Monday, January 7, 2013

The Bible and American Public Education

There’s yet another meme going around Facebook about the Bible not being allowed in schools.   Seeing it reminded me what a dangerous radical I am, because I taught from the Bible when I taught public high school English twenty years ago.

I did a lesson about the lead of your writing piece being tied to your audience and purpose.  My example was the four gospel accounts in the Bible, each of which was written to a different audience for a different purpose, and their leads reflect that.  For example, the book of Matthew was written to fellow Jews and emphasizes how Jesus fulfilled Hebrew prophecy; it begins with a genealogical account of Jesus’ ancestry, proving he was Jewish and a descendent of David which fulfilled prophecy.

I’m pretty sure there was at least one Biblical passage included in our literature textbook  – Psalm 23, I believe -- as an example of ancient poetry.  There might have also been one of Jesus’ parables in there, too.  And, of course, literature is filled with Biblical images and references that we ended up discussing in class.  Yep, I definitely taught the Bible.  I wonder if I'd be fired today.  :)

When I was a sophomore in high school, we read an essay that referred to the Book of Job.  One student pronounced “job” with an “ah” -- as in employment.  Mr. Umansky pronounced it correctly for him (with an “oh”) and asked if he knew what the Book of Job was . . .  the student said he assumed it was a job manual.  The teacher asked if anyone in the class knew what the Book of Job was; I was the only one in the class of honors students who did.  After a moment of stunned silence, Mr. Umansky emphatically told us that no American could ever consider themselves truly educated if they didn’t know the Bible, so it behooved us to buy one and read it.  Mr. Umansky was Jewish, by the way.

I agree.  Any truly literate and educated person in Western society should have a good basic knowledge of Greek mythology, Roman mythology AND Biblical stories.  They are part of the narrative by which we, in the Western world, communicate meaning and ideas.

While helping one of my students in an at-risk class with her history assignment once, I mentioned that the Roman Empire controlled Palestine at the time when Jesus lived.  (It wasn’t as random a comment as that sounds; I don’t remember the context, but it was pertinent to helping her pull together the facts she was studying.)  The young lady looked at me with disdain and shook her head.  “I don’t believe any of that stuff, Mrs. Kandt.”  I tried to explain to her that, whether or not she believed he was the Son of God or rose from the dead, historians tells us that there was a man named Jesus, he was killed by the Romans, and he lived in Palestine under the Roman Empire.  She just continued to smirk at me and shake her head.  Her contempt for my religious beliefs blocked her from learning what was secularly documented history.  It hindered her education . . . and closed her mind.

If I lived in Saudi Arabia, I would fully expect to learn about the Koran in school.  In fact, I would be disappointed in my school if I didn’t, because I assume that Arabian culture is as saturated with the Koran’s stories and teachings as Western culture is with the Bible’s, and I would have little hope of understanding the culture I was living in without a good knowledge of their holy book.  I would also want to know the historical background, because although I don't abide by Muhammed's teachings, I know he was a historical figure who had a prominent place in history which I also need to understand.  As long as I was not expected to profess faith in the Koran or change my lifestyle to fit its teachings, I would be tolerant -- even enthusiastic -- about it being included in my “public school” education because I want to be educated well.

Just sayin’.

No comments: