Report: Texas Bible Classes Proselytize

When the Texas legislature passed a bill in 2007 urging local school districts to offer courses on the Bible in history and literature, anyone paying attention knew that this would lead to rampant proselytizing and teaching a lot of false things. The Texas Freedom Network has a new report that finds exactly that.

Today the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund released a report, authored by a religious studies professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, that examines what students are learning in the 57 school districts and three charter schools that teach Bible courses. Examples from Texas public schools:

  • Instructional material in two school districts teach that racial diversity today can be traced back to Noah’s sons, a long-discredited claim that has been a foundational component of some forms of racism.
  • Religious bias is common, with most courses taught from a Protestant — often a conservative Protestant — perspective. One course, for example, assumes Christians will at some point be “raptured.” Materials include a Venn diagram showing the pros and cons of theories that posit the rapture before the returning Jesus’ 1,000-year reign and those that place it afterward. In many courses, the perspectives of Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Jews are often left out.
  • Anti-Jewish bias — intentional or not — is not uncommon. Some courses even portray Judaism as a flawed and incomplete religion that has been replaced by Christianity.
  • Many courses suggest or openly claim that the Bible is literally true. “The Bible is the written word of God,” students are told in one PowerPoint presentation. Some courses go so far as to suggest that the Bible can be used to verify events in history. One district, for example, teaches students that the Bible’s historical claims are largely beyond question by listing biblical events side by side with historical developments from around the globe.
  • Course materials in numerous classes are designed to evangelize rather than provide an objective study of the Bible’s influence. A book in one district makes its purpose clear in the preface: “May this study be of value to you. May you fully come to believe that ‘Jesus is the Christ, the son of God.’ And may you have ‘life in His name.’”
  • A number of courses teach students that the Bible proves Earth is just 6,000 years old.
  • Students are taught that the United States is a Christian nation founded on the Christian biblical principles taught in their classrooms.
  • Academic rigor is so poor that many courses rely mostly on memorization of Bible verses and factoids from Bible stories rather than teaching students how to analyze what they are studying. One district relies heavily on Bible cartoons from Hanna-Barbera for its high school class. Students in another district spend two days watching what lesson plans describe a “the historic documentary Ancient Aliens,” which presents “a new interpretation of angelic beings described as extraterrestrials.”

And let’s be clear that this is not a bug, it’s a feature. It’s exactly what the legislature wanted to happen. You can read the full report here.

24 comments on this post.
  1. jws1:

    If they really had such a great message, they wouldn’t feel entitled to captive, impressionable audiences.

  2. anubisprime:

    They will be as happy as pigs in shit…not really bothered about academic rigour.
    They have got what they have been wanting for a long time..access to potential victims at an early age!

    Nothing will happen for the foreseeable…they have state backing for it!
    It will take many years to get it gone in the meantime they are harvesting the benefits like only xtians can!

  3. glodson:

    Yup, god bless Texas.

    I hate this state.

  4. fifthdentist:

    jws1, without a captive, impressionable audience how would they indoctrinate the kiddies?

  5. Abby Normal:

    I know it’s a little dated but, this is why we can’t have nice things.

  6. garnetstar:

    Same in Oklahoma. My friends recently took jobs there, but have had to pull their 3-year-old out of preschool (preschool!) because of the fundie teaching. They have vowed to move elsewhere, won’t allow their daughter to go to school in such a place.

    I sent them The Magic of Reality. She’s a little young, but they need moral support.

  7. MikeMa:

    Can the Texas Freedom Network file suit on their own or will they need a complaining student to have standing? If the case is decided rationally, the whole state could be positively affected.

  8. Randomfactor:

    Coming soon nationwide. New national core standards encourage the use of the bible as literature. I’m told Christian teachers in public schools in my area (a backwoods part of California) are salivating at the chance to proselytize.

  9. eric:

    Just to keep this in perspective, there are about 1,200 school districts in Texas. Of course some are bigger than others so this does not mean only 5% of students are in districts that offer such courses. But its something to keep in mind: even in Texas, even with the BOE actively encouraging such classes, they aren’t all that common.

    Proselytizers all over the US looking to use these sorts of courses have two big problems. (1) to offer a new elective, you have to find enough students wanting to take it, and (2) even highly religious parents are often going to be looking for electives that will increase their kids’ chance to get in to a college or university…which this generally won’t.

