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Ethics, Inspiration, and Talents:

Teaching the Bible in the Reading Curriculum

by B. Jane Kulp

In private Christian schools, teachers are provided with a reading curriculum from Christian publishers such as A- Beka or Bob Jones. These curricula include textbooks and support materials that are Christ-centered and Bible-oriented. Teacherís manuals tell the instructor exactly what to say and how to drill so that children will remember the truths taught as well as mastering the specific reading skills being emphasized. However, Christian teachers in public schools are not so blessed.

Public school reading curricula are designed to ensure that students are "introduced" to specific government standards for education. Presumably the standard is revisited enough times during the course of the curriculum so that the skill is eventually mastered; however, emphasis is on covering the skill, not mastering it. Students discuss themes, character motivations, cause and effect, sequence of events, etc. They are encouraged to make judgments, express opinions, and draw conclusions Ė constantly supporting their comments with details from the story. However, one important aspect of reading is neglected in public schools: the aspect which touches the soul (mind, emotions, and will).

A good reading experience should enhance insight and imagination, heighten positive emotions, and strengthen the will to do what is right. Teachers who do not allow these properties to be evident in the reading curriculum are like doctors who treat a symptom but not the disease. The government standards say that children must be taught to recognize an authorís purpose in writing; however, the standards donít require that the teacher evaluate whether the authorís purpose is being accomplished in the hearts and minds of those young readers. Paxton Hood, author of Isaac Watts: His Life and Hymns and Portraits of the Great Revival, has said, "The books we read should be . . . as an Egyptian king wrote over his library, 'The medicines of the soul.'"[1]

Modern secular education treats reading as a tool, not a medicine. Todayís public school reading curricula are geared toward the mechanical brain, not the soul. Discussion of moral values, tie-ins with biblical teachings, and mention of God or Jesus are minimal or in many cases completely lacking. Dr. James Kennedy points out that todayís child "has been violated and abused by his public school teachers. He has been morally abused." He goes on to say:

American society has been abused for the last fifty years. We have been told that God is dead and that religion has no place in our lives. We live in a cold, mechanistic world. Time and chance control everything, and God is dead. How can anyone possibly be surprised when millions of men, women, and children, whose souls have been stolen from them in this fashion, live and die in the most dismal and hopeless manner?"[2]

Actually, Christian teachers in public schools are more apt to be guilty of "moral neglect" than "moral abuse." Unfortunately too many of them have begun to fear the government more than they fear God. They tend to forget that God is sovereign. He is in control Ė even in the development of a reading curriculum. When Jesus told His followers to "Go, and teach all nations" (Matthew 28:19), He also promised "I am with you always" (Matthew 28:20). He is always there with the Christian teacher in the public school classroom. He doesnít wait outside the door. He doesnít linger on the pavement in front of the school. He is WITH the teacher. He is the teacherís "liberator," "strength," and "shield" (Psalm 18:2).

Contrary to popular opinion, the law does not forbid the mention of God, Jesus, or the Bible in public school classrooms; however, there are certain restrictions or limitations on inclusion of these topics or any religious materials. First, the purpose must be "to further specified educational goals and not to encourage them [the students] to believe or disbelieve the religious message." Second, the presentation must be done "in an objective, rather than a devotional, manner." Finally, care must be taken to show "respect for studentsí (and studentsí familiesí) own religious beliefs, or lack thereof." [3]

Freedom to Teach Truths

A Christian who teaches Reading in a public school has the freedom to introduce a religious topic if it can be shown that such discussion enhances or furthers a specified goal of the curriculum. The Christian Law Association affirms, "Public schools are permitted to teach about religion as it relates to art, dance, history, law, literature, music, and/or politics."[4]  The law does not give the "right" to discuss religion, but it does provide the "opportunity." Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the teacher will discover many such opportunities. The following examples are taken from Harcourt Trophies (2003), Fifth Grade Reading/Language Arts Program, Unit 1, "Look Inside."

The unit begins with a selection from Hot & Cold Summer, by Johanna Hurwitz. Two boys vow they will not speak to the new girl in town no matter what their parents say. One of the stated goals on page 26 of the teacherís manual is "Make Judgments: What do you think of Derekís idea to avoid talking to Bolivia?" A good classroom discussion will emphasize The Golden Rule (Luke 6:31). A wise teacher will make sure students know this is Godís rule and is stated in the Bible. During the following weeks, as students continue to learn to "Make Judgments," they should be encouraged to explain how The Golden Rule applies to Walnutís situation in Sees Behind Trees, by Michael Dorris, and Maryís situation in Yang the Third and Her Impossible Family, by Lensey Namioka.

The selection taken from Yang the Third and Her Impossible Family also includes the skill "Compare/Contrast" along with "Make Judgments." Mary has a kitten which she keeps hidden because "it is forbidden." She also is often ashamed of her parents because they donít try to be more "American." These attitudes could be compared and contrasted with the biblical mandates "Children, obey your parents" and "Honor thy father and mother" (Ephesians 6:1-2). Students should also be encouraged to consider ways in which Walnut in Sees Behind Trees showed honor for his father and mother.

The fourth selection in the unit, Dear Mrs. Parks, by Rosa Parks with Gregory J. Reed, is packed full of opportunities for Christian teachers to add to the curriculum. First, one of the vocabulary words is "inspire." Since a "focus skill" for this unit is "Prefixes, Suffixes, and Roots," discussion of the definition should include an explanation of the prefix plus the Latin root ("to breathe into"). As one example, mention can be made that many people love to read the Bible because God, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, "breathes into them" understanding (Job 32:8). However, people who do not believe in God do not receive that inspiration so they do not understand the Bible. Second, the teacherís manual recommends a Social Studies connection by discussing the origin of the word "talent" and how the modern usage relates to the Latin word which meant "weight or money." No story better illustrates this comparison than Jesusí "Parable of the Talents" (Matthew 25:14-30) which shows the original meaning within its proper historical setting. Third, Mrs. Parks letter on page 103 is filled with references to her faith: "I have been blessed with a wonderful life. . . .I am grateful to God for this long life. I am thankful that He has used me to fulfill some of His plans." She speaks of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the freedoms of our country. Then she states, "We cannot take these blessings for granted. We must share these gifts from God." Since, a third "focus skill" is "Draw Conclusions," classroom discussion should center on "What do you think inspires Mrs. Parks?" and "When Mrs. Parks makes judgments, what do you think her judgments are based upon?"

The unit concludes with a selection from the book Elena, by Diane Stanley. Since the story is basically about the treatment of a Mexican family, the Golden Rule should again be discussed as part of the goal of learning to "Make Judgments." However, a major emphasis should be placed on page 123 which states, "In every country and every age, brave men and women had faced terrible dangers. She could do it, too Ė God had put it into her heart. We saw this understanding pass across her face like a ripple of light." What a beautiful description of "inspiration"! The textbook publishers emphasize the womanís courage and daring; however, as a Christian teacher conducts discussion under the specified skill to "Draw Conclusions," the Source of the womanís courage must also be pointed out. This passage could also lead to mention of Davidís words, "The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?" (Psalm 27:1).

Similar examples can be found in every public school reading curriculum this author has examined. God has made sure the opportunities are available. He has made sure the law is worded in such a way as to allow Christians to use these opportunities. In this way He "liberates" the Christian teacher to serve Him in a public classroom. The wise servant will heed his Master.

Strength to be Objective

When introducing religious information into a discussion, the Christian teacher must have the strength of character to remain totally objective about the presentation. Personal feelings, opinions, prejudice, etc. may not be expressed. The lesson may not be turned into a sermon or a devotional. There must be no tendency to persuade the students to a particular belief. If the same truth is known to be also taught in another religion, mention should be made of that fact. The Christian Law Association states, "Cases have held that there can be no devotional use of the Bible, no proselytizing, and no promotion of any one particular religious or anti-religious viewpoint over others."[ibid]

To be totally objective -- showing no emotion about that in which one believes passionately Ė is very difficult. Yet God knew before todayís laws were enacted that His followers would need to guard their emotions. The first essential piece of armor Paul names is the girdle of truth, or sincerity. This to be worn to "gird up" or fortify the "loins" (biblical term for seat of the emotions) in preparing for action. Interestingly, Paul begin his directive with the command to "stand" (Ephesians 6:14). The battle for the souls of Americaís children can be won neither sitting down nor with insincerity nor with oneís emotions exposed.

