I’m Shocked: Public School Bible Classes in Texas Reek of Bias and Falsehoods

I often get emails from students and parents asking about “Bible as literature” or “Bible as history” courses — are they legal? Can we stop them? My usual response is that they are legal… as long as the Bible is not being taught as fact.

The Texas Freedom Network, a conservative watchdog group, just released a report on public school Bible courses throughout the state — they studied courses in 57 public school districts and three charter schools — and have some alarming news for anyone who thought this was anything but a backdoor approach to forcing Christianity into the school system.

Their information comes courtesy of their analysis of “instructional materials, records related to teacher training and other relevant documents.”

This is NOT a textbook… so why is it actually being used as a textbook…?

Among their findings:

  • Many Bible course teachers lack the proper training required by the Legislature. Moreover, curriculum standards adopted by the State Board of Education are far too broad to help school districts create academically sound and legally appropriate courses. Consequently, many courses are not academically rigorous and include numerous errors, distortions and other problems.
  • Many Bible courses reflect the religious beliefs of the teachers and sectarian instructional materials they use in their classrooms. In every course in which religious bias is present, instruction reflects a Protestant — most often a conservative Protestant — perspective, including a literal interpretation of the Bible.
  • Many courses teach students to interpret the Bible and even Judaism through a distinctly Christian lens. Anti-Jewish bias — sometimes intentional but often not — is not uncommon.
  • A number of courses and their instructional materials incorporate pseudo-scholarship, including claims that the Bible provides scientific proof of a 6,000-year-old Earth (young Earth creationism) and that the United States was founded as a Christian nation based on biblical Christian principles. At least one district’s Bible course includes materials suggesting that the origins of racial diversity among humans today can be traced back to a curse placed on Noah’s son in the biblical story of the flood. Such claims have long been a foundational component of some forms of racism.
  • Despite the state’s failure to implement HB 1287 effectively, a number of school districts did succeed in offering Bible courses that largely comply with legal and constitutional requirements, are academically serious and avoid many of the serious problems noted in most other districts. These successful courses can be found in urban, suburban and rural districts.

How do we fix all these problems? TFN suggests actions that the Legislature, State Board of Education, and district officials can take. They involve enforcing current mandates and doing a better job of monitoring the classes themselves… but none of the recommendations say that the classes (even the obviously problematic ones) should be shut down until they can be properly taught.

The responsibility for what happens in these classes lies entirely with the schools’ administrators. If they’re letting these classes be taught by people who are untrained, or if they’re allowing textbooks and classroom material that are clearly biased (with nothing to counter them), they’re not doing their jobs and should be punished for it.

That’s never going to happen, though. Remember: We’re talking about Texas. We’re talking about a State Board of Education that cared so little about facts, they had a documentary made about how crazy they were. Even if those characters have been replaced, we can’t rely on them to do the right thing. It’s up to school administrators to do their job — and we’re relying on parents and students to be alert as to what’s happening in the classroom. If a teacher crosses the line, we need brave students to report it.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://twitter.com/Ro542124 Gideon

    Seriously, “Bible as history”? These classes sound awful, but I wouldn’t mind a neutral class that studies a variety of religions. If the approach is fair and objective, then placing the Bible beside other religious texts tends to be a winning strategy. It can cast reasonable doubt on the whole group at once.

    • dandaman

      That’s why you won’t see many comparative religion courses in grade school. In the hands of a competent (Darwinian) instructor, religion will come a toppling down. The complaints from parents would be deafening and the admin would leave you hanging.

      • Myrmidon

        Darwinian? In what sense are you using this word?

  • MargueriteF

    The thing that’s irritating to me about this is that it IS possible, and even desirable, to teach the Bible as literature. Like Greek mythology and Shakespeare, it’s had an immense impact on Western culture, and students should be familiar with it, or myriad allusions in art and literature will be lost on them. It’s unfortunate that so many school systems are attempting to use this sort of course as a sneaky method of proselytization.

    • Quux

      But… what would we lose if we don’t get all the references in ancient, or should I say obsolete art?

      • Jitterbits

        Is Shakespeare obsolete?
        I think we would lose a lot, actually. Knowledge is never a bad thing, but knowledge lost is a travesty.

  • ortcutt

    You can teach the Bible as a text, but it’s misleading to teach the Bible as history given that most scholars no agree that much of the Bible never happened. It’s not even clear that you can do a scholarly critical-historical analysis of the Bible while not offending the religious sensibilities of people. Do Christians really want kids learning about the textual variants of the Bible? Scientific Bible scholarship and religious use of the Bible are in conflict. Either Bible scholarship will be distorted so that it doesn’t conflict with religion, or it will be taught accurately but in ways that confront religious beliefs.

