The never-ending debate over the separation of church and state leads many to conclude that faith has no place in public school classrooms. But a new report claims that many state academic standards allow -- and sometimes even recommend -- that schools cover subjects like Jesus, salvation and the Bible.
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Gateways to Better Education, a nonprofit advocating for the expression of faith in public schools, released an extensive analysis titled, "The Bible in State Academic Standards," which provides detailed information on academic standards in each state.
"The 230-page report highlights state-by-state, academic standards indicating ample opportunity for educators to teach about the Bible, Christian beliefs, and Christians who were influential in history," according to a press release.
Eric Buehrer, president of Gateways to Better Education, argues that there are misconceptions among teachers when it comes to religion, specifically the teaching of Christian themes.
"There is a common misconception among many educators that teaching about the Bible and Christianity is not allowed in public school classrooms because of concerns over the establishment of religion," he said in a statement announcing the report. "The fact is public school students are expected to learn these things."
In the document's executive summary, Buehrer writes that he's hopeful educators will learn from what's presented in the report that they have the right -- and the academic freedom -- to teach the full extent of what's permitted under the law.
So, the natural question is: What, exactly, is embedded in those standards when it comes to the study of faith and religion? The report goes into detail, but there are a few examples cited in the executive summary that are worth noting.
For example, according to the report, the recommended teaching for 6th grade students in California reads as follows (this same language is present in numerous documents on the California Department of Education website):
"Note the origins of Christianity in the Jewish Messianic prophecies, the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as described in the New Testament, and the contribution of St. Paul the Apostle to the definition and spread of Christian beliefs (e.g., belief in the Trinity, resurrection, salvation)."
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And California isn't alone.
In Massachusetts, too, history and social studies standards say that 7th graders are expected to know a variety of facts about Christianity, including theological beliefs about the nature of Jesus Christ as viewed by adherents.
In addition to understanding the origins of Christianity, students should comprehend monotheism, the belief that Jesus is God's son who saved humanity from sin, the meaning of salvation, the Old and New Testaments and the lives of central figures.
See the exact language of the standard in a screen shot from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's website below:
Massachusetts Screen shot from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education website
Despite presenting broader legal parameters than some might realize, the report calls on teachers to "remain objective" when covering religious subjects.
"The lesson should not be designed to prove the story is true, nor question whether the story is accurate," the text reads. "The goal should be to introduce students to the story and help them understand the influence it has had on history, literature, art, and music."
Read more about the report here.
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