Teaching the Bible as History or Literature in High School:

AP reports that "A bill that allows public high schools to offer classes on the Bible sped through the Georgia House today, passing overwhelmingly with no debate. The legislation, which passed 151-to-7, would allow high schools to form elective courses on the history and literature of the Old Testament and New Testament eras. The classes would focus on the law, morals, values and culture of the eras."

In principle, such classes are constitutionally permissible, which is only right: The Bible is indeed an important work of literature, and important to understanding history (both the history of the Biblical era and later history).

The trouble is that for the classes to be thoughtful, intellectually rigorous, and educationally valuable, they'd have to deal with lots of things that many students (and others) might find quite troubling. If you teach the Merchant of Venice as literature, you probably ought to discuss criticisms of the moral view that the Merchant of Venice seems to express. If you teach classic-era histories (e.g., Livy) in a class on Roman history, you certainly ought to discuss whether the historians are reliable, and whether they might be repeating myth as truth. If you teach historical legal systems in a class on ancient law and culture, you need to discuss ways in which those legal systems may have been unjust by today's standards, or inconsistent even by their own standards.

Are Georgia voters and legislators prepared to have Georgia high school teachers raise these hard questions about the Bible? If so, great. But if the hope is that the teachers will teach the Bible without the same willingness to critique the work -- and to encourage students to think critically about the work -- that we'd expect in serious classes on other works, then that would be a pretty bad step for the Georgia school system to take: It would suggest that the school system is just trying to reinforce students' existing beliefs, rather than teaching them to analyze historical sources carefully and thoughtfully.