Bible classes: The good book didn’t have good numbers in Georgia high schools

Tim Morris teaches a Bible class to juniors and seniors at Woodland High School Thursday, Oct. 20, 2011 in Cartersville, Ga. Georgia was the first state in the country to allow Bible classes in public schools, but the number of districts offering the classes have dwindled to just a handful as budgets remain tight. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Tim Morris teaches a Bible class to juniors and seniors at Woodland High School in Cartersville. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

While Georgia was the first state to permit state-approved Bible elective classes in public schools, few districts are offering them now because they can’t afford to hold elective classes with empty seats.

The Legislature approved the Bible classes in 2006. Georgia’s standards for the two English electives — “Literature and History of the Old Testament Era” and “Literature and History of the New Testament Era” — do not provide specific lessons. Students are expected to learn how the Bible came to be, the literary styles that were used, major narratives, the book’s influence on contemporary culture and the development of translations.

During the 2007-08 school year — the first the courses could be taught — 37 of the state’s nearly 440 high schools had the class. Most were outside the metro area, although two schools in Rockdale taught it, and a couple of Cobb students took it as independent study.

With financial shortfalls, schools today can’t offer classes that don’t draw a crowd. Georgia school chief John Barge gave the AP reporter an interesting explanation for the scant enrollment: Students can’t take the Bible classes because they’re repeating math classes.

According to the story on AJC.com:

“We’re not going to utilize a teacher for a whole period with 10 to 15 students. In the past, we may have considered that, but with the economy being the way it is, we just can’t afford to do that, ” said Columbia County schools Superintendent Charles Nagle, who has cut the Bible classes from three to one in his tiny district.

Just 21 middle and high schools in 16 districts — a fraction of the 180 school districts in the state — offered the voluntary classes last school year, the latest data available. That’s compared to 48 districts offering the classes four years ago.

Some of that drop-off is due to students having little time in their class schedules for elective courses because they have to repeat the state’s new, tougher math courses or need an Advanced Placement class to help with college admissions, educators said.

“We’re seeing a lot of elective classes, not just Bible, close because there aren’t enough students taking the courses because they’re repeating math several times, ” said state schools Superintendent John Barge, who worked in Barrow County schools before he was elected.

Senate President Pro Tem Tommie Williams, a Republican from Lyons, said he hopes cash-strapped schools can begin offering Bible classes online to help cut down on costs but keep the courses available. Williams, the most powerful state senator in Georgia, was a backer of the law when it passed in 2006.

“It is unfortunate that schools are not able to offer these classes, but when times are tough local and state government have to make decisions based on the realities of their budgets, in the same way Georgia families and business have had to do with their own budgets, ” Williams said.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

121 comments Add your comment

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence

October 25th, 2011
5:02 am

Let’s teach The Bible at home, in Sunday School, in church services, in CCD classes and in private schools.

teacher&mom

October 25th, 2011
6:47 am

We’ve had to drop several academic “elective” courses due to budget restrictions and students requiring math support classes.

I’m sure Williams would love to see the classes offered online. Online high school courses is the next “wave” of policy ideas to hit GA schools. The policy makers love the idea of one online teacher for several 100 students.

catlady

October 25th, 2011
6:49 am

Our Christian Learning Center was built about 25 years ago, somehow on the campus of the high school. I consider myself a devout Christian, but it is plain offensive to allow kids to “leave campus” and go to this during school time, instead of devoting themselves to badly needed academics and pursue their Christian education at home. And, it “just so happens” that every leader the Center has had has been a Baptist minister!

Ronnie Raygun

October 25th, 2011
7:16 am

How long will it take the brain trust in the Gold Dome to just make Bible classes count as a math class and claim they solved he problem.

Jack

October 25th, 2011
7:27 am

Religion should be taught at home and in church; not in public schools.

reality 2

October 25th, 2011
7:52 am

I assume Barge continues to use the GPS math as his scape goat, but let’s get real. HS GPS was first taught in 2008-09 school year. So, the only students who had opportunities to repeat a math course several times are those attending HS with a block schedule. Moreover, I don’t get this argument about repeating any course being a cause for students not taking an elective. Is the State counting the credits for failed courses toward graduation?

