One of Tennessee's largest public school districts has received a $1.8 million gift this month from a non-profit organization as reimbursement for teaching Bible history elective classes to more than 4,500 students for the 2020-21 academic year.
The monetary gift from Bible in the Schools to Hamilton County Schools in Chattanooga is part of a unique partnership that allows the district to teach viewpoint-neutral Bible courses examining Scripture from a historical, non-sectarian perspective. Although the program likely would stir controversy in certain parts of the U.S., it has a long history in Hamilton County. The partnership between Bible in the Schools and the country began in 1922.
More than 4,600 students in 29 public schools took a Bible elective course during the previous academic year. It was a record enrollment for the courses.
Bryan Johnson, superintendent of Hamilton County Schools, said it was an "honor to once again accept the gift" on behalf of the school district.
"This gift sponsors the education of thousands of public school students in our district," he said in a news release. "The countywide Bible History elective program encourages students in grades 6-12 to recognize the rich cultural connections between an ancient text and our modern world.
"Hamilton County seeks to graduate students who are future-ready and prepared for success in college and career," Johnson added. "By thinking critically and engaging in historically rich conversations, HCS is preparing students to become global thinkers and responsible citizens."
The classes are designed to pass constitutional scrutiny, and no tax dollars are involved, according to Bible in the Schools. The school district hires the teachers, who must have at least 12 credit hours of Bible content from an accredited college or university.
Five classes are offered for grades six through 12. They are:
- Genesis, sixth grade: "Students will study the narratives of the creation, the flood, and the Patriarchs, through the line of Jacob," according to Bible in the Schools.
- Exodus, seventh grade: "Students will study the Ten Plagues, the liberation of the people from Egypt, the wanderings in the wilderness, the giving of the Ten Commandments, and ending with the death of Moses."
- Life of Jesus, eighth grade: The class is "designed around the book of Luke to give an academic overview of the life of Jesus, including his early life and ministry, through the Ascension."
- Old Testament Bible history, ninth-12th grade: The class "provides an academic overview of the entire Old Testament studying the three parts of the biblical canon: (1) the historical narratives; (2) the books of Wisdom; and, (3) the Prophets."
- New Testament Bible history: ninth-12th grade: The class "provides an academic overview of the entire New Testament." Students "engage in a comparative study of the four Gospels and trace the development of the early Christian church and Paul's Epistles."
Other school districts, too, could have a Bible history program, says the Bible in the Schools' website.
"It is constitutionally permissible to teach Bible History from a historical or literature perspective," the website says.
Photo courtesy: Taylor Wilcox/Unsplash
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.