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Bibliture
June 22, 2005 9:10 AM   Subscribe

Reason #48713 for teaching the Bible in schools: "The classics of British and American literature are filled with biblical allusions that would be lost on a reader without basic knowledge of the Bible"
posted by afx114 (200 comments total)

 
Is this really a big deal? I thought we had such a class at my high school, but maybe I'm confused.

I'm an atheist, but I like learning about the mythology of the Bible, just as I like learning about any other mythology. And it is really important in western literature.

There's a world of difference between teaching the Bible as literature and teaching the Bible as God' only truth.
posted by teece at 9:14 AM on June 22, 2005


As long as it's taught in either a comparitive religions course, or as long as you also discuss other scriptures (because there are lots of references in literature to other gospels), fine.

Otherwise the bible should be taught in sunday school, not public school
posted by Fozzie at 9:17 AM on June 22, 2005


'Bible' should be taught in the same regard as Greek or Mayan mythology.

Any deviation from this is an invitation for Fascism.
posted by four panels at 9:18 AM on June 22, 2005


Well i very much doubt that someone's agenda isn't being pushed here. I also doubt that this wont leapfrog the bible into other realms, where it has no place being.

If you want to study a work of fiction in a study of literature fine, dont use it as a sociology text or a science text.
posted by MrLint at 9:21 AM on June 22, 2005


I missed the other 48712 reasons. Could you post those too, please?
posted by papercake at 9:23 AM on June 22, 2005


Uh, wouldn't the better solution be for the teacher to just say that it's a Bible reference (and possibly explain why it's a reference or leave the student to research it on their own) when they do come up? Seems like it would be cheaper, as well.
posted by shawnj at 9:23 AM on June 22, 2005


So long as we can put a sticker on it saying "The Bible is just on theory..."
posted by axon at 9:23 AM on June 22, 2005


"The classics of British and American literature are filled with biblical allusions that would be lost on a reader without basic knowledge of the Bible"

If you believe this, you should also believe that Greek and Roman mythology should be taught.
posted by Termite at 9:26 AM on June 22, 2005


My AP english class read some of the Old Testament. My biggest objection is that it's much more boring than most books.
posted by Mayor Curley at 9:27 AM on June 22, 2005


I don't really have a problem with this. In the class I TA'd back in the spring, one of the topics I covered was some portions of the Net Testament, most notably the Sermon on the Mount.

A lot of what fundamentalists believe and claim is "based off the bible" is, in fact, either selective reading or twisting the words to fit what they already believe. It doesn't take a genius to see that the Sermon on the Mount directly contradicts many of their aims.

My point is, if they have really sharp people teaching the course, then this could be a really good thing. Most of these misguided policies and views that are causing so much trouble in the States could be underminded by a good, incisive, honest reading of that book. It is unnecessary to read it as "mythology" -- no one requires Moby Dick be read as mythology. It is a work of literature, that should be the beginning and end of its treatment in a public classroom. Thus it should be read as literature, which inherently means everyone interprets it in their own way. Teaching literature dogmatically misses the entire point.
posted by JHarris at 9:31 AM on June 22, 2005


Shawnj, I think part of the idea of education is to enable students to understand things outside of the influence of the teacher.

By teaching students the Bible they have given them the ability to understand the biblical allusions that are present in a variety of English literature, or even in daily conversation.

I also don't think the Bible needs to be taught in a comparative religion class to be constitutional. It'd be great if students had an understanding of a variety of religious texts, but in English literature the Bible is the main thing you need to know.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:33 AM on June 22, 2005


So long as we can put a sticker on it saying "The Bible is just on theory..."

It's not being presented as science at all! The class is called "the bible as literature". I think it's a great idea, and I'm glad people are aware enough of the complete ridiculousness of "the bible as science" not to be dissuaded from teaching it as literature, which is, after all, what it is. The bible is a major source of our collective mythology, and does in fact play a prominent role in western literature. Just like being familiar with the greek mythology is useful, so is being familiar with the judeo-christian mythology.

I once wrote [apologies for the retarded coloring of that page] about my own experience with a high-school bible class.
posted by mdn at 9:33 AM on June 22, 2005


Sure. Teach the Bible as literature (both Old and New)--as long as you also teach the Koran, Tibetan prayers, Rigg Veda, some Confucian stuff, lots of Hindu stuff....some Sikh, and Jain...

If you don't include more religions, you're violating the separation by giving one religion a special place in the curriculum.
posted by amberglow at 9:33 AM on June 22, 2005


And then you'll also have to decide which version of the Bible? Hebrew? King James? Some latin one? ...

(and insert clause into my previous comment)
posted by amberglow at 9:35 AM on June 22, 2005


I took a Bible as Literature class in college; it was fascinating and a hell of a lot of fun. As long as the teacher is well-informed on the "as Literature" part, this is no different than learning about Greek and Roman mythology in sixth grade.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:40 AM on June 22, 2005


Yup--college. It really is not good literature tho--many other religions have much better written holy books, and should be taught in anthropology, mythology or comparative religion courses in college, not in public high schools.

This is just another attempt to inject Christianity into our public schools, and will fail.
posted by amberglow at 9:40 AM on June 22, 2005


If it's being taught as literature, what's the problem? I was assigned a large chunk of the bible in a (required) core curriculum class I took at NYU. It was essentially a comparative literature class, and we certainly weren't reading it for religious instruction. I didn't think it was a big deal at the time, and I still don't, despite being an agnostic who's generally pretty touchy about people trying to save my soul.

As it happens, I did also get taught Greek mythology in a high school English class. I liked it more than the bible.
posted by emmastory at 9:41 AM on June 22, 2005


amberglow: equal time for every other piece of religious literature would be fair enough IF the schools were also going to equally teach the histories and literatures of those cultures. Which might happen at a college level, and possibly should happen a little more in secondary schools, but the fact is that in high schools in the US, most of the curriculum centers on European-American history and literature. It is simply inconceivable to me that anyone could really grasp the flow of that history without understanding the religious beliefs that motivated many of the principal players in it. We need to understand our own culture before we can deal with others around the world. If a school can do justice to Western history and literature and has time left over, fine, move on to the Koran so students can understand what's motivating people to blow themselves up in Iraq.
posted by beagle at 9:42 AM on June 22, 2005


I went to a very liberal public magnet school in a very liberal town. In our Bible As Lit class, a good chunk of the kids were pagans and atheists looking for talking points. If the class was some kind of conservative indoctrination attempt, it was failing badly.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:43 AM on June 22, 2005


Reason number 48714: Know your enemy.

I have no problem with people learning about the bible for what it is - a hugely influential collection of ancient writings. So long as we don't allow superstitious idiots to try to tell kids that the obviously unreal fantasies and parables within it are true, it's cool.

Generally I've found that when an intelligent kid looks at the bible objectively and in parallel with the historical background which exists, the result is a total demystification of the book. They see it for what it actually is, not what the needy, god-bothering airheads of this world want them to believe it is.
posted by Decani at 9:44 AM on June 22, 2005


amberglow, do you object to teaching Greek and Roman mythology in schools? How about Hindu mythology or Buddhist teachings?

I was taught all of those things during my time in public schools, and frequently in classes I was required to take, not electives like this one.

All of that contributed greatly to my education and I'm glad for it, I fail to see how a Bible class is any different.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:46 AM on June 22, 2005


if they have really sharp people teaching the course

Growing up near Fallbrook (where this is taking place) I'd like to state that there arent very many, if ANY, sharp people in Fallbrook. Fallbrook is considered the "booonies" of San Diego, which is why I don't quite trust their intentions. You know how those country folk are...
posted by afx114 at 9:48 AM on June 22, 2005


i think it would be particularly difficult for a fundamentalist Christian, i.e. someone who believes the Bible to be literal fact, to teach a class in Bible as Lit. or even comparative religions. i would think, however, that it would be rather discriminatory to restrict such folks from teaching the class. could the principal simply see such a teacher as too much of a liability risk? i dunno.

the 10yr old who lives in my house began the summer reading the Children's Bible (the household is some amalgam of philosophical atheist, pagan, and laid-back buddhist). she quit some way through (and she never quits books), calling it boring. i think she was surprised that we encouraged her, speaking to exactly the point of the above high school class: our culture is full of references to the stories held therein.

isn't mythology still an integral part of high school english classes? when i taught, it certainly was. just as key, IMO.
posted by RedEmma at 9:49 AM on June 22, 2005


It's a good thing that high schools have cured smartmouth and sass, otherwise a teenager might make fun of some of the odder parts of the bible.
posted by revgeorge at 9:50 AM on June 22, 2005


I disagree, amberglow. There aren't many allusions to Sikh stories in Shakespeare, and the KJV works just fine for Bible-as-Lit purposes. This isn't about religion; it's about understanding English Lit. Just as Chaucer can be taught without offering a course on Julian of Norwich, the Bible as Literature can be taught without offering a course on Confucianism. The latter just isn't relevant to most of English Lit.

I took two such classes in college, both from ordained ministers, and they served me well in my graduate English lit program. And I'm still a raving left-wing atheist. THAT SAID, I think it's dangerous ground to tread, since I do fear that this will be used as a way to preach to the kids.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:51 AM on June 22, 2005


We had sections on Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology; we read the Epic of Gilgamesh and parts of the bhagavad gita; we read Milton and the Book of Job—in our Lit classes. Looks like my poor, rural, northern Michigan, conservative town had it about right, and I agree that teaching an elective called The Bible as Literature is just peachy. It's not like they're substituting it for the science texts or anything. (And I, too, am a raving left-wing atheist.)
posted by goatdog at 9:56 AM on June 22, 2005


I despise organized religion and I despise the bible, the talmud and the koran for what they are-- works of fiction written by men to consolidate their power over women and other men. However, the bible is a historically important piece of literature and without knowledge of the basic mythos you cannot understand or interpret much of European art and literature. I see no reason not to expose students to it as long as it is presented accurately.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 9:56 AM on June 22, 2005


This is an outrage. The Bible has no place in modern society, and should not be taught in our schools, whether as a religious or literary text. The mere chance that they might be exposed to the violence of a crucifixion, the prurient innuendo of Songs of Solomon, or the insanity of worshipping an imaginary friend is reason enough to keep such trash out of the educational system and away from modern, thinking minds. And if there are texts which make allusions to such dreck, then perhaps schools should be keeping those relics of ancient superstition away from their students as well. They don't have whole classes about Mein Kampf, do they?
posted by brownpau at 9:57 AM on June 22, 2005


From the article:With little fanfare and no controversy last month, the Fallbrook Union High District's board unanimously approved the elective class, called "The Bible as Literature."

It's an elective class, for students who want to learn about The Bible as Literature. They're not talking about giving one religion a special place in the curriculum, they're talking about offering an elective class on a book that has strongly influenced Western Literature. amberglow, it's nice that you're so inclusive, but I don't subscribe to the idea that if you don't teach everything, you shouldn't teach anything. On the day that Tibetan prayers have the same amount of influence on Western Literature as The Bible, perhaps then Western High Schools will offer elective classes entitled "Tibetan Prayers as Literature."

As to which version to pick, I think the King James version is the one recognized as the most literary.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 9:58 AM on June 22, 2005


As an atheist, I'm fine with this class. In some ways, I'm even more comfortable with the Bible being taught as literature than I am with the comparative religion class. In order to teach the Bible as literature, your really de-mystify it and emphasize the nature of its distinctly collective authorship, and the roles which historical circumstance played in matters of canon, translation, etc. Teaching the Bible as literature would be the last thing that fundamentalists would advocate, since fundamentalism is predicated on the Bible being literal, not literary. It's not the promotion of religion, but the promotion of a text as being important to Enlish Lit. (which it is, and which the others are not in this instance).

On preview, as Mr.MoonPie Notes, much will depend on the quality of the instructor and how he/she approaches it.
posted by Verdant at 9:58 AM on June 22, 2005


This is just another salvo in the democrats' war on christianity... or something.
posted by drezdn at 10:02 AM on June 22, 2005


As an atheist, I am cool with this too. Just because I am an atheist doesn't mean I don't see a whole lot of wisdom in the Bible or other texts.

I think a lot of these evangelicals haven't even read the Bible and if they did they'd be in for a big shock.
posted by xammerboy at 10:04 AM on June 22, 2005


So make it optional. What if I don't care about my literary knowledge being at stake, as may be claimed? What if some kid wants to take a course on the literary qualities of the bible, or lack thereof? Who cares?
posted by taursir at 10:05 AM on June 22, 2005


As a literature student myself, and one who just gained his ten-year atheist chip, I'm grateful to have the knowledge of the Bible that I gained from my younger days in the arms of the Southern Baptists. Without it, a lot of what I read would be lost on me. The Bible, along with Shakespeare, Chaucer, and Milton, is one of the foundations of Western literature, and you can't call really yourself a Western literature scholar without being familiar with it, in my opinion. I'm not sure that it warrants a full two-semester high school course (particularly if it replaces a literature requirement), but it's certainly an important, foundational text to teach a student.

That said, if I were this teacher's principal, I'd be watching this class like a hawk - not only for the teacher proselytizing, but for him allowing his students to proselytize. To me, his intentions don't seem to be on the side of the (first amendment) angels.
posted by UKnowForKids at 10:08 AM on June 22, 2005


I'm with amberglow. I think this is essentially a college course and has no place in a high school. Yes, the bible has greatly influenced history and literature, but can't those points be explained on a case-by-case basis? I never read much of the bible. I got the basics at home from my mom (and later rejected them as I grew up). In all of my high school classes, if there was a reference to the bible it was always adequately explained by my teachers and/or by the text itself. I never had a problem understanding the biblical references.

If it is going to be taught at a high school level, wouldn't it best serve the students to encompass a variety of religions?

We need to understand our own culture before we can deal with others around the world. If a school can do justice to Western history and literature and has time left over, fine, move on to the Koran so students can understand what's motivating people to blow themselves up in Iraq.
posted by beagle at 9:42 AM PST on June 22 [!]


beagle, that's just it. Kids already understand their own culture. They get taught Western (or more accurately, AMERICAN) history and religion probably 99% of the time. We need to understand other cultures before we can understand ourselves. In my experience, high school kids really DO NOT understand other cultures. They absolutely cannot see the bigger picture. And that's because no one is asking them to. They live in their small towns with American flags plastered all over the damn place, they go to school and learn Western history, they absorb all this rhetoric around them that's saying the America is the greatest country in the world, then they join the military thinking that it's all some big video game NOT understanding what's motivating people to blow themselves up in Iraq, and then they just want to kill the so-called enemy before the enemy gets them. Alright, that's a generalized scenario but... teaching the bible as "literature" reeks of thinly veiled nationalism to me.

It seems that education should focus on what kids aren't getting at home rather than reinforcing what has already been ingrained on most of their little brains. And you've got to be joking if you think there isn't an agenda here.
posted by crapulent at 10:14 AM on June 22, 2005


British and American literature are filled with biblical allusions that would be lost on a reader without basic knowledge of the Bible

And further, the Bible contains allusions, metaphors, and concepts from other religions and cultures. Comparative religion, liguistics, and history all have a great deal to add to our understanding of the Bible and other texts.

But doing that means treating the Bible as a book, rather than as the immutable word of God. The fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible depends on ignoring that the text: has been developed over time, has been translated and mistranslated, and has had at least one entire book removed by the Church. In a public school setting, we'd have to pick between presenting the Bible as The Word or as an ancient text.

On preview, Verdant nails it:
In order to teach the Bible as literature, your really de-mystify it and emphasize the nature of its distinctly collective authorship, and the roles which historical circumstance played in matters of canon, translation, etc. Teaching the Bible as literature would be the last thing that fundamentalists would advocate
posted by skyline at 10:16 AM on June 22, 2005


We had a Bible-as-lit class in my CA public high school, as well as a comp lit class that compared several mythologies including the Bible. The Christians objected to both classes, because they presented the Bible as fiction.
posted by cali at 10:18 AM on June 22, 2005


I fail to see the controversy. It's foolish to claim that the Bible isn't one of the most important pieces of literature in western society. Studying it as literature is entirely appropriate.
posted by mosch at 10:20 AM on June 22, 2005


"That said, if I were this teacher's principal, I'd be watching this class like a hawk - not only for the teacher proselytizing, but for him allowing his students to proselytize."