Atlanta mom

October 25th, 2011
7:56 am

So, we can have an entire semester to teach about the bible, but the world has ended when a middle school student reads one essay about an Islam woman. What’s wrong with this picture?

reality 2

October 25th, 2011
8:02 am

Just wait till a liberal English teacher teaching this course emphasizing the Bible is just a bunch of stories written by people, not an inspired word of God, the Genesis story is just a mythology, etc.

APS 4th grade teacher & a Proud Cheater!

October 25th, 2011
8:05 am

Judgment Day: Cheating to spare souls?

We need religion. Nothing else has worked for us in APS.

So many lack morals…..But, we must first define morality.

The meaning of morality has been turned upside down.

Thank you very much,

Praying in the Trenches

carlosgvv

October 25th, 2011
8:33 am

The religious right feel they have a God given duty to spread Christianity any way and every way they can. This includes our schools and you may be certain they will NEVER give up. The concept of seperation of Church and State means nothing to these crazed zealots and, unless we want to live in an America where the Church is the State, we must constantly be on guard against these fanatics.

HS Public Teacher

October 25th, 2011
8:34 am

Maureen -

Come on… This is such a minor issue considering everything going on with Georgia education. Why in the world do you write about this? Is it simply the formula:

public schools + religon = sensationalism?????

V for Vendetta

October 25th, 2011
8:35 am

Good. Like we needed religion in school in the first place . . .

Now how are they going to deal with the World Lit. curriculum? They might realize that the flood story was just copied from the Epic of Gilgamesh! Oh, the horror!

Truth in Moderation

October 25th, 2011
8:37 am

@catlady
What leads you to believe this?
“I consider myself a devout Christian”

APS H.S. Teacher

October 25th, 2011
8:42 am

Keep your flying spaghetti monster teachings out of my public school!!

Maureen Downey

October 25th, 2011
8:42 am

HS, I would rewrite that equation this way: public schools + religion = political hay.
I doubt this topic will go away as we have a Legislature with a loose regard for the constitutional divide between church and state. And this remains an issue on which I receive calls from parents who feel their non Christian children are being imposed upon in their schools with Christian-oriented programs, comments and instruction. I also hear from Christian parents who simply don’t believe religion ought to promoted in the classroom, even their own religion.
Maureen

APS H.S. Teacher

October 25th, 2011
8:43 am

I am good WITHOUT god.

mborim

October 25th, 2011
9:04 am

Finally—-Separation of church and state. Thank you Founding Fathers!

Pluto

October 25th, 2011
9:13 am

Oh boy this always gets the atheists and agnostics all riled up. The hollow argument that those “crazed Christian zealots” are trying to take over the joint is a red herring since Jesus already let us in on a little secret when he said His Kingdom is not of this world. We are merely passing through so excuse us.

V for Vendetta

October 25th, 2011
9:22 am

Pluto,

Feel free to pass through, just be quiet about it. You’re more than welcome to speed up your passing if you so desire.

:-)

Dr. Monica Henson

October 25th, 2011
9:23 am

I’m with Maureen on this one: public schools + religion = political hay. There is no need for a separate Bible course in a nonreligious school. English teachers and social studies teachers, particularly on the high school level, reference the Bible (and other religious works) frequently when they teach certain time periods & pieces of literature. When I was a high school English teacher, one of my senior English thematic units was a quarter-long study called “Women and Power.” In this unit, the students read East of Eden, the story of the Fall in Genesis (KJV), sections of Milton’s Paradise Lost, The Taming of the Shrew, and the Wife of Bath’s Tale. The focus of the unit was the Wife of Bath’s essential question, “What do women want?” and how did/do women gain and wield power. The students finished up with a research paper on a powerful woman and compared their choices to the women we read about.

