Read on for Jenislawski's letter and my reply ...
Thank you for blogging about David Gelernter's piece on academic study of the Bible. While Gelernter is not affiliated with my organization - the Bible Literacy Project (BLP) - he does cite our recently released Bible Literacy Report in his op-ed.
I am writing to address your concerns on how the Bible can really be taught academically, rather than devotionally, in the public schools. Our organization began to address this issue in 1999 by co-publishing a document with the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center called The Bible and Public Schools: A First Amendment Guide. This consensus statement, which explains how to teach about the Bible academically in the public schools, was endorsed by 20 diverse educational and religious organizations, including the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the National School Boards Association, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Council on Islamic Education, and the American Jewish Congress.
In this document, the BLP and these endorsers affirm the following statements that distinguish academic teaching about the Bible from religious indoctrination:
>The schools approach to religion is academic, not devotional.
>The school may strive for student awareness of religions, but should not press for student acceptance of any religion.
>The school may sponsor study about religion, but may not sponsor the practice of religion.
>The school may expose students to a diversity of religious views, but may not impose, discourage, or encourage any particular view.
>The school may educate about all religions, but may not promote or denigrate any religion.
>The school may inform the student about various beliefs, but should not seek to conform him or her to any particular belief.
You are right to be concerned that the Bible will be taught in a devotional manner. For most of our nation's history, the Bible was taught in exactly this way- and still is in some parts of the country. However, our success in achieving the consensus found in the Guide leads us to believe that the Bible, like any other text, can be taught in an objective and academic manner, if proper training and materials for teachers are made available. Hence our creation of a textbook for high school literature courses and teacher training to be released in September. This is the first student textbook ever created for academic study of the Bible.
The textbook, which contains one semester on the Hebrew Scriptures and one on the Christian New Testament, is designed to teach basic Bible literacy - so that students will be familiar with the characters, themes and narratives of the Bible, and how they have been used in literature, art, music, and public discourse. All students, regardless of faith tradition, need to know about the Bible in order to understand the world around them. They also need this information to succeed on the burgeoning number of standardized tests that are taking on increasing importance in our educational system, as described on our website.
Ernest, I hope this information is helpful to you. I also hope that you will consider linking to the First Amendment Guide on your blog in conjunction with the discussion about teaching about the Bible.
Please let me know if you have any more questions or concerns about academic study of the Bible in the public schools. We are happy to serve as a resource!
[Greeting and signature omitted; links in original]