I agree on this as well. It seems that the instructor who teaches this course has volunteered for lightning rod duty. On one front, he will have a watchful administrator, on a second, he will have folks who object to any religion in schools (and in many cases with great justification), as well as the parents incensed that Caitlyn has just come home spouting about the the conflation of erotic and religious discourses in the "Song of Solomon" and in John Donne's Holy Sonnets. An unenviable position.
posted by Verdant at 10:22 AM on June 22, 2005


I'm a little vague on this now because my friends took the course and I didn't (sniff), but one high school I attended had a Humanities course that included selections from the Bible, and at the time (late 70s) there wasn't any controversy about it. Maybe Xians are getting a little too prickly nowadays.
posted by alumshubby at 10:25 AM on June 22, 2005


... It is simply inconceivable to me that anyone could really grasp the flow of that history without understanding the religious beliefs that motivated many of the principal players in it. We need to understand our own culture before we can deal with others around the world. ...

You don't have to read the Bible to understand what the Crusades were, or anything in History. That's a crock. We don't read Lenin and Marx or Mao to learn about Russia or the USSR or China. We don't read the Koran to learn about the Middle East. Source materials can be excerpted and often are, in textboooks. It is only a source text--not an important text in literary terms. It is not important literature in itself.

This class in California is being taught as an elective. Most people in this thread read it as literature in College--as an elective. But many public schools don't give a choice of electives. You can not teach it "as literature" in the standard curriculum unless you also teach other world religious texts "as literature", and you would also have to allow kids to opt out of taking the class.

This would also have the unintended effect of seriously cheapening Christianity, by forcing its text to be seen, not as the word of God, but as just another book someone wrote--yet isn't it funny, that in the article the one teacher mentioned is a Christian, and the majority of the students taking the class are Christian too? I say let them go to Sunday School to read the Bible, as I went to Hebrew School after school to learn Hebrew, etc.
posted by amberglow at 10:25 AM on June 22, 2005


They don't have whole classes about Mein Kampf, do they?

Well, they did at my school. It went very well with the chemistry lessons we had about how to make Zyklon B. It was a shame about Goldstein and Cohen, but as they said in our Political Science class, you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs. No wait... that might have been in Domestic science.
posted by Decani at 10:30 AM on June 22, 2005


A lot of people have made comments to the effect that studying the Bible is okay as part of a wide-ranging study of world religions and literature. This is silly. If you live in the West, it is more important to know the Bible as literature than say, the Rig Veda. It is also more important to know the Greek and Roman myths than the intricacies of Shinto. America is part of the Western cultural tradition; it is not some free-floating political and economic entity that draws equally from all world cultures. There are certain things we need to study to know ourselves. Then we can move on to knowing others.
posted by yesno at 10:34 AM on June 22, 2005


Amberglow,

the whole idea of an elective is you can opt out of taking it. Saying "many public schools don't give a choice of electives" doesn't change the fact that this one does, and know one has to take this class.

Furthermore, teaching other religious traditions doesn't have the same instructional value as teaching the Bible. The Bible is one the primary source for the literature of the Western world, and for Western society in general. Having students study the Bible is just as valuable as having them reading Shakespeare.

You can't require schools to teach every other religious text, because that's impossible, and of little value. Reading the Upanishads might make you a better person, but it doesn't help you understand the society we live in all that much.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:35 AM on June 22, 2005


To draw another paralell, the KJV - its language and stories - are to British and American literature what the Shi Jing is to Chinese literature.

You could have a literary education without the point of reference of the Bible but it would be like studying quantum physics without any knowledge of classical physics. You'll know the material itself but you won't know the roots, your perspective on everything will be skewed and foreshortened.

For the record, I too am an atheist.
posted by XMLicious at 10:37 AM on June 22, 2005


I see no need to teach the Bible. When biblical references come up in texts in English class, my teacher explained them. Just like any other reference the class didn't get. This is a sneaky way to get Bibles in high schools, period, in my opinion.
posted by agregoli at 10:38 AM on June 22, 2005


If you want to be a contemporary writer, it's a good idea to know the Bible, just as it's a good idea to know Shakespeare, and as others have pointed out, Bullfinch's Mythology, too (or better, the Meridean Classical). True, you don't have to know the origins of myths to make proper references, allegories and associations, but it sure helps. Society is flooded with enough erroneous, shallow references to the ancient world as it is.
posted by dreamsign at 10:39 AM on June 22, 2005


A lot of people have made comments to the effect that studying the Bible is okay as part of a wide-ranging study of world religions and literature. This is silly.

No, it isn't. The point is to illustrate that the bible is not a special case amongst world religious texts. It is as irrational as they are, comes from at least as wide a variety of sources, contains equally bonkers ideas and madly speculative "history", and so on and so forth. Again: the point is to demystify as well as to simply study. Comparing with other major religious texts helps immeasurably in this. Not least because the bible is actually far wackier than some of them.
posted by Decani at 10:41 AM on June 22, 2005


The Bible is one the primary source for the literature of the Western world, and for Western society in general. Having students study the Bible is just as valuable as having them reading Shakespeare.
The Bible is just a footnote to all literature in the Western World, even those books considered part of the canon, modern or otherwise. When i read Dickens or another important author, the footnotes explain archaic terms and stuff like that--they also indentify quotes, biblical or otherwise. There's nothing more you need than those footnotes.

Shakespeare is not a religious text, used for worship by millions. And annotated/footnoted Shakespeare is all you need--his works are classic because they don't require you to read other things to get it--they are universal stories of humans, not religious texts of Gods and miracles.

I see no need to teach the Bible. When biblical references come up in texts in English class, my teacher explained them. Just like any other reference the class didn't get. This is a sneaky way to get Bibles in high schools, period, in my opinion.
Exactly. This is exactly what it is.

And what Decani said too. You're privileging Christianity at the expense of other religions.
posted by amberglow at 10:48 AM on June 22, 2005


portions of the Net Testament

Aren't those the ones that cover the Internets?
posted by ericb at 10:48 AM on June 22, 2005


And if there are texts which make allusions to such dreck, then perhaps schools should be keeping those relics of ancient superstition away from their students as well. They don't have whole classes about Mein Kampf, do they?

I really do hope you're kidding. In high school AP Lit, I was one of the few people who had read the bible pretty much cover to cover, and I would say it has helped me greatly in studying American and English literature, just as reading the Mahadevis helped me understand Hindu and Buddhist art and literature. A lot of you are forgetting how liberal many high school students are - I doubt this class will turn in to some sort of religious revival meeting (the class I took in my small redneck mountain city didn't).

Furthermore, other religions ARE taught in American middle and high schools. We spent a whole year in middle school studying the history of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, and the greco-roman religion. We read many primary documents. I think it's a bit close-minded to say that we cannot study Christian primary sources just because it's a hot point for politics today.
posted by muddgirl at 10:56 AM on June 22, 2005


You know how those country folk are...

Yea dude. They're like, ignorant. And prejudiced. Right?
posted by glenwood at 10:57 AM on June 22, 2005


I think the great minds of English literature(Shakespeare, Milton, Donne, etc.) would be outraged to hear the Bible described as a foot note. To these people the Bible was an example of great literature, and it has been considered such since the canon was compiled.

Furthermore, I find the idea that all you need is a footnote and for the teacher to explain it you laughable. Why read anything then? Why read Marx when I can have it explained to me by a professor? Why read Plato when I can his ideas explained to me in a footnote? This kind of thing spells the end of serious education.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:05 AM on June 22, 2005


Uh, it's not that hard to get. The tough to understand stuff is about accepting Christ as your savior. The other stuff (This references Jesus on the cross - the Bible says he was crucified, this is why they did it supposedly, blah) - what's so difficult about that?
posted by agregoli at 11:07 AM on June 22, 2005


Amberglow, I must respectfully disagree with this:

--not an important text in literary terms. It is not important literature in itself.

It is indeed literature and, while parts of it constitute a survival and history manual for a nomadic, levantine people circa 1200 BCE, it does have some spectacular poetry in it (particularly as rendered in KJV). Much ancient literature performs an encyclopedic function, i.e. it seeks to encapsulate all knowledge deemed of import to it authors' people. Some just sounds better to our ears than others.

And while I don't necessarily think that you're understanding of Hamlet is made any better by Reading Thomas Kyd's Spanish Tragedy, I do think the influence this book had on English literature makes it worth a class on it's own. If for no other reason, you get to see how brilliant writers like Marlowe, Shakespeare, Donne, and Milton dealt with such thorny issues as the influx of classical learning (and where it contradicted the Bible), how to make sense of the world when official orthodoxy and reality do not jibe. These later issues are secondary to the Bible, but an understanding of the Bible and how it was translated/deployed within that context are very important to understanding English Lit.

(The downside of this is by studying this, you hear terrifying echoes of the 17th century in today's political discourse. Plus ca chance. /snark)

I also believe that it should be elective however, and that the course description should accurately described the take on the subject matter that the course will take, just to be fair to all involved.



On preview:
Shakespeare is not a religious text, used for worship by millions. And annotated/footnoted Shakespeare is all you need--his works are classic because they don't require you to read other things to get it--they are universal stories of humans, not religious texts of Gods and miracles.

Shakespeare is classic because he assimilated many other texts, and while a good edition will point you to the correct chapter and verse, understanding the largest context of the quoted work remains very important. As I understand it, this course takes the Bible, treats it as a man-made artifact, and looks at its influence on a number of literary works across several centuries of literature. It strikes me as a valuable exercise that could lead the kids to ask some interesting questions. It sounds pretty ambitious for high-school actually.

And as Bulgaroktonos notes above, if we keep deferring to footnotes, we vest the writers of footnotes with a lot of responsibility and authority, some of which we should keep as readers.
posted by Verdant at 11:11 AM on June 22, 2005


Shakespeare is not a religious text, used for worship by millions. And annotated/footnoted Shakespeare is all you need--

When biblical references come up in texts in English class, my teacher explained them. Just like any other reference the class didn't get.


educated people in previous times didn't need the cliff notes to understand references - they were actually familiar with what the authors were referring to. Not everyone has to be so interested in literature that they want to have a solid overview of the entire tradition, but giving students the option to study one of the primary sources of so much metaphor and reference seems to me a positive thing. I would put it on par with reading Homer or perhaps the epic of gilgamesh. Sure, you can 'get by' without having as full an education in that area, but surely there's no reason to deny people the opportunity to study something that is so central to literature? Suggesting that it's "dangerous" is just encouraging the idea that it's in competition to be a scientific account. It's not. It's a poetic account.

his works are classic because they don't require you to read other things to get it--they are universal stories of humans, not religious texts of Gods and miracles.

In many ways the bible can be thought of as universal stories as well. Emerson said, "it is very unhappy, but too late to be helped, the discovery that we exist. This discovery we call the Fall of Man." (paraphrased). Fundamentalists take the story of Eden as literal, but to most writers and thinkers it's a metaphor about the difficulty of self-awareness, which is somehow both a thing of beauty and a source of pain - etc - I won't go on about it here, but the poetic insight of the judeo-christian mythology permeates much of our literary tradition, and was certainly central to classic education...
posted by mdn at 11:16 AM on June 22, 2005


[Millikan High School teacher Nader] Twal, whose cell phone voice mail message ends with "God bless you," said that while he doesn't encourage religious belief in the classroom, he understands how it can emerge. "It's a magnificent text that can touch the heart," he said.

Ding ding ding ding ding! We have a problem.

For this to fully not be a violation of the establishment clause, the curriculum would need to be designed to not just observe that the Bible was totally, humanly, multiply authored, but to emphasize this. The best way to ensure that this is the framework that the class follows is to have an avowedly non-religious person teach the class. This is bound to upset evangelicals.

Any really objective look at the Bible is bound to upset evangelicals. As mentioned above, Fallbrook is not exactly a hotbed of multiculturalism (it's no Hillcrest), so I, too, am skeptical of their motives, technical constitutionality notwithstanding.

And, yes, of course, that's identical to saying that everybody living outside of a gigantic metro area is a blithering fundamentalist panphobe. Of course.
posted by gramschmidt at 11:19 AM on June 22, 2005


Amberglow, I like you, but this is all pretty much a non-issue. Any good English Lit major can tell you about the importance of the Bible in the context of the Western canon. Besides, I can't think of a better way to get people to stop the wacky fundamentalist Christian stuff than having them read the Bible with a critical eye.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:23 AM on June 22, 2005


damn you! let the rabbits wear glasses!
posted by Malachi Constant at 11:24 AM on June 22, 2005


I've seen source books on English words and phrases credited to Shakespeare. Likewise, on the Bible. Both are incredibly thick. I mean, you might guess, but unless you've seen these things, you have no idea how much of our language originated in these tales.

You want to be functional in the English language, the Cliff notes will do.

But if you want to use language as a craft (as a writer, lawyer, communications specialist, etc), you'd best understand the roots of your native tongue (at least), or risk looking like a fool to those who know better.
posted by dreamsign at 11:25 AM on June 22, 2005


"You don't have to read the Bible to understand what the Crusades were, or anything in History. That's a crock. We don't read Lenin and Marx or Mao to learn about Russia or the USSR or China. We don't read the Koran to learn about the Middle East. Source materials can be excerpted and often are, in textboooks. It is only a source text--not an important text in literary terms. It is not important literature in itself."
God, Amberglow, you reactionary moron, do you understand how anti-intellectual and, well, CONSERVATIVE you sound?
I took a Bible Lit class (at a liberal magnet school in a liberal town... I wonder if the above poster went to the same high school) taught by a non-practicing Jewish lesbian, and it was one of the best classes I've ever had in my life. You know why? Because The Bible isn't only important (like perhaps no other text in the history of Western Civilization), but a pretty good read (if you skip around a bit. Nehemiah etc. is boring shit). It's full of fantastic references and similies AND THE CONTEXT FOR THEM that doesn't appear in footnotes, you goon.
And yeah, by the way, I did read The Communist Manifesto, along with The City of God, Plato's Republic, Mein Kampf, Selected Quotations from Mao (Little Red...), along with Locke, Rousseau, Machiavelli, Lenin, Trotsky, and a bevy of others as assigned books. You know what it did? Prepared me for college, gave me a leg up, and got me interested in political science. Didn't turn me Christian (not that there's anything wrong with that).
Oh, and hey, you know that the principle of individual rights that stands opposed to majoritarianism in liberal democracies? That thing that says that even though gays are a minority, they should have a right to live and do what they want? That's Locke. You know what the basis for that argument is? That a CHRISTIAN God gives us Natural Rights, as shown through the Bible. I'll cop to it being a convenient dodge for absolutist liberalism, but that's one of those things that being conversant with the Bible can do for you.
Quit trying to be such a dogmatic douchebag and realize that intelligent people can read the Bible (even HIGH SCHOOLERS! GASP!) and not react poorly.
posted by klangklangston at 11:40 AM on June 22, 2005


[Millikan High School teacher Nader] Twal, whose cell phone voice mail message ends with "God bless you," said that while he doesn't encourage religious belief in the classroom, he understands how it can emerge. "It's a magnificent text that can touch the heart," he said.

Oh goddammit.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:44 AM on June 22, 2005


Just "explaining references as they come up" is a crap solution, for *any* reference. It implies that the direct referent is all that's relevent, which is a crock of shit.

So yes, there ought to be more mythology taught in school, from a wide array of sources. This would not, however, be the bible study class fundamentalists would like, any more than it would involve studying goat entrails or sacrificing to Odin.

though I fully support the worship of ancient Nordic gods in school. it would provide the moral backbone, self-esteem, and skill with a battle-axe so lacking in Kids These Days.
posted by freebird at 11:49 AM on June 22, 2005


I'm all for increased literary studies prior to University (or College in the States), and the Bible would have a place, most definitely, in any study of European or "western" literature. It's a key element. Of course, literary studies, these days, and for quite some time, are too often simply hijacked for sociology and political studies instead.

Read through Frye's Fearful Symmetry (a study of William Blake) or The Great Code, or Words with Power (amongst others) for the relevance of the Bible to western literature. We used these and many others (Baktin comes to mind) in University. I lent the Great Code to a fundamentalist and never saw it again!

Also, The Secular Scripture and Anatomy of Criticism are very useful. I could see this in use in high schools. But we won't. It would be far to outrageous to fundamentalists. Reading metaphors as metaphors leads to a level of understanding best kept from the masses it seems.
posted by juiceCake at 11:54 AM on June 22, 2005


Having students study the Bible is just as valuable as having them reading Shakespeare.

Talk about damning with faint praise.
posted by boaz at 12:06 PM on June 22, 2005


gramschmidt raises a good point here, but it does not add to this issue philosophically.

That is, the Bible as literature is still fine (and Amberglow, I often agree with you but you're way off on this one: much of the early English canon is very intricately related to the Bible, just as it is related to Greek mythology. Actually reading Greek myths makes Keats much more profound, rather than simply reading an 8-word footnote giving you a vague idea what he is talking about. It is the same with the Bible. Your understanding of many greats of literature is very shallow without an understanding of the Bible).

