Students in Texas' public schools are still learning that the Bible provides scientific evidence that the Earth is 6,000 years old, that astronauts have discovered "a day missing in space in elapsed time" that affirms biblical stories of the sun standing still and moving backwards, and that the United States was founded as a Christian nation based on biblical Christian principles.
As more Texas schools are teaching Bible courses, many still fail to adhere to guidelines outlined in House Bill 1287, passed in 2007 to improve the academic quality of elective Bible courses while protecting the religious freedom of students and families, according to a new report by the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund. The study covered the state's 57 districts and three charter schools offering Bible courses in the 2011-12 academic year.
Among the findings from "Reading, Writing & Religion II: Texas Public School Bible courses in 2011-2010," students are being taught:
- "The Bible is the written word of God… The Bible is united in content because there is no contradictions in the writing [sic]. The reason for this is because the Bible is written under God's direction and inspiration."
- "Giving God his rightful place in the national life of this country has provided a rich heritage for all its citizens."
- "Christ's resurrection was an event that occurred in time and space -- that it was, in reality, historical and not mythological (cf. 2 Pet. 1:16)."
- "Survival of the Jewish nations [sic] is one of the miracles of history and her greatest agony is yet to come."
- "The first time the Lord gathered his people back was after the Babylonian captivity. The second time the Lord will gather his people back will be at the end of the age.
- "Sad to say mainstream anti-God media do not portray these true facts [of Moses and the Red Sea crossing] 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[.]
Students are also reportedly being taught the theology of the "end times" and that they may be living in the last days.
“We knew that this was going to be an argument,” Rob Eissler, the former chair of the state House Public Education Committee, told the Austin American-Statesman. “So the approach we took on the Public Education Committee was to make the Bible study course a real course [and] the [Texas Education Agency] would develop a curriculum for it.”
But a letter from Eissler to the TEA said the curriculum they ultimately developed was too vague and failed to include mention of specific religious texts. The broad standards were therefore weak and could not properly prepare educators for unbiased coursework, the Texas Freedom Network said.
Although some Texas districts do adhere to appropriate and merely academic study of the Bible in their courses, most still continue to ignore the law. Mark Chancey, a professor of religious studies at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, says Texas public schools must take the study of the Bible's influence as rigidly and seriously as they do science or history.
"But the evidence shows that Texas isn't giving the study of the Bible the respect it deserves," Chancey said in a statement last week. "Academically, many of these classes lack rigor and substance, and some seem less interested in cultivating religious literacy than in promoting religious beliefs. Their approach puts their school districts in legal jeopardy and their taxpayers in financial jeopardy.
The Texas State Board of Education in 2010 also adopted a resolution that sought to limit references to Islam in Texas textbooks, claiming that the materials were "tainted" with "pro-Islamic, anti-Christian distortions.
The Texas Freedom Network's findings come as Arkansas state Rep. Denny Altes introduced a bill this month in his home state that would allow the state's public school districts to adopt a similar elective curriculum for pure academic study of the Bible. The course would "consist of a nonsectarian, nonreligious academic study of the Bible and its influence on literature, art, music, culture and politics" and would "be taught in an objective and non devotional manner with no attempt made to indoctrinate students as to either the truth or falsity of the biblical materials or texts from other religions or cultural traditions."
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According to the “Educating Our Children” section of <a href="http://www.scribd.com/doc/98440774/2012-Platform-Final">Texas Republican Party 2012 Platform</a>, “corporal punishment is effective.” Furthermore, the document recommends teachers be given "more authority" to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/27/texas-republican-party-2012-platform-education_n_1632097.html">deal with disciplinary problems</a>.
The proposal’s most radical position, however, <a href="http://www.reddit.com/r/politics/comments/vo26x/texas_gop_we_oppose_the_teaching_of_higher_order/">opposes the teaching of "higher order thinking skills"</a> -- a curriculum which strives to encourage critical thinking -- arguing that it <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/27/texas-republican-party-2012-platform-education_n_1632097.html">might challenge "student's fixed beliefs"</a> and undermine "parental authority."
One school participating in Louisiana's voucher program notes that its students "will be <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/31/louisiana-voucher-program_n_1724259.html">expected to defend creationism through evidence presented by the Bible</a> versus traditional scientific theory."