  • Octoberfurst

    When I was in High school back in the 70′s they offered a “The Bible as Literature” class. Being a young fundie I eagerly took the class thinking this would be just like the Bible studies we had at church. Wrong! To my horror the class was taught by a teacher who was openly liberal AND an atheist! She treated the whole Bible as myth and would say things like, “In primitive times people believed things like the world was created in 6 days but now we know that this planet has been around for over 4 billion years.” As a creationist this kind of talk drove me nuts! She even said that there was a possibility that David and his best friend Jonathan were gay lovers based on their professed love for each other in the Old Testament. I remember having a headache after every class. Looking back, she was an excellent teacher and she really made us think. But at the time I thought she was the anti-Christ. LOL. Oddly enough the class lasted only one semester and was never offered again. I have no doubt it was because the fundies in my area got wind of what she was saying to her students and demanded that the course be dropped.

    • Noelle

      That class sounds awesome.

      • Octoberfurst

        In hindsight, it was. :-)

        • http://twitter.com/ylaenna M. Elaine

          Have you considered trying to track down that teacher just to shoot her a quick “thanks in hindsight” message? I’m not a teacher myself but I’m sure she would love to hear how her short-lived class left quite an impression on you.

          • Octoberfurst

            Unfortunately I don’t remember her name. Besides that I think she is probably dead by now. She was in her 50′s when she was my teacher back in 1975.

            • allein

              Wow, that’s the year I was born ;)

              • Octoberfurst

                I—–feel——so——-old. :-(

                • J-Rex

                  And I wouldn’t exist for another 17 years…

                • Octoberfurst

                  Why do you guys enjoy tormenting me? (And why do I have a sudden urge to tell kids to “Get off my lawn!”) LOL.

                • allein

                  Now I feel old ;)

                • allein

                  And as I recall from a previous thread, we share a birthday :)

    • Marco Conti

      The good old days…

  • eric

    I thought Texas used state-mandated textbooks. That’s the whole problem with them being so important to the publishing industry, isn’t it? That the state approval process creates, in essence, a huge market for a few approved texts? So, why isn’t there same state-approved texts for bible-as-literature? Did they give themselves a bye on this one?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

    My compromise would be to allow the classes but require that they be taught by a nonbeliever.

  • Theseus

    Ahhhh Texas. Thankfully I happen to live in Austin which sometimes seems like an island of sanity in a sea of Christian dominionists. Believe me, most Austinites cringe every time Rick Perry opens his up mouth.

    This kind of stuff never surprises me. They will back door this stuff as often and as much as they possibly can. Of course the instructor is giving their fundie/evangelical interpretation to the students! They feel it is in their duty to so and will act like: “what’s the big deal”?

    If the teacher is forced to clean up their act then the usual and predictable cries of “suppression of of free speech and religious freedom”, “facism”, “secular progressives taking God out of the schools”, blah,blah,blah,blah. And, as we all know here this is a one way street and these freedoms and rights only apply to them.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

    i took a class on argumentative/persuasive writing in school. for one assignment, i argued *for* teaching religion in public schools. i argued that schools would have to be expanded, whole new wings constructed, to house all the teachers and all the classes it would require. because if religion is taught in school, well, you can’t show preference for just one, you’ve got to teach them all. so schools would have to hire teachers qualified to teach so many religions, everyone in divinity school/religious studies programs (like i was at the time) would get employed by them.

    yes, i was a tad sarcastic. still got a good grade. ;-)

    • MelissaLitwin

      Hehe. I went to high school in Texas, so for a similar assignment (speech, not writing) I argued against prayer in schools. Just against school-sponsored prayer, the stuff that’s already illegal, but I’d heard a lot of my classmates wanting to reinstate it at morning announcements.*

      The speech right after mine was pro-school prayer. I listened as he listed his arguments, every one of which I had pre-answered. The best part? Part of our grade was student-given, and the comment I got from my fundamentalist student grader was limited to “maybe pick a less controversial topic next time”.

      *I shut that down too. “Oooh, you want to do prayers over the intercom? Student-led ones? Can I do prayers too? So I can do a Jewish one? How about a Satanist one? What about an agnostic one that starts “To any gods who may or may not exist …” They stopped talking about it after that.

  • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

    Sad, but completely unsurprising. It’s a shame because there’s no reason there can’t be study of the Bible in literature classes. However, these examples just go to show that evangelicals and fundamentalists cannot be trusted to teach the material in an objective way. Which is too bad, because reading, say, the Genesis account or The Book of Job fits in perfectly with other ancient material such as The Iliad and The Epic of Gilgamesh.

  • Keulan

    I’d be okay with a “Bible as literature” class if it was taught well. I would have a problem with a “Bible as history” class though, since the Bible isn’t history at all.

  • Aaron Scoggin

    Just have a mythology class instead. Aztecs, Greeks, Christians, the works. That way students will know about most of the mythology, instead of just focusing on one during class.

  • Hypatia’s Daughter

    Georgia high schools offered a “Bible as history and literature course” for a few years. I heard they cancelled them because of low enrollment. It seems that the fundie kids wouldn’t take them because they didn’t teach their personal religious views and the other kids weren’t interested.