Whether or not a given teacher is abusing the class to proselytize is a separate issue altogether. This guy seems to need to be looked into, but the idea of Bible as Literature is not the real problem.
posted by teece at 12:08 PM on June 22, 2005


As an agnostic history and english teacher, I would actually quite enjoy teaching this class. So many good comments above, and I don't have much new to add. (So this is my Me too! post)

As far as works of literature go, many parts of the Bible (particularly the KJV) has some exceptionally literary parts. I think 2 semesters is probably overkill, though.
posted by absalom at 12:19 PM on June 22, 2005


Oh, and hey, you know that the principle of individual rights that stands opposed to majoritarianism in liberal democracies? That thing that says that even though gays are a minority, they should have a right to live and do what they want? That's Locke. You know what the basis for that argument is? That a CHRISTIAN God gives us Natural Rights, as shown through the Bible. I'll cop to it being a convenient dodge for absolutist liberalism, but that's one of those things that being conversant with the Bible can do for you.
Quit trying to be such a dogmatic douchebag and realize that intelligent people can read the Bible (even HIGH SCHOOLERS! GASP!) and not react poorly.


I'm not from a Christian family, nor heritage. Our history and culture is rife with instances of religious indoctrination and inquisition and death (hey! You can read some of those tales in that very Bible!).

Millions of us here are not Christians, and we will not stand for having any one religion's major text forced down our, or our children's throats in our public schools--even if it's our own religious text, and even if they're saying it's "as literature". Public School is not where it belongs. I will also add, yet again, that many other religious works are far far greater works of literature, and by only presenting this one "as literature," you're robbing children of the skills they need in today's and tomorrow's world--a world where billions are either atheist or Muslims or Hindus, but not Christians. If school is about preparing kids for the world, this is another example of us failing to do just that.

I will be absolutist and dogmatic about this, and will fight forever to keep our schools free of injections of Christianity, which is what this really is. Many of you who were brought up in Christian environments obviously don't see it the same way--i'm sorry you don't see the harm this will do. The teacher's quotes in that story alone should have set off alarm bells, but sadly it didn't, except for a few of us. There's no ideal objective way to teach the Bible as literature, especially if you're not even mentioning other holy works (this class does not do that). Again, take it out of public schools and keep it in college as an elective.

Call me whatever name you like--i refuse to slide down slippery slopes like some i could name. I will always refuse.
posted by amberglow at 12:25 PM on June 22, 2005


i refuse to slide down slippery slopes like some i could name

It's as much of a slippery slope to say that gay marriage will lead to people marrying their barnyard animals as to say that teaching a major literary source as literature will lead to mandatory enforced Christianity. If you want to say that all slippery slopes are bad then you've just empowered your opponents on issues that I know are important to you.

Have some reason. There are texts that have value outside of their religious uses. The Bible happens to be one. As it happens, it is one of (if not the) most-referenced works in the Western Canon. A footnote doesn't give the same nuance of understanding that actually reading the text gives. And applying a critical eye to a piece of work as literature takes away from the mystical/spiritual value (thereby making it even less likely to convert).

That said, it's an ELECTIVE class. Nobody has to take it. Nothing is being forced down anybody's throat here.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 12:38 PM on June 22, 2005


i'm sorry you don't see the harm this will do.

2.5 billion copies sold.
posted by Kwantsar at 12:41 PM on June 22, 2005


we will not stand for having any one religion's major text forced down our, or our children's throats

As opposed to any other mandatory reading. Last time I checked, high school English was not a salad bar. on preview, this is an elective, so now we're talking about not permitting people to take it. Nice. Let's keep it out of our public librairies, too. There's a word for that.

There's no ideal objective way to teach the Bible as literature, especially if you're not even mentioning other holy works

Classifying the study of the Bible as study of religious text is exactly is your first problem. As literature, it looms far more significant to Western culture than other religious texts, and instead belongs in a curriculum with other literature, or mythology in general. When I studied Classical Mythology, no one complained because we weren't studying Norse mythos. It was Classical Mythology. Similarly, a study of western literary influences should include the Bible, but might not include the Bhagavad Gita. This would neither be shocking nor dangerous, in the hands of the right teacher.

What happens in the hands of the wrong teacher is not the issue here, unless you want to start banning books, period.
posted by dreamsign at 12:41 PM on June 22, 2005


An elective is hardly forcing it down anyones throat; no one, read NO ONE, will be required to take this class. Only those who are interested in the subject will be exposed to the material.

I'm also increasingly irritated by this issue of "other holy books." No one is billing this as a comparative religion class, or any sort of religion class, so there is no need to cover other holy books.

Your claims about needing to equip students to deal with Muslims or Hindus are valid, but they do really bear on this class. If you think public schools should have a class on the Koran, then go to your local school board and propose one. If there is interest and faculty available, they will probably teach it. Saying that the fact that some people are not Christians means there shouldn't be a class on the Bible is like saying that the fact that some people are Christian means we shouldn't teach students about Islam or Buddhism.

If you want to completely eliminate any teaching about religion or religious texts then I guess that's consistent, but it will lead to an incredibly ignorant population.

The question is, does a class on the Bible have educational value, and does that educational value outweigh any potential Church-State issues? Well, I think it's been fairly conclusively argued that there is plenty of educational value in learning the Bible. How much church-state entanglement is there? Practically none, since the course is not being taught as a religious one, and no one is compelled to take it. There is no more religious entanglement here than there is when schools look at mythology from any culture, as they do all the time.

Finally, on the issue of the belief system of the teacher, that could become an issue. If he teaches the class in an unacceptable way, he should be removed from teaching it. Still, it is possible that an devout Christian could understand the benefits of a literary reading of the Bible, and keep his own personal biases out of the class. It seems to me that a Christian teacher who could do that would be more qualified, since he or she would already have an understanding of the material.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:44 PM on June 22, 2005


you'd think fundies would be against this...
shouldn't they be arguing that teaching the Bible as merely a piece of literature and not the perfect word of God a state-sanctioned attack on their beliefs?
posted by es_de_bah at 12:54 PM on June 22, 2005


There's no ideal objective way to teach the Bible as literature, especially if you're not even mentioning other holy works (this class does not do that).

Why does mentioning other religious texts even matter? I think if the point of the course is to evaluate the effectiveness of the Bible as a religious text, then comparing it to other religious works would make sense. But it's not "The Bible: Why This Book Should Be Your Moral Guide to Life to the Exclusion of All Other Texts", but "The Bible: A Collection of Short Stories". Why is there no objective way to teach the Bible as literature? Why can't someone read the stories and examine the effectiveness of the plotlines and the use of language, and deconstruct the themes presented within?
posted by 23skidoo at 12:57 PM on June 22, 2005


I wish that more of my students were taking Bible as Lit in high school (and that includes the Christian students, whose ability to recognize Biblical quotations is usually on a par with the kids who have never stepped inside a church). At times, I've seriously considered assigning a KJV to students in my Victorian lit courses, just so that they get in the habit of seeing the quotations in their original context. It's murder teaching Charlotte Bronte when the students don't realize just how often she quotes--and sometimes rewrites--the Scriptures. It would also make life easier if they'd read The Pilgrim's Progress, but you can't have everything.
posted by thomas j wise at 12:58 PM on June 22, 2005


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posted by God Almighty at 12:59 PM on June 22, 2005


Having students study the Bible is just as valuable as having them reading Shakespeare.

Talk about damning with faint praise.


Eh? Ah - anything not published this century can't have anything useful or interesting or beautiful? What the hell is your point?

It's a certainly true that "The Canon" has some crap in it, and overlooks a lot of great great stuff. This does not imply that because something has been hailed for centuries as some of the greatest writing ever it cannot in fact be thus.
posted by freebird at 1:06 PM on June 22, 2005


It would also make life easier if they'd read The Pilgrim's Progress,

uhhhhhh ... i'm sorry, but i've tried and i found this deathly dull ... and i actually made it through all of spenser's fairie queene ...

and amberglow, the kjv bible IS literature ... not only was it a very good translation of important literature, but it had an enormous influence on the english language ... the psalms alone can be shown to have influenced blake, whitman and ginsberg ... other religious texts as literature simply haven't had that kind of influence on how we write and what we make reference to ...
posted by pyramid termite at 1:11 PM on June 22, 2005


Bible as lit was one of the most popular classes at my rich university. Fallbrook (to repeat) is fairly poor and not diverse at all. I don't think I (or other San Diegans) would react the same way if this happened in La Jolla or Hillcrest and I'm curious why. Having said that, I think it's a good idea. I also think learning Latin would be great, because our understanding and usage of language is deteriorating - and familiarity with language might prompt a love for reading (the Bible and Shakespeare). I don't know many high schoolers or university students who can get the historical and word-play allusions (you've got to read Chaucer and Jonson and history), so we should probably teach all this at Fallbrook High, too!
posted by faux ami at 1:11 PM on June 22, 2005


yay Faux!

It would be so cool if this all backfired and they ended up having to teach Latin, and Greek literature, and nordic sagas and all manner of great stuff. All as a result of a stealth attempt to get bible study into the school...
posted by freebird at 1:16 PM on June 22, 2005


It seems to me this whole debate could be turned around by just substituting a few words: Insert "Origin of Species" every time the "Bible" is mentioned above and check out what happens... Amberglow turns into a raving right wing fundy.

If you decide that things should start to be censored, somebody has to make the choice of what should be censored. Does anyone want somebody else deciding that for them. I certainly don't.

Amberglow, if you think the Bible is evil, that's fine, just don't push it on the rest of us.
posted by spaceviking at 1:20 PM on June 22, 2005


Amberglow: You're being an idiot.
"I'm not from a Christian family, nor heritage. Our history and culture is rife with instances of religious indoctrination and inquisition and death (hey! You can read some of those tales in that very Bible!). "
Yeah, and you can comment on them intelligently. OMG!
Hey, I read Black Boy, Native Son and Go Tell It To The Mountain in high school. It was those damn commie homos indoctrinating me! We can't have any homos taught in school because it's a slippery slope to buggery and beastiality! (You do, of course, know that a "slippery slope" is a logical fallacy, correct?)
"I will be absolutist and dogmatic about this, and will fight forever to keep our schools free of injections of Christianity, which is what this really is. "
'Hi. I'm willing to be a shrill dipshit about this and give my opponents rhetorical ammunition. I don't actually have a clue about much of what the Bible actually says, or the stories contained within it. I'm more than willing to accuse my opponents of fascism, but will embrace a reactionary and anti-intellectual worldview when it suits me. That's because, really, I'm a hypocritical jackass with more positions than common sense.'
Do you also refuse to read The Iliad and the Odyssey? The Aeneid? Beowulf? Canterbury Tales?
Amberglow, I'd like to thank you for making clear the distinction between leftist and liberal. And to point out that no political position has hegemony over authoritarianism or ignorance.
posted by klangklangston at 1:30 PM on June 22, 2005


you'd think fundies would be against this...
shouldn't they be arguing that teaching the Bible as merely a piece of literature and not the perfect word of God a state-sanctioned attack on their beliefs?


Despite the 2.5 billion copies sold and the apparent general belief that everyone understands what's in the Bible the fact is very few are particularly well informed. The 'fundies', whoever they are exactly, would figure anything is better than ignorance. Most cultures and people are like this no? The more you learn about them the less frightening they seem.

The Origin of Species and the Bible both ought to be taught in high schools as books, in their context in history, and emphasizing their influence on western thought just to keep the general ignorance level down.
posted by scheptech at 1:36 PM on June 22, 2005


but "The Bible: A Collection of Short Stories". Why is there no objective way to teach the Bible as literature? Why can't someone read the stories and examine the effectiveness of the plotlines and the use of language, and deconstruct the themes presented within?
Because it's not the Bible as collection of Short Stories. It's being presented as a great work of literature, and worthy of its own class, alone, not in a class with other texts, etc.

I find it hysterical that people defending the "canon" and the bible's influence on western literature are being so postmodern and postreligious about this. All the evidence of its influence simply points to its pervasive and mandatory (in some places at some times) religious nature and not its literary worth.

It seems to me this whole debate could be turned around by just substituting a few words: Insert "Origin of Species" every time the "Bible" is mentioned above and check out what happens... Amberglow turns into a raving right wing fundy.
Bullshit, and you know it. The Origin of Species is a SCIENTIFIC TEXT. The Bible is a RELIGIOUS TEXT, PURPORTED BY MANY TO BE THE WORD OF GOD. It's not a great novel, or a collection of short stories. It's religious text.

Go insult someone else, klangston. One religion's sacred text should not be taught in our public schools, whether you're teaching it "as literature" or not, unless you teach others as well. It's simple. It's clear. (It's too bad neither Iliad, Odyssey, Aeneid, Beowulf nor Canterbury Tales are religous texts.)
posted by amberglow at 1:48 PM on June 22, 2005


Good points klangklangston - but in the interests of sheer pedantic nitpickery, and trying to cool the fires a bit, let me point out that I don't think hegemony is the word you want there. And I'm not clear what you're saying about leftists and liberals really. I think amberglow is being a little over-dogmatic, though I understand where he's coming from, but I see that dogmaticism at all parts of the poltiical "spectrum".

Ah - and now I see amberglow isn't saying "don't teach the bible", he's saying "don't teach it in its own class - teach alongside other great myths and stories" which I completely agree with. So I think I have to take back the 'over-dogmatic' thing too.
posted by freebird at 2:02 PM on June 22, 2005


A case can certainly be made that the Iliad and Odyssey are religious texts, and the Homeric Hymns certainly are.

Amberglow, where do you purport to draw the line at what's considered a religious text? Is Milton religious? It certainly has religious elements, and it espouses a specific set of religious beliefs, does that make a religious text? Is it just scripture that's considered religious enough to warrant removal? Because there's plenty of theology in places other than scripture.

If I happen to consider any mythological texts to be religious does that mean we should ban the reading of Gilgamesh? Is any religious texts or just ones you think don't have enough "literary" merit? Because that's just your opinion and many people disagree about how much literary merit the Bible has.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 2:08 PM on June 22, 2005


I will be absolutist and dogmatic about this, and will fight forever to keep our schools free of injections of Christianity, which is what this really is.

No, amberglow, that's your opinion as to what it is. You can't say with a certainty that this elective literature class is part of a Christian Plot to flood the public schools with bibles. And I can't say with a certainty that it isn't. But I will suggest that sometimes a class called 'The Bible as Literature' is just a class about The Bible as Literature.

I would also like to suggest that you don't have the last word on what is or is not literature. If I'm understanding you correctly, you think that if some people believe that the bible is sacred, then the stories in the bible can not be studied as literature... again, that's your opinion, which of course you're welcome to, and I have definitely enjoyed and shared many of your opinions over the years. (obviously I disagree with you on this one.) However, stubbornly and dogmatically clinging to personal opinions and presenting them as fact is, as you might say, 'a slippery slope.'

on preview, what Bulgaroktonos said.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 2:15 PM on June 22, 2005


I find it hysterical that people defending the "canon" and the bible's influence on western literature are being so postmodern and postreligious about this.

there's nothing postmodern about it ... it's part of western civ

and you're coming off as quite hysterical ... if students are able to freely choose this course, why do you feel compelled to deny them this freedom? ... it's not being shoved down anyone's throat ... if someone wishes to "eat" this, who are you to take it away?
posted by pyramid termite at 2:17 PM on June 22, 2005


It's not a great novel, or a collection of short stories. It's religious text.

Those things aren't mutually exclusive. The fact that it's a religious text doesn't mean that it can't be a collection of short stories. The Bible is a religious text. It is also a collection of short stories. Whether one thinks it's a novel or not depends on whether one thinks it's true or not.

I don't think that any religion should be endorsed in the course of public education, but it is possible to discuss and analyze the Bible without endorsing it, just like it's possible to discuss and analyze "Lolita" without endorsing pedophilia.
posted by 23skidoo at 2:17 PM on June 22, 2005


The one and only teacher named in that article is not described as an English teacher, literature teacher, tenured faculty member of the school--or anything--he's only described as "a devout Christian".

If this is going to be taught, it must be taught by regular English or literature school faculty members, you'd think. I find it odd none of you picked up on that. I find it odd too that the other school wouldn't name the teacher for its course.

And if it's so important that public school children learn about the stories of the Bible while in public school, why haven't they been? Why hasn't it been an official part of the curriculum for these past many years? Why haven't teachers done as you people think needs to be done for a good education, and gone beyond merely explaining references (a la footnotes?)

