Overcoming the Fear of Teaching about the Bible in Public Education
The line stated in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first inaugural address (1933): “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” is most often quoted as his original thought. In reality, the American writer and philosopher Henry David Thoreau (1817) was the first to write in his journal: “Nothing is so much to be feared as fear.” For more than fifty years, public schools administrators and teachers have been terrified at the thought of being sued by “watchdog” groups that oppose any notion of teaching about religion in public schools. Federal clarification guidelines (1995) sent to every school in America from the U.S. Department Education and former President Clinton, along with other documents prepared by 1st Amendment scholars should have dispelled these stifling fears, but until those “pillars of society” entrusted with the awesome responsibility of fully educating our youth begin to view religious liberties as a vital component of a quality education, another fifty years will pass and public education will continue to be “void and without form” (Genesis 1:2). This should be educators’ greatest fear.
In order to eradicate this perceived educational threat that holds Biblical literacy and moral education hostage to the mythical bullies known as misinformation, outright lies, and ignorance often perpetuated by the media, remember what Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803) said:
“When a resolute young fellow steps up to the great bully, the world, and takes him boldly by the beard, he is often surprised to find it comes off in his hand, and that it was only tied on to scare away the timid adventurers.” American novelist Harper Lee (1926) said,
“The book to read is not the one which thinks for you, but the one which makes you think. No book in the world equals the Bible for that.”
As a committed professional secondary English teacher for life, I have decided that I cannot afford to be detached from the subject matter and completely “politically correct” in explaining and unfolding the innumerable truths and sound principles found in classical literature, including the Hebrew Bible. As a professional Christian secondary educator and servant leader who has taught in both public and private school environments, I believe that within a community of learners, I have an ethical responsibility to fulfill my duties as a servant leader for the general welfare of the entire society and for the world in general. In fulfilling this mission, I believe that imparting the truths and timeless principles contained in the Hebrew Bible should be included in secular programs of studies on public high school campuses. Such academic instruction can be included in regular classroom discussions and assignments, or students should be afforded the opportunity to take elective courses in religious studies, such as The Bible as Literature and History.
Because of the indelible imprint that the Hebrew Bible has made on the shaping of Western society the American public education systems should not continue to graduate Biblically illiterate students year after year. More effort should be made to quell the confusion concerning “separation of church and state” issues that have resulted in more than fifty years of a barrage of media hype, misinterpretations, and the deliberate propagation of inaccurate information should be clarified so that teachers and students can be set free from the ignorance. In the 1963 ruling (Abington v. Schempp ) , the U. S. Supreme Court expressly stated:
“ It might well be said that one’s education is not complete without a study of comparative religion or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization. It certainly may be said that the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities.”
In other words, as agents of the state, educators cannot religiously indoctrinate students by promoting one religion over another, however, the Constitution does not forbid public educators from teaching about religion in public classrooms, including instruction that pertains to the timeless truths found in the Hebrew Scriptures. Legally, however, educators must keep in mind that such instruction must be academic (not devotional) as part of a secular program of studies.While no teacher should impose his or her religion on any student in a state sponsored school, constitutionally, educators and students do not have to hide their own religious identity when they enter public classrooms (Retrieved from: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=51609 on January 23, 2006).