(Lest the blog posters think I’m a die-hard feminist, we did a later thematic unit on “The Fatherless Hero” that included Luke Skywalker, Hamlet, and Huckleberry Finn, which included several Biblical references as well.)

It is utterly impossible to teach Shakespeare, much less Chaucer and Milton, without imparting significant information and knowledge about the Bible. The key is: it has to be done (in a public school) without advancing and favoring the Christian religion over any other. This restriction seems to be what irritates the Bible-thumpers the most. (I am a Presbyterian and a former Sunday School superintendent, so I can say “Bible-thumper.”)

Pluto

October 25th, 2011
9:27 am

@ V Is that all you got?

Satan's House

October 25th, 2011
9:28 am

APS and its immoral crowd of administrators and teachers is beyond redemption!

Hav e mercy on the defenseless children.

SCLCrev

Shar

October 25th, 2011
9:34 am

After I had to take my daughters out of APS they both went to St. Pius X, despite the fact that our family is not religious and certainly not Catholic.

When looking at the school, my husband and I made sure that Biblical stories were not wedged into academic subjects, and that biology included evolution. The school, although an arm of the Atlanta diocese, makes it very plain that their mission is to teach academically accepted science, and that other theories, while debatable, should be taught at home and at church.

St. Pius requires that every student take religion class every year. This made me a tad nervous until I checked out the curriculum: Old Testament, New Testament, an entire year of ethics, the theologican and philosophical bases for Catholic theology, often contrasted with that of other ‘world’ religions. There was no insistence on believing a particular religious story and debates were encouraged. Both of my girls (who complained bitterly about having to take religion) have been surprised at how able they are to effectively counter the arguments of fundamentalist college students or see the Biblical references in literature and art.

St. Pius, which I greatly admire for the strength of their faculty and the administration’s ability to combine discipline with a good understanding of adolescent behavior and needs, was scrupulous in keeping any proselytizing or retribution against nonbelievers out of the classroom. I trusted them to respect my daughters’ agnosticism the same way I expected my girls to respect the majority’s Catholic beliefs. I confess I also verified that trust by checking in with my girls and looking over the syllabi and the books for their classes.

I would have a very hard time extending that trust to many members of our state Legislature, or to fundamentalist-leaning Bible teachers.

Truth in Moderation

October 25th, 2011
9:46 am

@APS H.S. Teacher
“I am good WITHOUT god.”
“Good” is a comparative adjective. What is your standard to which you compare yourself?

Truth in Moderation

October 25th, 2011
9:57 am

At least Christian home schoolers can spell “separation”.

@carlosgvv You wrote:
“The concept of seperation of Church and State means nothing to these crazed zealots”

Truth in Moderation

October 25th, 2011
10:05 am

“Finally—-Separation of church and state. Thank you Founding Fathers!”
What does the phrase have to do with the Founding Fathers? I’ve looked everywhere in the Constitution and I can’t find it. Could you please tell me where it is?

Abdul Bin Ladin

October 25th, 2011
10:08 am

In the name of Allah, the beneficial, the merciful.

This is why the west is held in contempt by the Ulema. You dhimmis are godless and hopelessly corrupt. Hellfire awaits you…

Religon is Personal

October 25th, 2011
10:09 am

Religion has no place in any aspect of tax supported society.

I was irked by the singing of “God Bless America” at last night’s World Series game in Arlington Texas. The stadium construction project received tax abatements.

We still don’t get it!

Truth in Moderation

October 25th, 2011
10:12 am

@Shar
Wow. What a testimony! So why is the Catholic Diocese stealing money from devoted religious Catholics to help fund this school? Why not apply for charter school status and have the public at large pay for it?

V for Vendetta

October 25th, 2011
10:30 am

Pluto,

I don’t need anything else. I have reality. You have fiction, ghosts, unicorns, zombies, etc. Good luck with all that.

Truth,

Are you suggesting that religion–or christians in particular–have a lock on morals? Or that morals are only possible thanks to some divine source? How infantile.