Bulgar, mythology may be religious (but it's not a practicing religion, and it's not the religion of the majority of the country, nor is it the subject of heated battles over prayer in school and prosyletzing, etc... it's far more historical., and it's presented as dead--Those people thousands of years ago believed these things about the world and who ran it and created it and meddled in it, etc. There aren't Temples to Zeus next to the Presbyterian Church down the road. There are no living pantheists in the school system who asked for a special year-long class on their myths alone, to be taught "as literature". If there were, we'd have to take another look at teaching them in public schools. They're the stories of a dead religion. The Bible is not the stories of a dead religion, even if some of you may want to see it that way.
posted by amberglow at 2:21 PM on June 22, 2005


Amberglow, you know I love you but you are full of beans on this one.

As a former English major myself I can tell you that there are tons and tons of Biblical allusions in Western literature-those of you who for whatever reason are not familiar with the Bible probably would be totally amazed to know that much of what you read really does reference it.

FWIW I see the Bible as a magnificent literary work just as much as I see it as the Word of God. I don't care what faith you are, there are some cool things in it. Proverbs, for example, is chock full of just plain practical advice. For one thing, it informs us that cosigning someone else's loan is a supremely stupid idea and that we shoud not do it.
posted by konolia at 2:23 PM on June 22, 2005


I don't think amberglow is saying "the Bible shouldn't be taught in school" I think he's saying "the Bible shouldn't be taught by itself, seperate from other cultural and literary history and myths" which is a lot more reasonable than what I thought he was saying at first.
posted by freebird at 2:27 PM on June 22, 2005


"All the evidence of its influence simply points to its pervasive and mandatory (in some places at some times) religious nature and not its literary worth."
Wrong. And further, you gibbering jackass, something can be beautiful and spiritual at the same time.
"Go insult someone else, klangston. One religion's sacred text should not be taught in our public schools, whether you're teaching it "as literature" or not, unless you teach others as well. It's simple. It's clear. (It's too bad neither Iliad, Odyssey, Aeneid, Beowulf nor Canterbury Tales are religious texts.)"
Wrong. And you just proved your ignorance with regard to classical literature. The Iliad and the Odyssey were very much religious texts, as can be seen from the literature of Hellenic Greeks (which were later than the "Homeric" Greeks). Read up on Alexander, and his view of Achilles. Further, you apoplectic infant, The Canterbury Tales is an explicitly religious text. The characters are all pilgrims en route to Canterbury! If you can read the Canterbury tales without becoming indoctrinated into Christianity, you can read the Bible.
Your concerns are only predicated on the idea that everyone who studies the Bible is as stupid and gullible as you are, and thus at risk of being "indoctrinated." Those of us with functional forebrains are able to academically study a text without succumbing to it in a fit of passion. I'll quit calling you stupid when you quit acting stupid.

A liberal isn't scared of ideas, a leftist is scared of ideas that don't conform to their worldview.
posted by klangklangston at 2:31 PM on June 22, 2005


OK. Since everyone is prefacing their statement with a profession of belief...

As an athiest, literature PhD student, former Catholic High School student, and former Baptist elementary student, I don't have a problem with a Bible as Lit class, in theory. I think it is, perhaps, misplaced as a high school course. On the high school level, I think the emphasis should be on exposing students to a wide variety of literary styles and forms, some brief introduction to the sources, and basic instruction on how to analyze and research the works.

Specialized study of the Bible as a text would probably be better suited to a college-level course. When you're studying any piece of lit, you look at its background. So, studying Shakespeare, you look at his historical & cultural contexts, and his source texts, including the Bible.

Looking at the Bible as a literary text, you'll need to do the same thing. Understand the historical situation(s) in which it was composed, understand its own sources from diverse groups and myths, and, perhaps most importantly, understand how it was formed. There is some issue in picking the King James Version and saying, "This is what Shakespeare, Milton, etc" read. Milton, sure, but the first KJV was published in 1611, near the end of Shakespeare's career. I'm not a biblical expert, so I'm not sure how different the various Bibles around during that time were, but there certainly was controversy; England at the time was a country that had gone through a great deal of religious strife, from Henry VIII's split with Rome, to Mary I's return to Catholicism, to Eliz I's return to Protestantism, to the rise of the more radical "Puritans", the choice of the books in the Bible and how they were translated was not a minor matter. And that's just looking at one period in time. If we want to go back to Chaucer, we're talking about a period of time when people only read the Bible in Latin, if at all, and commoners would only hear it secondhand. Moving forward in time, we've got issues of Protestant vs. Catholic, literalist vs. non-literalist interpretation, etc. How did people in the Renaissance interpret the Bible? What parts of it had special resonance for them? How was, say, Milton's interpretation different, perhaps, from the mainstream? How has interpretation of the text changed over time, and how is that change registered in literature?

And the Bible is just ONE source. Greek & Roman Mythology and history, folklore and regional myth from England and the continent, all these things influenced the "classics of American & British literature." Getting into the 20th century, we now have the influx of non-Western ideas on literature. Ezra Pound absorbed ideas from Chinese mythology. Joyce took stuff from all over. Sure, the Bible is probably preeminent in MOST of English-language literature, but not all of it, and the mythologies of non-Western culture are important as well.

All of this is way too much for any one course to encompass, of course, but I think even tackling one part of it is too much for a high school course. Just reading the book and saying "oh, that's where x comes from" seems a bit simplistic. Rather, if this course is going to be taught, it should focus on the Bible as a text within itself. With that knowledge, students can apply it to other texts and get a deeper understanding of how it has influenced literature, philosophy, and history. Ok i'm rambling, bye

On preview: normally I agree with amberglow, but babe, I think you're getting a bit over the top here. Certainly the Iliad, Odyssey, Hesiod's Theogony, and many other greek & roman classics could be considered in some way "religious." They might have been interpreted in a non-literal way, but that doesn't mean it isn't religious. Plus, as bulg points out, what about Paradise Lost? Milton took his religion pretty seriously. And even if you want to say that the Bible isn't "literature," well, a whole lot of "non-literary" texts are studied AS literature these days. Political, social, medical texts, all of them are important, perhaps just as important, in understanding a culture, and many, many, many critics use them in analyzing lit.

On preview again: Mythology is more historical than the Bible? Prove it. There's a lot of good and bad history in the bible and in other mythological texts.

Look, I get what you're saying, the Bible shouldn't be taught alone. I agree... ON THE HIGH SCHOOL LEVEL. In high school, teach kids some literature, give them a smattering of the sources, maybe offer a comp religion class as an elective (I took one in my Catholic high school). Save the in-depth stuff for college. But that's a pedagogical decision, primarily, and if, IF, it is taught as literature not as truth, then I don't fundamentally have a problem with high school kids studying the bible, I just think it is too much for the limited time they have.

And as for why haven't we been teaching kids bible stories for all these years... well, that's a relatively new phenomenon in education. How do you think students learned to read and write for hundreds of years? By reading the Bible.
posted by papakwanz at 2:34 PM on June 22, 2005


The one and only teacher named in that article is not described as an English teacher, literature teacher, tenured faculty member of the school--or anything--he's only described as "a devout Christian".

Not exactly. He's pretty clearly a teacher from the article. The person described as a "devout Christian" is Nader Twal who has taught the course at Long Beach's Millikan High School for 2+ years. Nader Twal was named "one of the 100 best teachers in the United States" by the Milken Family Foundation, according to the article.

A story about Mr. Twal winning the award and describing his teaching experience at lenght. Interestingly, that article goes to lenght to point out that Mr. Twal is an Arab-American. Not sure what difference it makes, but it adds another fun twist.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 2:35 PM on June 22, 2005


for all those making comparisons to the Origin of Species, this is a class about literature, not science! Compare studying the dialogues of Plato: he often describes characters (like Socrates) who almost certainly existed, but there are also stories (like the the "myth of Er") which clearly need not be taken literally. The same can be said of the bible, although the bible is much less refined; it's sort of somewhere in between the ancient mythology (which doesn't so much have the historical or the written element) and Plato (which is self-aware and elegantly composed in a way that can't be said of the bible). Maybe it can best be compared to Homer...

I will be absolutist and dogmatic about this, and will fight forever to keep our schools free of injections of Christianity, which is what this really is. Many of you who were brought up in Christian environments obviously don't see it the same way--

I was brought up by a bunch of secular hippies in the west village. But I love allegory and poetry, and the biblical stories are rich sources of this. I am not jewish or christian, but the biblical stories still resonate with me as stories full of western philosophy - duality, perfection, free will, conflict

The teacher's quotes in that story alone should have set off alarm bells, but sadly it didn't,

I agree that the teacher may be biased, which is unfortunate, because this could be a great class. However, it is conceivable that a teacher of ancient greek philosophy be an honest-to-god polytheistic pagan (I did meet a classical scholar who was just this) and still manage to teach greek mythology intelligently without pushing his students to agree with his own conclusions about how literally to take the text. I hope some openly atheistic kids take the class and test its limits, because it certainly ought to be a comfortable environment for students with no religious relationship to the text.

There's no ideal objective way to teach the Bible as literature,

is there an ideal objective way to teach any literature?

especially if you're not even mentioning other holy works (this class does not do that).

other works of mythology need not be addressed in this particular class, though. as others have said, one can take a class on shakespeare's sonnets without simultaneously exploring chinese poetry... If this were a class on comparative religion, you would need to explore various interpretations and texts on religion. But the purpose of electives in literature is often limited to a particular book or set of books. If this is considered just another book, there's no reason other books must be read alongside it.

Again, take it out of public schools and keep it in college as an elective.

If it's all right to have it as an elective in college, why not to have it as an elective in HS? A

s I said in the piece I linked above, it was actually required in my high school, which I don't think made any more of us into christians than would have been anyway. People aren't that dumb. I had no difficulty reading the bible and not getting brainwashed into being a jesus freak in the process! Acting like it needs to be fought only makes it sound more like you believe in it, like those fundies who want to keep kids away from harry potter so they won't become witches and wizards.
posted by mdn at 2:36 PM on June 22, 2005


Klang- the Canterbury Tales is very strongly religious, as you point out, but it also takes its fair share of potshots at religious figures. While it has an overarching religious framework, I think it is better regarded as an amazing cultural and sociological snapshot.
posted by papakwanz at 2:36 PM on June 22, 2005


Amber, I assume the man is a teacher at the school, there's nothing in the article to say he isn't and non-teachers are usually allowed to teach in public schools.

Also, it's the very dominance of Christianity in our culture that makes learning about it doubly valuable. Many students are not Christians, and want to learn about their neighbors that are. Many are Christians trying to learn a new perspective on their faith. None of that amounts to the government endorsement of religion unless the teacher says "This is God's word, believe it." Everything else is just good education.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 2:36 PM on June 22, 2005


Make no mistake, this isn't really about the Bible as literature. It's really about the Bible, period... getting the Word of God into schools, by any available means.

IMO, the biggest reason to defer this to college is simple: college is voluntary. Elementary and high school are compulsory, so if we teach it there, we are teaching kids about religion whether or not they (or their parents) want to know. This is EXACTLY what these people want, and if you don't think it would be abused, you're out of your mind.

Now, it is a good book to teach as literature. Demystifying the Bible is always a good idea. But there's no way we can guarantee it will be taught that way... as a book, not Literal Truth.

In college, at least, the students have the option of dropping out if complaining doesn't work. And, presumably, they'll be in full control of their critical faculties by then, so even if the class IS a gigantic propaganda job, they should be able to cope.
posted by Malor at 2:38 PM on June 22, 2005


The one and only teacher named in that article is not described as an English teacher, literature teacher, tenured faculty member of the school--or anything--he's only described as "a devout Christian".

Do a quick Google. Nader Twal had been teaching for 6 years as of 2002. He's clearly a teacher.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 2:39 PM on June 22, 2005


Growing up near Fallbrook (where this is taking place) I'd like to state that there arent very many, if ANY, sharp people in Fallbrook. Fallbrook is considered the "booonies" of San Diego, which is why I don't quite trust their intentions. You know how those country folk are ...

and:

As mentioned above, Fallbrook is not exactly a hotbed of multiculturalism (it's no Hillcrest), so I, too, am skeptical of their motives, technical constitutionality notwithstanding.

These are among the more astounding comments in this thread. In other words, it might be OK if "sharp" people in "hotbeds of multiculturalism" have Bible as Lit courses in their highschools, but the problem is that when it happens in the "boonies" those "country folk" might actually get religion from cracking the spine of the Good Book, and that would be Wrong.
posted by beagle at 2:40 PM on June 22, 2005


college is voluntary

So is the Bible-as-literature course in question. It's an elective.
posted by oaf at 2:50 PM on June 22, 2005


These are among the more astounding comments in this thread. In other words, it might be OK if "sharp" people in "hotbeds of multiculturalism" have Bible as Lit courses in their highschools, but the problem is that when it happens in the "boonies" those "country folk" might actually get religion from cracking the spine of the Good Book, and that would be Wrong.

The course in question has been taught at Long Beach for years without complaint (see the article or see the links about Nader Twal above). When Fallbrook starts the same course as Long Beach (even modeling the syllabus after it) there's a huge uproar. Do the math.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 2:51 PM on June 22, 2005


"I find it hysterical that people defending the "canon" and the bible's influence on western literature are being so postmodern and postreligious about this. All the evidence of its influence simply points to its pervasive and mandatory (in some places at some times) religious nature and not its literary worth."

Postmodern - How else would you have us be about this? It's our historical/cultural moment. And the good news is that we also get to be critical. So much so that we can divest the text of the mystical power that it seems to exercise over contemporary fundamentalists. Teaching it as literature furthers that.

Also, it's not just a matter of it's considerable influence on canonical writers like those listed above. Consider the role of the Bible in African American literature, slave narratives, and even the literary criticism of writers like bell hooks, et. al. It remains a vital text, even if we disagree with it.

I can't help but think that a class that stresses that this, like any work of literature, art, or religion, is a human undertaking that bears the marks of its authors is good thing. Not only does help us understand am influential (and sometimes lovely) work, it allows us to more clearly see how it still echoes in contemporary society.

Is it problematic and contradictory? Of course it is. Every artifact/text that we create is contradictory and betrays the circumstances of its creation. In this respect, it is very much like Origin of the Species (which also merits its own class in ideal curriculum) in which we get to see a scientific mind take racial prejudices of his era and use them to reinforce the idea of natural selection. It's unfortunate and has been put to ill use, but we can't simply throw it an otherwise fine body of work because if it.

nb: I am a lifelong atheist that grew up in the Bible belt. Chritianity was never a part of my life, though it was always around me and was assumed to be part of my life. I am as watchful on separation of church and state issues as anyone (and have had choice words for intelligent design proponents who try that route), but this doesn't strike me as indoctrination. The primarily difference is context. I think literaure is a more apt description of the Bible than say, "received truth." Whereas with I.D., it's religion co-opting science and counterfeiting a cheao substitute (since its own ideas can't truly be discussed scientifically).
posted by Verdant at 2:52 PM on June 22, 2005


If I were gay, this quote:
Leviticus 20:13:
"If a man lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination and they shall surely be put to death."
might make me a little defensive about seeing it referenced and taught as great literature too. Just sayin'.
posted by boaz at 2:57 PM on June 22, 2005


About the Origin of Species thing, I was just trying to make a point about being careful about censorship, thats all, not trying to say anthing about science vs. religion.

I think many would agree that having a public school class that is used for preaching to the kids is bad. Teaching the Bible as literature is certainly taking a risk in this direction. I think the difference between folks here is that most of us will take that risk while amberglow and others don't want to.

I think the risk is worth it, because losing the opportunity to teach literature with the Bible is huge compared to the risk of a minority of schools misusing it.
posted by spaceviking at 2:57 PM on June 22, 2005


stop insulting me, klang. I told you before.

What Malor said.

Also, it's the very dominance of Christianity in our culture that makes learning about it doubly valuable. Many students are not Christians, and want to learn about their neighbors that are. Many are Christians trying to learn a new perspective on their faith. None of that amounts to the government endorsement of religion unless the teacher says "This is God's word, believe it." Everything else is just good education.
And it's Christianity's very dominance in our culture that makes this not a wise move. Again, teach it as comparative religion with other holy books, or as one of many books in an English class.

I'd like to know who asked for this class, and why.

I can't help but think that a class that stresses that this, like any work of literature, art, or religion, is a human undertaking that bears the marks of its authors is good thing. Not only does help us understand am influential (and sometimes lovely) work, it allows us to more clearly see how it still echoes in contemporary society.
Do you really think this class will do that? Is that existing class doing that? Some evidence please.
Where's the syllabus? (or is the Bible it?) You guys are all talking about comparative literature, yet if that's so then it should be integrated into the curriculum, not taught as a special class, and not taught alone.
posted by amberglow at 3:07 PM on June 22, 2005


Put me in the camp of those who have no problem whatsoever with this class being taught. All of my points on the subject have been eloquently made by others, so I'll refrain.

