Research: Texas public-school Bible courses skirt state law

Stock photo of open BibleMost of the 60 public school districts in Texas that offer courses on the Bible aren’t meeting a 2007 state law mandating that those courses be fair as well as academically and legally sound, according to a new study by SMU religious studies expert Mark Chancey.

The study uncovered bias, factual errors and insufficient curriculum standards in Texas public school Bible courses. The report “Reading, Writing & Religion II” was carried out for the Austin-based education watchdog group Texas Freedom Network (TFN).

Chancey, a religious studies professor in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, recommends the Texas State Board of Education develop Bible course curriculum standards and the Texas Education Agency be allowed funds for a teacher training program. Chancey has devoted considerable attention to the constitutional, political and academic issues raised by religion courses in public schools.

“If public schools are going to have courses on the Bible, those courses need to be just as academically rigorous as courses in history, English, and math, not less rigorous. Some schools’ courses seemed more intent on promoting religious belief than religious literacy,” said Chancey, who reviewed tens of thousands of pages of material from Texas school districts.

“When public schools teach about religion, it’s essential that they do so in a way that does not promote some people’s religious beliefs over others,” he said. “Students and the Bible deserve our very best efforts, and at this point, as a state we’re not giving them that.”

Unable to lawfully insert creation science into science classes, some schools inserted it into Bible classes, Chancey said.

His research found, for example, that courses in several districts included efforts to reconcile a literalistic reading of the Genesis creation story with modern science. Some suggested that assuming lengthy gaps of time between each of the six days of creation explained why scientists believed the earth is so old. Several courses implied that belief in evolution was incompatible with being religious.

“One course’s materials even included a religious tract claiming that NASA had discovered a missing day in time that corresponded to the story of the sun standing still in the biblical book of Joshua,” Chancey said. “The first time I heard this claim, I did what any reasonable person would do: I called NASA. I knew that this story was an urban legend, of course, and NASA was able to direct me to a web page discrediting it.”

Written by Denise Gee

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Human Rights Program hosts discussion on U.S. women’s rights April 28

A panel of experts will discuss emerging encroachments on U.S. women’s rights at the next presentation of SMU’s Embrey Human Rights Program.

“Under Fire: Women’s Rights in the U.S.” is cosponsored by the Embrey Family Foundation and will take place 7:30-9 p.m. Thursday, April 28, 2011 in McCord Auditorium, 306 Dallas Hall.

Rick Halperin, director of the Embrey Human Rights Program in SMU’s Dedman College, will moderate a panel that includes:

Event parking will be available in the Daniel Avenue lot behind Dallas Hall. For more information, call 214-768-8347.

Ron Wetherington named a ‘Grassroots Hero’ by Texas Freedom Network

SMU Anthropology Professor Ron WetheringtonRon Wetherington, professor of anthropology in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences and director of the University’s Center for Teaching Excellence, has received the 2009 Grassroots Hero Award from the Texas Freedom Network (TFN). Wetherington will accept the award April 16 at a ceremony in Dallas.

TFN presents the award each year to “a dedicated individual who exemplifies our work to stand up for science.”

An expert in evolutionary theory, Wetherington’s research interests include population genetics, human paleontology, science pedagogy and the historical archaeology of the U.S. Southwest. He teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in human evolution and forensic anthropology, as well as a noncredit required course for departmental graduate students, “Learning to Teach – Teaching to Learn.” He is the author of Understanding Human Evolution (West Publishing, 1992) and 4 other books on anthropology and archaeology.

The TFN award citation points to Wetherington’s service during 2008-09 as an expert reviewer appointed by the Texas State Board of Education to evaluate new science curriculum standards.

“Whether working behind the scenes to patiently educate board members or in front of the cameras making a vocal case for science standards free from creationist ideology, Dr. Wetherington has worked tirelessly to ensure Texas students have a rigorous science curriculum that will prepare them for the 21st century,” TFN states.

Mark Chancey receives Texas Freedom Network activism award

Mark ChanceyMark Chancey, associate professor and chair of religious studies in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, has received the 2008 Samantha Smoot Activist Award from the Texas Freedom Network (TFN). Chancey will receive the award at a ceremony in Austin Oct. 4.

TFN presents the award each year to “an individual or individuals who exemplify our mission and work to change the political landscape through grassroots advocacy.”

An expert on archaeology and the Bible, as well as the political and social history of Palestine during the Roman period, Chancey also researches current issues surrounding religion in public education. In collaboration with the TFN Education Fund, he wrote two groundbreaking reports about public school Bible courses, revealing numerous problems that posed potential threats to religious freedom in public schools. The reports spurred national debate about the difficulties of teaching Bible courses in a neutral and nondevotional manner.

“[Chancey’s] research and personal testimony at the Texas Legislature and State Board of Education influenced education policy in tangible and positive ways,” TFN states in its award citation. “Texas public school students would almost certainly be exposed to more and more deeply flawed and unconstitutional Bible courses in their schools if not for Dr. Chancey’s tireless advocacy.”