It’s the middle of summer, and most teachers have already started thinking about the next school year. Many Christian teachers in public schools grapple with how to incorporate their Christian perspective while honoring the religious diversity of their students and avoiding proselytizing. The ever-growing lie that the Bible has been banned from public schools fuels teachers’ hesitance to engage students in conversations about the richness of our culture and a realistic understanding of how religion has shaped our thinking from ancient civilizations to our modern Western culture.
Often misunderstood, the 1963 Supreme Court decision School District of Abington Township v. Schempp did not rule against the study of the Bible in school settings, but against the use of the Bible as a devotional. Regarding that decision, Supreme Court Justice Clark stated, “It might be well said that one’s education is not complete without a study of comparative religion or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization. It certainly may be said that the Bible is worthy of study for its literacy and historic qualities. 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 Amendment” (Abington, 374 U.S. 203, 225 ).
Religion Is at the Foundation of Our Culture
Throughout the world, children study the history of civilization. Complex human societies, both barbaric and civilized, were based on standards of behavior and are subject to the scrutiny of countless teachers and students. Conclusions are drawn as to the reasoning for the success or failure of these groups. Regardless of their resilience, the contribution made to the advancement of today’s world is brought to the surface in educational institutions. However, the slow fade of teaching how religion played a role in the establishment of these individual cultures has robbed generations of students from grasping the depth and complexity that underlies the human identity.
George Lindbeck, a former professor of theology at Yale, once described the cultural position of the Bible in American culture this way: “Its stories, images, conceptual patterns, and turns of phrase permeated the culture from top to bottom. This was true even for illiterates and those who did not go to church, for knowledge of the Bible was transmitted not only directly by its reading, hearing, and ritual enactment, but also indirectly by an interwoven net of intellectual, literary, artistic, folkloric, and proverbial traditions. There was a time when every educated person, no matter how professedly unbelieving or secular, knew the actual text from Genesis to Revelation.”
The Bible and Other Ancient Texts: Encouraging a Deeper, Not Wider, Education
Recently, the world of education has been abuzz with the enlightenment of 21st Century Learning Skills (Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Creativity); Common Core, State, and NextGeneration Standards; and the idea that we need to provide students with a balanced curriculum (teaching the whole child). While these topics stir controversial “water cooler” conversations, the shifts give educators the opportunity to develop lessons that are rich in authenticity, complexity, engagement, and relevance. The creation of lessons that move beyond the textbook challenge students to listen actively, contemplate open-ended questions, and develop critical discernment. In order to facilitate a learning environment that encourages mile-deep, inch-wide learning, teachers must research, use, and place in the hands of their students additional materials and resources (e.g., the Bible, other religious and historical texts, literature, writings, art, and artifacts).
Today’s teachers are facing the reality that political correctness is overtaking historical accuracy. Without the use of materials such as those listed above, our identity within HIStory will be distorted at best, if not completely lost. Theodore Roosevelt said, “The teachings of the Bible are so interwoven and entwined with our whole civic and social life that it would be impossible for us to figure out ourselves what our life would be if these teachings were removed.”