If you find a report from a nonchristian (or, for that matter, christian) student complaining that the teacher is using the class as an excuse to promote the bible as truth, wake me up. Until then ... sounds like a lit class.
posted by kyrademon at 3:13 PM on June 22, 2005


Where's the syllabus? (or is the Bible it?)

Right, because all HS syllabi are posted online. Given that the new class is based on the syallabus of the old class, that pretty strongly implies that there was a syllabus for the old class.

And lose the snark if you want people to treat you intelligently. "Is the Bible it?" is snarky and you know it.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 3:26 PM on June 22, 2005


amber, if this class is integrated into the curriculum, then all students will HAVE to study the Bible as Literature. Isn't that exactly what you're arguing against?

As you said, "Millions of us here are not Christians, and we will not stand for having any one religion's major text forced down our, or our children's throats in our public schools."

I agree with this. That's why I'm glad this is an ELECTIVE CLASS, so students can exercise their freedom of choice to take the class or not.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 3:29 PM on June 22, 2005


"If I were gay, this quote:

Leviticus 20:13:
"If a man lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination and they shall surely be put to death."

might make me a little defensive about seeing it referenced and taught as great literature too. Just sayin'."


No one is arguing that their is not any objectionable content and ideas in it. In fact, look at Tom Sawyer, a clear supporter of slavery whereas Huck isn't. And they're both in the same book.
posted by juiceCake at 3:30 PM on June 22, 2005


Where's the syllabus?

I just emailed Nader Twal (the guy who teaches the same class at Longbeach) asking if it's possible to get the syllabus. I don't know him personally, but his email address is out there. I'll post anything I hear back from him.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 3:34 PM on June 22, 2005


In fact, look at Tom Sawyer, a clear supporter of slavery whereas Huck isn't. And they're both in the same book.

Right, we should definitely check which character said that in the Bible: And the answer is ... God. Whoops.
posted by boaz at 3:40 PM on June 22, 2005


boaz- heehee
posted by papakwanz at 3:42 PM on June 22, 2005


Where's the syllabus?

Sorry for posting so many responses to the same question, but I got a copy of the syllabus for the class in Long Beach:

Syllabus for "Bible as Literature"

It seems like it really is being taught as literature... see, eg, the Feb 4 entry:
"Reading 3.7 a -- Contrast major literary forms, techniques, and characteristics of a major literary period.

Reading 3.7c -- Evaluate the philosophical, political, religious, ethical, and social influences of the historical period that shaped the characters, plots, and settings.

Listening and Speaking 1.17-- Ask questions, develop and express ideas, and extend discussion by recognizing and expressing connections between the topic of discussion and relevant issues.
...
Compare/Contrast character’s experience in the narrative to corresponding Psalms

Decide how the social and political circumstances surrounding the events affected the choices the characters made"
I don't know if actually seeing the syllabus will change your mind, Amberglow, but I thought that I would provide it anyway.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 3:43 PM on June 22, 2005


Oh for chissakes (oops) Boaz - do you really believe great literature cannot contain objectionable and wrongheaded ideas? Or that an anthology (which the bible certainly is) cannot contain great stories as well as crappy ones?
posted by freebird at 3:46 PM on June 22, 2005


I have mixed feelings about this. I was raised strict roman-catholic (until I was 14), and because of this I know a lot about the bible, and was able to detect biblical references that many people in AP English missed in literature. (+) However, there was a born-again-fundie-nut in my class who related EVERYTHING, every theme, every quote, every character to the bible. Some of what she said was valid, but it was mostly her personal opinion using ways to tie literature to the bible. If teachers were so inclined, they could abuse references and skew concepts to promote christianity. (-)
posted by ackeber at 3:57 PM on June 22, 2005


If I were gay, I'd be wanting the fundies to be familiar with the whole of Leviticus. Maybe then they would bother fishmongers and widow's brother-in-laws and divorced people and menstruating women more, and bother me less. Actually this is what I want them to do.

In my opinion Amberglow is wrong, and Optimus Chyme is right. Nothing pops a bubble of bullshit like the thin sharp needle of critical thought.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:01 PM on June 22, 2005


Amberglow: Like I said, I'll quit calling you stupid when you quit acting stupid.
"And it's Christianity's very dominance in our culture that makes this not a wise move. Again, teach it as comparative religion with other holy books, or as one of many books in an English class."
Bullshit. If you'd ever read the Bible, you'd know that it's fuckin' huge. We got through most of the Bible, but skipped a lot of the extraneous stuff (you could choose what to write your extra papers on).
Christianity's very dominance is why it should be examined critically. Just like Wealth of Nations or The Fascist Manifesto.

Boaz: Lemme tell you how my atheist lesbian Bible Lit teacher dealt with that in high school. First, she talked about the different authorship of Leviticus, saying that the writing styles weren't internally consistent. Then she pointed out that the Greek text is open to more than one interpretation with regard to that line. Then she talked about the society that wrote that part of the Pentateuch, and why there might be cultural prohibitions against homosexuality. Then she talked about the rest of the commandments in Leviticus, and how there are prohibitions against mixing fabric in garments, wearing make-up, or disobeying kosher dietary laws (and a whole slew of capitol offences for things that aren't seen as hangin' crimes these days). Then she talked about how modern people interpret the Bible and give different weight to different parts as it suits their views, and that the idea that one can be truly fundamentalist about it is kinda impossible. She was willing to concede the antipathy for homosexuality (though she had quite a different take on Sodom and Gamorrah), but said that was part of having a book written out of that society. We spent more time on this than we probably should have if the only goal was to examine the literature of the Bible, but if the goal was to promote critical thinking, she did a hell of a job of teaching us with that.
posted by klangklangston at 4:20 PM on June 22, 2005


Right, we should definitely check which character said that in the Bible: And the answer is ... God. Whoops.

That's cute. You do realize that there are other characters in the text? You do realize that people are proposing to study it as literature, not literally? Thus God is merely another character and one who undergoes quite the transformation from the hateful bloke in the old testament to something fairly different in the new.

You do know this happens to characters in literature right?

Of course you do. You'd have to. But keep cute. It suits you.
posted by juiceCake at 4:21 PM on June 22, 2005


Thanks for that--it's bible study group, like in Churches. They read no other texts, whether of the same period or not, whether religious or not. They study quotations from the bible and have to write about them. Expectations:
v Read Proverbs 1-31 and Ecclesiastes 1-11; Choose 2 proverbs and write a 1 page reflection on each; then choose 1 verse from Ecclesiastes and do the same. Due in 2 weeks…
--that's exactly what people i know who study the bible in their churches do. Tell me how this is teaching them anything about world literature, our culture, etc.


This class does not belong in a public school. I'm more sure than ever.

klang, i haven't insulted you once, and you persist in insulting me. stop it. I guess you've never read the Bible, huh?
posted by amberglow at 4:24 PM on June 22, 2005


Tell me how this is teaching them anything about world literature, our culture, etc.

Tell me how:
Reading 3.7 a -- Contrast major literary forms, techniques, and characteristics of a major literary period.

Reading 3.7c -- Evaluate the philosophical, political, religious, ethical, and social influences of the historical period that shaped the characters, plots, and settings.
is not learning about literature, culture, etc.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 4:31 PM on June 22, 2005


They study quotations from the bible and have to write about them

Wait a gosh-darn second. You're telling me in a class about a text you have to read the text and write about it? I should hope that a class about a text involves reading from it and analyzing parts. If it were a class about neo-Marxist texts then I would hope that the students would read the text and write about it. That's the fundamental nature of a literature course.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 4:34 PM on June 22, 2005


Amberglow: Again, I went through a class where The Bible was the only text. It was an elective, and it was one of the best classes I've had. Your opinions on this seem to be based only on your own ignorant, knee-jerk dogmatism. And hey, when I see someone being an ignorant reactionary, I feel no shame in telling them that they're being an ignorant reactionary. So, if you see me call you a moron for your ignorant, reactionary views, just realize that it's shorthand for calling you an ignorant reactionary. Same language I'd use for Pat Buchanan or Jerry Falwell. Hold yourself to a higher standard.
(Just because I've read the Bible doesn't mean that I agree with it or hold myself to its standard. But then again, that would be the fucking point of reading it critically, you ignorant reactionary.)
posted by klangklangston at 4:37 PM on June 22, 2005


Please don't be a complete f*cking moron, klangklangston; the original text of that line was in Hebrew, you offensively idiotic dolt. Since I have read it in Hebrew, you perniciously ignorant ignoramus, I am perfectly aware of what interpretations it is open to in the original language, dumbass, and it's status as an anti-gay commandment is the obvious intended meaning. Dipshit. [/gratuitously insulting mode]

You do know this happens to characters in literature right?

Oh, did that happen in the New Testament, where the only references to homosexuality are as examples of depraved behavior, or in Kentucky, where they recently passed an amendment 75-25% to deny any protections similar to marriage to gay couples? The more God changes, the more he stays the same.
posted by boaz at 4:43 PM on June 22, 2005


Boaz: Yes, the original is in Hebrew. But the line in the Septaugint being more open for interpretation combined with a more permissive view of homosexuality in Greek culture would show the subjectivity of the text. Which was the fucking point, retard. You know, just to gratuitously insult you.
posted by klangklangston at 4:49 PM on June 22, 2005


Tell me how:
Reading 3.7 a -- Contrast major literary forms, techniques, and characteristics of a major literary period.
Reading 3.7c -- Evaluate the philosophical, political, religious, ethical, and social influences of the historical period that shaped the characters, plots, and settings.
is not learning about literature, culture, etc.


You tell me how you contrast major literary forms, techniques, and characteristics without reading any other texts.

You tell me how the kids in the class can evaluate the philosophical, political, religious, ethical, and social influences of the historical period without reading any other texts.

Impossible. Absolutely impossible. You can not contrast without something to contrast against. You can not evaluate a historical period and its influences without reading more than one source.
posted by amberglow at 5:31 PM on June 22, 2005


He's dressing it up, but it's still bible study group.

If he really was interested in teaching kids about the period in which it was written, the influences on it, the investigations into the authors and what their lives were like, and comparison to contemporary writings and contrast, there'd be books -- plural -- to read, or at least chapters from them. None are listed, nor are the other links on that page to actual chapters or excerpts from anything but the bible itself.
posted by amberglow at 5:35 PM on June 22, 2005


So, klangklangston, because the Greek translation is less clear-cut than the original on a certain passage, then obviously that means the original should be treated as subjective? Now I'm sorry for merely joking about what an idiot you are.

OTOH, maybe your post was meant to be interpreted subjectively; I know, I'll translate it to German and back on babelfish to find out....
Is the collecting main on Hebraeer. But the line in the Septaugint, which is opened more for interpretation, combined with a more generous opinion of Homosexualitaet in the Greek culture would show the subjectivity of the text. Which was fucking the point, delay. They know, in order to insult you straight freely.
Yep, that's a pretty clear improvement, and it appears it's actually subjective whether you're insulting me or Tom DeLay. ;)
posted by boaz at 5:37 PM on June 22, 2005


I wish I had the time to read all these posts...maybe tomorrow. Dinner is serverd. But one quick story: my mother was raised by an atheist mother and was at a loss in her English lit minor in college.

So my parents sent us to Sunday School, to acquaint us with Western religion.

Me, I'm a Buddhist English lit H.S. teacher, but I'm pretty familiar with the Bible. I'm ashamed to admit, though, after having taught Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon
for several years, that I never knew who Hagar was (in the Bible) until yesterday.

Live and learn.
posted by kozad at 5:39 PM on June 22, 2005


Amberglow: Once again, no, there wouldn't have to be. How do I know? Because I did it. Your assumptions are unfounded and your conclusions are ridiculous. You can read the Bible critically without assigning another source.
posted by klangklangston at 5:39 PM on June 22, 2005


I read the Story Bible (Pearl Buck?) in 7th grade at a non-religious (really, no prayers and rotating (Hindi, Jewish, Xian, Muslim) benedictions) school, and I'm pretty sure it was the only religious text we ever read there. It was fine, and the stories (Old Testament) were discussed simply as stories.

The study of the Bible as a piece of literature should be encouraged strongly. There's an *immense* difference between teaching it as literature and teaching it as scripture. The King James Bible is a wonderful piece of literature (as are several other offensive pieces of literature).

I gotta say it's funny to hear the same multicultural education arguments I heard growing up (20 years ago)!

You can not contrast without something to contrast against.

How about the canon of English literature?

He's dressing it up, but it's still bible study group.

You've got some entrenched views there. Too bad.

on preview: Hagar was one of my favorite characters. His wife Helga is hilarious. ;p Song of Solomon is quite awesome. My favorite TM book by far.

You can read the Bible critically without assigning another source.

Amen. You can read *anything* critically without assigning another source. The world is the case, ya know?
posted by mrgrimm at 5:48 PM on June 22, 2005


Boaz: First off, the subjectivity of the text is relevant when discussing a later translation which was taken mostly from the Greek, not from the original Hebrew. Second off, it was one point in a larger discussion of the passage. See:my comment. If you were able to read it, you would have responded to the substance. But then again, you wouldn't have had your brief moment of facile translation commentary, now would you?
Do you have any substantive objections to dealing with the Bible critically? Or are you just mad that homos, witches and women get short shrift and are looking to make your stand on that?
posted by klangklangston at 5:50 PM on June 22, 2005


If he really was interested in teaching kids about the period in which it was written, the influences on it, the investigations into the authors and what their lives were like, and comparison to contemporary writings and contrast, there'd be books -- plural -- to read, or at least chapters from them.

I know it's useless to argue, but it's not a history, religion, or sociology course. It's a literature course. Why do you need anything but the text?

you'd think fundies would be against this...

They're not smart enough. Oops!
posted by mrgrimm at 5:54 PM on June 22, 2005


You tell me how the kids in the class can evaluate the philosophical, political, religious, ethical, and social influences of the historical period without reading any other texts.

is there some kind of rule that they can't read anything else for the whole year ... or discuss with the teacher what other works might be good to read with this?

this is literature ... you get what you put into it ... if some kid isn't motivated to do a little research on his own, he's just taking a class to pass, then ...

part of the assumption behind much of what you say is that the kids are inert containers that one pours an "education" into ... i hate that idea ... it's an elective class ... i would hope that some of those kids would be willing to learn something on their own ...
posted by pyramid termite at 5:55 PM on June 22, 2005


Having made my way through the thread....finally:

Papakwanz seems to be the most like the voice of reason (according to my prejudices), so I doff my cap to him.

Boaz may have read the orginal hebrew but if he truly groks the intention of it he's way ahead of anyone I ever heard of. I have yet to hear any serious scholar say anything other than the exact meaning is ambiguous, hence KlangKlangston's urge to look to other contexts. Perhaps a complimentary cite would help B's case.

Amberglow I fully understand, mostly because of this (from the article) "I just thought it was ridiculous," Martin Galvan said. "But a lot of it hit me one day. I started going to church. . . . This class made me want to believe." - Which I tie back to Papakwanz. High School, with it's unique pressures for conformity, is not perhaps the best place for this class.

That is all.

On preview: that's still all
posted by Sparx at 6:00 PM on June 22, 2005


You tell me how you contrast major literary forms, techniques, and characteristics without reading any other texts.

By knowing that your students have taken other classes in language and literature, and that -- since this is an elective -- they are very likely to be taking another class in literature at the same time. By knowing that they have studied such problems before, and are probably studying them at the same time that they're taking your course.

Or, God forbid, by checking a book out of the library and reading it, something that I gather is still well within the mental capacities of today's high school student.

You tell me how the kids in the class can evaluate the philosophical, political, religious, ethical, and social influences of the historical period without reading any other texts.

By knowing that there are other courses in the curriculum, some required, some elective, that deal with such topics, so you can be highly confident that students will have relevant material to hand.

Or, again, by going to the library, explaining the assignment to a librarian, and looking over the suggested material to find something that the student finds interesting.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:15 PM on June 22, 2005


FYI, I got a very kind email back from Nader Twal who seems to be happy to answer polite questions about the "Bible as Literature" course he teaches in Long Beach. I'm not going to post his email here out of respect for him, but if you Google his school you can find it.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 6:25 PM on June 22, 2005


2 Timothy 3.16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.

Psalm 119.89 Your word, O Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. 160 All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal.

We are spending less time in the classroom on the Bible, which should be the principle text in our schools. ~ Fisher Ames (Author of the First Amendment)
posted by bevets at 6:28 PM on June 22, 2005


First off, the subjectivity of the text is relevant when discussing a later translation which was taken mostly from the Greek, not from the original Hebrew.

I think at the point that I realized that, in your Bible education, the intent of the passage in a different translation came up but the intent in the original language didn't, I kinda also figured out that it wasn't worth paying tax dollars for. YMMV.

On preview: You guys get so nitpicky when you're being religious apologists; I have to admit that I ditched my Tanach 20 years ago if it was a day. Just read the passage in context here, and notice that the preceding and following commandments are all about forbidden sexual relations. It's a pretty serious reach to say that they're suddenly talking about kissing or second base or something right in the middle there.
posted by boaz at 6:37 PM on June 22, 2005


Even if God is still a raving anti-homosexual maniac in the New Testament, along with his son, so to is Tom Sawyer a racist. I guess that means out with Mark Twain's work as well doesn't it. Afterall, they can't be great works of literature because there are bad people in them right boaz?
posted by juiceCake at 6:47 PM on June 22, 2005


Jesus, is is still MeFi G_d Week?
Having just listened to Julia Sweeney on This American Life(episode 290, "Godless America") reading from her play, "Letting Go Of God", I have to laugh. It's currently hard for me to imagine anyone actually reading that whole Book and ending up more Christian than before.

At least reading the Bible as Lit, you aught to learn about the people who wrote it, and the other, older texts much of it is cribbed from. I think this class smells a bit fishy, but it's reasonable in theory, anyway, so far. And people will be watching.
posted by obloquy at 8:13 PM on June 22, 2005


A lot of people keep emphasizing that this Bible as Literature class is an elective and therefore, is not mandatory. That is true enough. But do these high schools also offer elective courses called The Koran as Literature, The Upanishads as Literature, The Dhammapada as Literature ?

In college, students can choose to study Christianity if they so please. But they also have the option to study other religions and religious texts. These high schoolers do not have any other options for studying religious texts in their curriculum. And that is why I still believe that this class belongs on a college level. (Unless they plan to incorporate other influential religious texts into one course for purposes of comparison and examination.)

P.S. What the hell is the matter with you klangklangston? You're being totally belligerent.
posted by crapulent at 8:20 PM on June 22, 2005


P.S. What the hell is the matter with you klangklangston? You're being totally belligerent.

He's calling a spade a spade.
posted by Kwantsar at 8:34 PM on June 22, 2005


Even if God is still a raving anti-homosexual maniac in the New Testament, along with his son, so to is Tom Sawyer a racist.

The difference, of course, being that nearly 100% of respondents thought that Tom Sawyer was a completely fictional character and more than 96% of respondents believed God and is not.
posted by shawnj at 8:36 PM on June 22, 2005


Er "God is not"
posted by shawnj at 8:37 PM on June 22, 2005


and get this: ReligionLink:
--Religion 101: Coming to a public school near you?


...California...requires religion to be included in history and social science classes...

Lots more links there, including this, from Religious Studies in Secondary Schools--...Our literary definition of classic is a large one, and the scope of selection in this section ranges from poetry, to epic, drama, biography, autobiography, novel, to treatise and tract. In our English, history, religious studies, and ethics courses we have all used literary "classics" to convey religious world views and attitudes. Although often not considered "texts" by a particular religious tradition, these works convey a richness of thought and feeling that have played a major role in the religious lives of adherents. Examples of this type of literature might include "Pilgrim's Progress," the poetry of Vaughn and Rumi, the Jataka stories, and the dramas of Kalidasa.
There is a second type of "classic" literature that we would like to include in our list. Under a separate category of "Religion and Literature" we will include works that were not explicitly written for religious purposes, but contain within them many motifs and themes central to religious thinking. Examples of these works might include, "Salman Rushdie's "Midnight's Children,"John Knowles' "A Separate Peace," the poetry of Wang Wei and Su Shi, or Potock's "The Chosen."
Our proposal about how to construct the section on religious classics follows the same structural format as the text's portion does. Twenty to twenty-five literary classics for each religious tradition has a one page description, a five-source bibliography, a teacher's page of lesson plans and suggestions for teaching, and a section for student papers and responses. ...

posted by amberglow at 8:39 PM on June 22, 2005


Finally made it to the bottom of the comments. My question is, why all this irrational fear of the bible? Also, great job klangklangston. Thank you.
posted by blue shadows at 8:48 PM on June 22, 2005


Papakwanz seems to be the most like the voice of reason

Whoo hoo!

Amber- what are you saying with that quote from Religious Studies in Secondary Schools? I'm not sure I know what you're getting at.
posted by papakwanz at 8:58 PM on June 22, 2005


It's an example of an inclusive way of teaching religion in public schools, something missing from this thread entirely, and missing from that class.
posted by amberglow at 9:08 PM on June 22, 2005


They should teach the King James version, if only to understand what most writers in English were reading. Unless they were Catholic, of course. Any other version would defeat the purpose of the class.
posted by jb at 9:11 PM on June 22, 2005


jb- Many, many writers were NOT reading the KJV, or at least not reading it exclusively. Basically everyone in the early Renaissance and before, including Shakespeare, Marlowe, Ben Jonson, Edmund Spenser, Chaucer, plus all the important political and philosophical writers of the time.
posted by papakwanz at 9:15 PM on June 22, 2005


It's an example of an inclusive way of teaching religion in public schools.

When did this become about teaching religion in public schools? I thought it was about teaching the Bible as literature, much like one takes a Shakespeare course.

I took World Religions in my public school. We covered Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Shintoism, some Native American beliefs, some Nordic beliefs, some African beliefs (you can see where it became more general.)

In neither case was either the study of the Bible (or the Tibetan Book of the Dead for example) or the World Religions class controverserial, except to fundamentalists from whichever religious persuasion you wish to pick.
posted by juiceCake at 9:20 PM on June 22, 2005


Good point, juicecake. Studying a religious text does not necessarily mean studying the religion, and vice versa.
posted by papakwanz at 9:22 PM on June 22, 2005


Okay, help me out here folks, I've been trying to think of anything that I was taught in my high school English or Literature courses that was a translation and I'm coming up empty. Granted that this was forty odd years ago and my memory isn't what it used to be, but I can't think of anything in my high school classes that I studied that wasn't originally in english, it wasn't until my college courses that I can remember any translations. Also, most of the works I studied were by one author (ignoring the problem of whether Shakespere wrote all of his plays), not the hundreds that were involved in the bible. It would seem difficult to me, to say the least, to teach a course on literature with hundreds of authors responsible for the same book, how does the teacher handle that?

As a side note could someone please explain to me the religious signifigance of the "Miller's Tale" from Chaucer?

I'm afraid that I have to come down on the side that this is nothing but an attempt to get the christian religous viewpoints taught to high school students, definately a no no in my book.
posted by thecynic at 9:43 PM on June 22, 2005


And studying only one religious text and nothing else is something far more fitting to a church school and bible study group rather than a public school. There are many many programs set up with better ways of teaching religion and religious texts in public schools, even as literature--I gave you one of them, and the links i posted go to more of them.

I don't see why it's a problem to hear of alternatives, as this whole thread is about teaching the Bible in public schools. Many of us automatically thought of comparative classes and classes that explored more than just one religion's text--that's the usual, legal way it's done in public schools, which must serve a diverse community and population. It's odd that that wasn't the type of class being taught at this public school, no? It's becoming very standard, i hear.
posted by amberglow at 9:46 PM on June 22, 2005


Anne Frank is one, thecynic (we read it in Junior High English). And if you read any African authors, they may have been translated. And Yiddish authors... And i remember at least one French short story--Maupaussant? (or something like that)
posted by amberglow at 9:49 PM on June 22, 2005


Learning to read the Bible as literature, that is reading the "stories" as you'd read fiction, the psalms as you'd read other poetry, and things like Paul's epistles as you'd read a political speech, can be a way to teach critical thinking. E.g., "Does the "battle" of Jericho sound unlikely in today's world?" or "How does Paul's view of Society contrast and compare to America's Constitutional rights and freedoms?" There is a reason why the Bible was historically kept from the laity, and why today's big preachers tell you what's in the Bible, what it means and how you should feel about it, instead of telling you to read your Bible and think about it yourself.

I'm all for reading the Bible like you'd read Moby Dick, Bullfinch's Greek and Roman Mythology, MacBeth or Mein Kampf.

And thecynic, maybe they should call that faculty Literature or Verbal Expression or something broader than English. You know, the way History became Social Studies in many school districts.
posted by davy at 9:53 PM on June 22, 2005


papakwanz - good point. I guess Shakespeare and the other Elizabethans would have been reading the English bible produced by Henry (largely based on Tyndale). Though the KJV was out for the second half of his career (and you can feel the similarity in the language from that period). Why wouldn't Milton be reading the KJV?

As for Chaucer, I guess he would have read the Vulgate, but I think it would be a bit much to expect high school or undergraduate students to read the original Latin. And for medieval lit, I think I would concentrate on saint's lives and the gospels and basic stories.

Actually, I once had to recommended to me that if you really want to get into a lot of 18th and 19th century literature, Paul Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress is very important - apparently the next best selling book at the time, after the bible.

But this is a real academic issue. I remember being in a university class on iconography in medieval painting, when one of the students shyly raised her hand to ask who the Virgin Mary was. She happened to be Muslim, so there was no reason she should have known, but if she were interested in pursuing study in European history and literature, it would have been very important for her to know that sort of stuff.
posted by jb at 10:03 PM on June 22, 2005


Amberglow: Anne Frank is one, thecynic (we read it in Junior High English). And if you read any African authors, they may have been translated. And Yiddish authors... And i remember at least one French short story--Maupaussant? (or something like that)

My high school in western NC, although a college prep private school did not read any of those back in the mid sixties. It was, of course, a fairly backward place at that time, so other schools may certainly have required some of these, but my school didn't. I did read translations of history texts in my high school history courses but still having trouble remembering any in the Eng/Lit courses.

Davy: And thecynic, maybe they should call that faculty Literature or Verbal Expression or something broader than English. You know, the way History became Social Studies in many school districts.

I got that in my college freshman humanities courses. We discussed all kinds of different religions in those courses, just never in high school.
posted by thecynic at 10:12 PM on June 22, 2005


But do these high schools also offer elective courses called The Koran as Literature, The Upanishads as Literature, The Dhammapada as Literature ?

That would be a smart thing to do when there is a substantial body of important literature in English that draws heavily from the Koran, or the Upanishads, or Zen koans. As of now, there is not.

Not that there would be anything objectionable about offering a course on the Koran, or Dhammapada, or Talmud. It might not be a very wise use of scarce resources in the here and now, unless the school were in an area with a lot of people descended from the relevant culture.

(Unless they plan to incorporate other influential religious texts into one course for purposes of comparison and examination.)

In all seriousness, what other religious texts are important to understanding classic works of Anglo-American literature beyond The Waste Land?

They should teach the King James version, if only to understand what most writers in English were reading.

To quote the first paragraph of the article, "FALLBROOK – Starting next year, some students at the public high school here will bring their King James version of the Bible with them to class each day."

And studying only one religious text and nothing else is something far more fitting to a church school and bible study group rather than a public school.

Studying a single author, or single text if it's a big book, seems reasonable enough to me for a specialized course, especially for high school kids where it's unreasonable to expect them to read 600--1000 pages per week. Having a course on the Bible doesn't seem any different from having a course on Faulkner, or on Remembrance of Things Past, if a school were lucky enough to have someone enthusiastic about teaching those.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:17 PM on June 22, 2005


amberglow said:
Millions of us here are not Christians, and we will not stand for having any one religion's major text forced down our, or our children's throats in our public schools--even if it's our own religious text, and even if they're saying it's "as literature". Public School is not where it belongs.

Lots of people have countered that it's optional. There is also a demand for this sort of study, as the article says not enough people can get into the class.

As for whether a Christian should be teaching, I'd prefer to learn about a religion's holy text (even as lit) from someone immersed in the religion (currently, or at some time in the past) rather than an outsider.

Malor said:
Now, it is a good book to teach as literature. Demystifying the Bible is always a good idea. But there's no way we can guarantee it will be taught that way... as a book, not Literal Truth.

If your community has elected leaders that do not hold public employees accountable to the law, then you're right, there's no way to prevent proselytizing....

As to whether a born-again Christian can contain their enthusiasm in an education setting: My mom is born-again and is a science teacher at a private Hebrew school. If children ask her about Christian teachings, she refers them to the rabbi. She doesn't say "ask me after class" or "ask me after you graduate." She has not attempted to convert or influence any student for Christ. It is certainly possible.

bevets quoted:
We are spending less time in the classroom on the Bible, which should be the principle text in our schools. ~ Fisher Ames (Author of the First Amendment)

It's probably worth examining whether Fisher Ames was a supporter of public education in the first place. Kind of makes more sense when you suppose that he might be talking about a private school (being author of the first amendment, and all that). Public schools were not even available in every state at the time the constitution was signed.

jb said:
But this is a real academic issue. I remember being in a university class on iconography in medieval painting, when one of the students shyly raised her hand to ask who the Virgin Mary was. She happened to be Muslim, so there was no reason she should have known...

Most people say I'm crazy when I bring up this point, but Muslims do regard Mary as one of the most important women ever. They know her by her Arabic name, "Mariam." She is the only woman mentioned in the Quran by name... Of the 100+ chapters in the Quran, only 8 are named after people, and Mary is one of them. In the Quran, she also becomes pregnant with Jesus without having intercourse.
posted by bugmuncher at 11:56 PM on June 22, 2005


"You don't have to read the Bible to understand what the Crusades were, or anything in History. That's a crock. We don't read Lenin and Marx or Mao to learn about Russia or the USSR or China. We don't read the Koran to learn about the Middle East. Source materials can be excerpted and often are, in textboooks. It is only a source text--not an important text in literary terms. It is not important literature in itself."

Honestly, this makes my jaw drop. I guess I wasted five weeks reading the Koran in the "Arab World" class I just finished, hmm? (Well, this is at the graduate school level, but still...) Of course we read Lenin and Marx and Mao to learn about Russia or China or Communism in general. Every course I have seen that deals in depth with those topics includes those readings. And of course it is difficult to gain any kind of serious understanding of the Muslim world without a reasonable acquaintance with the Koran. Only a cursory knowledge can be gained from brief textbook descriptions of those writings. And a cursory knowledge is not necessarily enough.

Whether I agree with amberglow's overall point or not, this statement was just... wrong. As a historian (in-training) I couldn't let it go by.

"I remember being in a university class on iconography in medieval painting, when one of the students shyly raised her hand to ask who the Virgin Mary was. She happened to be Muslim, so there was no reason she should have known..."

jb, Mary is mentioned in the Koran. In fact, there is a retelling of the story of Jesus' birth in the Koran that contrasts interestingly with the Biblical version. I told my mother this and she was shocked; she had no idea that the Koran even mentioned Mary and Jesus.

(On preview: bugmuncher beat me to this.)
posted by litlnemo at 12:04 AM on June 23, 2005


jb: I guess Shakespeare and the other Elizabethans would have been reading the English bible produced by Henry (largely based on Tyndale). Though the KJV was out for the second half of his career (and you can feel the similarity in the language from that period).

Shakespeare apparently knew large chunks of the Geneva and maybe Douai Bibles by heart. But mostly the Geneva. The KJV, not so much.
posted by Sonny Jim at 12:37 AM on June 23, 2005


We're talking about public schools, not college or grad school, litlnemo, and as you stated, your own experience was not just one source text for an entire semester, but others as well. Others previously brought up that point as well.
posted by amberglow at 5:47 AM on June 23, 2005


crapulent said (and amberglow referenced):
It seems that education should focus on what kids aren't getting at home rather than reinforcing what has already been ingrained on most of their little brains. And you've got to be joking if you think there isn't an agenda here.

...Except they're not getting it at home, increasingly. This is not 1950, it's 2005, and a lot fewer people attend churches, which is why literary references to the Bible are lost on so many people.

amberglow said:
your own experience was not just one source text for an entire semester, but others as well.

So, just to be clear: if people in a history class read a 500-page history textbook by multiple authors containting differing, sometimes contradictory viewpoints all semester, that's not OK, because it's one source?

If a few of Shakespeare's plays, and the Canterbury Tales, and some other English lit were published in one book, that's bad because it's one source?

The Bible is quite arguably not one source, but 66 of them, written by a handful of people. It contains differing, sometimes contradictory viewpoints, too.
posted by bugmuncher at 6:35 AM on June 23, 2005


Amberglow et al.: I still don't understand why you're against critical thinking. Because that's what you're arguing, that this text (the Bible) is too dangerous for public schools to deal with and that we must redact the history of Western arts and culture to reflect our fear of it. Studying the Bible is one of the most important things that a student can do with regard to the humanities. That text is more central to Western thought than the Iliad, the histories of Alexander or Julius Cœser, or any other text that you can name. The Bible was the central influence on the powerful and educated for centuries, and nearly every work you can name until well after the Enlightenment is made richer by studying it. Nearly every work, from the Decameron to The Wealth of Nations to The Social Contract to Don Quixote to Candide, nearly every work of philosophy, of politics, of art or literature. From calendars to histories, from art to science, the Bible and the Church were there.
Don't you realize that by insisting that it's "better left to Bible study class" that you're not only seeking to deny students a deep understanding of all of that culture, but that you're strengthening the hold of the religious over our shared culture?
You're arguing for an academic life that doesn't take into account history, that doesn't value depth, that is superficial and wanting for lack of richness, all because you're frightened of ideas. And why? Because people want to take the class and not take a class in Koran lit? Because it's taught by a Christian?
Don't you get it? I'm one of those people who protests "Under God" in the Pledge. I'm one of those people who thinks calling it "Christmas Break" is wrong. But studying the Bible is not de facto under God. It is a historical document and can be taught in a secular manner.
But you'd rather have kids never think about why Genesis contradicts itself on the order of creation. You'd rather have kids never think about the society and authors that created the Pentateuch. You'd never want them to look at the different views of women, and speculate on authorship. You'd never want them to realize that the Bible contains beauty and cruelty, faith and hope, despair and murder. You'd rather keep the Bible religious, and keep people ignorant.
There is an old saying that on the edges, the right and left overlap. It's a shame that you would choose ignorance over enlightenment, and blindness over sight.
And yet, with all this said, I would bet that you still don't know why you're so far wrong on this. I would bet that you still see nothing wrong with your position that unless we offer infinite opportunities to study religion, we should offer none. I bet that you don't see that you're arguing against the fundamental idea of science and reasoning: that we should examine everything critically.
Of everyone who took Bible lit with me, I can't think of a single one who has become a Christian. I can think of some that are currently compiling Tibetan/Sanskrit dictionary, some that are doing work on consciousness and pharmacology, some that are working on computer programs to map radio signals into clusters of stars, and some that engage in anarchist direct actions. While I can't say that it was Bible lit that put them on those paths, I can say that it didn't hurt.
I should apologize over my tone. Even when you are being willfully ignorant, I shouldn't attack you personally. But do not confuse that with a statement that I think your views are well-founded, productive or harmless. Your dogmatism and extreme position is the direct analogue of the Religious Right, and is as fundamentally flawed. Not only are your arguments wrong, but they destroy both your credibility and the credibility of those who would align themselves with you on other issues. Your stridency may be a valuable motivator in your search for justice, but it makes you too dangerous of an ally outside of narrow constraints. Think about whether you would rather be screaming your opinions alone, or enacting your opinions together.
posted by klangklangston at 7:06 AM on June 23, 2005


Gotta go with klangklangston on this one.

jb - Sonny Jim beat me to it, but yeah, Shakespeare and his contemps probably read the Geneva, as well as some others. Interestingly enough, the KJV was designed as a response to the Geneva, which was popular among hardliner puritans. Shakespeare probably only wrote 3 plays from 1611 on: Tempest, Henry VIII (co-authored) and Two Noble Kinsmen (co-authored). Milton I assume would have read the KJV.

As for Chaucer, he's an interesting case. I guess he would have read it in Latin, but he was also alive during a time when the vast majority of people had no access to most of the Bible. Would he have read it at all? I'm not a medievalist, nor have I done extensive study of Chaucer and his works, so I've never plotted out how much of it seems to directly come from the Bible. Certainly, he displays a knowledge of it that an intelligent person could have gleaned from church and the "education system" of the time. I don't know that there's that much evidence in his works that he must have read the book himself. From what I recall of the Canterbury Tales, for example, it seems more to demonstrate a knowledge of the stories and sermons that would have been told in church, saints' lives, and general christian folklore of the time (ie. stories about Jews murdering Christian children and the like). Can anyone step up and take this further?

thecynic asked what books people read in high school that were translated from English. Well, first off, Beowulf. Yeah, I know it is an "English-language" book, but Old English is pretty damn close to German. In my high school we also read Candide (from the French). I think we might have read a little smidge of Inferno (from the Italian). And of course, if you ever read any mythology, that's translated.
posted by papakwanz at 8:40 AM on June 23, 2005


Dear God, they're using the KJV? Why not just read the Aenid after it's been translated by a bunch of retarded monkeys?

This could be a really, really good idea. I know far too many Christians who wander around spouting off nonsense but have no actual Biblical knowledge, much less the history of the text and the scholarship studying it, and far too many non-Christians who think the Bible is all about killing homosexuals because they're getting their impression of Christianity from the stupid twats.

These crazy Christians are the ones most likely to take this elective, so I'm down with it. Well, if the class is taught properly, anyway. If it's taught badly "disasterous" would be an understatement of the effects.
posted by schroedinger at 8:47 AM on June 23, 2005


Papakwanz: Chaucer was an elite, and likely church educated. He was fluent in French, Spanish and Flemish, and would have likely known Latin (as he was a man of letters in a time when Latin was still what works you wanted read were written in), and would have likely read the Bible to learn it.
posted by klangklangston at 9:10 AM on June 23, 2005


Klang, darling, who are you to speak of Amberglow's credibility, when you yourself loose yours with your childishness? Hear the trolly, dear? Its running right over your own credibility. Such a pity, as much of what you wrote spoke well.

Bible as lit: It's such a good idea, even liberal endorse it! Or, some of them. But wait...

Given the current political climate, especially as regards religion, who wants to trust schools, too many with boards dominated by fundies, to tackle such a thing? I think that is a very legitimate question.

Some say wait for college. This seems so reasonable, except that high schools, if anything, need to be more challenging. Of course there is this little problem that too many high school students can't even write worth a damn. Maybe we should teach them to write, first.

But Shakespeare, Chaucer, the rest of the canon? LOL! Get real! Or were you first planning on teaching the younger kids to read at that level, and maybe write better? So by high school, they are up to it? And where oh where does the funding come from?

From what a bunch of you have said, this really does sound like a good thing. It is elective, a point I fear Amberglow has overlooked too often. But by the sounds of it, there are many for whom such a class should be required. But that is a violation of the First amendment. Pity, there are these fundies who need it.
posted by Goofyy at 9:13 AM on June 23, 2005


Goofyy, darling, I can't make out what your point is. High school students can read at this level, and should be required to. And the excuse that because it could be done poorly means that it shouldn't be done at all is a pretty thin one.
posted by klangklangston at 9:38 AM on June 23, 2005


Klang- I don't dispute 99% of what you said about Chaucer, but isn't calling him an "elite" a bit tricky? He certainly wasn't of the aristocratic class- he was not high born, and social mobility was strictly limited in his time. He was a government official and certainly made his way in the world, but he could never break into the noble class. Part of the reason he could get away with writing some of the crude stuff he wrote (Miller's Tale, Reeve's Tale, for example) was because he wasn't a noble, if I remember correctly. Anyway, re: his learning, you're probably right on the money though.
posted by papakwanz at 10:14 AM on June 23, 2005


Klang, did you RTFP? You didn't address the writing coming from high school graduates. You claim they can read at that level, but I would question this, if they can't write. I don't know if they can or not, I have nothing to do with anyone that age. Of course SOME of them can. I've been reading at that level since I was 13. Which proves nothing about the general literate quality of today (or my time, for that matter).

Then you use the phrase "because it could be done poorly", which I neither said nor implied. I spoke of problems with boards of education, which I would say have nothing to do with things being "done", rather, how things are planned, and who teaches, and who supervises, etc. A serious issue--Unless you're previous words are mere cover, and you're a Bible-thumper anxious for religion to be taught in public schools.
posted by Goofyy at 10:33 AM on June 23, 2005


The Bible is quite arguably not one source, but 66 of them, written by a handful of people. It contains differing, sometimes contradictory viewpoints, too.
Millions of people disagree with you, and won't even consider that it's not the word of God, divinely passed on. That teacher--the devout Christian--disagrees with you--and there was nothing in that syllabus at all about authorship.

Amberglow et al.: I still don't understand why you're against critical thinking. Because that's what you're arguing, that this text (the Bible) is too dangerous for public schools to deal with and that we must redact the history of Western arts and culture to reflect our fear of it.
Bullshit--you really haven't read a word i wrote, have you? Nowhere do i say that, and i've repeatedly said otherwise, calling for more context and more texts for comparison with other religions and other literary works and other writings of the era.

Given that most of the arguments for this type of class are about the relevance and importance of the Bible to our civilization and culture, the fact that this is an elective means that most highschoolers won't be reading it, which is the opposite of what many of you are arguing. If it's as important as many of you say, then it shouldn't be an elective, no?
posted by amberglow at 10:52 AM on June 23, 2005


You'd rather keep the Bible religious, and keep people ignorant.
The Bible is religious, to millions. Many would be offended to hear you speak of it as if it's just another work of literature.
That syllabus doesn't even treat it that way, which is part of the problem.

Critical thinking is not just closely reading one text in isolation--it's about learning how to see things--both in context of their eras and in themselves. It's about questioning why. It's about finding out more (even some readings about the Roman Empire would be invaluable to those students concerning that text, but that's not there, nor is anything else.) Writing "reflections" on proverbs is not critical thinking--it's bible study. Reread that syllabus, and tell me about the other required reading.

That class is
posted by amberglow at 11:07 AM on June 23, 2005


oop--delete "that class is"
posted by amberglow at 11:09 AM on June 23, 2005


You claim they can read at that level, but I would question this, if they can't write.

What, all high school students can't write? My high school was teaching Shakespeare and Chaucer, along with Ibsen and Freud in it's English classes. Hell, I was assigned Hamlet in 8th grade! Yes, probably not all high school students could handle the material. Good thing this Bible Lit. course is an elective, so those who can, get the opportunity.

But we weren't taught the Bible though! It was such a dangerous book, it was kept under lock and key. Someone could read it and have all sorts of dangerous ideas slip into their brain. i mean, when we read Civilization and its Discontents we didn't read a bunch of other psychological/philosophical works by others of the time period, or works critical to Freud, and we weren't reading historical texts to fully understand what was going on in Europe in that period of time (outside of what we had learned in other classes,) but that's because Freud doesn't have the insidious mindworms the Bible has.

After all, in order to "...to interpret Biblical allusions in literature by giving them a firm foundation in Old and New Testament stories," you must read a history of the Roman Empire, and countless other non-related religious works, because the Bible is exceptionally different from ever other book ever! It's true! One student I knew read the Bible unsupervised, and the next day he converted to Latvian Orthodox.
posted by Snyder at 12:59 PM on June 23, 2005



Most people say I'm crazy when I bring up this point, but Muslims do regard Mary as one of the most important women ever. They know her by her Arabic name, "Mariam." She is the only woman mentioned in the Quran by name... Of the 100+ chapters in the Quran, only 8 are named after people, and Mary is one of them. In the Quran, she also becomes pregnant with Jesus without having intercourse.

No, I didn't know this. I believe she was Muslim, as she was wearing a hijab (simple headscarf style), but I seem to remember her asking who Mary was (and the painting only had one female figure). Perhaps she didn't connect up the names. But I guess it was just that this class was on women in medieval Europe, and there was a huge assumption that everyone in the class knew their basic bible stories, as assumption that can no longer be made in many universities.

As for Chaucer's status - I'm not great on my book history, but I do know that status was more flexible in the medieval and early modern period than most people realise. His father was a vinter, but he was a page in a prince's court, and his wife was a lady in waiting to the Queen, and through her he was likely related by marriage to John of Gaunt (serious power guy). He was also an important official and involved in important dimplomatic missions. Sounds pretty elite to me.

But many non-nobles were literate in Latin, just like many nobles were illiterate in Latin (or indeed, the vernacular). Many members of the clergy were literate in Latin, and being educated was a way to gain social mobility, especially if you serve the royal court. The Cecil family was founded that way in the 16th century - and are kicking around to this day.

Luther's father was a miner, and he went to university. What a mess that started : )
posted by jb at 1:34 PM on June 23, 2005


The Bible (especially KJV) and Greek/Roman mythology need to be taught before college to understand the literature they will be exposed to in college and in life. Other religious texts should also, because they expand our horizons on their own, but they just aren't as influential on modern writing and not as necessary to be able to understand not just Western literature, but everyday writing and speech.

I want all to be educated well enough to be able to understand any editorial or magazine article or any other everyday writing that is enriched by the use of biblical or mythological references. Pandora's box and Job are just two of thousands of everyday examples that any educated person should be familiar with, and exposure to the original text is the best method.

HOWEVER, I think that it is very naive to not recognize that many of the schools are embracing this course simply as a way to push their religion at any opportunity.

Can this class be taught in a way that benefits the education of high-school students without proselyting? Of course it CAN, but WILL it be? Sadly, too often not.

That's why so many here are arguing putting this off until college. I don't have an answer to that.

But if delaying this vital education is what should be done, it's loss for all.

I disagree with Amberglow when he says that the Bible as literature should not be taught in high school. But he's absolutely right to be concerned with how this will play out in the real world, and I think everyone who dismisses his concerns is just not paying attention to wherethis country seems to be headed.
posted by marsha56 at 1:57 PM on June 23, 2005


jb- yeah, I know Chaucer was certainly tied in to the bluebloods through his family and his own career. I wasn't trying to dispute that there was some class mobility during his time, or the details of his education. I guess I was just trying to get at the idea that no matter how rich he became, there would still be a perceived difference, at least from those born into noble families, between his "kind" and their "kind".
posted by papakwanz at 3:52 PM on June 23, 2005


Goofyy: High school students can and do write at a level to discuss the Bible critically. Just because morons graduate from high school doesn't mean that at least a significant plurality of the students don't have the faculties to discuss significant works. In fact, with reference to your following quote, some high schoolers even know the difference between "your" and "you're."
"A serious issue--Unless you're previous words are mere cover, and you're a Bible-thumper anxious for religion to be taught in public schools."
Yeah, that's it exactly, Goofyy. I'm a crypto-evangelical. That's why I think it's a good idea to examine the text critically, and to discuss its role in history both good and bad. YOU'VE FOUND ME OUT!
Bible Lit can and should be taught well. But the argument that Christians might teach kids that evolution is a lie isn't a reason to not teach biology, it's a reason to teach biology correctly.

Amberglow: "Millions of people disagree with you, and won't even consider that it's not the word of God, divinely passed on. That teacher--the devout Christian--disagrees with you--and there was nothing in that syllabus at all about authorship."
Boy, you like ad hominems, don't you? First off, the teacher isn't labeled a fundamentalist, but a devout Christian. Being a Christian doesn't magically sap you of all of your critical faculties (despite the Bertrand Russel arguments). Second off, it's a syllabus, not a transcript. Third off, that there are millions of people that disagree is not a reason not to teach something. If it were, well, we'd be striking evolution from the list. Or communism. Or Franz Falon.
"Bullshit--you really haven't read a word i wrote, have you? Nowhere do i say that, and i've repeatedly said otherwise, calling for more context and more texts for comparison with other religions and other literary works and other writings of the era."
Fair enough. You're arguing that the Bible does not have a special place in the history of Western civilization, based on... well... the fact that you don't like the Bible very much. Because certainly, you have no argument when it comes to arguing that it violates the establishment clause, or that it's an attempt to inject Christianity into public schools, or any other such drivel.
And to continually argue that the Bible should not be studied in public schools (along with Mein Kampf or the Communist Manifesto) is to argue against using public money to encourage critical thinking. Your objections are facile, and your conclusions are erroneous.

"Given that most of the arguments for this type of class are about the relevance and importance of the Bible to our civilization and culture, the fact that this is an elective means that most highschoolers won't be reading it, which is the opposite of what many of you are arguing. If it's as important as many of you say, then it shouldn't be an elective, no?"
Do you have a point here? Or did you just want to undercut your argument that this is Christianity being foisted upon the soft clay of America's youth again?
And hey, if it were up to me, every student in America would be working on critical thinking skills, media literacy, and a healthy knowledge of classics (including Justinian, Pliny, and Gibbon). But I realize that there isn't infinite time to educate kids, and that some of them will be happier taking metal shop or CAD/CAM than reading Ovid's Metamorphosis. But sure, reading the Bible can't be any worse for them than having to read Native Son three times (American Lit, Minority Lit, 10th Grade Lit).
posted by klangklangston at 3:59 PM on June 23, 2005


The Bible is quite arguably not one source, but 66 of them, written by a handful of people. It contains differing, sometimes contradictory viewpoints, too.
Millions of people disagree with you, and won't even consider that it's not the word of God, divinely passed on. That teacher--the devout Christian--disagrees with you--and there was nothing in that syllabus at all about authorship.


OK, amberglow. I disagree with you, and I think you're taking liberties with Mr. Twal's opinions. I don't think he would disagree with me on those points.

Hell, I'll bet you $25 that he will agree that the Bible is a) 66 books, written by a handful of people, and b) contains differing, sometimes contradictory viewpoints.

If you will accept the bet, perhaps thedevildancedlightly can e-mail him and ask what he thinks.
posted by bugmuncher at 4:27 PM on June 23, 2005


(There will be no bet winner if he is too busy to write back.)
posted by bugmuncher at 4:37 PM on June 23, 2005


Fair enough. You're arguing that the Bible does not have a special place in the history of Western civilization, based on... well... the fact that you don't like the Bible very much. Because certainly, you have no argument when it comes to arguing that it violates the establishment clause, or that it's an attempt to inject Christianity into public schools, or any other such drivel.
And to continually argue that the Bible should not be studied in public schools (along with Mein Kampf or the Communist Manifesto) is to argue against using public money to encourage critical thinking. Your objections are facile, and your conclusions are erroneous.


You're wrong yet again--Nowhere do i say what you say i'm saying. It's tiresome that you don't read carefully--at all. Your continuation to tie studying the Bible with critical thinking is completely absurd--the Bible is not at all essential nor important in terms of critical thinking. No one text at all is, and that's just one area in which you're wrong. I'm quite done with you. Learn to read. And learn what a syllabus is--any dictionary will tell you. (They always include all texts needed and what is to be studied, at the very least. )

bugmuncher, you'd have to spell out whether he thinks those people were inspired by God, or what their reasons for writing it were, for me to take that bet.
posted by amberglow at 4:41 PM on June 23, 2005


"We're talking about public schools, not college or grad school, litlnemo, and as you stated, your own experience was not just one source text for an entire semester, but others as well. Others previously brought up that point as well."

Did I say that? I don't believe I addressed the number of texts involved at all. (I said I read the Koran for five weeks; I suppose you could say that implies that I read other books during the rest of the term, but...)

Anyway, the statement you made that bothered me was not whether one work should be studied for an entire term. It was that you said outright that the Bible, Marx, Lenin, Mao, etc. are not important texts to learn about the Crusades, the history of Russia/USSR, the history of China, etc. That is, I believe, quite wrong. Reading those works is necessary for a full understanding of the connected historical events.

The citation you posted also doesn't strike me as particularly relevant to the concern I was addressing.

Now, whether one work should be studied for a term is a completely different issue and one I have chosen not to address here. I am also aware that the class in question is a lit class not a history class. Basically it is the comment that one shouldn't read those works that bothers me -- I am staying out of the "should this class be taught in high school" argument.
posted by litlnemo at 5:04 PM on June 23, 2005


Amberglow: "Nowhere do i say what you say i'm saying."
"Because certainly, you have no argument when it comes to arguing that it violates the establishment clause, or that it's an attempt to inject Christianity into public schools, or any other such drivel."
Perhaps, Amberglow, instead of worrying about my ability to read your comments, you should worry about your ability to write them. If that's not what you're saying, than what, exactly, are you saying?
"Your continuation to tie studying the Bible with critical thinking is completely absurd--the Bible is not at all essential nor important in terms of critical thinking."
This is where you aren't reading me very well: My argument is that since the Bible is THE CENTRAL FUCKING TEXT OF ALL OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION that THERE IS A DIRECT BENEFIT TO GIVING IT A CRITICAL READING!
You, on the other hand, keep arguing that a) it's impossible to give the Bible a critical reading, b) that this class isn't giving the Bible a critical reading, and c) that it shouldn't be done anyway, because the Bible isn't very important.
If you'd like, I can refer you back to your comments again, but I would think that one shaming would be enough for you. Feel free to prove me wrong.

And again, my contention is that arguing that somehow the Bible is unable to be read critically (which, if it is being read critically, you should have no fucking objections aside from needing to put your asshat on), is arguing against the very fact that it has been. Repeatedly. For many, many years.
And again, your objections are facile and your conclusions are ridiculous.
Perhaps I was too hasty in not hammering home how incredibly stupid you sound when you argue against teaching the Bible as literature (AS OPPOSED TO SCRIPTURE, YOU FUCKING MORON).
(Oh, and a syllabus is a summary, dipshit. And, though I doubt that you read every .doc file, arguing that because you don't see multiple authorship in the syllabus, he's teaching that it's all divinely written is an argument from ignorance, the same as arguing that since we don't understand all of how DNA evolved, it must be God that created it.)
posted by klangklangston at 5:13 PM on June 23, 2005


bugmuncher, you'd have to spell out whether he thinks those people were inspired by God, or what their reasons for writing it were, for me to take that bet.

What the teacher thinks about divine inspiration or authors' motives is irrelevant to the question of whether he agrees with my original statement (that it is multiple (66) sources, by multiple authors, and contains differing and sometimes contradictory viewpoints)...

It's also irrelevant to what he is teaching. According to your argument, it is wrong for a Muslim teacher to instruct public school students in the reading of the Quran, because he believes it is the true, unaltered word of the Prophet Muhammad, even if he agrees not to present it as such?

Does that make it preferable for Christians to teach about the Quran and Muslims to teach about the Torah, and for Jews to teach about the Gospel, because it's not their religion?

If I were 14, I suppose this is the part where I would say "pwn3d."
posted by bugmuncher at 7:56 PM on June 23, 2005


papakwanz - I'm not quite sure. English nobility was fuzzier than many places on the Continent - the gentry were known as nobilitas minor, but didn't have titles - they were still considered to be noble though. His father was a vinter, but I don't know the social status of vinters (some crafts were higher than others). Perhaps his father was among a kind of pseudogentry of rich craftsmen and merchants - but the fact that Chaucer was allowed to marry up so much is very interesting. It could have been a social coup, of course.

I had heard that getting a B.A. allowed you to apply for a coat of arms - but I can't find reference to that again.
posted by jb at 8:31 PM on June 23, 2005


jb - been reading Greenblatt's "Will in the World" and his discussion of the application for coat of arms is fairly amusing. Basically, it amounted to paying the official a fee and they would "find" your ancient coat of arms that had somehow been misplaced!
posted by papakwanz at 9:13 PM on June 23, 2005


bug, that depends on whether their religion exhorts/requires/etc them to spread the good word regarding that text as truth, or god's word, or sacred, etc, or not. I don't see why anyone would want a devout practitioner of one faith to be objectively teaching the essential text of that very faith as literature (which is really calling it "fiction" you know--especially to highschoolers--literature to them (and to most) is "stories", as opposed to history or biography), which is not how it's supposed to be seen or presented as, nor is it how they see it-- if they're truly devout. It's something that would be denying a tenet of their faith, i believe. I'm not from a proselytizing faith, but i know that one of the tenets of Christianity is to spread it (i don't know how important that is tho).

I think that's one reason why this kind of study is not suited to public high schools. As others mentioned above, politics are involved in all the decisions--to teach it, how to present it, who will teach it, the legal ramifications of teaching it alone, the seeming endorsement of one faith over another by offering it and not classes on other religious texts, etc...
posted by amberglow at 9:34 PM on June 23, 2005


For instance, this from ReligiousTolerance.orglists various methods used to interpret the Bible. (literally, as a historical document, as midrash, as folklore, etc). Wouldn't a class on the Bible "as literature" have to go with folklore? Doesn't that conflict strongly with the teacher's strong religious beliefs and cheapen the essential text of his faith? And don't the quotes from students in that article tell you that it's actually not being taught as folklore?
posted by amberglow at 9:44 PM on June 23, 2005


Critical thinking is not just closely reading one text in isolation--it's about learning how to see things--both in context of their eras and in themselves. It's about questioning why.

I engaged a bit of critical thinking in reading your posts, and I literally have no idea of your personal context. As for the literature, I would submit that phrasing, meter, and the use of language in the texts themselves have all the necessary elements to light up the cerebral cortex like Christmas at the Griswold's. This goes for Psalms, which contains some incredibly rich and beautiful passages, as well as other works of seemingly unknown origins, such as the Iliad.

But maybe this isn't what you meant by 'critical thinking'. If you mean that, by allowing the study of a piece of literature in our schools, we will set the fascism machine in motion and that will somehow result in a police state, I'd like to note that that line of reasoning sounds remarkably like an antithetical version of the grounds some have used to ban salinger, twain and others.

and klangklangston, maybe you're a little new around here, but while phrases like AS OPPOSED TO SCRIPTURE, YOU FUCKING MORON are funny to the rest of us (you didn't mean that to be funny, did you?), it won't make you friends nor solidify your points. We prefer our arguments polite, snarky and only a slight bit irreverent (in this case, pun intended); otherwise it's best to leave it alone.
posted by jazzkat11 at 9:24 AM on June 24, 2005


I don't see why anyone would want a devout practitioner of one faith to be objectively teaching the essential text of that very faith as literature...which is not how it's supposed to be seen or presented as, nor is it how they see it-- if they're truly devout. It's something that would be denying a tenet of their faith, i believe.

Not everyone who identifies as a christian is a literalist. Do you think all jews are creationists? Yet they read the torah, well, almost religiously!

The difficulty I have with your attitude is just that you seem afraid of the bible. It's just a book. No one is going to get accidentally christianized by it. Many of these kids are probably already christian to some extent, and others among them may become christian at some point, but there will also be those who leave christianity, and those who never find it, and I really don't think whether or not they take a class in biblical literature will have much to do with it. They'll get exposed to the bible at some point, by some one, and it'll be up to them to be christian or not. (And if they do become christian, it'll again be up to them how that affects their political and personal stances. You're assuming that everyone who's christian is a right wing fundamentalist, but that's just not true. Clinton, Carter & Kennedy were all christians, to start with...)

But anyway, the point is, it's a relevant part of our culture & heritage, and reading it doesn't make you christian. If the teacher is pushing certain interpretations or beliefs, that's problematic. But without such claims, the material itself, as literature, should not be at issue.
posted by mdn at 10:51 AM on June 24, 2005


I don't see why anyone would want a devout practitioner of one faith to be objectively teaching the essential text of that very faith as literature...It's something that would be denying a tenet of their faith, i believe.

Christian public school teachers can keep a lid on proselytizing, regardless of what subject they teach:
* The Christian teacher of first grade doesn't say "It's OK, Jesus loves you" to the kid that people tease.
* The Christian teacher of sex ed doesn't say "God says you should be abstinent, and if you have premarital sex, it's a sin."
* The Christian teacher of Chemistry doesn't say "Carbon dating is wholly unreliable and useless for determining the age of anything."
* The Christian teacher of the theory of evolution may say that Evolution is a theory, but much like non-Christian teachers, they can tell students to believe what they want to believe about how the world came to be, but the test at the end of the week will be about the theory of evolution...
* The Christian teacher of English doesn't proselytize when a student asks her or him for the etymology of "excruciating," "zounds" "gadzooks," etc. Just like a Muslim Spanish teacher wouldn't proselytize when someone asks them why "Ojala que..." means "I hope that..."

And don't the quotes from students in that article tell you that it's actually not being taught as folklore?

The quotes, from 2 or 3 students, say nothing about how the class is being taught. IIRC, one of the students says he made a personal faith decision after reading the Bible in class. The teacher wasn't leading them to Christ. On the contrary, not a single quote in the article says anything remotely like "Mr. Twal told me Jesus would give me eternal life through his death on the cross, if only I would believe that he died for me and then repent of all sinful behavior."

The class has been going on for three years, and hundreds of students have studied under Mr. Twal. If he were proselytizing, don't you think we'd know that by now?
posted by bugmuncher at 8:56 AM on June 25, 2005


I don't see why anyone would want a devout practitioner of one faith to be objectively teaching the essential text of that very faith as literature...It's something that would be denying a tenet of their faith, i believe.

Christian public school teachers can keep a lid on proselytizing, regardless of what subject they teach:
* The Christian teacher of first grade doesn't say "It's OK, Jesus loves you" to the kid that people tease.
* The Christian teacher of sex ed doesn't say "God says you should be abstinent, and if you have premarital sex, it's a sin."
* The Christian teacher of Chemistry doesn't say "Carbon dating is wholly unreliable and useless for determining the age of anything."
* The Christian teacher of the theory of evolution may say that Evolution is a theory, but much like non-Christian teachers, they can tell students to believe what they want to believe about how the world came to be, but the test at the end of the week will be about the theory of evolution...
* The Christian teacher of English doesn't proselytize when a student asks her or him for the etymology of "excruciating," "zounds" "gadzooks," etc. Just like a Muslim Spanish teacher wouldn't proselytize when someone asks them why "Ojala que..." means "I hope that..."

And don't the quotes from students in that article tell you that it's actually not being taught as folklore?

The quotes, from 2 or 3 students, say nothing about how the class is being taught. IIRC, one of the students says he made a personal faith decision after reading the Bible in class. The teacher wasn't leading them to Christ. On the contrary, not a single quote in the article says anything remotely like "Mr. Twal told me Jesus would give me eternal life through his death on the cross, if only I would believe that he died for me and then repent of all sinful behavior."

The class has been going on for three years, and hundreds of students have studied under Mr. Twal. If he were proselytizing, don't you think we'd know that by now?
posted by bugmuncher at 8:58 AM on June 25, 2005


Why would we know? The Christian kids taking that class don't mind. That doesn't make it right. I'd like to see how the Jewish and Muslim and Hindu and athiest kids, if any have taken that class, felt.

mdn: I'm not afraid of the Bible, and i don't paint all Christians as fundamentalists nor as literalists. Nor have i ever said that. (and jazzkat, i've made my personal feelings clear, and have not said anything about "police states").

I'm claiming that this teacher is not teaching it as literature, based on the syllabus and student statements. Nor do i think that it will "Christianize" anyone--what this class is doing is giving Christians a place to study the Bible in our public schools, while not doing that for other faiths, and that's entirely wrong (it would be wrong for any faith who did it--it's also a loudly and oft-stated intent of many many public Christians. It is priviledging Christianity by giving it a special place in the curriculum, which is not what public schools are for. You don't see Muslim parents asking for Koran as literature classes or us Jews asking for Torah as literature classes--we realize that the public schools are not the place for it--why don't you? For ages, parents who wanted their children to read the bible in school put their kids in Parochial or Christian or Jewish day schools--that's where this class should be.

It's very surprising and disappointing that a syllabus featuring "reflections on proverbs" and mock trials of Bible figures is seen by you as teaching the Bible "as literature"--it's not--clearly not.
posted by amberglow at 9:41 AM on June 25, 2005


papakwanz - the Canadian authority (they handle ours now) are all upfront about making them up from scratch. I was looking at their website, though, as it seems you have to do some community service or something to request one. I guess I wasted four years on that BA.
posted by jb at 11:48 PM on June 25, 2005


I'm claiming that this teacher is not teaching it as literature, based on the syllabus and student statements. Nor do i think that it will "Christianize" anyone--what this class is doing is giving Christians a place to study the Bible in our public schools...It is priviledging Christianity by giving it a special place in the curriculum,

It's very surprising and disappointing that a syllabus featuring "reflections on proverbs" and mock trials of Bible figures is seen by you as teaching the Bible "as literature"--it's not--clearly not.


okay, that's a much more convincing point. So, we could agree that an actual "bible as literature" course would be beneficial, but your argument is that a)this particular class is simply a bible-study group with fancy nomenclature and b)it would be difficult to establish standards that would keep such classes from happening.

I will agree that "reflections on proverbs" seems like a pretty non-rigorous approach to the text. I only looked at a couple of the pdf's for the syllabus, but I was surprised not to see more focus on the stories which are most strongly symbolic, such as the garden of eden or the story of job... What makes the bible literature is how much symbolism and human expression there is in these myths, and that's why they're reflected by so many later writers. It's not that the words of the bible itself are particularly worthwhile. So if this class is really more like "the bible as poetry", where we can talk about how pretty the words of the bible are, then I do see your point.

I am probably projecting my own bible-as-literature experience onto this. In my class, I was openly (though casually) atheistic and very involved, and I learned a great deal; there were a couple christians who were uncomfortable with how we broke down and analyzed the text (although most christians were capable of taking a rigorous approach without losing their faith). But I should probably not assume every class would work the same way.
posted by mdn at 4:38 AM on June 26, 2005


and c) it would be better off being just a segment integrated into regular english/lit classes, or as part of comparative religion classes.
or d) Best still--and my first choice--leave it for college--which is where most students delve more deeply into things and colleges don't, by law, have to serve the entire population, etc, and do as my and others highschool teachers did--explain the references and move on. Just like when they explained some weird Mark Twain phrase, or the symbolism in Hawthorne, etc.

I urge all of you to really read that syllabus and see whether it's actually "bible as literature" at all.
posted by amberglow at 9:13 AM on June 26, 2005


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