Truth in Moderation

October 25th, 2011
10:33 am

@Religon is Personal
“Religion has no place in any aspect of tax supported society.”
According to your proclamation of truth, the U.S.A. SHOULD BE THE MOST RELIGIOUS PLACE ON THE PLANET!
You do realize that citizens have not fully supported this society with their taxes since 1913, yes? Our national debt is now $16+ trillion. All tax revenues can’t even cover the MINIMUM INTEREST PAYMENT on our National Debt principle. This nation has been insolvent for quite some time. Your puny tax contribution is like spit in the wind. Sorry to tell you this, but you are a DEBT SLAVE. We’re worse off than Greece. We just happen to be the reserve currency, but that will soon come to an end. Have you noticed the THOUSANDS occupying Wall Street and around the world? Perhaps they have a clue about this, yes?

Ashley

October 25th, 2011
10:44 am

I graduated in 1976 from a high-school in Huntsville,Alabama…..as a junior I took Bible Lit. there were no protest or cries of separation of Church and State. I guess thirty six years ago we weren’t so PC, of \ course I remember saying the Pledge of Allegiance and singing God Bless America in elementary school. We live in a different world ….cheaters and corrupt school officials rule the hallways.

Truth in Moderation

October 25th, 2011
10:48 am

@V for Vendetta You said:
“I don’t need anything else. I have reality.”

Wow! Where does one get this “reality”?

Ashley

October 25th, 2011
10:53 am

Oh….by the way Bible Lit. was an english elective, not a requirement just a choice.

Truth in Moderation

October 25th, 2011
10:58 am

@Dr. Monica Henson You said:
“(I am a Presbyterian and a former Sunday School superintendent, so I can say “Bible-thumper.”)”

I am confused. What does this statement have to do with the Bible? What is its relevance to the conversation? Exactly what is a “Bible-thumper?”

Poetry Man

October 25th, 2011
11:05 am

I teach this class as a literature class. I address metaphor, allegory, and mythology. The Bible is an important book in literature. It is alluded to more than any other book in Western Civilization. No preaching or proselytizing is allowed in my classrrom. No one religion is held in higher esteem than another. The students sign up for the class because they know I will be honest and open with them. We have good conversations about all world religions and I try to answer all of their questions. Teaching the Bible does not mean teaching religion.

@ Ashley (10:44 am)

October 25th, 2011
11:18 am

Ashley -

Based on your testimonial:

I can only imagine Alabama is one of the leading states in educational attainment!

Yankee Prof

October 25th, 2011
11:24 am

As an agnostic and a staunch proponent of the separation of church and state, I am, not ironically, all for getting kids to actually read the Bible in public school. I see numerous advantages to this.

First off, when students do try to force a religious argument within the confines of a secular institution, there will at least be an increased chance in their getting the quotes right. Secondly, in many cases, getting the quotes right actually serves to undermine many conservative or fundamentalist arguments. Finally, as a longtime English instructor, I know that there’s no surer way of getting kids to hate something than forcing them to read about it.

So, their side wins the battle, my side wins the war. :-)

Prophecy

October 25th, 2011
11:24 am

If there was a Jesus the Atlanta Public Schools would be extinct!

V for Vendetta

October 25th, 2011
11:29 am

Truth,

Existence exists. It was here before us, and it will be here long after us. You can tell all the stories you want about how it started, but I’ll look to science for my explanations, not religion. Throughout the ages, science has trumped religious dogma again and again–despite religion’s best efforts to hold it back. While you might take great comfort in living in a fantasy world, I’ll make the best of time here in the real world.

Truth in Moderation

October 25th, 2011
11:31 am

@Poetry Man

Why do you consider yourself qualified to teach a course on the Bible and “all world religions”?

“No preaching or proselytizing is allowed in my classroom.”
If this is true, how do you handle this quote from the Bible? Do you skip it?

“I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at[a] His appearing and His kingdom: 2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; 4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. 5 But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” 2 Timothy 4:1-5

Also, If you use this course to directly attack/contradict what is written in the Bible, a RELIGIOUS book, don’t you then DIRECTLY violate the First Amendment? After all, Christians were first know as the “people of the Book”. To attack the Bible is to attack Christians and Jews, as it DEFINES their religion. Just sayin’.

