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Study Finds School Bible Classes “Problematic”

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AUSTIN (AP) - Some 60 public school districts across Texas offer courses on the Bible, but at least a third aren’t meeting state requirements to be unbiased and academically and legally sound, a study released Wednesday concluded.

Written by Mark Chancey, a professor of Religious Studies at Southern Methodist University, the study found that many districts’ courses favor conservative Protestant interpretations of the Bible. Many also present “problematic treatment of Judaism” while “promoting pseudo-scholarship, particularly regarding science and American history.”

“At a basic level, students are often being taught to experience Judaism only through Christian eyes,” said Chancey, who completed the study for the Texas Freedom Network, which monitors the State Board of Education from a progressive perspective.

He said no courses in Texas were found to be favoring Jewish, Roman Catholic or mainstream Protestant views — only those held by conservative Protestants.

Statewide, 57 districts and three charter schools offered elective courses on the Bible during the 2011-12 school year. Chancey listed 11 of them as having the most successful classes, but concluded that 20 had the “most problematic courses.”

The total overall number of districts offering Bible classes is more than double the 25 districts that taught them during the 2005-06 school year. But Chancey further found that of the 25 that taught them back then, just nine districts still offered Bible classes last school year.

He said Bible classes tend to have a short half-life because they are generally offered in high school, when there’s little interest among students to take them. The courses also must meet a series of state requirements that make them difficult to begin teaching and then to maintain for more than a few years.

In 2007, the state Legislature passed a law creating guidelines on how to make Bible courses fair, as well as academically sound and above reproach legally — but lawmakers failed to allocate any funds to train instructors on how best to meet those standards.

Chancey said some districts rely on texts designed for Sunday schools, which he said he supports using at church but not within the state’s public schools.

His report also found that instruction is woefully uneven from one district to the next. One high school course in the Duncanville Independent School District, for instance, relies heavily on cartoons from the Hanna-Barbera series “The Greatest Adventure: Stories from the Bible.”

Chancey also said some districts continue to present the Bible as a straight history or science book, rather than a religious text.

He highlighted a timeline used in Refugio Independent School District that “reinforces the message that the Bible’s historical claims are largely beyond question by listing biblical events side-by-side with historical developments from around the globe.”

In response to the report, the Texas Freedom Network called on the Texas Legislature to fund proper training for Bible class instructors in public schools. But the group also chided the State Board of Education for creating curriculum standards that were too vague and general — thus allowing districts to create flawed Bible classes

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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