Bible study opens door to mastering literature
From: The Australian
December 21, 2010
THE scriptures should be required reading in schools.
IN this yuletide Tony Abbott went on record again as regarding the Bible as essential for all Australian schools.
“It is important for people to leave school with some understanding of the Bible,” he responded to a question from the floor at his Penrith community forum on November 29.
“It is impossible to imagine our society without the influence of Christendom.”
Abbott stated a similar position in December 2009, drawing the ire of ACT Labor Senator Kate Lundy, prominent Muslim academic Ameer Ali and Australian Education Union federal president, Angelo Gavrielatos, who stated: ” ultimately we consider it a private matter for parents and their children”. Is it?
In my role as an English and history teacher, rather than as a person of faith, I am convinced we disadvantage our public school students by not acquainting them with the meta-structures, motifs and moral queries of the Abrahamic scriptures. And I am not alone.
Cantankerous atheist Christopher Hitchens declared in 2006: “You are not educated if you don’t know the Bible. You can’t read Shakespeare or Milton without it . . . And with the schools now, that’s what I hate about secular relativism. They’re afraid of insurance liability. They don’t even teach it as a document. They stay out of the whole thing to avoid controversy.”
Indeed, when studying literature, children now in Australian faith-based schools (about 32 per cent of total enrolments, and much higher in senior secondary) enjoy a significant advantage over their state-school peers. Shakespeare, Donne, Milton, Dickens, Bronte (both), George Eliot, Hopkins, Hardy, T.S.Eliot, Steinbeck, Beckett, Yeats, Plath, Golding, Attwood and many, many others, require more than a passing knowledge of the Abrahamic Old and New Testaments.
The necessary time taken to induct students unfamiliar with them when studying literature is time saved in faith-based schools.
And it’s not just Western texts: post-colonial writers such as Rushdie, Allende, Marquez, Neruda and lots more are infused with biblical material. Emerging Australian “canons” – Hart, Murray, Winton, Harwood, Dawe, Keneally and so forth – are also littered with biblical plot lines and motifs. With the shift of the New Australian English Curriculum back to a more “canonical” approach to teaching literature, this inequity is only set to intensify.
Similarly in teaching history, ancient religion is extra weird for students who can’t access the language and categories of our own Western (even secular) religiosity.
So too medieval and renaissance history, the Elizabethan era, the English republic, the Reformation, the post-Christian Enlightenment, the American and French revolutions, anti-slavery movements, Darwin, American civil rights, Australian stolen generations, and political language of the Cold War. These are all intrinsically informed by explanations, motivations and the language of the Bible. The same could be equally said for the study of film, visual art and music.
British educationalist John Hull describes the phenomena of “bafflement” in adolescents: suddenly realising their lived experience contradicts their education. If an institution continues to dogmatically hold the line in such matters, students develop what he terms “learning sickness” or “ideological enclosure”, ultimately rejecting what they have learned, along with its institutional context. Ironically, he was describing fundamentalist religious schools, yet his critique applies to much of Australian state education where religion is concerned, effectively excised from curriculum as a “non-topic”. Hence, the master-originating Urtext of the Bible is treated as the “untext”.
Yet students continually stumble across it in their novels and history lessons, in their homes, in public debate, in geopolitics, in the playground, and becoming baffled by the contradiction.
Certainly, religious proselytising is inappropriate through the state curriculum: parents thus inclined can send their child to a faith-based school. But vital cultural knowledge is vital to the universal “public guarantee”.
Narratives and motifs of Abrahamic scriptures form a vitally significant mythic text for Western civilisation, and are also important for Jewish and Islamic civilisations.
After all, curriculum is always about what is deemed as important. Existing Australian English curricula, and the New Australian English Curriculum, for example, rightly regard Aboriginal spirituality as nationally important. Indigenous dreaming stories are thus mandated and studied as “canonical” texts.
Yet, even though these are obviously religious in character, they are clearly not to be treated as “religious tracts”, but rather as significant cultural texts.
Why should we not also endow our children with understanding of Western literary and historical heritage in the Abrahamic Old and New Testaments?
Abbott may be regarded as the mad monk, but in the case of the Bible in schools, there’s certainly method in him, particularly considering the vast amount of Australians vaguely sentimental about Christianity, or Christmas, or voting.
Full article here