I think “name the allusion” is a fun and informative game when one is trying to understand a text, as I told my students. Various things about my training (such as my Jazz Vespers background which was a big game of interconnected texts) makes me think that allusions are important and meaningful. That allusions intend to invoke something about the original text that is cited, and that is why they are used. I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that when Martin Luther King quotes the prophet Amos he wants to invoke the authority of the prophet. What happens, then, when an audience doesn’t know an allusion?
This is why I have a copy of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology on my shelf, and why there is a group publishing a textbook that teaches the Bible in High Schools, which I read about in this NRO article. The bible is the most frequently referenced work in western literature (and rhetoric) and many students don’t know the Philistines from the Philippians.
I may just be an intertextuality nerd, but I do think that a firm grip on the history of ideas and literature is essential to really understanding any text. Familiarity with the Bible seems especially crucial because all the connotations that immediately come with an invocation of it. If people are claiming the authority of a sacred text, this seems a pretty significant rhetorical move. However, I am a graduate student in rhetoric, is this a level of understanding that High School students need? Perhaps not. But I would argue that a basic familiarity with the Bible and classical mythology is more important than an encounter with Shakespeare or Charles Dickens, which shows up in most High School curriculums. I suppose it depends on what one thinks is the function of a High School education. If it is basic knowledge for life, maybe Bible should be included, especially in the current political climate, where a command of biblical text is a powerful rhetorical tool.