Round Peg, Square Hole

What is the proper role for religion in American public schools? That’s the question historian Ben Justice asked us yesterday at the American Educational Research Association meeting. I’m still stumped. I can’t see an easy way to reconcile the fundamental tension between two contrasting goals.

round peg square hole

It ain’t gonna fit.

SAGLRROILYBYGTH may remember the first episode. If you don’t, here’s the catch-up: Historian Ben Justice put together a panel to wrestle with the proper role of religion in public education. Religious studies scholars Stephanie Mitchem and Mark Chancey joined in, as did philosophers Colin MacLeod and Harvey Siegel. And me.

Our panel agreed—public schools need to teach about religion without teaching religion. And public schools need to be inclusive religious spaces. That is, public schools need to welcome people of every faith and none, but they can’t themselves promote or denigrate any specific religion. Sounds simple enough.

But there have always been disagreements and likely always will be. How do we solve them? As Colin and Ben wrote in their recent book, when it comes to questions of majority rule and minority rights, we’re not all going to agree on every problem. Our goal, instead, should be “legitimacy in the face of religious pluralism.”

In other words, people don’t have to agree with various school policies. If they see them as fair, however, as legitimate, then they will go along with them. And that brings us to our dilemma.

For some religious people, the notion of “inclusive” public schools is not a way to talk about the proper role of religion in the public square. Rather, for many Americans, “inclusivity” is itself a religious idea. So instead of having conversations about how we can all be welcomed in our public schools, we end up with a fight between two religions, only one of which admits to being a religion.

Clear as mud.

But it seems a little clearer when we look at examples. We see it everywhere we look. Consider a class in the history of religion, for example. In an inclusive school, a teacher might teach kids about the development of Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. She might explain to kids—trying to be neutral, trying not to favor any religion or non-religion over another—about the ways different people at different times believed different things about God and humanity. She might describe the ways Christianity grew out of Judaism, the way different Christians came to disagree with one another. Her goal, she would probably tell you, is not religious. She doesn’t want to preach; she only wants to teach.

For some parents, students, and activists, though, such a curriculum is not neutral at all. They might reasonably want their children to share their belief that their religion is true. For many religious people, the universal claims of their religion are absolutely central. That is, many religious people need to understand their faith as True with a capital T, not only true for them at their specific historical moment.

For religious people like that, a school curriculum that thinks of itself as neutral is not neutral at all. It is teaching, instead, the intensely religious idea that religion is a human invention rather than a divine revelation.

This is more than just an abstract game of what ifs. As SAGLRROILYBYGTH know well, in the last hundred years American Protestants split on exactly this sort of disagreement. Liberal Protestants often embraced the notion that their religion was a human creation, or, to be more precise, that their own understanding of religion was a human thing. Conservative Protestants, including those that mobilized as “fundamentalists,” disagreed. Vehemently.

For evangelical Protestants, the notion of an inclusive public square has always been the enemy. It has always been the rallying cry of their religious enemies. As I’ve argued in my 1920s book and my book about educational conservatism, religious conservatives—especially but not only conservative evangelicals—have learned for generations that the fight against “inclusion” was a religious fight against a religious enemy.

So how can we get people to think of “inclusion” as a legitimate goal? It will never be seen as legitimate if it is seen as a strategy by a competing religion. What then?

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What Should Religion Do in Public Schools?

With apologies to Yogi Berra, I’ll steal his line in this case. I’m heading down to the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association in San Antonio. It’s the big one for education wonks and nerds. And it’s a zoo. Like Yogi said, no one goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.

crowd

Pardon me, sir, you’re stepping on my PhD.

Why would anyone brave such crowds, heat, and academic foolery? In my case, I’m going because we’ll have a chance to wrestle with the most interesting question in the world: What is the proper relationship between religion and public education in the United States?

A panel of experts was put together by one of my all-time favorite ed historians, Ben Justice. He and his co-author Colin MacLeod just published a terrific book about religion and school. They invited me and my recent co-author Harvey Siegel. We rounded up a few more experts, including Stephanie Mitchem and Mark Chancey.

have a little faith

And you got your church all over my school…or did you get your school all over my church?

