Bible Course Committee spends year in planning

WINDER - Barrow County's 19-member Bible Course Committee will spend this school year studying teaching methods, reviewing materials and possibly deciding whether to offer the courses.

The two elective courses, Literature and History of The Old Testament and of The New Testament, would be offered at Apalachee and Winder-Barrow high schools in fall 2008. The committee is made up of school board members, parents, students, teachers, principals and a church pastor.

In its Aug. 7 meeting, the committee heard suggestions from Kent Richards, Emory University Professor of Old Testament and Executive Director of the Society of Biblical Literature, on how to teach the Bible.

In a public school classroom, the Bible must be taught academically, not devotionally, and teachers should strive for student awareness of the facts, rather than acceptance. The students' work should always be evaluated by ordinary academic standards, he said.

Legislation allows the student to choose which version of the Bible they prefer to use for study. At this point, the committee has identified two supplemental materials, "The Bible and Its Influence" from the Bible Literacy Project and "The Bible in History and Literature" from the National Council on the Bible in Public Schools.

Richards said he found subtle proselytizing in the latter text, in which each section features a photo of the American flag and Benjamin Franklin's glasses.

Students will study in 90-minute class periods for 45 days each semester. Teachers and curriculum planners must decide whether to design the course content into a comprehensive survey of the whole Bible or to break it down into segments and time periods.

Teachers must be certified in Language Arts or Social Studies. Richards suggested searching for those teachers who also have an interest in the subject, have knowledge of comparative literature and are able to distance themselves from their own personal convictions.

"We are in unchartered waters here," said Lynn Stevens, District 5 Board of Education member. "I don't want us to be the test case for the ACLU. I don't want us to spend $3 million to lose a case. My primary object is that we not get sued."

At this early date in the school year, no records exist of all the schools in the state that offer the Bible literacy courses, said Matt Cardoza, spokesman for the Georgia Department of Education. Rockdale County High School and Heritage High School offer Literature and History of the Old Testament in the fall semester and New Testament in the spring. Seventy-seven students at Lakeside and Evans high schools in Augusta are taking the courses this fall and spring. Cherokee County high schools offered them, but the classes were canceled because too few students signed up to take them.

Diane Speight, a parent and member of Barrow County's Bible Course committee, said the teaching of the Bible is a valuable facet of education.

"Our kids should learn the history and literature even though there is some controversy surrounding it," she said. "It's good for parents to be involved, and the committee is going through the process in a very correct way."

Her daughter, Jessie, 14, looks forward to taking the courses, if they are offered.

"Most people view it as religion, but it is also a history," she said.

The Bible Course Committee meetings are open to the public. Its next meetings will be held at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 18 and Oct. 16 at the Professional Development Center, 179 W. Athens St., Winder.