That shudder was Texas thinking about really teaching the Bible in public schools

Among other issues I’ve not followed closely on the blog due to a way too-busy summer is the issue of teaching the Bible in Texas public schools. The Texas Lege, failing to get a contract with Comedy Central, passed a law that says every public school district in Texas “may” teach a course in the Bible if kids petition for it.

The bill had fancier, slightly more legal language, but was just about that ambiguous (having drafted my first federal law <cough>34</cough> years ago, and having written many amendments to state, federal and local laws, and having survived the rigorous legislative drafting course at George Washington, I feel qualified to complain about the problems in the law’s language).

Left hanging were answers to these questions:

  • Who or what determines the curriculum for such a course?
  • Does the law require the district to offer the class, when a request is made? For one student? For ten?
  • Will the state provide money to offer the class, since every district in the state is under-funded?
  • Will the State School Board authorize texts for the class, so individual districts don’t have to spring to buy the texts, even though the state fund is grossly underfunded and text purchases in core areas like mathematics, science and English go begging?

The question about whether the law requires a course to be offered was bucked over to the Texas Attorney General’s office, but so far they have ducked the issue (if Greg Abbott were alive today, I’m sure they would have given a quicker answer so schools could prepare).

The question on whether the SBOE would offer guidance on curriculum was also answered in July. No.

About three dozen school districts in Texas’s 254 counties already offer courses in the Bible. Some have been sued for offering more of a Sunday school class, and they lost, or settled, by requiring real academic rigor.

What are the stakes?

Well, consider that Texas also has among the highest teen-age, school-girl pregnancy rates in the nation, which contributes mightily to a staggering drop out rate. Shouldn’t Texans be happy that kids can get instruction on Biblical history and its use as literature?

Well, have you read the Bible?

Christian Beyer, who blogs at Sharp Iron, noted in comments at John Shore’s blog, Suddenly Christian, in a thread about whether God cares if one is married or unmarried:

You know, I think you just might be right.

Anita over on her blog [Grace Unfolding] wrote an interesting article related to what you are saying, and she surprised the heck out of me with a new Biblical revelation (for me, anyway). The dude and the chick in Song of Songs (Song of Solomon?), even though they ended up in the sack, were NOT MARRIED! [bolding and link added]

I never really cared for the Song of Songs before – too many Christian guys quoting it to me when they bragged about how ‘Godly’ their marriage was and how the Holy Spirit was giving their sex life a boost. Puh-leese! Breasts like fawns? What’s next – thigh’s like calves? (Wait a minute… )

How will this play in Crawford, Beaumont, Pleasant Grove, Crockett or Paris? Oh, my.

So far the SBOE has gone with a “teach the controversy” philosophy in science. Turnabout is fair play, no?

Additional resources:

10 Responses to That shudder was Texas thinking about really teaching the Bible in public schools

  1. Ed Darrell says:

    Comic timing is difficult, but it’s nearly impossible in comments to a blog post. That was brilliant!


  2. Ediacaran says:



  3. Ediacaran says:

    D’on! “Hhe” => “He”. Where’s my caffeine?


  4. Ediacaran says:

    “Hhe” => “he” – trying to keep it legal, and all.


  5. Ediacaran says:

    Aren’t Texas textbooks required to be free of factual errors? How did they resolve such glaring discrepancies as the following?

    2 Kings 8:26 Two and twenty years old was Ahaziah when he began to reign; and he reigned one year in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Athaliah, the daughter of Omri king of Israel.

    2 Chronicles 22:2 Forty and two years old was Ahaziah when he began to reign, and he reigned one year in Jerusalem. His mother’s name also was Athaliah the daughter of Omri.

    I was curious, too, if the biblical violations of 1st and 2nd Laws of Thermodynamics constitute factual errors in Texas. Perhaps Don McLeroy should post his analysis of the errors in the bible, as he did in his analysis pointing out what he claimed were errors in Darwin’s work on evolution at Hhe lists Linnaeus and Cuvier as Darwin’s critics – odd, since one of them died before Darwin was born, and the other died about 20 years before Darwin presented his first paper (and Wallace’s as well) on evolution for peer review to the Linnaean Society.

