Last week, word trickled down the pike that state Sen. Larry Grooms (R-Bonneau) had introduced a bill that would direct the Department of Education to develop a Bible-based elective course for public high school juniors and seniors.
Grooms is justifying his bill by saying that the legislation would give students the tools with which to unlock the vagaries of American history, symbolism, metaphor, and other religious/cultural references.
He told The Post and Courier, “It’s important that the children of our state have an understanding of the Bible.”
Grooms followed up that whopper with an even better reason for the course, “It’s the best-selling publication of all time.”
Yeah, well, Mein Kampf and The Quotations of Chairman Mao are up there, too, but no one reads them all the way through.
Grooms says that Christianity is everywhere in American culture and that even the ABC television show Lost sometimes makes viewers use the Bible to decipher riddles on the program.
Lord knows South Carolina’s kids need help with their TV on top of their homework.
Grooms’ bill is the mirror image of one passed by the Georgia state legislature last year that would allow local school districts and boards to offer the elective high school course based on the secular message and history of both the Old and New Testaments and designed by the state Board of Education (BOE). Requirements for major courses are set by the BOE, while local boards determine elective class subject matter.
Opponents to Grooms’ bill and others like it see the legislation as another attempt to inject religion into the public school curricula. Of the 44 state senators in Columbia this session (two vacancies), only three have not declared their support.
Joe Conn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State told the P&C, “There are dozens of different religious denominations that teach the Bible from different perspectives. It would be very difficult for a public school teacher to teach a course that would please everyone and be respectful of diversity in the community.”
Hell’s bells, racial and gender diversity aren’t very well-respected around here, and now some joker wants to toss religion into the mix?
BOE spokesman Jim Foster commented, “We don’t have any major issue with the intent. …We don’t think the state should get into the business of designing curricula for local electives.”
So, what we have here is not a failure to communicate, but a failure to listen.
I suspect Grooms and his ilk’s motivation comes from the religious conservatives who are threatened to their mortal coil by anything not like them and can barely tolerate the culture in yogurt let alone the world around them.
I believe that a lack of, at the very least, an academic understanding of world religions hobbles Americans’ ability to grasp Western culture, literature, and history.
A recent poll by Time Magazine found that two-thirds of Americans believe the Bible contains the answers to “all or most of life’s basic questions.” The same poll showed that fully half of Americans couldn’t name one of the four gospels.
I believe that it is possible to teach the Bible is public schools. I also believe that this course of study requires that the Koran, the sacred texts of Hinduism, the Torah, and the rest of religious writings and the history of world religion be taught in the same class.
We’ll never understand why we are who we are unless we grasp how those who came before us realized their potentials and what influenced them.
As for Grooms, I think his motivations necessarily limit the academic purview of South Carolina’s students because his impetus itself is limited.
One of the best academic experiences I ever had took place during my junior year at Bishop England High School in my history of the Roman Catholic Church class (flunk it and you’re expelled — no kidding).
Two years later, at the College of Charleston, my Western civilization professor politely asked students who had graduated from “the school across the street” to help pick out reading materials for our classmates who had not benefited from such a course.
And there were a lot of them.