Senate Bill 79: We Don’t Need Your Education

What was Georgia’s answer to news its public education system ranked 40th in the nation? Starting up Bible study classes for high school students.

Yesterday’s legislative endorsement of Senate Bill 79, a bipartisan effort creating a series of electives discussing the historical and legal aspects of the world’s best-selling book, makes Georgia the first state in the union to support Bible education. “I am confident that the course[s] will pass constitutional muster,” said bill sponsor Senate Majority Leader Tommie Williams after his proposal met with widespread approval.

Should the bill find favor with Governor Sonny Perdue, the Georgia Board of Education would require that public schools offer classes on both the Old and New Testament. Distancing themselves from the spiritual aspects of the Bible, said legislation is designed to teach about how the scriptures redefined law, literature, art, culture, and history. Teachers would also be able to reference other religious texts at their discretion.

It seems the bill’s authors have been very judicious in secularizing a class that by its various nature is religious.

“We do have the opportunity to learn about it in church, but it is a work of literature,” said Patrick McAllister, a high school junior. “We shouldn’t exclude it [from school] just because it’s religious.” Ah, but that’s where you’re wrong. The Bible should be excluded for precisely that reason.

Public education does not need an elective course on religion. In theory it exists to teach fundamental principles like reading, science, and mathematics to children so they can develop a better awareness of the world around them. While it’s become public record that socialized education is designed to keep children docile and subservient to the government, the laws of this nation establish no prejudice of one religion over another. Placing a Bible in a student’s hand does just that.

How can the Bible teach a high school student about the law? Do we really need to draw a correlation between the Ten Commandments and our modern judicial system? Hammurabi’s Code predates any Judaic system of law — why not study the ethnoreligious aspects of ancient Mesopotamia?

For that matter, how can the Bible be used as a historical reference? Many stories are apocryphal, fantastic or drawn from other earlier, oral traditions. Despite what devout Christians would have you believe, there is no contemporary historical proof that Jesus existed beyond the New Testament, non-canonical texts and word of mouth. The Bible is a record of faith, re-interpreted and changed over thousands of years to fit an orthodox view of Christianity.

There are other issues to consider: Which version of the Bible? Which interpretation? Which scholars can be relied upon? Which version of Christianity gets top billing?

I don’t have a problem with the above, by the way. Men and women around the world enrich their lives by studying the Bible and its many layers of meaning. People who adhere to the values put forth by Jesus — namely tolerance, love and forgiveness — give credit to a lasting faith and religion. But Christianity is a deeply personal and wildly inconsistent religion, and placing it in a public school not only sets up a battle for which flavor is most accepted, it goes against the very idea of a society free to pursue whatever belief they choose equally. “The chances of being able to teach a constitutionally legal Bible class in public schools is going to be very difficult,” said Senator Vincent Fort, one of the senators against SB79. “If you want your child to learn the Bible, teach it to them yourself, take them to Sunday school or have them take the class in college.”

Exactly. There are so many other avenues for people to learn about what faith does or doesn’t drive them. And there are hundreds of books that delve more deeply into the historicity of the Bible than any 12 week course could provide.

My disapproval for this legislation isn’t its progression towards state-sponsored religion or theocracy. It’s that our public education system is such a mess that it boggles the mind to divert funds away from what few core classes exist to what amounts to glorified Sunday School.

Classes are overcrowded, with children often sharing coursebooks that are old and outdated. Creative outlets such as art and music classes continue to fall under the budget axe.

Teacher salaries continue to drop; fewer men and women are choosing to become teachers in the first place. Those that do find themselves pressured to conform their curriculum around faith-based initiatives and other programs that please the Bush Administration. It’s a miserable time to be in school.

So let’s strip money from things that matter for things that don’t. Simple as that, right?

Georgia is home to the town that arrogantly charged Halloween should never fall on Sunday because Halloween is the day of “the devil,” so I’m not surprised public Bible study classes are being birthed there. I just don’t understand how any Georgian entrusting their children to the state’s care could warm to the idea of their son or daughter having an old math primer but a new King James.

Bible thumpers of course brush aside any concerns. “To be fearful that this is just going to promote something — goodness, as nefarious as Christianity,” said Sadie Fields, chairman of the Christian Coalition of Georgia. On concerns of proselytizing, “I think […] their fears are baseless.”

Allow me to be the first to call bullshit.