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God in the classroom 

A few days ago I learned that among all the horrible things in the Republican platform, there is a demand that the Bible be taught “as literature” in public schools. Of course, it’s a transparently bogus demand for the establishment of the Christian religion, but transparently bogus arguments have won in the past. Remember, the Supreme Court has ruled that a Christmas crèche is a secular holiday display.

Anyway, it happens that this is a subject about which I know something, or at least have some experience.

When I arrived at Hartford Public High School in the fall of ’64, with my freshly minted theology degree from Our Lady of Sorrows Grammar School, I was placed into the honors English class. It was, by the way, the only honors course I was placed in, something that mystified me, because in my own quite accurate self estimation, I was much more suited for honors history or math.

Anyway, the teacher was a Miss Crawford, who was herself freshly minted as a teacher. It was her one and only year at the school. How she got the honors class (the sophomore through senior honors classes were firmly in the hands of the entrenched English teachers with seniority, all of whom were horrible), I don’t know. I’m quite sure she didn’t choose the books we read. To the best of my recollection, the first book we read was the Odyssey, which, on reflection, is somewhat odd, given that it was originally written in Greek, and the quality of any English translation depends on the translator.

But I digress. At some point, I believe it was after the Odyssey, we actually were assigned readings from the Bible (King James, I believe) to be read, as literature. Any discussion of the truth of the bullshit therein was off limits.

As all of us HPHS grads know, Hartford Public High School is the second oldest secondary institution of learning in the country. Only Boston Latin is older. Connecticut only ditched its established religion sometime in the 1820s, so I would be willing to bet that reading the Bible as something other than literature was a tradition for the first 300 or so years of the school’s existence. Our class’s experience may have been the last gasp of Bible reading at the school.

At best as I can recall, Miss (there were no “Ms”’s in those days) Crawford tried to steer clear of theology while we discussed the myths we were reading. I have no idea how she felt about teaching religion as literature. As for myself, I found it almost impossible to stop myself from trying to engage with the religious content. There I was with my wealth of learning and my burgeoning skepticism, struggling mightily to confine myself to the Bible “as literature”, which I now realize, was an impossible task. If you put the religious aspects of the Bible aside, there’s nothing left to talk about. But, already being a devout adherent to the gospel as taught by Tom Paine, I also firmly believed that religion had no place in public school, so restrain myself I did, mostly. The long and the short of all this is that I can assure one and all that reading the Bible as literature, while avoiding any discussion of the religious content thereof, is a total and complete waste of time. It’s like reading Shakespeare and confining yourself to discussions about iambic pentameter. None of us were sorry to see the end of the Bible readings, and I’m sure the Jewish kids in the class were especially glad to see the back of King James.

So, if there are any Republican delegates who actually, sincerely believe (ha, ha, ha)that they are merely suggesting a totally secular exposure to the Bible, I can assure them it can’t be done. As for the rest of us, I suppose we can claim some sort of minor victory in the fact that Republicans feel compelled to claim some sort of secular purpose, rather than out and out demanding that their religion be taught in our schools.

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