Sunday, January 31, 2010

Tennessee Public High School Bible Curriculum Guidelines

The mind boggles. Religion Clause reports that
The guidelines implement legislation passed in 2008 authorizing creation of a course focusing on "nonsectarian nonreligious academic study of the Bible and its influence on literature, art, music, culture and politics."
but isn't supposed to be used to convert students. They link to an AP article, which quotes the TN state ACLU director: ""Whether these classes are constitutional depends on who teaches them and how they are taught," she said. "The devil is in the details."" Well, I'll say! UPI reports that the schools will receive the guidelines for the school year beginning Fall 2010. According to the Christian Post the enabling bill was sponsored by Democratic Sen. Roy Herron:
While the measure has raised concerns among opponents, who believe it would throw open school doors to proselytizing and breach the separation of church and state, Herron has argued that it would not force schools throughout the state to offer Bible classes. Instead, the bill would protect schools that already offer Bible classes, while making the classes an option for schools that wish to participate.

You can view the curriculum guidelines here.

I'm not at all sure I would trust a public high school teacher to teach the Bible outside their own religious tradition. We have trouble enough with teachers injecting their religious views into secular subjects like Biology without giving them a venue for suggesting that the Bible is an accurate historical record. I have problems starting at the beginning with this:
Each student may use the biblical translation of his/her choice as a text. In addition, the teacher should make available, through actual publications or handouts, translations that represent the various configurations of books found in the diverse religious traditions.

How will they define "translation"? And if students can choose their own version, the notes alone will confuse the discussion.

I have trouble with the general objectives, which begin with this:
The student will be able to ….
A. Describe how the Bible was transmitted, translated, and gradually recognized as authoritative by religious communities from antiquity to the present
and I can hear the conservative fundamentalist teacher now, explaining to a secular schoolroom how the Bible was transmitted. I'm just skeptical of the teachers' ability to keep their own religious views out of this.

And this:
E. Demonstrate knowledge of historical, geographical, social and cultural contexts of biblical literature in the ancient world
1. learn and discuss pivotal historical events;
How are they supposed to decide what events are actually "historical"?

Comments on some of the online articles I've seen illustrate some of the preconceptions that'll cause trouble, in my opinion. An article here, for example, has a comment from "God's Girl" saying, "Hooray for TN!!! WOW!! Anybody with kids in school needs to move to TN!! Now, we'll see how long it will take the athest to make them stop offering it. Sad, sad world we live in." and another comment from that article: "Totally awesome! May God bless TN for doing this, and help them to implement this program successfully. Lord, protect them from the attacks of the enemy, let them be victorious for you!" The article at The Tennessean has an eye-opening display of what people expect from these classes. I wonder if they're right. edwords in particular expresses my view: "This is Tennessee, folks. Telling religious public school teachers to teach the Bible "objectively" won't work. And who's going to police them?"

The Chattanoogan quotes Herron's reasons for pushing this:
A former minister, Herron was the architect of the 2008 legislation passed by the Tennessee General Assembly that required the Board of Education to create such guidelines and model curriculum.

“For years I heard Tennesseans complain that God had been taken out of our schools,” Senator Herron said. “These citizens realized that too many public school administrators and school boards understandably refused to offer Bible courses for fear of being sued.

“I wrote this legislation to enable the Bible to be taught in our schools because we had simply surrendered our children’s First Amendment Rights. In too many schools, the Bible effectively had become a banned book,” he added. “I am pleased that our bill passed by the General Assembly in 2008 has now been addressed by the Tennessee Board of Education to help our public schools teach Bible courses.”

NWTN Today quotes Herron as saying, "...the First Amendment does not require hostility to the Bible or faith."

I think his religious motivations are clear.

As you might guess, getting the Bible back into the public schools is an idea with support from many conservative Christians. says, "The world is watching to see if we will be motivated to impact our culture, to deal with the moral crises in our society, and reclaim our families and children," and "The Bible was the foundation and blueprint for our Constitution, Declaration of Independence, our educational system, and our entire history until the last 20 to 30 years."
The United States of America is what it is today primarily because of the beliefs, character, wisdom, and foresight of our Founding Fathers. Our freedoms and our form of government have stood the test of time. What did these men hold in common that motivated them to pledge their honor, lives, and fortunes to the noble experiment whose fruits we now enjoy? Overwhelmingly, they believed the Bible. They valued its precepts. They lived by its principles. They quoted its language.
In a speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives on October 2, 2001, our own congressman, The Honorable Zach Wamp, extolled the influence of the Bible on the history and culture of America:

The Bible has had a monumental impact upon the development of our Western civilization, whose literature, art, and music are filled with images and inspiration that can be traced to its pages. More importantly, our laws, our sense of justice, our charity, and our moral standards all find their origin in the Bible. [emphasis added]

The Bible, which is a fundamental part of our national heritage, has had a more profound affect on the moral fabric of American society than any other document. It was the basis for our Founding Fathers' belief in the inalienable rights of the individual - rights which they found explicit in the Bible. This same sense of individual freedom and justice permeates the ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The influence of both the Old and New Testaments has formed the basis of our laws, our national character, and our system of values. It was the biblical view of man - affirming the dignity and worth of the human person made in the image or our Creator - which inspired the principles upon which the United States is founded.

Through the support of Bible in the Schools, contributors in Hamilton County give the priceless gift of a biblical education annually to some 3,000 of the 20,000 students in our middle and high schools.

The Huffington Post is not so convinced it's a good idea.

I can't see how this is a good idea. Our students are having trouble mastering the 3 Rs. Why are we doing this?

2/21/2010: Kentucky heads down the same road:The American Civil Liberties Union said some of the comments made by lawmakers suggest that their true intent is to try endorse the establishment of a religion.

"It's not clearly unconstitutional on its face, but it will likely lead to a host of unconstitutional actions by school boards," said ACLU of Kentucky executive director Michael Aldridge. "It's obviously kind of a backdoor means to open the door to teach unconstitutional Bible courses in public schools."


  1. I agree this very concept is nauseating, although I think I disagree slightly with your reasons. You seem most concerned about a "conservative fundamentalist teacher." I myself am worried about the horribly slippery slope this represents. To me, either a fundamentalist teacher or a secular humanist teacher are both a horrible outcome. I myself, personally, am more concerned about the humanist. Involuntary intellectual assault is bad, but destroying a youth's emotional/mental grounding is far worse, I believe. You do say "I'm just skeptical of the teachers' ability to keep their own religious views out of this" and perhaps that is a point we can agree on.

  2. I doubt there'll be many secular humanist teachers teaching this course in the TN public school system, but that ought not to be a problem if the course is indeed intended to be non-religious and secular in nature. But, you see, I doubt that was ever the intention. I see it as a response to the concern expressed by Herron: "For years I heard Tennesseans complain that God had been taken out of our schools."

    "I myself am worried about the horribly slippery slope this represents."

    I agree.