Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Bible in High School Curriculum?

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.


MattyA said...

At the risk of sounding too much like senior seminar, I think you raise an important question - why do we study literature? You say it's more important to be familiar with the Bible than with Dickens or the Bard, but do we really study literature to be familiar with it? I'm a closet Frerian (http://www.infed.org/thinkers/et-freir.htm), so I wonder if the most important reason for us to read literature is to learn how to read. I love allusions too, but they are prime example of the banking model of education that Freire rails against because it reinforces oppressive social structures and it proves mostly useless in the real world. I'm not very knowledgeable about educational theory (unlike some other people who read this blog?), so I can't say much more than that, but I'll conclude by asking what's the point of understanding a text? I agree that allusions contribute to that understanding, but what's the point beyond simply becoming one of the educated elite who knows the right things about the right books and can thus progress in society? Thanks for your thought-provoking comments.

Bob K said...

I'm of two minds about this issue because I think you're right - the Bible is one of the foundational books of western culture and any educated person ought to know what's in it (and I understand Matt's Frerian point - but can we look at Education as "door-opening" so that students can make choices about their life and their service in God's Kingdom?)

On the other hand, our public schools fall under the jurisdiction of governmental agencies which have to go out of their way to not suggest that there is a national religion. Just imagine if you were a Muslim in a public school where "everyone" was a Christian and then part of your curriculum was to study the Bible! Sure, it might be good for you but there is no way it would be completely free of the religious aspect of it. That shouldn't surprise us, right? The Bible DOES tug at our hearts - to expect schools and students to treat it MERELY like literature is grossly unfair to the book and to the people of the book.

I think this is just one of the conundra of US public education. If someone thinks he or shee needs to know the Bible to be educated they will have to get it someplace else. I wonder if there are institutions that teach the Bible?

Kristin said...

Although I would love to jump into the educational theory discussion, but 70 conferences have worn me out.

This is all I have to say: After Felch's Engl 210, you are an intertextuality nerd. And you're just a nerd.