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On September 13, 2006, the Texas Freedom Network (TFN ) released a report entitled Reading, Writing & Religion: Teaching the Bible in Texas Public Schools. Recent years have seen a resurgence of interest in teaching Bible courses in public schools, especially in Texas. As this new report shows, however, teaching the Bible in Texas public schools is currently fraught with problems.

Mark A. Chancey, Professor of Religious Studies at Southern Methodist University and long-time member of the SBL, authored the report, which is based on documents from twenty-five school districts in Texas that acknowledged teaching the Bible course during the 2005-2006 academic year.

The report follows a 2005 survey by the Texas Freedom Network of more than one thousand public school districts that have taught or offered an elective Bible course at least once since the 2001-2002 academic year.

 

In most of the twenty-five school districts in the report, students may earn elective credit toward graduation requirements and the schools are eligible for some state funding. The courses must teach skills elaborated in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills curriculum standards for social studies.

The report makes five recommendations to help school districts teach appropriate courses about the Bible's influence on history and literature:

  1. Adhere to guidelines in The Bible and Public Schools: A First Amendment Guide proposed by the First Amendment Center and endorsed by SBL and many religious and educational organizations.
  2. Establish open and transparent processes by local school boards as they decide to offer these courses.
  3. Hire teachers with appropriate academic background and training.
  4. Avoid relying primarily on sectarian resources for student readings, teacher preparation, videos, and other course components.
  5. Monitor regularly the content of courses to ensure that they meet academic and legal requirements.

 

Chancey speaks from a background of remembering "firsthand the rewards of studying biblical texts in a public school." He says, "I found the academic study of the Bible so invigorating that I chose to devote my life to teaching it." He also writes as a "church-going Christian."

The seventy-six page report elaborates "serious problems" in courses currently being offered. He acknowledges the difficulty of writing the report because of a series of factors, not the least of which is the fact that teachers often were involuntarily selected to teach the courses and often had little choice in the selection of curriculum.

SBL will host a session entitled, "Teaching the Bible in the Public Schools: Introduction and Perspectives" at the organizations Annual Meeting in Washington, DC on Sunday, November 19, 2006, 1:00-3:30 pm, in the Washington Convention Center Ballroom C. The public is invited. Registration for the entire meeting is available in the 2006 Annual Meeting section of the website.

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Citation: "Report on Teaching the Bible in Public Schools Just Released," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited July 2006]. Online:http://sbl-site.org/Article.aspx?ArticleID=575

 
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