According to <em>Mother Jones</em>, <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2012/07/photos-evangelical-curricula-louisiana-tax-dollars">many of the Christian schools</a> rely on <a href="http://www.abeka.com/">A Beka Book</a> curriculum or <a href="http://www.bjupress.com/page/Home">Bob Jones University Press</a> textbooks to teach their students “the <a href="http://www.abeka.com/OurFoundation.aspx">accumulated wisdom of the past from a biblical worldview</a>.” Here are some <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/08/crazy-facts-students-will_n_1758003.html">examples</a>:
"Bible-believing Christians cannot accept any evolutionary interpretation. <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2012/07/photos-evangelical-curricula-louisiana-tax-dollars">Dinosaurs and humans were definitely on the earth at the same time</a> and may have even lived side by side within the past few thousand years." — <em>Life Science</em>, 3rd ed., Bob Jones University Press, 2007
Gay people "have no more claims to <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2012/07/photos-evangelical-curricula-louisiana-tax-dollars">special rights than child molesters or rapists</a>." — <em>Teacher's Resource Guide to Current Events for Christian Schools, 1998-1999</em>, Bob Jones University Press, 1998
In April, Tennessee lawmakers added language to the state’s abstinence-only sex education curriculum that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/08/tennessee-sex-education-b_n_1411100.html">warns against “gateway sexual activity.”</a> Although Senate Bill 3310 does not specify what constitutes "gateway sexual activity,” many have interpreted the phrase to dissuade anything that has potential to lead to sex -- including kissing, hand-holding and cuddling. The bill is a response to recent controversies over sex-ed lessons in some Tennessee school districts that mentioned alternatives to sexual intercourse. "'Abstinence' means from all of these activities, and we want to promote that," said Republican state Sen. Jack Johnson, the bill's sponsor. "What we do <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/08/tennessee-sex-education-b_n_1411100.html">want to communicate to the kids is that the best choice is abstinence</a>."
In March, the Utah state Senate passed a bill that would <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/07/utah-passes-bill-allowing_n_1326777.html">permit schools to eliminate sex education</a>, prohibit instruction on how to use contraception and bar discussion of homosexuality in class. Many senators spoke out in support of the bill, claiming sex education is meant for the home, not school. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert eventually <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/17/utah-governor-vetoes-bill_n_1355053.html">vetoed the controversial bill</a>. Spurred on by the impassioned Utah sex education debate, Republican state Sen. Stuart Reid is now sponsoring a bill that would <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/22/utah-senator-stuart-reid-_n_1989793.html?utm_hp_ref=education">require the state school board to develop a sex education program for parents</a>, so that they might feel better equipped to teach their children about sex in the privacy of their own homes.
A 2011 Mississippi law <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/30/mississippi-sex-education_n_1719882.html">required some sort of sex education in all school systems beginning this academic year</a>. Local districts had the option of deciding whether to adopt an abstinence-only or an abstinence-plus policy for sex education. Abstinence-plus teaches safe-sex practices, contraception and causes and effects of sexually transmitted diseases in addition to abstinence. More than <a href="http://www.sacbee.com/2012/10/13/4910033/sex-education-in-mississippi-classrooms.html">80 of the state's 151 districts opted for abstinence-only curriculums</a>, while three chose to adopt split policies, teaching abstinence-only to younger students and abstinence-plus to older grades. Students must receive parental permission to take the courses and boys and girls take the classes separately.
In April, Arizona Republican Gov. Jan Brewer signed legislation requiring the state Board of Education to design a high school elective course for public and charter school students titled "The Bible and its influence on Western Culture," which would include <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/19/arizona-bible-course-bill_n_1437484.html">lessons on the history, literature and influence of the Old and New testaments on laws, government and culture</a>, among other aspects of society.
A measure passed in recent years required Virginia’s Board of Education to design course materials in line with the <a href="http://www.doe.virginia.gov/boe/guidance/safety/school_gun_safety_elementary.pdf">National Rifle Association's Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program guidelines</a> to teach elementary students about gun safety. The curriculum includes <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/22/virginia-school-districts_n_976126.html">lessons ranging from distinguishing those who use guns professionally to recognizing and catching firearms on school property</a>. Individual districts had the option of deciding whether to adopt the curriculum.
In July 2011, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill making <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/06/california-gay-textbooks-_n_891464.html">California the first state to require public schools to teach lessons on historical and current contributions of gays and lesbians</a>. According to <em>USA Today</em>, the new law mandates the California Board of Education and local school districts <a href="http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/2011-07-14-california-teaching-gay-history-schools_n.htm">adopt textbooks and other teaching materials that include the contributions of sexual minorities as soon as the 2013-14 school year</a>. The legislation does not specify a grade level for instruction to begin, and leaves implementation up to local school boards.
Around the same time that California’s landmark bill was signed, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/18/new-york-city-teaching-ga_n_901876.html">summer school teachers in New York City began teaching about same-sex marriage</a> in civics classes. According to the <em>New York Post</em>, city education officials are looking to follow in California's footsteps and formally include it into city schools' curriculum, though a <a href="http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/gay_nups_become_class_act_xcxuOGG9Vsz1y0C98mUm5J#ixzz1SSJoMfkQ">timeline is yet to be determined</a>.
In July 2011, Indiana school officials announced that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/07/indiana-schools-no-longer_n_892377.html">students would no longer be required to learn cursive writing</a>, effective Fall 2011.
Hawaii / North Carolina
Following Indiana, Hawaii <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/01/hawaii-no-longer-requires_n_915402.html">dropped cursive writing from its mandatory school curriculum</a>. Going into the 2011-12 school year, the state adopted the national Common Core State Standards, a set of education standards that omits cursive but includes keyboard proficiency. Now, principals decide whether their schools teach cursive. Pitt County Schools in North Carolina recently followed suit, no longer requiring its students to learn cursive writing. According to Assistant Superintendent Cheryl Olmstead, a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/05/pitt-county-schools-in-no_n_2079608.html">team of educators is working to figure out where to fit cursive writing into the curriculum so that students will have a recognizable signature</a>. She says the district hopes to have a plan in place next year.