Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Selling Jesus in Public Schools - Chisum Finds a Way

I stayed up later than usual last night watching live feed from the meeting of the Texas House Committee on Public Education. I was interested in hearing what was going to be said about HB 1287, a bill filed by Warren Chisum mandating the teaching of two elective courses on the Old Testament and the New Testament.

First off, let’s say that this is just a thinly veiled attempt by Chisum to introduce the Christian religion in the classroom again. It’s a mandate, an order to include these courses in the curriculum along with PE, Health and Algebra, but not as a mandatory course, an elective.

So there’s that.

I have to say, that as a fair-minded person, I do see the need for a course like this. Even children raised in Christian households, Sunday go-to-meetin’ households, are woefully ignorant of things biblical. The Bible, as a piece of literature, is really, really boring. So kids don’t read it. They wouldn’t know whether The Book of Isaiah was written before Luke or after it. It’s that bad.

Why know about things biblical? Well, since about 325 CE when it was adopted by the First Council of Nicaea, the Bible has been a huge influence in Western art and literature. Wars were fought over it, and its interpretation. You can’t begin to understand these things unless you are versed in the verses.

As a high school student in California, taking an Honors English course my senior year, I was assigned a year-long project investigating the work of John Steinbeck. I soon discovered that I was horribly unknowledgeable of things biblical. You simply cannot understand the underpinnings of Steinbeck’s classic works, “The Grapes of Wrath” and “East of Eden”, without having specific knowledge of the Old and New Testament. Believe it or not, this project caused me to read the entire Bible from cover to cover just to do a little catch up and teach myself a few things.

So I would be the first to say that a course like this, as an elective, would be a good addition to any high school curriculum.

But the bill is so fatally flawed that the course that it promises, cannot possibly be delivered given the constraints in the bill. Quoting from the bill, this is the course that is promised”

“The purpose of a course under this section is to:
(1) Accommodate the rights and desires of teachers who wish to teach and students who wish to study, as applicable, the Old or New Testament; and
(2) familiarize students with, as applicable:
(A) the contents of the Old or New Testament;
(B) the history recorded by the Old or New Testament;
(C) the literary style and structure of the Old or New Testament;
(D) the customs and cultures of the peoples and societies recorded in the Old or New Testament; and
(E) the influence of the Old or New Testament on law, history, government, literature, art, music, customs, morals, values, and culture."

That all sounds very good to me. These are ancient texts and reading and understanding them should offer a deeper understanding on all of the above.

To assuage the protests of non-Christians, or Christians of a particular sectarian belief, Chisum includes this:

A course offered under this section:
(1) must be taught in an objective and nondevotional manner that does not attempt to indoctrinate students as to either the truth or falsity of the Judeo-Christian biblical materials or of texts from other religious or cultural traditions other than the Judeo-Christian tradition;
(2) may not include teaching of a religious doctrine or a sectarian interpretation of the Old or New Testament or of texts from other religious or cultural traditions other than the Judeo-Christian tradition; and

(3) may not disparage or encourage a commitment to a set of religious beliefs.

Better still.

But then we are given this:
“Notwithstanding Sections 28.002(c) and 31.022, respectively, for a course under this section, the State Board of Education maynot:
(1) identify the essential knowledge and skills; or
(2) adopt textbooks under Chapter 31.”
No TEKS for this course. No textbook (other than the Bible and other things deemed relevant by the teacher of the course).

And this:

“(h) The board of trustees of a school district shall determine the qualifications, assignment, and training of teachers of a course under this section, except that:
(1) the teacher must be certified as provided by Subchapter B, Chapter 21, unless an exception to that requirement exists under this title”.

No state-mandated training. The selection of a teacher to teach the course is up to the school districts. Better yet, there is nothing proposed to rate the readiness of a teacher to teach this course. Texas has ExCET exams for all teachers to be certified to teach in subject areas. No ExCET test is proposed or planned for a teacher who wants to teach this course.

The reason is this: money. No funding is proposed in this bill. It is, as they say, a non-funded mandate.

What will result if this bill passes is what has already resulted in 22 Texas school districts. A survey of the 25 school districts that offer a course like this in high school, found that only 3 are teaching it along the lines outlined by Chisum. The other 22 are courses in “Come to Jesus”.

This is the thin veil. Put the words into law that propose a perfectly acceptable high school course, but provide none of the support that will enable the course to be taught in that manner. Result: state-sponsored classes in Christianity, and in Texas, we’re talking Protestant Christianity.

The other thing that should raise warning signals about the intent of this bill?

The hearing on the bill was held last night.

On Passover.

Names of witnesses kept being called, and they weren’t there to speak. That’s because they were all home at their Seder dinners.

Yep, you guessed it. They scheduled the meeting at the only time this month that the Christ Killers couldn’t attend.

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