Public schools tend to avoid potentially offensive or touchy subjects, with religion perhaps being the most prominent. At times, an obsession with political correctness has deemed teaching the Bible in public schools inappropriate.
All too often, upon hearing the words “Bible” and “public school” in the same sentence, the first thought that comes to mind is violating the principles of the First Amendment, breaching Jefferson’s “wall separating church and state.”
Public school students would receive a well-rounded, broader understanding of Western thought, culture and history by learning the Bible, not for religious indoctrination, but as a seminal work with an influence that is extremely pervasive on today’s society.
Most works of literature, drama and even film that have stood the test of time take their fair share of influence from Biblical stories. Without the Bible’s influence, most literature we know today would read differently.
Shakespeare incorporated over 1,100 Biblical references in his work.
In terms of a book that sparked political and social change, the Bible is unrivaled; few people know it was the book that both promoted and condemned slavery.
Throughout history, numerous authors, playwrights, philosophers and great Western minds found a wealth of influence in the Bible, including the founding fathers, whose orations and writings pay homage to it.
Although it is true that the founding fathers did not intend for the U.S. to be a theocratic state deriving its Constitution from divine inspiration, it undoubtedly served a large role in its composition.
The Bible’s impact and influence date back to the dawn of the printing press, which sparked a massive increase in literacy. From then on, literacy wasn’t limited to the clergy, but took a more democratized form. People could read and interpret the Bible on their own, thus eliminating the need for someone to do it for them.
Reading the Bible taught them to think for themselves.
But wouldn’t studying the Bible in schools just like any other book exclude other groups, and possibly offend them, you ask? Well, no—because historically, the Bible was, and still remains the most widely read book in existence.
Studying it within the confines of a literary, historical and cultural context shouldn’t offend anyone any more than studying any other work of literature or historical work. Unfortunately, that isn’t the way everyone sees it.
Numerous legal battles over teaching the Bible in public schools have sparked debates from those with a religious agenda, and those without one.
In 1963, the Supreme Court case Abington School District v. Schempp ruled that reading the Bible over an intercom in the mornings was unconstitutional. To no surprise, it should be, because it was not used in a literary or historical context, but as a dogmatic one with the intent to proselytize.
It seems difficult, however, for some teachers to steer clear of their religious predilections in their own methods of teaching, allowing their personal beliefs to find their way into their instruction.
One teacher in Missouri came under fire after assigning readings written by a conservative Baptist minister, in an attempt to debunk evolution. If, for instance, public schools required students to read the Bible for a class, teachers would need to leave their personal beliefs and bias aside in order to promote critical thought and classroom discussion.
The Bible is one of the greatest works of literature and history ever written, and is simultaneously the elephant in the room when it comes to answering some of the biggest questions about the Western thought, culture and history.
Undoubtedly, students would have much to gain in its study.