Scholars Agree: New Breakthrough Public School Bible Textbook Bridges the Cultural Divide

PRESS RELEASE

“Bible textbook could circumvent culture war.”
Knight Ridder Newspapers, Sept. 21, 2005

“Teaching the Bible in public schools just got easier.” WORLD Magazine, Sept. 23, 2005

Eminent scholars have agreed on a new solution for academic study of the Bible in public schools. Five years in the making, a new high school textbook, The Bible and Its Influence, was released in late September by the Bible Literacy Project (www.bibleliteracy.org). It is the first designed to meet constitutional standards for public school use and be subjected to extensive review by scholars. It is also the first to provide comprehensive coverage of the Bible’s influence on literature, art, music, and rhetoric, and is designed to be an elective option in English or Social Studies programs for 9th to 12th grades. (Reproducible book cover at www.bibleliteracy.org/art/). The textbook is designed to accompany direct reading from the Bible, using a translation of the student’s choice.

“There has never been a public high school textbook like this,” said Chuck Stetson, chairman and founder of the Bible Literacy Project. “It was created to satisfy all constituencies involved in the heated public debate about the Bible in public schools. It treats faith perspectives with respect, and was examined by 40 reviewers for accuracy, fairness and the highest level of scholarship. At the same time, it meets consensus standards for fulfilling First Amendment guidelines in that it informs and instructs, but does not promote religion.”

The Bible Literacy Project textbook has made huge strides since its release in late September:

  • Associated Press story recently designated The Bible and Its Influence as one of 2005’s “notable books,” cited for its “distinctiveness and potential importance.”

  • After a five-year study to select a Bible curriculum, Alaska’s Matanuska Susitna school district voted in early December to adopt The Bible and Its Influence as its official Bible elective.

  • The Bible Literacy Project launched the first university-based teacher training program in the country, available online in early January. The course will offer valuable Continuing Education Units or graduate credit through the College of Education at Concordia University in Portland, Oregon.

  • Many national faith leaders have voiced strong support for this constitutionally sound curriculum for public schools.

Textbook reviewers included Dr. Leland Ryken, the Clyde S. Kilby Professor of English at Wheaton College, IL, who called the new textbook “an undisputed triumph in scholarship and presentation. The achievement is breathtaking.” Dr. Ryken, renowned author of more than 20 books about the Bible, said of this new textbook, “I learned something new on virtually every page.”

Marc Stern, general counsel for the American Jewish Congress and textbook contributor, said The Bible and Its Influence “will serve as an excellent and even-handed introduction to the Bible. Without question, it can serve as the basis for a constitutional course about the Bible in the nation’s public schools. It is therefore a signal achievement.”

Dr. Charles C. Haynes, senior scholar at the First Amendment Center, says "Let me say how impressed I am by this textbook. It is clear that much hard work and good scholarship have gone into the text. The instructional design is excellent. This promises to be an outstanding resource for public schools."

The new textbook has received wide acclaim from leading university scholars as well as teachers who participated in a pilot testing program. “Although I have taught Bible literature courses for several years, after using this new textbook with my students, I cannot conceive of going back into my classroom without it,” said Joan Spence, a public school language arts teacher in Battle Ground, WA, who is currently using the textbook.

"The Bible and Its Influence is unique in eight distinctive ways," explained Cullen Schippe, textbook general editor, and former vice president and publisher for Music, Religion and Social Studies at Macmillan/McGraw-Hill.

  1. It was created to fulfill the standards of The Bible & Public Schools: A First Amendment Guide, co-published by the Bible Literacy Project and the First Amendment Center. The Guide provides a consensus statement about how the Bible can be taught in public schools, and was endorsed by 20 national educational and religious organizations, including the National Education Association, the National School Boards Association, the National Association of Evangelicals, the American Jewish Congress, and the Baptist Joint Committee for Legislative and Public Affairs, among many others.

  2. It has been examined by 40 reviewers, with their feedback incorporated into the editing of the text. The reviewers include prominent literature academics as well as high school teachers and scholars from the Roman Catholic, Protestant Evangelical, Mainline Protestant, Eastern Orthodox and Jewish traditions. (Reviewers are listed in the press room at www.bibleliteracy.org)

  3. It is a student textbook. While some curricula offer only a teacher’s guide, the Bible Literacy Project textbook will be the only student textbook produced in the last 30 years. It presents a straightforward explanation of the narratives, themes, and characters of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. Students read directly from the Bible using the translation of their choice.

  4. It broadly covers the cultural contexts and influences of the Bible with examples of art, literature, rhetoric and music. The textbook contains engaging features entitled Historical Connections, The Bible in Literature, Cultural Connections (music, art, rhetoric), and Into Everyday Language. Special one or two-page features include “Abraham Lincoln and the Bible,” “Handel’s Messiah,” “The Bible and Emancipation,” Shakespeare and the Bible,” among many others. (There are more than 1300 Biblical references in the works of Shakespeare alone, and more than 60% of allusions to learn for one AP literature exam prep course are Biblical phrases. Citations provided at www.bibleliteracy.org.)

  5. It preserves the ability of parents to teach their view of the Bible’s religious significance. The text presents a fair, academic presentation of the Bible, without prejudice to a particular view of canon and doctrine.

  6. It has been pilot tested in public high schools and in a university training course for English teachers.

  7. There is an accompanying teacher’s edition in development (scheduled for late Spring 2006).

  8. The first national, university-based training for teachers in how to teach Bible literature in the public schools is available online at www.bibleliteracy.org/training.

The Bible Literacy Project received national accolades for its April 2005 release of the Bible Literacy Report: What Do American Teens Need to Know and What Do They Know?, with George Gallup, Jr. and Dr. John Templeton. “The report revealed that leading teachers say Bible knowledge gives great academic advantage, but only about 8% of teens in public schools reported access to an elective Bible course," said Stetson. “It is completely legal to provide a course on the Bible, but it has been limited by unwarranted fear and an unsatisfying range of curricula up to this point. Our new textbook was created to make school boards, educators and people of faith feel confident and comfortable."

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