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SMU Professor’s Study Criticizes Teaching of the Bible in Texas Public Schools, Including Duncanville and Prosper ISDs

The video above is a sample of what it’s like to learn about the Bible in Duncanville public schools. It’s from a Hanna-Barbera cartoon series,”The Greatest Adventure: Stories From the Bible,” that’s reportedly used by the ISD.

Texas allows electives on the “Bible’s Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament” in public schools. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that such courses are constitutional, so long as they are taught in a purely academic manner without bias towards a particular sectarian presentation of the material.

But SMU religious studies professor Mark Chancey released a study on Wednesday, in conjunction with the education watchdog Texas Freedom Network, that points to troubling ways in which these courses are being taught. In general, there is a tendency in many of the courses towards a conservative, Protestant interpretation of the material and a literal reading of the scriptures. He is especially critical of 21 of the 57 districts in which Biblical courses are taught, including Duncanville and Prosper ISDs in North Texas.

In Duncanville, Chancey’s study states, the course is taught by a retired minister with a doctorate in theology from Orthodox Baptist Institute. One of the key texts of the course is Halley’s Bible Handbook:

Although Halley’s Bible Handbook was used in six courses in 2005-06, only two used it in 2011-12. Duncanville ISD continues to rely on it as a primary source for lecture material and test content, while Ector County ISD includes it as one of several resources available to students. As the back cover of the edition used in Duncanville summarizes, “Whether you have never read the Bible before or have read it many times, you will find insights here that can give you a firm grasp of God’s World….You will see how its different themes fit together in a remarkable way. And you will see the heart of God and the person of Jesus Christ revealed from Genesis to Revelation.”

Although Halley’s is a much beloved evangelical classic, its distinctive theological focus makes it difficult to utilize appropriately in a nonsectarian class, and Duncanville’s materials in particular reflect a wholesale adoption of its theology.

Prosper ISD isn’t singled out for quite as much attention in the study, but Chancey notes some troubling language in its course and test materials, such as these cited samples:

A Prosper ISD worksheet on Romans poses questions such as “What did Christ make us free from? (8:1)” and “What can separate us from the love of Christ? (8:35).”

The report isn’t entirely critical of schools teaching Bible courses. Chancey mentions Plano, Lovejoy, and Grapevine-Colleyville ISDs among those doing a better job.

Aren’t problems like these unavoidable though? Doesn’t it suggest that we’d be better off keeping public schools out of the religion business entirely?