Monday, June 29, 2009

Charter Schools and the Bible

An AP report today about the Nampa Classical Academy has shined a blaring light on a major philosophical divide in our society. On one side, the pro-Separation of Church and State crowd is essentially saying that anything that even remotely smells of religion should stay out of public schools. They point to the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and the so-called Establishment Clause as their primary argument. On the other side, the pro-Bible crowd extols the Judeo Christian origins of our society and their immediate relevancy on understanding contemporary western philosophy. Whatsmore, the proliferation of charter schools flows as a secondary undercurrent to this heated debate.

Perhaps predictably, I find myself somewhere in the middle. I certainly disagree that First Amendment was intended to spawn the sort of anti-religious overtures that it has become synonymous with. I also don't believe that the State should be in the primary role of informing our spiritual needs. Instead, I believe that understanding religion in our society is critical, but I believe it should be a cognitive understanding not a spiritual or moralistic one. In my view, the latter should be kept in our houses of worship and out of the public education system.

In terms of the public charter school debate, I tend to believe that charter schools are a double edged sword. They can, and have proven to fill a very real need. The problem comes when, in the competitive process, they over-compete and subsequently hurt the traditional public school to the point where the traditional public school can no longer serve its core mission. In this particular case, a strong argument could be made that in the charter application process the school should been more forthright about its intentions to utilize the Bible. Not doing so has been a disservice to all involved.

Ultimately, I don't believe that there is a problem using the Bible in addition to other texts for the study of literature or history. I for one read the Bible (the Book of Genesis specifically) in my senior year English course at Boise High School. Surely there is a lot to be learned by understanding the belief systems that have had a significant impact on the development of western thought. In fact, I would argue not understanding these belief systems puts any scholar, student, or citizen at a strategic disadvantage. That said, I don't think that the Bible, by itself, should be the subject of an entire class in the public education system, whether it be at a traditional or charter school. The debate will continue and hopefully everyone will be quick to listen and slow to speak.

3 comments:

Idaho District 19 said...

If schools offered a truly objective "comparative religion" class that could be very useful. But that sort of class is difficult to teach objectively,especially in communities where critical analysis of the favored local religion(s) is frowned upon. Also, separate of church and state benefits the religion as much or more than the government. Government involvement in religion is a two edged sword and an easily lead to interference with the religion(s) it initially supports. So keep them separate!

Isaac said...

There has been considerable discussion recently in the media over the Academy’s use of the Bible as part of our instructional curriculum. As founder of Nampa Classical Academy, I will address to the constitutionality of the use of the bible in public schools.

First however, it is the media’s job to report the news, not create it. The fact that a public school uses the bible is not news. There are many public schools that currently, and have done so for years, use the bible in one form or another. Even the Nampa School District uses scripture in their 6th grade social studies text book in regards to the ancient Hebrews and the early Christians.

NCA is and has always been open to parents in regards to the use of the Bible, 1 of 35 sources in its 9th grade Humane Letters curriculum. There are those who use the Idaho Public Charter School Commission Chairman’s statement that the use for the bible did not come up during our hearing. This fact is correct but what has not been reported was that none of titles in our curriculum was discussed as it is not the purpose of the Commission to approve any charter school choice of curriculum material. Their job is to approve high quality charter petitions which they correctly have done. Our overall program is outlined in our charter which they Commission reviewed.

In regards to the constitutionality of the use of the bible in public schools, I would remind those who oppose the use of the bible that our nation is governed by law and not the whims of the populist. Case law, not the media or public opinion, has already determined the use of the bible in public schools to be constitutional. The bible may be used in public school curricula as a historical or literary learning tool. This type of study does not violate the Establishment Clause: "[T]he Bible may constitutionally be used in an appropriate study of history, civilization, ethics, comparative religion, or the like." Stone v. Graham, 449 U.S. 39, 42 (1980) (citing Abington Sch. Dist. of Abington Township v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203, 225 (1963)). Under Stone and Schempp, a historical study of the Biblical foundations of American traditions, e.g., recognition of the Christmas holiday, are constitutionally permissible. These studies are not only permissible, but because, "[t]he history of man is inseparable from the history of religion," Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421, 434 (1962), a child's education is incomplete unless it includes a study of "the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization." Abington, 374 U.S. at 225.

Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education has issued guidelines addressing religious expression that reaffirm the Supreme Court's pronouncements in Stone and Schempp. Specifically, the guidelines provide that "[p]ublic schools may teach about religion, including the Bible or other scripture: the history of religion, comparative religion, the Bible (or other scripture)-as-literature . . . all are permissible public school subjects. Similarly, it is permissible to consider religious influences on art, music, literature, and social studies." United States Dept. of Educ. Guidelines, Richard W. Riley, Secretary of Educ. at 4.

If any of the media outlets is truly interested in truth, they may want to report the news. Public schools can and do use the bible in the classroom and have the protection of the rule of law through the highest court in the land.

Anonymous said...

Schools should teach and churches can preach.
If I believed that children could trust adults to give them information to learn various civilization traits, I would possibly consider the use of religious books in the curriculum.
But based on the data to date it is showing adults are using Bibles specifically as a tool to reinforce a personal dogma.
That is not teaching, that is brainwashing.