February 01, 1998 3 min read

Bible Lessons

Ever since the Supreme Court’s 1963 decision ending school-sponsored prayer, religion has largely disappeared from the public school curriculum. But that’s starting to change. The National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools claims its materials are now used by districts in 22 states, according to U.S. News & World Report (January 12). In Fort Myers, Florida, a conservative majority of the local school board adopted the council’s curriculum, described in the article as “a bare chronology that seems to implicitly accept the historical accuracy of the New Testament, or at least offers no viewpoints that question it.” The American Civil Liberties Union and People for the American Way have sued the district in federal court, arguing that the district’s presentation of the Bible as fact endorses Christianity and thus violates the U.S. Constitution. Ironically, three years ago, the Christian Coalition and People for the American Way, “along with 15 other ideologically diverse groups, declared an unprecedented truce in the public school culture wars,” the article reports. The organizations released a joint statement calling on schools to “ensure that the curriculum includes study about religion, where appropriate, as an important part of a complete education.” But clearly, that’s easier said than done.

God And Man At Choate

Meanwhile, at many elite boarding schools, Christianity has all but disappeared, laments Andrew Oliver in the National Review (December 31, 1997). The writer, a graduate of Groton, reports that “a number of schools, including Phillips Exeter and Deerfield, have eliminated compulsory chapel attendance.” And others have reduced their religion requirements “by varying degrees.” At the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey, students no longer sing the school hymn because, according to a school spokesman, it is too “Christocentric in nature.” Oliver’s alma mater is an exception: It has maintained its Episcopal religious tradition and still requires daily chapel attendance, a course in Bible studies and ethics, and grace before meals. But all is not lost at other schools. “A few years ago,” Oliver writes, “Choate tried to reintroduce hymn singing into the chapel meetings. Although the effort was unsuccessful—'an absolute bomb,’ said one school official—the school intends to try it again at some point in the future. And when several years ago a candlelight Mass was instituted for Catholics, three students showed up. Recently, 175 students attended. Apparently, some faculty and students at some schools feel the lack of something in their lives—and are trying to do at least something about it.”

The Case Against Tenure

Teacher tenure takes yet another beating in the January issue of Good Housekeeping. “The practice of granting tenure was once necessary to guard poorly paid teachers from capricious sacking, for anything from marriage to political activism,” Lynnell Hancock writes. “But today, all American workers enjoy civil rights protection against arbitrary dismissal based on racial, gender, or religious discrimination.” That may be true, but as National Education Association president Bob Chase points out, “Tenure isn’t a job guarantee. It’s a democratic process that needs to be followed.” Hancock, however, remains unconvinced. She cites several glaring examples of how difficult it sometimes can be for school districts to fire incompetent teachers. “Procedures for ridding schools of outdated or underprepared instructors are bogged down in a tangle of tenure protocol,” she writes, without defining exactly what she means by “outdated” teachers. And although some state legislators are trying to deal with the issue, she concludes that “all this tinkering has yet to yield big results. Some experiments are too new to assess. Others are just too small scale to make a dent in the daunting problem of borderline teachers.” According to an accompanying poll, 52 percent of Americans are opposed to teacher tenure “because it makes it difficult or extremely costly to fire those who are incompetent,” and 84 percent believe that “teachers should be periodically retested in order to keep their teaching licenses.”

—David Hill