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August 21, 2005

Why it's a Great Idea to Teach Religion in the Classroom and Why it Won't Work

The Alabama Educational Association has distributed 50,000 copies of two booklets to teachers around the state. The Bible and Public Schools and A Teacher's Guide to Religion in Public Schools. AEA spokesman, David Stout, said the goal was to dispel the notion that the "Bible and prayer aren't allowed in public schools." The guides themselves are harmless, if not actually positive. The problem is how this action is already being interpreted by many Alabamians.

Already the local news outlets have begun celebrating the fact that it is actually OK to teach the Bible and religion in public schools. And it's true that the law, as explained in the two guides, does not forbid teaching school kids about religion. Teachers are not allowed to advocate any particular religious system. The teaching must be "fair and balanced," and taught by someone with "the academic background necessary for an objective and scholarly discussion." What's going to happen when Jr. finds out that an objective and scholarly understanding of religion looks nothing like what he's been spoon feed in Sunday school?

The Bible in Public Schools deals with the issue of which Bible to teach. Unfortunately it concludes that some trimmed down version which would contain an aspect of all the different versions is preferable. It seems it would be better to emphasize that there are a lot of different Bibles with a lot of different interpretations. Teachers could go on to explain the difficulties of translating ancient text into modern language. Furthermore the children could learn that different societies and cultures have always used various holy books to justify their cultural norms. Then they may realize that our society is only one of many and, like all others, is in a state of flux.

Children could be shown that religions come and go. They could be taught the difference between revealed truth and evidence. In an ideal world Christianity would take it's rightful place beside Native American religions and be consigned to museums where college kids would dress up like Christians and reenact their ceremonies.

But that's not going to happen. What's going to happen in a bunch of Fundamentalists are going to try to confuse their dogma with science and history. They'll do it by telling lies and then all the sane people will remember why religion has been so taboo in the schools for the past 40 years.