    Like the official site of Texas Tourism says:
    “Texas – It’s Like a Whole Other Country!”


  6. John Reed says:

    Thanks! Really amazing. I wish i could spend my time on writing articles…just have no time for it.


  7. Ed Darrell says:

    Geolub: My recollection is that the Midland-Odessa program was modified, but keeps charging on. I didn’t track it as closely as I should have — Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars followed it closely, having an acquaintance on one of the teams of lawyers. Do a search at his blog; and also be sure to check out the Texas Freedom Network adjunct, the Texas Faith Network. (While you’re there, see their reports on Bible curricula; they used Mark Chancey as their expert. He’s wonderfully adept, and funny in person, a great combination in scholars.)

    qvashty: There’s a lot of support for comparative religion among Advanced Placement teachers, true liberal educators in the Thomas Mann/John Dewey mold, among thinking conservatives, internationalists, and others who favor academic rigor. Consequently, there is a lot of opposition to such a course in the Bible Belt, where way too many people prefer that the Bible be studied as THE UNQUESTIONED AND ULTIMATE TRUTH and not be subjected to serious scrutiny, either as to origins of the texts or interpretations as literature, or as an influence on society and history.

    AP history courses are often more rigorous than intro college courses (certainly more rigorous than other high school history courses). Because the subject matter is tested and tested hard with a national test, those courses usually offer readings rather broadly in religion, in the actual religious texts, and in the influences of religion. Because of the reputation of the Advanced Placement program, because of the nationally-created test, local and state school boards generally keep their hands off — same is true for the International Baccalaureate (IB) programs, though I’ve heard conservatives complain about those courses, I think because the IB programs are less-well recognized. (I think the IB program is astoundingly ambitious and produces great scholars who are well grounded ethically.)

    An obvious pre-selection bias operates here. Students in AP courses are less likely to complain about studying things that may question their faith because they tend to come from homes that have a lot of books, with parents who have some college and who read, even if they are not particularly well read. Those students gravitate to the tougher courses, have more flexible learning styles, a broader background, and generally have a much better-developed sense of their own religious beliefs, and so are less likely to feel threatened by reading and studying other traditions.

    But if you want to probe the ignorance of the Bible in your cocktail party group, next time someone calls a person “a Gomer,” act puzzled, and ask why they use that woman’s name, and what they mean by it. Odds are your audience will think you horribly unerudite for not knowing about the old television show, “Gomer Pyle, USMC,” and none of them will know that Gomer is a female character in the OT whose story plays a key role in the development of Christian theology.

    Mark Twain once observed that is is impossible to read the Bible and ever draw a pure, clean breath again. Listen to Hal Holbrook deliver that line, and listen to the nervousness in the laughter.

    I may need to add some links to the post. Good questions.


  8. Hey, thanks for the call out. If you hadn’t linked to me I never would have found your site and I think is GREAT! Accuracy in history; what a novel idea.


  9. qvashty says:

    Is there support for a comparative religion curriculum in the public schools? I think such a thing could be very good for separation of church and state, and that study of “sacred” texts would help facilitate students’ understanding of literature and history in their other courses. Plus, as you point out above, it could involve close reading skills and make the kids better informed about the religious traditions they accept, reject, or consider to be the enemy. (I’m speaking from a university perspective here, so I don’t know that my logic would work in a standardized-test-driven environment.)


  10. Geolub says:

    Let the squabbling amongst sects begin! I can see this turkey faling to thrive in that a consensus curriculum is virtually impossible to acheive amonst the many brands of faith (largely Christian) in Texas. Didn’t the Midland-Odessa school district already encounter just such a kerfuffle and end up canning the effort?


Please play nice in the Bathtub -- splash no soap in anyone's eyes. While your e-mail will not show with comments, note that it is our policy not to allow false e-mail addresses. Comments with non-working e-mail addresses may be deleted.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: