Tuesday August 02nd 2005, 10:34 am
Filed under: Schools
Odessa, TX, is a town famous both for its black-gold wealth and for being the real-life setting of football book (and movie) “Friday Night Lights.” It may soon be just as famous for being the town that teaches the Bible in its public, football-mad high schools.
The Odessa school board recently voted to offer a new elective to high school students: A class on the Bible. Out on the caprock, it’s a matter of course that Sunday (the second-holiest day of the week, after Friday) is for church-going, so there wasn’t much controversy when the board made its decision.
But the school year nears. Odessa has yet to decide on which curriculum to use, although one stands out.
The leader in the Bible curriculum market is the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools. In addition to writing the Bible textbook, the council also lobbies for such classes around the country. Their website (www.bibleinschools.net) boasts that the curriculum has been voted into 312 schools in 37 states. (Mind you — “boasts” is maybe too mild of a word. “Trumpets” is more like it. There is, after all, a musical fanfare involved.)
Put church and state issues aside for a second.
This is troublesome. Not because the Council’s curriculum deals with the Bible, but because it only deals with the Bible. It may come as a surprise to many Odessans, but there are other religious texts in the world.
It’s also problematic because the curriculum being sold to schools nationwide was created by a lone, politically motivated organization.
Are there any other current examples of public school curriculum written and sold by a organizations whose sole motivation is political or corporate/financial gain? Does Pfizer have a monopoly on health textbooks? Has Amazon.com cornered the market on American lit classes? Should they?
The New York Times delves deeper into the Odessa issue. One parent, a local English professor, has read the Council’s curriculum. He finds it too sectarian.
“Someone is being disingenuous; I’d like to know who,” said the parent, David Newman, an associate professor of English at Odessa College who has made a page-by-page analysis of the 270-page syllabus and sent e-mail messages to nearly all 1,034 school districts in Texas.
In the latest salvo, the Texas Freedom Network, an advocacy group for religious freedom, has called a news conference for Monday to release a study that finds the national council’s course to be “an error-riddled Bible curriculum that attempts to persuade students and teachers to adopt views that are held primarily within conservative Protestant circles.”
The Texas Freedom Network, which commissioned its study after the vote in Odessa, is sharp in its criticism. “As many as 52 Texas public school districts and 1,000 high schools across the country are using an aggressively marketed, blatantly sectarian Bible curriculum that interferes with the freedom of all families to pass on their own religious values to their children,” it said.
In one teaching unit, students are told, “Throughout most of the last 2,000 years, the majority of men living in the Western world have accepted the statements of the Scriptures as genuine.” The words are taken from the Web site of Grant R. Jeffrey Ministries’ Prophecy on Line.
The national council’s efforts are endorsed by the Center for Reclaiming America, Phyllis Schlafly’s group the Eagle Forum, Concerned Women for America and the Family Research Council, among others.