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Sep 19 2007
The Bible in Dorchester Schools (continued)

This discussion started in another thread (see here), but I'm continuing it here because that one was getting too long.

The school board says that their Bible course is a "literature course" and that it is taught in a "non-devotional manner with no attempt made to indoctrinate students as to either the truth or falsity of the biblical materials or texts from other religious or cultural traditions".

Okay, we know they say that and apparently intend to say it over and over again when questioned. But, the point is that we want to see if this is true, and we have reason to be concerned that it is not.

As I explained in my letter to the P&C (which got published yesterday), the quotes from students suggest that -- at least from their perspective -- the course is treating the Bible as a history book (which means that it is being treated as a source of "true" information). Tell me, if your school teacher gives you a textbook to read and treats it as a source of truth, is that not an "attempt to indoctrinate the student as to the truth or falsity" of that material?

Another important point, that I have not seen anyone raise in print yet, is that this course is actually very different from a literature course. In all of the literature courses I've seen at the high school level, students actually read the work of literature being discussed. I've never seen a course in which students only read summaries of some selected pieces of Tolstoy's "War and Peace".

In fact, I can imagine a literature course based on the Bible. It would involve the students actually reading the Bible (very few Americans read the entire thing, cover to cover), learning things about the original language and political contexts in which it was written, comparing it to other religious texts. (In fact, just as the school board claims that modern literature requires familiarity with the Bible, I would claim that you really need to know the mythology of the Ugaritic texts which preceded it to understand the Bible!)

But, this course is not it. From what I've seen so far, it really does look like "sunday school" and I would hope the board could do more to convince us that it isn't than merely saying so.

-Alex (and my wife, Laura, whose ideas I have borrowed from some of our recent conversations and included in the message above)

Sep 19 2007
sunday school?

I went to Sunday School when I was like in first grade. We just mostly read Bible stories and talked about what lessons we can learn from them. The teacher never actually said "this is true" or "this isn't true", but we all knew that she believed in them and so she didn't have to. The message was clear and it was obviously a kind of religious indoctrination...which is okay because it was Sunday School!

What I want to know is how is the FDHS class any different? To know, we would have to see the syllabus and class materials.

Also, the class is called "history and literature of the Bible". What part is history? Does the teacher say "now this part is history" and "this part is literature" or do they just leave it up to the kids to decide? Or is the word "history" there in the title as another "hint" to the students that even though the teacher isn't allowed to say that the stories are true, they are supposed to understand that she believes they are.

Sep 20 2007

I do have copies of the curriculm that the school handed out on Monday for anyone that would like to see it. I would need to get email addresses. Warning - it is a very large file and would need to be sent over a variety of emails.

Oct 2 2007

There are lots of important ideas in a well written article by James L. Evans, an Episcopal pastor, that appeared recently in the Decatur Daily. (Click here to see it.)

The title of the article is "Why are more Americans rejecting religion?". The people behind the Dorchester Two Bible course should read this excerpt to see why -- like some of us in the SHL -- he thinks religion should be taught by the parents, not the public schools and also that religion's antagonism towards science is part of what is driving people away from religion!

Others believe atheism is on the rise because of the secular influence of American culture. Dennis Prager, writing at, makes the case that “from elementary school to graduate school, only one way of looking at the world — the secular — is presented.” Some truth may be in that statement, but that is precisely what the framers of the U.S. Constitution had in mind. They had seen the disastrous results of state-supported religion and official orthodoxies mingled with civic duty in Europe and wanted none of it for America.

The Constitution establishes a secular society but with a guarantee of religious freedom for all.

If children go through life not knowing their faith heritage, as Prager asserts, that is not a failure of the public school system. If children do not learn their faith at home and at church, we cannot be surprised if they emerge into adulthood with low expectations about the role of faith in their lives.

We must also be willing to admit that some of this turning away from religion may be a form of running away.

The aggressive attacks on science from many quarters of the faith community have left some people feeling great resentment toward faith.

It could be that certain expressions of faith have made God too small to be embraced by those who experience the universe as vast and great.

A person who looks at the universe through the Hubble telescope is going to have trouble taking the first two chapters of Genesis literally. And when told that being faithful to God requires such belief, unbelief may feel like the only option

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