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25 Chapter 3 Bible History Courses, II TheArt of Staying on the Surface David White, as discussed in the previous chapter, advocates a pedagogy of presenting the text at face value, avoiding“overanalysis,” and staying on the surface. By staying on the surface, Bible History courses in communities like Tearville legitimize the public school and gain the support of Christian parents and parents who wish to affirm the authority of a traditional Protestant worldview even if they do not identify as practicing members of a church.1 Staying on the surface , however, is not always as easy as it sounds, given a group of potentially curious adolescents, many of whom care about God and religion and who, if left to their own devices, could ask difficult and probing questions.2 Staying on the surface is an art requiring considerable pedagogical skill—­ the kind of knowledge of one’s craft that can take years to develop. Morris Black, a highly respected teacher in Ridge County, a religiously conservative community much like Tearville-­ Tapscott, illustrates this art. With only a one-­ semester course in the Old Testament [sic], the Bible program in Ridge County is not nearly as extensive as that in Tearville. Nevertheless , the communities are similar in many ways and have much in common religiously , although Ridge’s population is poorer, whiter, and less socially mobile than that of Tearville. In the year 2000, less than 5 percent of the population of Ridge County had graduated from a four-­ year college. The Bible History course in Ridge originated after a local grassroots advocate approached the school board with the request to develop a new Bible elective. The board approved the idea, but instead of working with local clergy, the board turned over the development of the prospective course to the princi- 26 / FOR THE CIVIC GOOD pal at Ridge County High School. The district was thus responsive to community concerns, but unlike Tearville-­Tapscott, it vetted the course and teachers in more traditional ways. Thus, the community churches neither have a direct role in the hiring of Bible teachers nor do they contribute to their salary. The two Bible teachers,Mr.Morris Black and Mr.Aaron Milsap,are members of their schools’ history departments; they take history seriously and use it both to transmit a clearer understanding of events depicted in the Bible and to enlarge their students’ understanding of their own times. Both teachers are committed to transmitting—­ or at least not disrupting—­ the religious beliefs and values of their students or the community. They are conscious of the limitations that the First Amendment places on their teaching and they take care not to violate these limits intentionally. Moreover, they wish to respect parental rights to guide the religious education of their children and they try to respect the autonomy of their students. The default position is not to disrupt , and, wherever possible, to reinforce the prevalent religious orientation of the community. The Pedagogy of Community Recognition Morris Black introduced Bible History at Ridge High School in January 2000. He has taught the course two quarters each year since then, and in the fall of 2007, his colleague, Aaron Milsap, brought the course to the newly opened Northridge High School. Milsap intentionally follows the curriculum developed by Black, so that the courses should have an identical structure despite the different settings. More recently, other counties in the same state have approached Ridge to use Black’s curriculum as a model. The course covers the history of Israel from Abraham (Genesis 12) to the end of the reign of Solomon (1 Kings 11), and establishes as its primary aim the chronological reconstruction of the events referred to in the biblical books that address this time period. Black had originally designed this syllabus as“Bible History I,”and intended to extend the curriculum to complete the rest of Old Testament [sic] history in Bible History II. Due, however, to the administrative needs of the school, Black has not been able to offer the companion course and he feels that the trajectory of the history is somewhat truncated by the constraints on the curriculum. The rubric“Bible History” can cover a lot of ground and can communicate Bible History Courses, II / 27 a range of signals to the community. The Tearville-­ Tapscott school district selected the history rubric as a means to signal that the course was not a “devotional religion class.” Mr. Black also told us that defining the course as...

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