Many Texas public school districts continue to teach Bible courses with “blatant religious bias” and sometimes even discredited urban Bible myths, according to a report released Wednesday afternoon by the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund.
This is despite legislation passed in 2007 requiring the State Board of Education to set “academically and legally sound” course guidelines and require training for all K-12 religious course teachers. Now the group wants lawmakers to spend more money on training public school teachers who lead classes on the Bible.
The report, written by Southern Methodist University religious studies professor Mark Chancey, found that little has changed since TFN’s initial report on Bible courses in 2006. Wednesday’s report showed that Bible courses are still biased toward conservative Protestant beliefs; Judaism is treated as the antithesis of Christianity; science and historical context are either skewed or disregarded altogether; and most districts continue to ignore course guidelines set by the state.
“If the Bible and the study of the Bible isn’t getting the respect it deserves, and the faith of our students isn’t getting the respect it deserves … this instruction should be taking place in congregations and at home, and not in our public schools,” said TFN Education Fund President Kathy Miller. “If the public schools continue to pursue this sort of very questionable teaching about the Bible, I think that they’re putting themselves in legal jeopardy.”
In response to the 2007 law, the SBOE began requiring all Bible courses to maintain “religious neutrality” and accommodate “the diverse religious views, traditions, and perspectives of students.” Under the guidelines, courses cannot “endorse, favor, or promote, or disfavor or show hostility toward, any particular religion or nonreligious faith or religious perspective.”
But some current course curricula, which Chancey obtained through public information requests, are hardly neutral.
One slide from an Ector County ISD high school presentation reads, “Sad to say mainstream anti-God media do not portray these true facts in the light of faith/But prefer to sceptically [sic] doubt such archaeological proofs of the veracity & historicity of the Biblical account, one of the most accurate history books in the world[.]”
Another district was a prime example of the “pseudoscience” Chancey found is often taught in Bible courses: Amarillo ISD course materials use modern racial and national vocabulary to identify the three ancient tribes descended from Noah, promoting undertones of racist ideology. Students learn from a chart that “‘Western Europeans’ and ‘Caucasians’ descend from Japheth, ‘African races’ and Canaanites from Ham, and ‘Jews, Semitic people, and Oriental races’ from Shem.”
Chancey reported that 11 of the school districts he looked at offered Bible courses that mostly complied with legal and constitutional requirements. “Some courses do manage to incorporate higher levels of academic expectation,” he writes. Some courses asked students to use their analytical prowess to compare stories from different theologies.
“I think that some of the problems we document are probably there with completely innocent teachers who are simply doing the best they can with limited resources,” Chancey said. But there are some districts, he said, “where this material is taught with a wink. And they are intentional in teaching it from their religious perspective and feel no guilt or reservations about that at all,” he said.
Apart from the blatant disregard for the religious nuetrality mandate, Miller said the prevalence of such outdated and false curricula is due to the lack of funding appropriated for teacher training and course development when the bill was first passed. As a result, she said, the SBOE ignored “the legislative intent in that bill and did not adopt specific curriculum standards, instead adopting very vague guidelines for these courses.”
Texas Education Agency spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson told the Dallas Morning News that the state has developed a Bible course in keeping with the law, which is being reviewed now.
Miller said they’re hoping to address the problem by building pressure and “by calling on the Legislature to appropriate funds … to give teachers the proper training for these courses.”