Olbermann vs. the Texas State Board of Ed

MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann last night named the Texas State Board of Education the day’s “Worst Person in the World” for requiring that Texas public schools teach about the Bible. Check out a video clip here. (The clip begins with a commercial and two runners-up to the “Worst Person in the World.”)

In truth, it’s a bit more complicated that Olbermann suggests. First, the law on Bible classes is a product of the Texas Legislature in 2007, not a requirement of the State Board of Education. The Texas Freedom Network succeeded in getting the legislation amended so that public schools would not be required to offer separate courses about the Bible. The Texas attorney general has said, however, that the law requires public high schools to provide instruction about the Bible’s influence in history and literature somewhere in the curriculum.

TFN also succeeded in getting various safeguards for religious freedomĀ in the bill. Those safeguards,Ā if obeyed, would keep instruction about the Bible from turning into opportunities to evangelize in public schools.

Still, the State Board of Education deserves a heap of criticism. One of the law’s key safeguards for religious freedom is a requirement that the state board adopt specific curriculum standards for schools that choose to offer Bible courses. The purpose of that requirement is to provide guidance to schools on how to teach about the Bible’s influence in history and literature without turning public schools into Sunday schools. But the state board threw school disricts under the bus by deliberately adopting vague, very general guidelines that offer no help for districts trying to create appropriate courses. No surprise.

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14 Comments

  1. julie
    Posted August 20, 2009 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    Good point, Charles, but don’t forget about Laughing Cow cheese!

  2. Cytocop
    Posted August 20, 2009 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    Since TFN says the high school course is elective, then the class should be an easy “A” for the Christian students. Since most TX kids are Christian, and since TX isn’t renowned for its wonderful K-12 public education, I guess anything that raises overall scores is a good thing for TX prestige. (Hint: some sarcasm was used there).

    The question is: raise scores to what level?? I heard someone on NPR say today that he had perused TX science books and found them teaching the world is 6,000 years old and that dinosaurs and humans lived on the earth simultaneously.

    Electives such as The Bible As Literature and The Bible As History are good ideas for public universities. At that level, students are required to use some critical independent thought, not just be able to regurgitate indoctrination.

  3. Al
    Posted August 20, 2009 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    Here’s the thing: Because the Bible and Christianity are used so often in political arguments, everyone, Christian or not, should be studying it so that they can understand political and religious discourse.

    In fact, I think it wouldn’t be a bad idea for public universities in Texas (or for that matter, everywhere) to require some type of course on the history of Christianity or the Bible. Ideally, there would be several different options, and students would have an opportunity to hear views of both supporters and skeptics.

    But it could be pretty hard, logistically, to offer a fair course in a high school, especially a small one in an isolated area.

  4. Jesse
    Posted August 20, 2009 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    Uhhhhh….I thought Sundays and churches were for this.

  5. Charles
    Posted August 20, 2009 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    I need to make a little clarification on that statement Julie. Although I have never lived in Texas, once upon a time I did a lot of work in the Texas panhandle and rubbed elbows with folks from Amarillo, Lubbock, etc. When you say “laughing stock,” don’t just assume that all the laughter is coming from people who live outside of Texas. Cattle have opinions too. Lord only knows, the people at Chick-Fil-A are aware of that by now.

  6. Julie
    Posted August 19, 2009 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for this clarification, and for your efforts in general. I’m tired of Texas being a laughing stock.

  7. Country Tom
    Posted August 19, 2009 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

    The tests for the Bible course will be to throw the kids in a deep body of water. Those that float and can make it to shore are filures because they did not trust in God. The ones who drown will do so in the glory of the Lord

  8. Charles
    Posted August 19, 2009 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    Hey old Slapjack, yes, yes, yes

    Hey old Slapjack, yes, yes, yes

    Hm-m-m-m-m-m-!!!!!!!!

  9. John
    Posted August 19, 2009 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    What if Texas schools were required to include a class on the Koran or on a witchcraft reference or a class on tree worship or why not just include a class on that Flying pasta creature? And where does this stop with nearly infinite belief systems. Perhaps then, everybody would see how this is clearly going.

  10. Charles
    Posted August 19, 2009 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    I think these Bible classes are voluntary (i.e., students are not required to take them). Is that right.

    Cytocop: In my state, the state government was going to prepare an objective state-wide curriculum for the voluntary Bible classes by using experts like the ones TFN approves of for social studies. However, the statewide Phylis Schlafly organization succeeded in defeating that measure so the local fundies in each county/town could be responsible for setting their own Bible curricula at local government levels. Their argument: State government should not be involved in Bible curriculum development because that would be a violation of church state separation—or something along those lines. All I remember for sure was that it sounded like someone’s underwear turned inside-out, leaving the only sane response as, “You’ve got to be kidding!!!”

    • Posted August 19, 2009 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

      The Bible courses would be electives.

  11. Alan
    Posted August 19, 2009 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    You can see the curriculum they’re planning to use online at http://www.bibleinschools.net/The-Curriculum.

  12. Cytocop
    Posted August 19, 2009 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    Jdg, I’m not sure if it’s an endorsement of religion or an endorsement of the Bible which, of course, are hard to separate. Either way, it pushes the envelope.

    And no matter how hard a Christian teacher may try to be objective, the temptation is just too great to put their preferential spin on the way they teach the class. It would be just too hard not to present the New Testament in a way that says Hey, isn’t this SO much better than the Old? Teachers from the Religious Right would set themselves up as “stealth” Bible teachers, presenting themselves as fair and unbiased but then, in class, the mask would come off.

    Likewise, what Christian parent would like to see a Jew or non-Christian teach the class to their child?

    There would be no way for anyone to monitor these classes either unless a moderator sat in on every class session, or a microphone/speaker system was set up in the room where someone could listen in on every class. Even then, there just isn’t the manpower or the political will to do this.

    Even if the textbook were to become available in advance for anyone to see (such as online) – and even if it passes the “smell test” – that doesn’t say anything about what the lectures, handouts, and tests will be like.

  13. jdg
    Posted August 18, 2009 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

    Isn’t this an endorsement of religion???
    You guys know some whacko teacher will turn this class into a “Sunday school” preaching event

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