Classroom Has No Place for Good Book Schools Wary of Using Bible to Teach Literature

Article excerpt

Byline: Heather Ryndak Daily Herald Staff Writer

Marsha Zierk understands that many more interests compete for students' time than when she was a student about 25 years ago.

The Central High School teacher also realizes that religion no longer makes up the blueprint in many students' homes, as was more common during her school days.

But Zierk was still surprised this year when she tried to bridge a comparison of Edith Hamilton's translation of the Greek mythological "Deluge" to the story of Noah's Ark during her high school English class.

What she got was a room full of blank stares.

"I just couldn't get over it," Zierk said. "It doesn't matter if you are Christian or not. It has nothing to do with religion.

"It has to do with a basic understanding of the Bible, which is essential to understanding many works of literature."

In an attempt to reverse this trend, Zierk recently proposed a class in the rural Kane County school district that would use a book called, "The Bible As/In Literature." The text is full of biblical selections with ties to literature to help students recognize biblical allusions, symbols and themes.

But the idea never made it beyond the concept stage.

The Central Unit District 301 board voted against the proposed class last month because there was a potential the course would be perceived as teaching religion.

"We thought it was a conflict within a public school," said board President Dan Heffernan. "But I think the class did have some merit. Students are not as familiar with literature, partly because they are not as familiar with the Bible."

Not only can a lack of knowledge about the Bible hamper students' awareness of literature, it also shields pupils from understanding U.S. history, culture, laws, art and family structure, Zierk said.

"Our history is steeped in religion, in the Bible," she said. "I don't want to become a star through this. This proposal was for the students' benefit."

The book, in its second edition, has more than 40 passages from the Bible, from Genesis to Revelations. It also contains more than 50 related poems, plays and narratives - from such renowned authors and playwrights as Mark Twain, William Shakespeare, ee cummings, Robert Frost and T.S. Eliot - that display the influence of the Bible in classic and contemporary world literature.

Doug Utigard, who edited both the 1976 and 1995 editions of the book, said the text is not intended to bring religion into the classroom. …