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Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
High School Bible Class: Learning its impact

Elective sparks students' interest

Neil Nisperos, Staff Writer
Posted: 03/26/2011 11:25:20 PM PDT

CHINO - As the debate continues over the propriety of Bible literacy classes at public school districts, local students say their experience in the class has been useful to their English and history lessons.
The senior elective class was added to Chino Valley district offerings at the beginning of the school year at the behest of a number of congregates from the Calvary Chapel Chino Hills church, which also pledged to provide textbook funding.

"I took this class because it sounded interesting to learn about the Bible as a book and story rather than for religious purposes," said Chino High School senior Justin Gonzales.

"It's a very fun class, and it's important for kids to be informed of the knowledge and stories

Jaclyn Hyslop teaches the Bible literacy class at Chino High, showing the Bible's influence on literature and history. (Neil Nisperos/Staff)of the Bible, just to help understand other pieces of literature. The Bible and its stories actually have a big impact on every piece of literature because most stories and lessons learned are influenced by the Bible."
Class supporters, district officials and the curriculum producers contend the class is objective, nondevotional, and does not promote any particular religious view, while critics have voiced concerns over a devotional motivation behind adding the class to the public school curriculum.

The first chapter of the class textbook, "The Bible and Its Influence," outlines the approach that the nondevotional curriculum will not press students into accepting religion, religious beliefs or engage in the practice of religion. Differing religious views encountered in the course will "neither be encouraged nor discouraged."

The executive director of the Bible Literacy Project company, which publishes the textbook - said the purpose of the course is not to ask anyone to convert to any particular religious belief or lack of belief.

"The key distinction is that you're not requiring any particular devotional or nondevotional response on the part of the students," Jenislawski said.

"What is relevant, and in some ways it's like a cultural literacy course, is to make sure when students are reading a newspaper, and they see a `David and Goliath' battle in the Legislature, they're not scanning the article to find the names Senator David or Representative Goliath. They know what that means, and they're aware of some of these key terms."

At a recent Bible literacy class session at Chino High, where nearly 20 students are enrolled, students read passages from the book of Philemon. The focus was a letter from an early church leader named Paul who requests good treatment for a fellow Christian slave named Onesimus who is returning to his former master Philemon, the head of a house church in the ancient town of Colosse.

The class textbook relates use of the book in American author Harriet Beecher Stowe's 19th century anti-slavery novel, "Uncle Tom's Cabin."

The lesson is designed to get the students to think about Paul's acceptance of slavery as a normal condition of his society and also his message that masters and slaves should recognize that despite the social relationship of Christian slaves and slave masters, they are all "spiritual brothers and sisters," according to the teacher's guide.

The biblical Paul's views have been used in the American past to both defend and attack the institution of slavery, according to curriculum guide.

Other lessons examine the cultural connections between characters and stories in the Bible with music, politics, social issues and major historical events.

Jaclyn Hyslop teaches the senior-level Bible as literature and history elective at Chino Valley Unified.

"We really have tied it into literature and history," Hyslop said.

"The students have learned so much as far as the history of the Bible and how it has impacted Western civilization and society. It's even impacted the development of our own government, and we talked about that in the beginning and just throughout, it's been great to see them connect it to stories they've been reading in their English class and other classes."

The school district will expand its senior-level Bible as literature and history elective to high school juniors next year, after a number of students petitioned the district to do so last year.

Petition signatures included 32 juniors, who would be able to take the class next year, in addition to five sophomores and two freshmen.

The class enrolls 11 students at Chino Hills High, 11 students at Don Lugo High and 17 students at Chino High.

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