Bible Classes at Williston High School : LUSENET : TriCounty Talk FORUM : One Thread

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-- Duane Schwingel (, January 25, 2000


Williston High School Principal, Bob Hastings, will be my guest on the radio Sunday at 2 pm on WLQH 940 AM.

I was invited to sit in on the Bible Class this week, and found it to be quite an experience.

Here is the text of the "complaint" which "People For The American Way" have lodged against the school:

The school district teaches the "Bible History" courses at Williston High School.

According to the materials produced, the only "textbook" for the "Old Testament History" course is the Bible, with a directive that "students will bring one from home." This of course assumes that each student has a Bible. Moreover, Williston High School informed us that for both the "Old and New Testament History classes...students may use biblical translations of their choice as long as it is from an original King James Translation." Memorandum from Williston High School to People For the American Way Foundation, Sept 17, 1999 (emphasis added). The King James version of the Bible is a Protestant Bible; the school district's requirement appears to prohibit the use of Bibles recognized by other religions, such as the Catholic Bible, which contains 73 books as compared with the 66 books of the King James Version. Moreover, the prohibition on the use of other versions indicates that the courses are not approached academically or objectively but from a single sectarian perspective. Also, given the directive that the students bring a Bible "from home," it appears that the school district assumes that everyone taking the course not only has a Bible at home, but is Protestant.

The sole stated objective of the "Old Testament" course is: "Students will understand basic historical facts of the Old Testament." (emphasis added). Each of the eighteen weeks of the course is devoted to a study of specific books of the "Old Testament." Given these materials, it appears that the Bible is impermissibly used as a history textbook in this course, and from a Christian perspective. The lesson plans reveal very little in the way of student assignments, although the lessons for Leviticus 18 and Leviticus 19 state: "list 15 sexual sins" and "list 15 misc. sins," respectively.

The exams and written lessons confirm that the classes are courses in Bible content from a Christian perspective. For example, the story of Adam and Eve is described as the "Fall of Man," a Christian interpretation of Genesis 3. The Ten Commandments, which are arranged differently by Christians and Jews, are presented here in the Christian version. The Protestant perspective of the courses, evidenced by the required use of Bibles based on the King James Translation, is underscored by such exam questions as: "How many books are there in the Bible? a. 44, b. 666, c. 84, d. 66." (As noted above, the Protestant Bible contains 66 books, the Catholic Bible seven more.)

The religious rather than objective perspective of the classes is evident also in such exam questions as: "Who wrote the pentateuch? A. Jacob. B. Moses. C. Joshua. D. Abraham." Some religious faiths believe as a matter of tradition that Moses was the author of the first five books of the Bible. However, in an objective and secular course, students would be taught that the author or authors of these books are unknown. They would learn about scholarly theories of authorship, such as the J,E,P,D theory. While they could also be taught that some would not, in an objective and secular course, be asked an exam question in this form."

The Bible also appears to be taught as an historical record, with biblical stories referred to as "events." One exam on Genesis, for example, requires students to "number the following events in the order that they occurred," and then lists, among other things, "God created man. Cain killed Abel." A Bible History: Matthew Test" contains such questions as: "When the angel told Joseph that Mary, his espoused wife, was going to have a baby, he was: a. extremely happy, b. very concerned for her and her reputation, c. concerned for his own reputation, d. probably both b and c."

The Bible is also used as a basis for religious lessons and faith formation. For example, a lesson on Rebekah states: "Lessons From Her Life: 1. God's Word must guide our actions. 2. God even makes use of our mistakes in his plan. 3. Parental favoritism hurts a family." A commentary concerning "Achan's Sin" (part of the "study guide" for Joshua) states: "God is not content with our doing what is right some of the time. He wants us to do what is right all the time. We are under his orders to eliminate any thougts, practices, or possessions that hinder our devotion to him." A lesson concerning I Samuel states: "in the midst of reading all the history and adventure, determine to run your race as God's person from start to finish."

Similarly, during the "New Testament" semester, students are given a list of "Vices and Virtues" along with the citation to various biblical verses and directed to identify the vice or virtue "mentioned" in those "scriptures." ("Vices" include: "sexual immorality, impurity, lust, ...wild living, cheating, adultery, [and] homosexuality..." "Virtues" include: "love, joy, peace, ...[and] faithfulness...") A lesson entitled "New Testament Introduction" contains this fill-in-the-blank statement: "No other text book answers to many __________ about how to live life successfully." New Testament exams frequently use the first person plural in reference to lessons to be drawn from the Bible, e.g., "What reason does Jesus give for why we should not judge others?" What attitude did Jesus say we should have instead of wanting revenge?" Apart from using the New Testament as a foundation for Christian faith formation and life lessons, such language assumes that the teacher and all of the students are Christians. That assumption is also evident in a New Testament lesson on John 8, which says: "Who, according to Jesus, is the father of the Jews? The devil." And the teacher asks the following in connection with I Corinthians, Chapter 2: "Why is it hard for a non-Christian to understand things about God?"

Sunday-school type tasks are also used in the course. For example, one lesson requires students to give the correct order of the 27 books of the New Testament. Exams ask students to identify, by specific biblical book, the source of specified quotes. And crossword puzzles with such titles as "The Genealogy of Jesus" are used to drill students in Bible content.

-- Duane Schwingel (, January 28, 2000.

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