I’m looking forward to the discussion. As SAGLRROILYBYGTH are painfully aware, these are questions that keep me up at night:

  • Is it fair to creationists to force their children to learn an idea that they find religiously objectionable?
  • Do conservative evangelical Protestants have any special rights in public schools? If everyone in a town is the same (evangelical Protestant) religion, is it okay for the schools in town to lean that way, too?
  • Are public schools really hostile to religious belief? Conservatives often howl that schools are cesspools of “secular humanism,” but are they really?

And so on.

Each of us only gets a few minutes to say some things, then we’ll open up the room to a wider discussion. I’ll have a hard time keeping my opening presentation short, but I’ll try.

Watch this space—I’ll be sure to fill you in on how it all goes down.

What Does School Look Like in Christian America?

Talking about education in general is like talking about sex in general. There are a few things that are usually true, but it’s only interesting once you get down to specific cases. A recent article in the Kokomo [Indiana] Tribune gives us a look at the way evangelical Christianity still dominates the public schools of Greenwood, Indiana. As tempting as it might be for pundits to say that the Supreme Court kicked God out of public schools in 1963, in reality God is still very much a fact of life in many American schools.

We need to remember, though, that this is not simply a time warp. A public school run by conservative evangelical Protestants today is profoundly different from the way that kind of school would have been fifty years ago, or a hundred years ago.

In Greenwood, it seems, the public schools are not just friendly to evangelical Protestantism. They are dominated by it. The Bible class, for example, is taught by the gregarious and popular Peter Heck. As the article notes, there is absolutely nothing wrong with teaching classes about the Bible in public schools. Constitutionally, the courses need to be taught about the Bible as an historical and literary document. They should not be taught devotionally, as a way for students to deepen their Christian faith.

What the Heck is going on here?

What the Heck is going on here?

Heck’s class seems to do the latter. On the day the reporter went in to observe, students were learning how to use the Book of Judges to consider ways that God could use anyone to accomplish His goals. The watchdog group Americans for the Separation of Church and State charged that Heck’s conservative religion influenced the message in his classroom. On his radio show, Heck blasted President Obama and articulated his support for the conservative group American Family Association.

If Heck allowed his conservative Christian activism to influence his teaching, he was not the only one. Karol Evenson told the Kokomo Tribune that she used the school’s Christmas pageant to help spread the Gospel. When she’s teaching about the birth of Christ, Evenson told the newspaper,

I just get real passionate about that when I’m teaching it, so it allows me to share things. A lot of times, I tell the kids, ‘I’m not asking you to believe, I’m hoping that you do and that you will, but I’m trying to get you to feel the music and what we’re singing about.’ A lot of the kids here do believe it, so when they are singing those pieces, it’s such a blessing for me.

At the highest levels, too, the district supports this sort of religious infusion in the classroom. Superintendent Tracy Caddell denied that the Greenwood schools taught any religious doctrine. But he admitted that he saw the teaching staff as

a community of Christians who also are teachers and educators, and I don’t think any of us leave our faith at the door because the bell rings. . . . Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior and that doesn’t stop just because the school bell rings. . . . As a leader, I’m hoping that we’re promoting what people would call Christian values. However, we’re not promoting or teaching Christian doctrine. There’s a big difference.

As Professor Mark Chancey found in his study of Bible classes in Texas, this sort of attitude is not uncommon in America’s public schools. Nor is this new. In the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision in Abington v. Schempp (1963), in which prayer and Bible reading had supposedly been ruled unconstitutional in American public schools, political scientists Kenneth Dolbeare and Phillip Hammond found that many schools simply continued with their traditional prayers.

Depending on where you go to school, it seems, you might just get a dose of religion as part of your public-school day. Yet things have changed in the past fifty years. Back in 1963, I doubt the teachers and superintendents in towns like Greenwood would bother to say that they did not teach Christian doctrine. Back then, it is likely that a school like Greenwood High would not think twice about teaching Christian values.

Does that matter? I think it does. Fifty years ago, in places like Greenwood, the Bible teacher would not have the same pugnacious spirit as Peter Heck has today. On his radio show, it seems, Heck not only speaks from the perspective of a conservative evangelical Protestant, but assumes that his values are under attack. In his first book, Heck argues that “Christians Can Save America.”

Similarly, Greenwood’s superintendent acknowledged that his district flouted some of the norms of today’s secular culture. “Over time,” Superintendent Caddell told the Kokomo reporter,

we’ve gotten so worried about political correctness in this country that people have not had the opportunity to feel comfortable being a Christian in a public school. I think that’s sad, because that’s who you are.

