that publishes the textbook “The Bible and its Influence.”

“He called up and spent time interviewing me and Jennifer,” Bratcher said. “He interviewed a few students by phone and then came down in early February and sat in on some classes.”

Kendrick, who also teaches English, was a little nervous about teaching the class because community members and other faculty expressed concerns before the course was approved last year. She joined the staff at New Braunfels High School this year after working in Judson Independent School District.

“I know some people and even some teachers at this school don’t approve of the course being taught,” she said. “But no one has put that disapproval on me on a personal level. Everyone’s been very supportive.”

The writers of the course textbook, also titled “The Bible and Its Influence,” claim the text was created to comply with the First Amendment, which separates church and state. The book was examined by 40 reviewers and is endorsed by many educational, religious and secular groups. According to its editors, the textbook allows room for parents to teach their own views of the Bible.

Kendrick works from the text, but also adds insights from other text and even compares Biblical passages to texts from other world religions. Both Van Biema and Bratcher agreed that Kendrick’s teaching and the course itself are careful not to take sides.

“I could find little to object to here and much to admire.” Van Biema wrote in his article. “(Kendrick) name-checked the Crusades, avoided faith declarations and treated the Bible as a living document to be pored over rather than blindly accepted. She even managed to fit in other faiths.”

Bratcher said there are 20 students enrolled in the course during its debut semester. “The Bible and its Influence” will be offered again in the fall for juniors and seniors seeking a social studies elective.

“I think she does a good job teaching about religion without leaning into areas that are constitutionally indefensible,” Bratcher said of Kendrick. “I think the reporter was undecided about the issue when he came here, but he really liked the class. I’d like to think that New Braunfels High School might have turned his opinion around.”

Copyright © 2007 The Herald-Zeitung

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