Godís Word directs Christians to pray for and give thanks for those in authority over us, "that we may lead a quiet and peaceful life in all godliness and honesty" (1 Timothy 2:2). Followers of Christ must model for students a respect for authority figures and for rules. In one passage Christians are told, "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lordís sake" (1 Peter 2:13). In another passage Paul wrote, "The servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient" (2 Timothy 2:24). Christian teachers are not to rise up against government imposed rules and regulations simply because those prohibitions make teaching difficult. God never promised that it would be easy to tell others about Him. He merely promised He would always be with His followers girding them up, providing the strength and wisdom for them to persevere. Christian teachers in public classrooms need to call upon His strength to help them maintain the objectivity which is required by the government.

Shielded from Showing Bias

The Christian teacher would do well to remind himself of The Golden Rule frequently. The law expects teachers in public schools to show respect for all viewpoints Ė to treat the opinions of others as they would have their own opinions be treated. No child may be belittled for expressing his own beliefs or for repeating those of his parents, no matter how absurd they may seem. Free speech is alive and well in todayís classrooms as long as the use of it does not turn into harassment or proselytizing and does not disrupt the educational process.

If an Islamic child should wish to share Mohammedís teachings as related to a particular discussion topi, that must be graciously (not grudgingly) permitted. When a student speaks up and says, "My parents say the Bible is just an old book that doesnít apply to today," the teacher must admit that some people do have that opinion and, perhaps, explain why some people feel that way.

Every person in the classroom, student as well as teacher, has the right to voice their opinion and to feel that their opinion is valued. However, no one in the classroom has the right to "preach" at the class or attempt to force their opinions onto others. As the person in charge of the classroom, the teacher has the responsibility to make sure all comments pertain to the current topic of discussion, enhance the educational standard(s) for that particular lesson, and do not cross the boundaries into what might be termed a disruptive influence.

The public school teacher is expected to be a paragon of sensitivity, empathy, understanding, tolerance, and appreciation. This can only be accomplished in the strength of Godís love. In His power, a person can love the messenger without loving the message which they share. In James 5:16-18, the Lordís brother offers these thoughts which are appropriate to the situation:

Where envying and strife are there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by them that make peace.

As His child, a Christian teacher is to "obey them that have rule over you" (Hebrews 13:17). God allowed the current laws to be written, and those laws do not overtly countermand the laws He has given in His Word; therefore the Christian teacher must work within those laws. A good meditation for the Christian teacher is Psalm 91: "His truth shall be thy shield and buckler. Thou shalt not be afraid. . . . There shall no evil befall thee." His Truth presented objectively, in alignment with curriculum standards, and with fairness to all, will prevail even in a public school classroom.

NOTES

  1. Quote can be viewed at http://www.cybernation.com/quotationcenter/quotesearch.php?keywords=books+we+read&type=2
  2. D. James Kennedy with Jim Nelson Black. Character & Destiny: A Nation in Search of Its SOUL. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing,1994, 45.
  3. Christian Legal Society. Teachers & Religion in Public Schools. Pasadena,California: Christian Educators Association International, 2000, 33-34.
  4. "What is Going On in Americaís Public Schools?" Christian Law Association, 2002. Available on-line at http://www.christianlaw.org/public_schools_pf.html

The contents of this article reflect the authorís views acquired through research and experience. The author is not engaged in rendering any legal professional service. The services of a professional person are recommended if legal advice or assistance is needed. The author and ChristianTeacher.org disclaim any loss or liability to any person or entity with respect to loss or damage caused, or alleged to be caused, directly or indirectly by the utilization of any information contained in this article.

All rights reserved. Copyright © 2003 by B. Jane Kulp

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