Monday, March 27, 2006

Children, Open Your Bibles . . .

The state of Georgia is on the verge of passing a law requiring that schools develop a curriculum to teach the Bible in elective classes, using the "good book" itself as the text. On the surface, it seems like not a bad idea: teach the Bible as an academic subject, not an object of worship, discussing its origins, interpretations, and influence on the world. Heck, one of the most interesting classes I took in college was an Old Testament class. But is that how it will really work? Maybe not:

The trouble is that for the classes to be thoughtful, intellectually rigorous, and educationally valuable, they'd have to deal with lots of things that many students (and others) might find quite troubling. If you teach the Merchant of Venice as literature, you probably ought to discuss criticisms of the moral view that the Merchant of Venice seems to express. If you teach classic-era histories (e.g., Livy) in a class on Roman history, you certainly ought to discuss whether the historians are reliable, and whether they might be repeating myth as truth. If you teach historical legal systems in a class on ancient law and culture, you need to discuss ways in which those legal systems may have been unjust by today's standards, or inconsistent even by their own standards.

Are Georgia voters and legislators prepared to have Georgia high school teachers raise these hard questions about the Bible? If so, great. But if the hope is that the teachers will teach the Bible without the same willingness to critique the work -- and to encourage students to think critically about the work -- that we'd expect in serious classes on other works, then that would be a pretty bad step for the Georgia school system to take: It would suggest that the school system is just trying to reinforce students' existing beliefs, rather than teaching them to analyze historical sources carefully and thoughtfully.

In other words, will the right-wing pols who support getting the Bible back in schools be quiet if the text is taught critically, rather than in a praiseworthy way? I agree with Prof. Volokh and don't expect they'd be too happy about that.

1 comment:

Dima said...

Whatever, they're still all going to bloody hell!