The Bible, Shakespeare and Public Schools

Article excerpt


When I attended public school in York, Pa., in the 1930s, the teacher began each day by reading 10 verses from the Old or New Testament without comment. We then recited the Lord's Prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance - two decades before the words "under God" were added.

But things have changed. Since the turbulent 1960s, the secularization of American culture has proceeded apace. The "free exercise" of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment has been under increasing pressure by the ACLU, the National Education Association and other liberal voices who insist that "religion" be banned from the public square.

Americans differ on the role of religion in society, but virtually all of them believe that public schools should not be used to proselytize for one religion over another. But they disagree on whether the Bible, sacred to Jews and Christians alike, should have any place at all in the curriculum of tax-supported education.

Some educators insist that the Bible be banned from public schools because its presence would seriously breach the "separation of church and state" - their words, not the Constitution's. They contend that teaching the Bible would promote sectarian strife and subvert our multicultural society.

But the tide may be turning. A recent survey conducted by the Bible Literacy Project funded by John Templeton found that 90 percent of the top American English teachers consulted agreed that the Bible has had a profound and positive influence on the "laws, morals, politics and other literature" of Western civilization, and that knowledge of the Bible is crucial to a well-rounded high school education. They emphasized that there are no legal barriers to teaching the Bible as literature and that the Supreme Court has not banned the Bible from public schools.

To no one's surprise, recent surveys have documented widespread historical illiteracy in our public schools. One poll found that more teenagers can name the Three Stooges than the three branches of government. And the top 10 hip-hop tunes are better known than the Ten Commandments. …