While many hold to the misconception that teaching the Bible in public schools contradicts the separation of church and state, a 2007 Time magazine article gave a resounding endorsement for public schools to offer Bible courses. As someone who took several courses in the Bible program of Cabarrus County Schools in North Carolina, I can certainly attest to the benefits of the class in helping me to realize the importance of taking my education more seriously, while also preparing me for the rigors of college.
Many oppose the offering of Bible courses in public schools because they do not understand that it is not taught for devotional or religious purposes, but rather to enhance knowledge about the book that is without a doubt the cornerstone of Western culture. I for one am grateful that the Supreme Court has ruled that the Bible is worthy of study for its literary qualities. The Bible courses I took at Concord High School challenged my thinking more than any other classes I took. I am convinced that without taking those courses, I would never have cared enough to pursue higher education, much less been readily equipped with the critical thinking skills that I would need to excel as a student at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
When I first signed up for the Bible class at Concord High School in North Carolina, I did so under the impression that it would be a breeze as the class would simply require me to memorize things I already knew like the 10 commandments and singing kumbaya. Much to my at first unpleasant surprise, I found myself having signed up for the most rigorous course I would take prior to entering college. Indeed, teacher Lane Stallings made the three Bible courses I took more difficult and challenging than many of my college classes would turn out to be.
If you’re thinking that Bible courses are irrelevant because they only attract evangelical Christian students, then you may be surprised to know that there are many atheists and students of other religions who sign up for the courses. In fact, even Ivy League University professors strongly recommend that students regardless of their religious background should come to college with an ability to demonstrate strong Biblical literacy skills.
Professor George P. Landow of Brown University explains, “[Without the Bible] it’s like using a dictionary with one-third of the words removed.” Professor Ulrich Knoepflmacher gives his resounding endorsement, “The lack of Bible knowledge is almost crippling in students’ ability to be sophisticated readers.”
Although many Americans identify themselves as Christians who believe in the Bible as either the actual or inspired word of God, a 2009 survey revealed that Biblical literacy is slipping among Americans. In an age when megachurch entertainment takes precedent over a genuine expository study of the scriptures as preachers have become life coaches instead of Bible teachers, I am saddened to admit that many of the “pew potatoes” that sit in church every Sunday know very little about the Bible, and its worthiness of study as a significantly historical and literary document.
On the contrary, Bible classes that are being offered at nearly 500 public school districts across 37 states are enhancing the knowledge of scripture among believers and nonbelievers alike. Given my own experiences of having encountered much Biblical illiteracy from both Christians and non-Christians, perhaps we should take it a step further and require some Bible courses as a prerequisite for high school graduation. If the teachers of those classes are as wonderful as mine was, then I’m certain that all students regardless of their beliefs or lack thereof will find it quite worthwhile.