Texas School has Sunday School Class

Bloomberg News has an article about one of those elective “Bible as history and literature” courses, this one taught at a public school in Sonora, Texas. And the article makes clear that this is little more than a Sunday school class. It’s even taught by a pastor.

In a Sonora, Texas, public high-school classroom usually used to teach computer programming and physics, four students are getting Bible lessons from a teacher who doubles as a pastor.

“What change shall be made in our bodies at the resurrection?” teacher Clyde Dukes asked, reading from a textbook. “How does God keep our hearts and minds?”…

Dukes, 64, who for about 30 years has been a pastor at a Church of Christ near Sonora, disputes that his class promotes a religion…

In the classroom in Sonora, a town of about 3,000 an hour and a half drive from the Mexican border, Bible study is an optional course on the Old Testament in the first half of the year and the New Testament in the second. Those in the 8:45 a.m. class all said they’re Christian.

On an April day, four students sat in rows at desktop computers as Dukes guided students line by line through Paul’s letter to the Christians in Philippi. The apostle urged the Philippians to live humbly and focus on God, avoiding grumbling and arguing.

Student Mario Soto, 16, read Philippians 3:21 aloud. When Dukes posed his question from the textbook, called the Bible Study Course, students sat silent.

“This is one of the interesting questions in the Bible: What is it going to be like after our lives end?” said Dukes, who paced the front of the classroom. “The Bible doesn’t answer that directly, but it says it’s going to be very good. It says our body won’t be the same. But it will be glorious. There will be no sickness or disease.”…

The Bible Study Course, a two-volume textbook, was produced in the 1920s and 1930s by ministers and teachers for Dallas public schools, according to a foreword by former city school Superintendent W.T. White. Schools and churches used the books for decades, with students earning high-school credit after completing a test, Chancey said. The texts haven’t been updated since 1946.

Dukes said he chose the Bible Study Course because it was cheaper than other books and asks direct questions on Bible teachings. He complies with state law by sharing his historical knowledge and not imposing personal views, he said.

It’s a Sunday school class. That’s all it is. He isn’t taking a scholarly approach to the subject, he’s telling them what the Bible says about how they should behave and what they should believe.

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  • http://thebronzeblog.wordpress.com/ Bronze Dog

    In principle, I can accept a “Bible as literature” class. The book has had a big influence on our culture, so it makes sense to study it much like you could make a course on Shakespeare.

    The truly enormous elephant in the room is that, in practice, we can’t trust the teachers to restrain themselves from teaching the Bible as a holy text. Fundies don’t believe in self-restraint.

  • http://www.electricminstrel.com Brett McCoy

    I think they should use Asimov’s Guide to the Bible as a text book

  • Randomfactor

    I took a “Bible as literature” class in college. Taught by a minister who knew his stuff.

    I occasionally tell Christian people about the three melded sources for Genesis and they look at me with completely blank eyes. They don’t know their own book except the parts they’ve been spoon-fed.

  • M, Supreme Anarch of the Queer Illuminati

    I would actually enjoy teaching a “Bible as literature” class — though I’d be entirely too tempted to arrange things so as to piss off the conservative religious types most effectively. (Read as a four-part novel, the Gospels actually do pretty well as ahead-of-its-time modernist fiction; the differing genealogies work well as a cue that there will be some fundamental contradictions between the four “views,” with a sort of ironic awareness that the protagonist of the novel will ultimately vanish behind the — intentional and unintentional — distortions introduced by the four viewpoint characters.)

    I really don’t think that the Bible as a whole is as interesting as literature as it is as a matter of social history, sociology, etc. It’s a great example of how oral and written traditions develop multiple layers of interpretation and content, often with differing agendas still visible to people who know the social context well enough. Hell, I’ve only had the quickie version of 1st-millenium-BCE Middle East history, and even that made the Bible much more readable. (Seriously, the feuds and power struggles and myth-making and borrowing and censoring and…the parts that are the most dull on a plain textual level have some high-level soap-operatic melodrama behind the scenes.) That course, though — social history of the Bible and/or the Bible as comparative literature — would piss off the fundamentalists even more thoroughly.

  • tubi

    The history of how the bible came to be what it is today is fascinating. The differences between what’s canon to Jews, Catholics, Protestants, and Eastern Orthodox, the various sources of the OT stories, comparisons to other texts of the same and earlier periods, etc, etc. It would be a good HS elective.

    But that’s not what people mean when they say they want to teach the bible in schools. The problem is finding a plaintiff in deepest, darkest Texas.

  • coragyps

    “The texts haven’t been updated since 1946.”

    And the book the text is about since 1611.

  • tubi

    I recently listened to this course: The Bible as the Root of Western Literature. It was interesting, showing how the themes and storytelling styles percolated through the literature of the west (although mostly English language), even using examples from Hemingway and other 20th century authors.

    This too would make a good semester elective course.

  • http://howlandbolton.com richardelguru

    “And … the text is about since 1611.”

    And if they are using the King James version that does have great language. Fairly difficult today without some understanding of the changes English has gone through since Early Modern (and remember that it was based largely on the Geneva Bible of 1560), but for a philologist (if you can use that term nowadays) great fun.

  • StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    Ain’t that breaking teh sabbath. (not the original Jewish one fer sure.)

    @2. Brett McCoy : “I think they should use Asimov’s Guide to the Bible as a text book.”

    Seconded by me.

  • http://thebronzeblog.wordpress.com/ Bronze Dog

    I really don’t think that the Bible as a whole is as interesting as literature as it is as a matter of social history, sociology, etc.

    That reminds me of one point I thought about making: I don’t think the Bible is good literature. It’s just had a big influence. I’ve been told about some Hebrew aspects that get lost in translation, but that aside, I don’t see why people praise it as so wonderful. I can’t relate to the characters. Half the time, I’m sympathetic to the “villains” and the other half of the time, I get Darkness Induced Apathy. (Warning, TV Tropes link)

  • Alverant

    Then have it at a church if it has no academic value.

  • IslandBrewer

    In our local highly sectarian Catholic high school, there’s actually a really good bible as literature class, that teaches about the council of Nicenaea, the different narrative voices in the books of the old testament and what that tells scholars about the authors, and the different middle eastern mythologies and polytheistic pantheons of the neighboring religions that provide a context for the particularly early books.

    I think the parents of the students would freak out if they called the class what it really is – a folklore and mythology class on the bible.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    Bronze Dog @ # 1: Fundies don’t believe in self-restraint.

    Bosh! Stuff and nonsense! Remember the late Alabama pastor Gary Aldridge?

  • http://everyonelikesmovies.blogspot.com countmagnus

    Slightly off-topic, but anyway have any good recommendations for books aimed at the reasonably intelligent general reader on the subjects IslandBrewer mentions in comment #12? And/or the ones that tubi discusses in #7, although maybe I’ll just pick up a copy of that audio course… Amazon has used CDs fer cheap.

  • Stacy

    I don’t think the Bible is good literature. It’s just had a big influence.

    For literary purposes, it’s better thought of as what it is: not a book, but a compilation of a bunch of books. Some are better than others.

  • Tsu Dho Nimh

    @14 … Asomov’s Guide to the Bible is a good starting point.

    He’s quite readible.

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