Two Perspectives On Bible Classes In Texas
Time Magazine's new April 2, 2007 issue features a cover story entitled "Why We Should Teach The Bible In Public School"
. In the story Dave Van Biema, Time's senior religion correspondent, has constructed a narrative that sounds mild, reasonable, and evenhanded but advances an agenda, perhaps inadvertently, that is none of those things [ see Time Magazine Cover Story Promotes Christian Supremacy
"Why We Should Teach The Bible In Public School" starts off with a description of a Bible class at a Texas high school. By Time's favorable depiction, the class appears non-threatening....
The tale opens in the New Braunfels High School in Oakwood, Texas as teacher Jennifer Kendrick works her students along through the Gospel of Matthew. Kendrick's curriculum is loosely based on the more neutral of the two big national scope Bible course curriculae, "The Bible and It's Influence" that has been endorsed by a broad spectrum of religious scholars from across the religious spectrum and is credited my many as relatively nonpartisan. Kendricks considers the curriculum slanted though, telling Van Biema the curriculum "will bring up Catholicism and mention Gandhi, but you can tell it's written as if I am a Protestant Christian teaching Protestant Christians"
Van Biema sums up his quite favorable impression of Jennifer Kendricks' high school Bible class:
"I could find little to object to here and much to admire. Here was a conservative teacher going way beyond The Bible and Its Influence, but not in a predictable direction. She 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" [emphasis mine]
In what manner did Kendricks fit in other faiths ? Van Biema provides a few details:
"Explaining why Jesus' famous sermon took place on a mount, she reminds the students that Matthew was writing for Jews, and a mount is where Moses received the Ten Commandments. "So, supposedly," she says, "Jesus is the new covenant, the new law, for the Jewish people."
It's impossible to quite tell from the context how to read this, and it might be quite innocuous, but I have to wonder if there are any Jewish students in Kendricks class. Regardless, there's a vast gulf between Dave Van Biema's relatively warm and cuddly version of Bible classes in Texas public schools and political realities in Texas that may soon have a bearing on Bible classes in the Lone Star State.
As I've written up in what probably merits to be its own separate story, a bill coming up for a vote in the Texas State House would mandate that Texas high schools offer elective Bible courses and teach from a curriculum demonstrated to be baldy, religiously partisan and which promotes a falsified version of American history. Texas State Rep. Warren Chisum's House Bill 1287 may not make its way into law, but Texas has pioneered "Abstinence-Only" sex ed ( or mis-ed as it were )and "Faith Based" prisons and gave America George W. Bush, so there's no good reason for faith in this latest experiment.
Texas may be the epicenter of aggressive Christian nationalism in the United States (some would credit Oklahoma) and the Lone Star state also functions, in pioneering, developing and testing avante-guard approaches for advancing theocratic programs and legislation, much the same way as California does in pioneering new fashions which then spread out across America.
Last Friday, in a conversation with a representative for the Texas Freedom Network, a nonprofit group that opposes the legislative agenda of the Texas Christian right, TFN Communications Director Dan Quinn told me about a bill, introduced by Texas State Rep. Warren Chisum, that would mandate that Texas public schools offer elective Bible classes and require those classes use the more overtly biased of the two national curriculum for Bible class, from the National Council On Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, an organization whose board members have openly advocated the need for an American theocracy. NCBCPS founder Elizabeth Ridenour says she was commanded by God to bring the Bible back to public schools.
Now, to begin with, the NCBCPS Bible class curriculum has been accused of being openly religiously partisan, and a recent study of the NCBCPS's curriculum found much to worry about :
Dr. Mark Chancey, a biblical scholar at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, found numerous problems with Bible courses in Texas public schools, including:
- a failure to meet minimal standards for teacher qualifications and academic rigor;
- the promotion of certain religious beliefs over all others; and
- advocating ideological agendas hostile to religious freedom, science and public education itself.
In a February 24th Amarillo Times op-ed, Dan Quinn noted one of many "quirks" in the NCBCPS : "That particular curriculum is so flawed that until recently, it included the silly and long-discredited urban myth that NASA has evidence of a "missing day" in time." The curriculum includes more than bizarre conspiracy theory, it's rife with fake history. In an ongoing expose at Talk To Action historian Chris Rodda examines the Christian revision history of NCBCPS the curriculum that is packed with fake quotes, misquotes, and other historical abuses in what may be a systematic attempt to present fake history to American schoolchildren.
Texas State rep. Warren Chisum's House Bill 1287 bill, that would mandate high schools in Texas teach Bible classes based on that dubious curriculum, was scheduled for a public hearing April 2. The Anti-Defamation League had been interested in testifying against Chisum's bill, and so when news of the April 2nd hearing, during Passover, got out an uproar ensued. Then legislature rescheduled the hearing for April 10th, fine for most Jews but still excluding Orthodox Jews.
Now, those may have been honest mistakes but it's not true that Jews and Judaism are completely off Warren Chisum's mental radar screen, and here's an illustration of views held by one of the politicians aggressively moving to pass "Bible classes in schools" legislation:
Warren Chisum is none other than the Texas Rep. who, last February, circulated a memo among Texas State legislators, that referenced a website claiming the Earth was the center of the Universe and that the Sun, the Solar System, and all the heavens wheel around our little planet once per 24 hours ( The memo, written by a Georgia State Republican legislator was circulated in up to 1/2 dozen US State Legislatures ) and if that belief, shared by some prominent figures on the US religious right and by the man who spearheaded the re-writing of the Kansas State school science curriculum back in 1999 [see link, above], was merely freakishly eccentric the actual reason for the memo was to allege that Evolution is not really science but actually a 'religion' based on Jewish Kabbalism. Given the role allegations of sinister, sweeping, Jewish conspiracy narratives, still as common as ever probably and even advanced in sanitized form by Christian Zionist supporters of Israel such as CUFI founder Pastor John Hagee (who posits a cabal of "international bankers" seeking to impose the "New World Order" ) who makes a big show of wanting to love Jews, and Israel, to death (perhaps literally).
So, per Dave Van Biema's presentation, Bible classes in Texas seem banal, nonthreatening, and perky. In reality, Texas faces the possibility of a legislative decree forcing Texas high schools to teach Bible classes from a curriculum referencing that pushes Christian nationalist ideology and revisionist (fake, that is) United States history. And who may bring such a law into being ? None other than Texas State Rep. Warren Chisum, who recently circulated a memo that, as far as anti-Semitic conspiracy theory goes, was nipping at the heels of the Protocls of The Elders Of Zion.
As Dann Quinn, from the Texas Freedom Network summed up Rep. Chisum for me, The man is a one-man wrecking ball tearing down separation of church and state."