Pluto

October 25th, 2011
11:39 am

@ V Wow that’s really deep. Obviously you have your own “god” and your own “reality”. That’s nice. Good luck with that but I think I’ll go my way.

thomas

October 25th, 2011
11:39 am

I don’t have any problem teaching the Bible as a literature – it is, one of the most ifluential and important literature. But, it is an elective course, and just because the Bible happens also to be a religeous book does not make these elective courses any more important than others. Can we see how widely some of other elective courses are being taught? Then, we can have a reasonable discussion whether or not the numbers we are looking at are reasonable.

Truth in Moderation

October 25th, 2011
11:47 am

@V for Vendetta
Your answer did not answer my question. Plus, you made assumptions and used undefined terms. A poor answer indeed!

Please define “reality” and explain why you don’t need anything else.
How do you know you don’t need anything else?

If you are using “reality” as a synonym for “existence,” you claim, “It was here before us, and it will be here long after us.” What scientific method/experiment did you use to come to this conclusion? You stated it as fact. Do you claim science can PROVE events in the future? What scientific instrument did you use to see into the future to irrefutably prove this claim? Is it patented? Could I get in on the ground floor?

According to your definition of reality, do dreams “exist”?
Does information “exist”?
I’m sure I’ll think of more questions. I look forward to your answers.

V for Vendetta

October 25th, 2011
11:50 am

Pluto, my reality is the same as yours. I just don’t choose to add to it based on the teachings of a bunch of oral traditions which were simply lifted from previous cultures’ oral traditions. I’m satisfied with reality and my life. I’m not so arrogant or greedy to feel as though I deserve something more than this. Why are you?

Truth in Moderation

October 25th, 2011
12:05 pm

@V
“I just don’t choose to add to it based on the teachings of a bunch of oral traditions which were simply lifted from previous cultures’ oral traditions”

Didn’t you state at one time on this blog that you are a follower of Ayn Rand’s writings and speeches? Wasn’t she also influenced by other philosophers and writers? How is this any different?

V for Vendetta

October 25th, 2011
12:07 pm

Truth,

Your haggling over semantics means very little. It is easy to assert that because we don’t know something (”we” meaning science) there must be some sort of supernatural explanation. Such thinking is illogical. The exponential increase in technology and knowledge about our environment and our universe has obviated the need for supernatural explanations. There are only a few like you who cling to the rapidly shrinking icebergs of faith, most of which are predicated on how the universe began or how life began. Please.

You want to dismantle scientific explanations and replace them with what? A dusty old book written by men whose knowledge of the world around them was explained in parables and stories? (Stories that are violent, misogynistic, exclusionary, and self-serving, no less)

Sound about right?

Truth in Moderation

October 25th, 2011
12:09 pm

Wow. Since you’ve never defined your term “reality”, how do you know it is the same as Pluto’s? Are you twins with co-joined heads? I’m confused. Please help me out.

Truth in Moderation

October 25th, 2011
12:14 pm

@ V
Your whole response was an irrelevant argument. Perhaps a course in logic would help. I am quite familiar with the scientific method. Let’s just say I’ve had experience with medical school. I asked you to explain your statement in scientific terms, because you stated that that is your source of truth. The truth is, you could not give me a scientific answer. THAT IS YOUR PROBLEM, NOT MINE.

Progressive Humanist

October 25th, 2011
12:17 pm

When I taught high school literature I would have loved to have taught the Bible class. We teach Greek and Roman mythology; why not teach Christian mythology? It would be a great opportunity to help students develop critical thinking- We could examine why this “moral” code contains advice on how to conduct slavery and when you should kill your children. We could examine whether the positions of the current religious right actually conform to the teachings of Jesus, who said some good things about helping the poor (socialist!), but also suggested followers leave their families (one of the most immoral actions I can think of) to follow him (classic cult behavior). Yes, that class would have been a real learning experience for students.