The Bible and Controversial Books: Debating their Place in Public Schools
Written by: Bonnie Chapman
Salt Lake City, UT - A Utah parent's attention-grabbing response to the state's HB0374 law, which prohibits materials containing pornography or any other deemed controversial content, has made headlines. The parent cited several portions of the Bible where sex is described, including a passage depicting a drunk father engaging in intercourse with his daughter (Genesis 19:30-32). The list of mentions of incest, genitalia, infanticide, onanism, bestiality, prostitution, genital mutilation, and rape expands over eight pages long. According to the legislative record, the parent wrote, "You'll no doubt find that the Bible, under Utah Code Ann. § 76-10-1227, has 'no serious values for minors' because it's pornographic by our new definition." The bill's sponsor, Ken Ivory, argued that the attempt to ban the Bible is offensive to parents who want to keep their schools a safe environment. Some studies suggest that teaching the Bible as literature in public schools can have educational value, improve students' reading comprehension, and promote cultural and religious literacy. Critics argue that teaching the Bible violates the separation of church and state. A study published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Review found that religious coercion, such as being forced to attend religious services or conform to religious norms, was associated with lower levels of religious belief and participation. The study suggested that religious coercion may lead to a reactive devaluation of religion, where individuals perceive the religion as less valuable due to the imposition of it. However, it is important for schools to approach the subject in an objective and secular manner, respecting the diversity of religious beliefs among students. Some books that are often banned have meanings that are often overlooked or contain truths that we may deem inappropriate despite their depictions of reality. For example, "Speak" by Laurie Halse Anderson follows the perspective of a high school freshman who was raped and her challenge to overcome stigma and tell her story. Other books that have faced bans include "Bridge to Terabithia" by Katherine Paterson and the "Captain Underpants" series written by Dav Pilkey, according to reports filed in litigation by the American Civil Liberties Union. According to the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), reading controversial books can inspire critical thinking, leading children to become more informed and engaged adults. These books bring attention to important topics that can be seen as taboo. They argue that exposing children to complex books encourages them to develop a diverse thought process and perspective. A 2017 article in The Atlantic notes that books that challenge social norms and values can inspire readers to think creatively and question the status quo. Controversial books can promote diversity of thought and perspective by introducing readers to new ideas and experiences. One Utah teacher observing the legislative proceedings argued that the question of inclusion of the Bible as literature in the classroom should be evaluated using the same standards.
In conclusion, the debate surrounding the inclusion of the Bible and other controversial books in public schools highlights the need for a balanced approach to education. It is crucial to provide students with opportunities to explore a diverse range of literature, while respecting their individual beliefs and backgrounds. By fostering an environment of open discussion and critical thinking, educators can help students better understand the complex issues presented in these texts and navigate the world with a more informed and compassionate perspective. Ultimately, the key lies in ensuring that the educational system promotes intellectual curiosity and cultural understanding, while remaining sensitive to the diverse beliefs and values held by students and their families.