The conservative Christians running public schools in Greenwood, Indiana—like Christians who do similar things in other American schools—are not simply trapped in the past. As I argue in my new book, in order to understand American education, we need to understand the ways conservative attitudes have shifted over the generations.

In Greenwood, at least, conservative school leaders understand that they are doing something outside of the norms. They just disagree with those norms.

Hobby Lobby-ing for Religion in Public Schools

Has God been kicked out of America’s public schools?  The most common answer among religious conservatives is yes.  But a better answer might be that God has been kicked out as a host, but earnestly welcomed in as a guest.

A new Bible curriculum for public schools hopes to reverse that trend.  As we’ve reported, Steve Green, conservative evangelical leader of the Hobby Lobby store chain, has funded a new Bible curriculum for public schools.  A recent study from the Texas Freedom Network insists that Green’s curriculum crosses the line.

Hobby Lobby's Promotional Image for Its New Bible Curriculum

Hobby Lobby’s Promotional Image for Its New Bible Curriculum

The study of the Hobby Lobby Bible curriculum was undertaken by Mark Chancey of Southern Methodist University.  Chancey is a religious-studies professor with considerable expertise in the question of religion in public schools.

As Chancey reviews, it is entirely permissible for public school students to read and study the Bible.  The US Supreme Court has encouraged such study.  The problem comes when public schools attempt to teach a certain interpretation of the Bible.  In short, public schools can and should teach students about religion.  But they err when they teach students religion.

Chancey asks if the Hobby-Lobby-funded curriculum, The Book: The Bible’s History, Narrative and Impact, keeps on the constitutional side of this divide.  For several reasons, Chancey concludes that it does not.

First, though Chancey notes this is not conclusive, Steve Green himself has publicly stated his intention to spread his religion.  As Chancey notes, Green makes no secret of his evangelical ambition.

Simply because Green wants to spread his faith, of course, does not mean that this Bible curriculum tries to do so.  But Chancey argues that the Bible curriculum repeatedly insists or implies that a certain evangelical-friendly interpretation of the Bible is correct.  For one thing, the Bible curriculum suggests that the Bible is historically accurate.  The authors tell readers

that the Bible, especially when viewed alongside other historical information, is a reliable historical source.

Also, Chancey argues that the curriculum privileges a Protestant vision of the Bible.  And the curriculum suggests that the real story of the Bible is salvation, a narrative that points unerringly toward the salvation offered by Jesus Christ in the Gospels.

As Chancey concludes,

The combination of a religious purpose, pervading sectarian bias, and frequent factual errors demonstrates that this curriculum has a long way to go before being appropriate for a public school classroom.

What’s next?  Since a public school district in Mustang, Oklahoma has already adopted this Bible curriculum, it appears we are headed for another lawsuit.  If Chancey’s review of this curriculum is accurate, my guess is that this material will be ruled unconstitutional for public schools.

 

The OTHER Hobby Lobby Case

You’ve been following Hobby Lobby’s case for religious freedom before the US Supreme Court.  But did you know Hobby Lobby’s Steve Green has also prepared an ambitious Bible curriculum for use in America’s public schools?

According to Religion News Service, the school board of Mustang, Oklahoma has voted to use the Bible curriculum in its public schools.  Of course, despite some rumblings to the contrary, there is nothing unconstitutional about teaching the Bible in public schools.  The US Supreme Court’s ruling in 1963’s Schempp decision specified that the Bible can and should be taught in public schools, as long as it is not taught devotionally.  That is, children can learn about the Bible, about religion, but not be drilled in any particular religious belief.

But it often seems as if the folks who want to see more Bible in public schools have a decidedly devotional bias to their activism.  As Mark Chancey of Southern Methodist University found in his study of Texas Bible classes, a significant proportion of them end up teaching religion, not just teaching about religion.

In this case, no one questions Steve Green’s ardent religiosity.  As the Religion News Service article points out, Green has admitted in public statements that he hopes the Bible curriculum will show that the Bible is “good,” that it’s “true,” and that the Bible’s impact,

whether (upon) our government, education, science, art, literature, family … when we apply it to our lives in all aspects of our life, that it has been good.

