|Back to Jan. Ed Reporter|
|NUMBER 240||THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS||JANUARY 2006|
|Alabama's Controversial Bible Literacy Bill|
Critics cite that current Alabama policy provides for Bible literacy course offerings, rendering HB 58 unnecessary. Other problems also include: bypassing local and state board approval for public school curriculum, the absence of a proper review for the specified textbook, and legislating use of a vendor's product.
Nationally, those who value the importance of the Bible are concerned about the questionable manner in which Biblical passages are used by The Bible and Its Influence, including undermining Biblical truth and authority.
Introduced by Alabama House Majority Leader Ken Guin and Speaker Seth Hammett, HB 58 states in part: "A Bill To Be Entitled An Act Relating to public education; authorizing local boards of education to offer in public high schools Grades 9 to 12, inclusive, a course entitled 'The Bible and Its Influence'; and to specify the course textbook."
Edited by Cullen Schippe and Chuck Stetson, The Bible and Its Influence was published by The Bible Literacy Project (BLP). The Virginia-based non-profit group spent five years and two million dollars on the project. The textbook was released in late September 2005.
The American Family Association (AFA) agrees. "While we enthusiastically endorse the teaching of the Bible as part of a well-rounded education, this bill goes too far by attempting to force local school districts to use only one, untested textbook," commented Stephen Crampton, Chief Counsel for the AFA Center for Law & Policy. "It usurps the authority of the State Board of Education, which is vested with exclusive authority to review and approve textbooks for use in the public schools of Alabama." (AFA, 12-9-2005)
The Alabama Code contains a legal requirement for bids for the statewide textbook contracts. HB 58 conflicts with the state codes (Section 16-36-60, Section 16-36-61, Section 16-36-62) - because it legislates a specific vendor's product.
AFA Counsel Stephen Crampton commented, "This bill, if passed into law, would invite a legal challenge based on its plain violation of existing statutes." (AFA, 12-9-2005)
The NCBCPS course has been used nationally for over ten years. At present, 320 school districts (1,150 high schools) in 37 states use the NCBCPS curriculum.
Concern also exists whether HB 58 could force schools to change the existing Bible literacy curriculum.
"The textbook specified by HB 58 has not been through the review process. This is highly unusual and unprecedented," explains Betty Peters.
The absence of a teacher manual is also a concern to Peters who cites the need to review teacher versions that contain "vital information not available in the student text which should be considered in choosing the overall curriculum."
As in Alabama, Texas detractors preferred to support local decision making instead of mandating one book from the state level.
Contributing to the Texas SBOE refusal to support the program was BLP's failure to provide complete course materials for review during the two years of soliciting for endorsement. BLP's submission of draft copies for three chapters was deemed insufficient for the SBOE to make an informed decision about the course.
In a 4-2 decision on Dec. 20, the Ector County Independent School District school board (Odessa, Texas) rejected the Bible Literacy Project choosing instead to adopt the course from the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools. (Odessa American, 12-21-2005)
Christian scholar Berit Kjos identified numerous problems with the BLP book. She observes: "Much of the Bible is reduced to notions (a much-repeated word in The Bible and Its Influence) subject to subjective preferences, which can be manipulated by trained facilitators."
Kjos also asserts that the BLP text "Prompts students to question God's sovereignty, wisdom and justice."
An example from page 38 of The Bible and Its Influence: "Do you think Adam and Eve received a fair deal as described in Genesis? . . . Most Jewish readings of this chapter reject the idea of a permanent, inherited spiritual disability stemming from the actions of Adam and Eve. . . . Eve did not know good from evil, how could God blame them for disobeying?" (See excerpts from the BLP text)
Scholar and historian Dennis Cuddy, Ph.D, cites statements from The Bible and Its Influence that "raise some serious questions" about BLP's intentions "to encourage and facilitate the academic study of the Bible in public schools."
Cuddy points out: "For example, it states that most Christians and Jews don't read Genesis as a literal account of God's creation of the world, and asks students to 'look up some examples of other ancient literature and mythology of the origins of the world.' Because of the word, 'other,' one could get the impression that Genesis is mythology."
Cuddy also notes: "The curriculum at its core advocated the development of 'a common vision for the common good.' These are terms commonly used by communitarians, who believe individual needs and rights should be de-emphasized or balanced against the interests of the community or society as a whole. . . ." (Christian Wire Service, 11-11-2005)
To inculcate students with the communitarian concept of "common good" brings up an important concern: Who is defining what the common good is?
With an extensive list of problems surrounding Alabama's HB 58 including violation of state policies and the promotion of an untested product that has attracted public criticism critics wonder if there are any public benefits to this bill.