5.29.24 -- The 74

“Texas Seeks To Inject Bible Stories into Elementary School Reading Program” 

by Linda Jacobson

Excerpts from this article:


Texas elementary school students would get a significant dose of Bible knowledge with their reading instruction under a sweeping curriculum
redesign unveiled Wednesday [5.29.24] 

From the story of Queen Esther — who convinced her husband, the Persian king, to spare the Jews — to the depiction of Christ’s last supper, the material is designed to draw connections between classroom content and religious texts.

If you’re reading classic works of American literature, there are often religious allusions in that literature,
state education Commissioner Mike Morath told The 74. Any changes being made are to reinforce the kind of background knowledge on these seminal works of the American cultural experience. 

With the potential to reach over 2 million K–5 students in the nation’s second-largest state, the update marks a big step in a movement embraced by conservatives to root young people’s education in what they consider traditional values…

…In an interview with a Christian talk show, GOP 
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who describes himself as a “Christian first, conservative second,praised the curriculum changes, saying they will “get us back to teaching, not necessarily the Bible per se, but the stories from the Bible.”

The release comes four days after the state Republican party
 passed a platform calling on the legislature and the state Board of Education to require instruction on the Bible. Texas education department officials declined to comment on the platform and have emphasized that the new curriculum includes material from other faiths….

Going far beyond typical reading and writing fundamentals,
the new lessons draw on history, science and the arts what many people call this classical model of education,Morath said.

To understand “
Number the Stars,a book about a Jewish family hiding in Denmark during World War II, he said students should understand more about “Jewish cultural practices” and “the vilification of this ethnic minority.” 

A unit on “Fighting for a Cause,” … includes
the Old Testament story of Esther and how she and her cousin Mordecai “fought for what they knew was right and made a difference that not only affected the Jews of Persia but also Jewish people today.”

The [literature selections] mentioned
range in size from a page on Esther to a few paragraphs about Samuel Adams at the Continental Congress. His plea to fellow delegates to pray together, despite religious differences, is offered as a first-grade vocabulary lesson on the word “compromise.” 

Fifth graders are asked to read Martin Luther King Jr.’s
Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Written after his 1963 arrest for leading march against segregation, King compared his act of civil disobedience to the “refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar” in the Book of Daniel.

If you don’t know who Nebuchadnezzar is, you don’t know what [King’s] talking about,
Morath said. How do you make sure that you can unlock in the minds of our kids their ability to wrestle with … ideas that have surfaced in great works of literature?” 

Not just literature, but art. A lesson on “The Last Supper,” da Vinci’s Renaissance masterpiece, points fifth graders to the New Testament. 

The Bible explains that Jesus knew that after this meal, he would be arrested, put on trial, and killed,
the text reads. Let’s read the story in the book of Matthew to see for ourselves what unfolded during the supper.

While drawing parallels to religious texts, Morath said the lessons would respect bright lines regarding the separation of church and state.

“This is still a curriculum for public school and we’ve designed it to be appropriate in that setting,” he said… 

Last year, Morath
 met with conservative parents who decried the emphasis on mythology and minimal attention to Christianity.

There’s one mention of Jesus, that he was a teacher a couple thousand years ago,
said Jamie Haynes, who runs a website on “concerning” curriculum and library books. The only other time we can find God, our God — the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob — is in the American unit.” 

In an interview with The 74, Morath pointed to a World War II lesson that focuses on J. Robert Oppenheimer’s
 famous reaction upon witnessing the explosion of the first atomic bomb in Los Alamos: “Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” The words, featured prominently in the recent Oscar-winning film, derive from the Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu scripture.  

Kindergarteners studying the Golden Rule would learn that the idea comes from the “Christian Bible,” according to the text, but that similar principles can be found in the “ancient books” of Islam and Hinduism. Another section on the Renaissance highlights Muslim settlers in Spain and their contributions to philosophy, poetry and astronomy.



…the state 
awarded an $84 million contract to the Boston-based Public Consulting Group to revise the curriculum.

For the reading program, the company worked closely with several authors who specialize in
 Texas history, including its role in westward expansion and launching the national space program, according to a list of vendors provided by the state.

But it also leaned on conservative organizations steeped in the culture wars. Contracts went to two officials at the Texas Public Policy Foundation: Courtnie
Bagley, the think tank’s education director, and Thomas Lindsay, a higher education director and vocal opponent of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. The foundation, which called the 10 Commandments bill an “important step in bringing faith-based values back to the forefront of our society,” declined to comment on their contributions. Public Consulting Group officials also did not respond to questions. 

Hillsdale, another vendor, is a major player in advancing classical education. It authored the
 1776 Curriculum, a civics and history model that emphasizes American exceptionalism and is a favorite of conservatives opposed to lessons on institutional racism…

Hillsdale never profits from its work in K-12, nor does it accept one penny from federal, state or local taxpayers,
said spokeswoman Emily Davis. She added, Religion is taught for the sake of cultural literacy, not to promote a particular religion.” 

Originally the province of well-heeled private or parochial schools, classical education has blossomed in recent years both as a response to pandemic lockdowns and what some parents view as progressive trends in traditional public schools. The philosophy is rooted in the liberal arts and historical texts, with a sharp focus on the Greek and Roman foundations of Western civilization.

The movement entertains healthy debate about the role of religion,
but most practitioners agree that giving students a strong body of knowledge requires the use of primary sources, including the Bible.

They’re going to need to have some biblical literacy, if only to interpret John Milton, or Dante or Shakespeare,
said Robert Jackson, who runs the Institute for Classical Education at Florida’s Flagler College.

Officials are quick to point out that adoption of the new program is voluntary. But a potential $60 per-student incentive it is offering for participation may make it difficult for cash-strapped school systems to refuse.

The updated materials are now open for public review and are scheduled to go before the state Board of Education for approval this fall… 



6.6.24 -- “Position Paper – Teaching Biblical Literature As a Part of English/Language Arts/Reading” -- From a collaboration of English/Language Arts/Reading classroom teachers ー published on July 2, 2001 --

5.29.24 -- “Texas Leading the Way Toward Character-Building Textbooks” -- By Donna Garner --