It seems evident that Green hopes this Bible curriculum will lead students toward faith, at least incidentally.  For that reason, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has promised to “scrutinize” the Bible curriculum.

More evidence, it seems, of the uselessness of talking about “America’s public schools” in general.  Schools in some communities, such as Mustang, Oklahoma, may welcome evangelical Protestant curricula into their class schedules.  In other places, Green’s Bible curriculum will not be an issue.  Local school boards make decisions that fit with the cultural politics of their local communities.

 

Should Liberals Teach the Bible in Public Schools?

Usually, when we hear pleas for the teaching of the Bible in America’s public schools, they come from conservative evangelical Protestant activists.  Today, though, liberal scholar and friend of ILYBYGTH Mark Chancey makes the liberal case for teaching the Bible in public schools.  Do you buy it?

Chancey attracted attention a while back for his study of the ways public schools in Texas teach the Bible.  Too many of them, he concluded, teach a sectarian theology.  Too many public school programs, he found, don’t teach students about the Bible, but rather try to tell students what to believe about the Bible.

Recently in the pages of Religion & Politics Chancey outlined the ways the Bible should be taught.  He offered an eight-point outline of the ways good public-school Bible programs work.  Everyone interested in religion, he argues, should staunchly support the teaching of the Bible in America’s public schools.  To do it right, though, schools need to learn from the successful Texas programs he saw in his review.

What do good public-school Bible programs do?  Here are Chancey’s pointers:

  • They relied on resources informed by a broad range of biblical scholarship, not just the scholars of one particular religious community.

  • They informed students about the unique features of the Bibles of different traditions (Jewish, Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox).

  • They were intentional in exposing students to biblical translations associated with different religious traditions.

  • They were sensitive to the different ways various religious communities have interpreted particular passages and did not present one tradition’s interpretation as normative.

  • They recognized the importance of biblical texts as ancient historical sources without lapsing into a tone of assumed historicity.

  • They discussed the Bible’s moral and theological claims without presenting them as authoritative for the students.

  • They recognized that the Bible is not a science textbook.

  • They treated Judaism as a religion in its own right and not merely as the foil or background for Christianity.

I never learned squat about the Bible in all my public-school experience.  Part of that might be geography.  I grew up in the liberal heartlands of suburban Boston.  Chancey’s study focuses on the Bible teaching in Texas.  I know there are plenty of conservative religious folks in Boston, but the history and culture of Boston’s public schools differs in enormous ways from that of other regions.

I agree wholeheartedly that educated people should know about the Bible.  But here is a question for ILYBYGTH readers: should liberals push for more Chancey-style Bible education?  That is, should liberals encourage their local public schools to teach about the Bible, even as they don’t try to cram Biblical Christianity down students’ throats?  Or is that too eerily similar to mainstream scientists who might agree to teach “problems with evolution” in public-school science classes?

In other words, we might all agree that students should learn the real scientific debates about evolution, just as we might agree that students should learn about the Bible.  But the history of controversy over the teaching of evolution—just as with the history of controversy over the teaching of the Bible—has made it difficult if not impossible for liberals to support the teaching of scientific debates over evolution.  Too often, because of political meanings, teaching the “debate” over evolution has been code for teaching religious ideas in science classes.  Is the same true here?  If public schools attempt to teach about the Bible, would it tend to devolve into cramming religion down students’ throats?

Professor Chancey says no.

 

Texas Charter School Promotes Religion

Doesn’t seem like news that publicly funded schools in Texas promote religion.  But this story from the New York Times has a twist you might not have expected.

Anyone who pays attention to this stuff might expect Texas public schools to be woefully (or wonderfully, depending on your POV) entangled with religion.  Whether it is preaching in the form of Bible classes, cheerleaders with Bible verse banners, creationism in the science textbooks, or just a general Long-Game style fight for more Jesus and less Devil, Texas schools have long seemed friendly to Jesus.  Texas’ conservative “Revisionaries” have worked long and hard to make public schools friendly for faith.

A recent story in the New York Times features a different sort of religious entanglement.  In this case, it is not a question of teachers leading Protestant prayers, or students protesting against learning evolution.

In this case, a charter school has been accused of using public money to promote the Jewish religion.

The San Antonio school, Eleanor Kolitz Hebrew Language Academy, teaches in Hebrew and has classes about Israeli culture.  Doesn’t seem to be a problem there.  Lots of publicly funded charter schools focus on a specific non-English language and culture.

But according to journalist Edgar Walters, the school has drawn attention as a potential church/state problem since the new charter school seems to be nothing more than a cynical reincarnation of an existing religious school.  Critics worry that religious schools are simply conducting a name change on paper in order to win public money.

School leaders insist they don’t teach religion.  But one board member admitted they have the same head of school and most of the same staff as they did when they were an explicitly religious school.  As a private Jewish day school, the Eleanor Kolitz Academy used no public money.  But now as a charter school in the same building with the same staff, they receive public funding.

Can religious schools reinvent themselves this way?  It does not seem paranoid to assume that things will go on largely as before at the Kolitz Academy.  It seems a little iffy for religious schools to simply make a name change to start raking in public moolah.

 

Celebrity Bibles in Public Schools

If you haven’t bothered reading the book, since you knew the movie would be coming out soon, your plan paid off.

Hollywood Christian power couple Roma Downey (“Touched by an Angel”) and Mark Burnett (“The Voice,” “Survivor”) have produced a ten-hour Bible series for the History Channel.  Their massive movie project is not the sum total of their Bible ambition.  As they wrote recently in the Wall Street Journal, they also want to see more Bible in public schools.

Evangelical Protestants have largely endorsed the new Bible series.  Emily Belz wrote in World Magazine that the parts she saw seemed “theologically orthodox.”  Writing in the Christian Post, George Tunnicliffe declared, “This Time, Hollywood Got It Right.”

In Burnett’s and Downey’s WSJ op-ed, they argue that cultural literacy demands a thorough knowledge of the Bible.  This is not a religious mandate, they insist, only an educational one.  Young people won’t understand basic cultural references without reading the Bible.

Their argument raises some perennial questions about the teaching of the Bible in public schools.

As they correctly note, the Supreme Court in 1963 explicitly stated that the Bible could and should be used in public schools.  It must not be read devotionally, Justice Tom Clark wrote, but it should be used to teach students about culture.

However, as we have seen recently, such Bible courses in Texas have often lapsed into evangelical exercises.  Professor Mark Chancey of Southern Methodist University found plenty of devotional training packed into public-school Bible classes.

Nor should this surprise us.  As I found in my study of the first decade of Protestant fundamentalism, Bible classes in public schools often attracted irresistible public support during the 1920s.  At that time, support usually came from Protestant activists, with opposition from Catholic and Jewish groups.  Such religious dissenters often insisted that “non-devotional” study was just a ruse, meant to sneak Protestant religiosity into public education through a back door.

Do Burnett and Downey want to sneak religious proselytization into public schools?  They say they do not.  Merely to understand Shakespeare, for instance, students should be familiar with Bible language and stories.  The Bible, the celebrities argue, is a foundational text of our culture.  Not including it in public schools means depriving students of basic cultural literacy.

“Can you imagine,” they ask,

“students not reading the Constitution in a U.S. government class? School administrators not sharing the periodic table of the elements with their science classes? A driver’s ed course that expected young men and women to pass written and road tests without having access to a booklet enumerating the rules of the road?”    

Of course, this is the second half of the Bible dilemma.

Not only do religious dissenters fear that purportedly non-devotional Bible classes will serve as a cover for proselytization, but dissenters, pluralists, and secularists fear precisely the celebrities’ attitude toward the Bible.

Burnett and Downey join the conservative evangelical Protestant tradition on the question of Bibles in public schools.

By insisting that the Bible is the cultural equivalent of the US Constitution in government, the periodic table in chemistry, or the road rules in driver’s ed, these Bible-loving celebrities suggest that the Bible is more than just a good book.  After all, the Constitution and the periodic table are more than just good things people should know about.  They are foundational documents that contain essential truths of government or chemistry.  The implication, though the celebrities would likely deny it, is that the Bible is more than just a storehouse of cultural referents.  The implication is that the Bible contains the eternal truths young people need.

By describing the Bible this way, Burnett and Downey suggest that the Bible is not only important for its cultural information, but also for its religious message.

‘Pentecostal Hairdos’ and Teaching the Bible

Kudos to Mark Oppenheimer.

Oppenheimer tells New York Times readers about Mark Chancey’s study of Bible-reading in Texas public schools.  For ILYBYGTH readers, there’s not much news there.

As we noted here weeks ago, Professor Chancey found lots of Bible evangelism going on in public-school Bible classes in Texas.  At the time, we opined that we shouldn’t be too surprised at those findings.

But Oppenheimer explored a little deeper, and spoke with Gay Hart, a 77-year-old Bible teacher from Eastland, Texas.  Hart offered the best Bible-teacher stereotype-busting quotation I’ve seen:

‘“I go to First Baptist,” she said. “I wear a Pentecostal hairdo. I play the organ at the Episcopal church. When I could sing, I was the alto at Church of Christ. I have taught in a Catholic school. I am 77, and I am not a little old lady with a 15-year-old car that has 3,000 miles on it. I sky-dived last summer. I have a life, and I love this class.”’

I don’t know about you, but I had to look up “pentecostal hairdo” to see if that was a real thing.  As usual, turns out I’m the last to know.  Thanks to Erika, I now know how to do it myself!

Teaching the Bible, Texas Style

A new report from the Texas Freedom Network warns that some public schools in Texas are teaching religion.  Not all religions, but the Bible-loving, apocalypse-watching, evolution-denying type of conservative evangelical Protestantism.

How do these public schools justify it?  According to the TFN report, public schools fold these sectarian doctrines into their Bible courses.  Public-school courses about the Bible are explicitly constitutional.  US Supreme Court Justice Tom Clark made very clear in his majority opinion in Abington Township v. Schempp (1963) that public schools can teach the Bible, if they did so in a non-devotional way.  As Clark specified,

“Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment.”

However, the TFN report argues that many of the Texas school districts are using Bible classes to teach religious doctrine, including the notion that the Bible demands a young earth.  The report’s author, Mark A. Chancey of Southern Methodist University, reports that the courses are generally poorly taught, with low academic rigor, by underprepared teachers.

Professor Chancey includes excerpts from some of the teaching materials.  In the Dalhart Independent School District, for example, one student information sheet included the following information:

“Since God is perfect and infallible, an inspired book is absolutely infallible and errorless in its facts and doctrines as presented in the original manuscript” (pg. 28).

In the Bible courses of Lazbuddie, Texas, students will read the following:

“We should have an understanding of what happened in Noah’s day if we are to know when the coming of our Lord is near.  What are the similarities between the days of Noah and the days preceding the coming of Jesus Christ (Matthew 24:37-39)?” (pg. 32)

In Dayton schools, students watch the Left Behind movie, fundamentalist author Tim LaHaye’s dramatization of the rapture and final days (pg. 19).

As Chancey points out, these doctrines are intensely sectarian.  They teach a specific interpretation of the Bible as eternally true.  Students in these public school classes would be told that the doctrines of conservative evangelical Protestantism are the correct and only interpretation of the Bible.

Are we shocked?

We shouldn’t be.

Here’s why not:

First of all, the numbers of schools and students involved is very small.  Professor Chancey found 57 districts plus three charter schools who taught Bible courses in 2011-2012, a small percentage of the 1037 districts in Texas.  Not all of these districts taught the Bible in such heavy-handed sectarian ways.  And of the districts that reported their student numbers, only three had more than fifty students enrolled in Bible class.  Six districts had fewer than five students in Bible (pg. 5).

Second, the practice of teaching sectarian religion in public-school Bible classes has a long and surprisingly uncontroversial history.  As I explored in my 1920s book, while public attention was focused on anti-evolution laws, between 1919 and 1931 eleven states quietly passed mandatory Bible-reading laws for public schools.

Finally, even after the anti-Bible SCOTUS ruling in 1963, many public schools simply continued the practice.  As political scientists Kenneth Dolbeare and Philip Hammond found in their survey of schools in a Midwestern state, the Supreme Court rulings against public-school Bible reading made absolutely no difference in school practice.  Where students had read the Bible before, they continued to do so, without raising any controversy.

So Professor Chancey’s findings that a few students in a few public schools in Texas learn a sectarian interpretation of the Bible should come as no surprise.  As Chancey notes, similar Bible classes go on in several other states as well (pg. v).  Moreover, as political scientists Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer have convincingly argued, public school teachers usually teach ideas that are locally uncontroversial.  In some places, that means teaching creationism as science.  In others, it means teaching the Bible as history.