Protecting Religious Freedom
As a national debate rages over the proper place for religion in public education, more and more public schools are adding elective courses in Bible literacy. When taught with credible materials and from a nonsectarian perspective, such courses are an appropriate and even laudable way to help students learn about history and literature. This report, commissioned by the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, reveals that what may be the country’s most aggressively marketed and widely used Bible curriculum fails on both counts.
Dr. Mark Chancey, who teaches biblical studies at Southern Methodist University, has authored an in-depth analysis of the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools’ The Bible in History and Literature (Ablu Publishing, 2005). Based in Greensboro, North Carolina, the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools (NCBCPS) claims that 1,000 high schools in 36 states are using its course materials (although the organization will not identify those schools). Dr. Chancey’s report shows how the curriculum advocates a narrow sectarian perspective taught with materials plagued by shoddy research, blatant errors and discredited or poorly cited sources.
A SECTARIAN PERSPECTIVE
Dr. Chancey’s report reveals a curriculum with a clear sectarian bias that begins with the NCBCPS’s founder and its advisers and finds repeated expression in the pages of the textbook.
- NCBCPS founder Elizabeth Ridenour is a member of the Council on National Policy, an organization comprising some of the nation’s most influential leaders from the religious right and other conservative causes.
- The group’s Board of Directors, Advisory Committee, and endorsers make up a virtual “who’s who” of the religious right, including the American Family Association, Concerned Women for America, Eagle Forum, Focus on the Family, WallBuilders and the Texas Justice Foundation. Many of these groups oppose the separation of church and state and assert the primacy of Christianity in this nation’s government and legal system.
- The NCBCPS curriculum goes beyond a study of the Bible as literature or a description of the importance of the Bible for beliefs and practices of religious groups. It, in fact, improperly endorses the Bible as the “Word of God.” It also attempts to persuade teachers and students to adopt views of the Bible that are common in some conservative Protestant circles but rejected by most scholars. While such views are certainly appropriate for individuals or religious groups, public schools should not present them as fact.
- The curriculum almost exclusively reflects views held by certain conservative Protestant groups. The role of the Bible in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christian thought receives little attention.
- The curriculum depicts the United States as a historically Christian nation. It even erroneously implies that historians generally believe that the Bible, even more than the Constitution, is the nation’s “Founding Document” [page 243].
A FLAWED CURRICULUM
Dr. Chancey’s report finds that shoddy research, factual errors, and problems with sourcing material also make the curriculum inappropriate for use in any classroom.
The curriculum contains many passages in which the developers have distorted history and science, including:
- The curriculum cites a “respected scholar” who claims that archaeological evidence “always confirms the facts of the Biblical record” [page 170]. Yet that “respected scholar” claimed elsewhere to have seen Jesus’ school records in India, records from the lost continent of Atlantis and evidence that Egypt’s Great Pyramid of Giza was used to transmit radio messages to the Grand Canyon thousands of years ago.
- The curriculum uses a discredited urban legend that NASA has evidence that two days are missing in time, thus “confirming” a biblical passage about the sun standing still [pages 116-17].
- The curriculum identifies a creation scientist as an expert and recommends materials from his Creation Evidence Museum to explain the origins of life.
The curriculum is full of errors (such as the dates of historical events, the identities of key individuals, and the details of biblical stories), faulty logic, unsubstantiated claims and unclear wording, including:
- The curriculum misstates the length of the ancient Jewish calendar [page 14] and the years of the rule of Herod as king of the Jews [pages 193 and 196].
- The answer key to a quiz [page 87] identifies a pharaoh as “Hyksos.” Hyksos was the name of an Asiatic-Semitic people who once ruled Egypt.
- One passage [page 138] asks students to consider how the use of “simple monosyllabic words” in a passage of Old Testament poetry was typical of the Hebrews. Yet while the words in these passages may be monosyllabic in English translations, they are quite different in Hebrew and Greek. How English syllabification provides insight into the ancient Hebrew mindset is not explained.
The curriculum is shockingly lax when it comes to properly crediting sources inexcusable in any scholarly writing at either the high school or college level. For example, the wording of the sections titled “Pilate” and “Herod,” which constitute pages 195-196 in their entirety, is identical to that of passages from the articles “Pilate, Pontius,” and “Herod the Great” in Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 2001. No source is cited. In fact, a considerable amount of the curriculum’s content Dr. Chancey estimates one-third or more of its pages is reproduced word for word from its sources (both cited and uncited), often for pages at a time, though the curriculum does not note this or indicate that permission has been granted to reproduce these passages.
The problems detailed by this report a blatant sectarian bias, distortions of history and science, numerous factual errors, poor sourcing reveal a curriculum that is clearly inappropriate for the 1,000 public schools the NCBCPS claims use its materials. Indeed, such schools would do far better by considering other Bible literacy curricula for what could be an enriching part of their students’ learning experience.
Full report (.pdf)