    Don’t get me wrong – I agree this is a problem and needs to be fixed. I just think this is a much smaller problem than Texas SBOE’s messing about with the science and history standards. Those are courses pretty much every single student state-wide will take, not just a self-selected group of students in 5% of districts.

  10. eric:

    @6 – Re: pulling kids out of preschool, take heart. Its probably not as bad as they think.

  11. Dr X:

    @Abby Normal:

    I know it’s a little dated but, this is why we can’t have nice things.

    Heh. Works for me.

  12. John Hinkle:

    This is part of the reason Ray Comfort is correct when he says [some] large percentage of the population believes in Biblical creation. It’s not like adults went searching for answers to deep questions and found the Bible and thought, “Wow, now this is some heavy truth shit here.” No, it’s because it was drummed into their impressionable little heads when they were wee lads and lasses.

  13. Draken:

    Would be sweet if they taught the history of the Bible, based on writings of Bart Ehrman or Richard Carrier.

    I think I would be able to hear the fundies screaming over here.

  14. abb3w:

    “Shocked, I say!”

  15. peterh:

    I frequently tell folks Texas is a nice place to be from.

    “Would be sweet if they taught the history of the Bible, based on writings of Bart Ehrman or Richard Carrier.”
    Now, now! We can’t spoil anyone’s fantasy by dragging facts into the matter.

  16. Erp:

    Bart Erhman yes, not Richard Carrier since the ideas he is best know for are not supported by the academic consensus.

    I would also include the academic consensus on Tanakh/Old Testament research.

    BTW the Harper Collins Study Bible Student Edition is probably a good choice for both text and starting scholarly essays. It includes the Deuterocanonical books which though important in art/art history and for the vast majority of Christians (Orthodox and Catholic) tends to be ignored by Protestants. A good course also has to examine Jewish views of the texts.

    The report btw does list a few school districts that mostly got it right in their view

    Boerne ISD
    Bridge City ISD
    Conroe ISD
    Corsicana ISD
    East Central ISD
    Goose Creek ISD
    Grapevine-Colleyville ISD
    Lovejoy ISD
    North East ISD
    Plano ISD
    Pleasanton ISD

  17. Larry:

    Students in another district spend two days watching what lesson plans describe a “the historic documentary Ancient Aliens,” which presents “a new interpretation of angelic beings described as extraterrestrials.”

    I don’t care where you’re from, that’s funny, right there.

  18. peterh:

    Ancient Aliens

    Time was the traveling freak show set up in a disused lot on the edge of town and then moved on after a few days to a week. Now it’s on “History Channel” every third time you turn the thing on.

  19. kantalope:

    “One district relies heavily on Bible cartoons from Hanna-Barbera for its high school class.”

    The Flintstones?

    although I really hope its The Banana Splits Adventure Hour

  20. Chelydra:

    @19 kantalope

    Presumably they’re showing The Greatest Adventure: Stories from the Bible. College students on an archaeological dig in the 80s discover a time-travel portal that sends them back to witness Biblical events.

  21. kantalope:

    Oh, as long as it is science (archeology and physics) based…but Banana splits would be hell of a lot more fun

  22. TCC:

    I remember watching that Hanna Barbera cartoon in Sunday school as a child of five or six, and I vaguely remember them being pretty hokey even for my age. The premise is weak and virtually nonexistent; you get a small setup and then the Bible story itself. I was interested in science and science fiction at the time, and I had apparently compartmentalized enough that I found the inclusion of sci-fi-ish stuff to be rather incongruous when placed in the context of the Bible. Consequently, it blows my mind that a high school class would use it as though it were a credible source of information.

  23. Suido:

    Anti-Jewish bias — intentional or not — is not uncommon. Some courses even portray Judaism as a flawed and incomplete religion that has been replaced by Christianity.

    We need to follow this to it’s logical conclusion – that christianity is a flawed and incomplete religion that has been replaced by islam. It’s my current favourite talking point with christians who want to discuss religion.

  24. Michael Heath:

    suido writes:

    We need to follow this to it’s logical conclusion – that christianity is a flawed and incomplete religion that has been replaced by islam. It’s my current favourite talking point with christians who want to discuss religion.

    I do see Islam as a more advanced theology relative to Christianity, which makes Islam, at a mundanely ignorant level, paradoxical the countries culturally dominated by Islam are more primitive than those dominated by Christianity. Then history imposes itself and we learn civilization has advanced the past couple of hundred years in spite of religion, not because of it (that’s my conclusion, not necessarily an empirically convincing one).

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