A high school in South Carolina will soon become the first school in its district to offer a class in which students use the Bible to examine its effects on literature, history and art.
Two new courses on the Old Testament and New Testament were approved by the Carvers Bay High school board last Tuesday and are expected to be offered to students in the 2008-2009 school year. The school will become the first in its district to have such a program, joining other schools in South Carolina, including Conway High School in Horry County, that have been teaching the program for several years.
"I look at it more as this is a study of the greatest book ever written from a literary viewpoint," Principal Kelvin Wymbs told The Sun News.
A bill signed by Gov. Sanford last June allows high schools to offer classes on the Bible as long as they are "taught in an objective manner with no attempt to influence the students as to either the truth or falsity of the materials presented," according to the bill.
"We know everyone has individual beliefs," said Wymbs. "We're not trying to impose this on anyone. This is not a debate on the Bible. We are going to look at this from a literary viewpoint and what it represents."
More specifically, the classes would be taught as electives over two separate semesters to students in grades 10 and 12. The students will examine the Bible, looking for literary, historical and artistic contexts, according to Wymbs and teacher Lisa Cribb.
Similar program offerings were approved for public funding by Georgia lawmakers in 2006. Recent reports, however, say that Georgia schools are shying away from the courses, citing such reasons as a lack of interest from students who have a strong upbringing in Christianity, cost of materials, scheduling conflicts, and concerns over legal implications.
Lawmakers in Alabama, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas have considered similar plans for Bible-related courses this year, although none has received final approval.
But for Carvers Bay High School, plans to implement the course are in order. The principal said the parents and people he has talked to about the class seem very receptive and that he expects to present it to his school improvement council later this month.
Cribb, who joined a panel of teachers last November to set the statewide standards for the course, said that "students need a working knowledge of the Bible," one that would allow them to see that the Bible's impact reaches past "a text taught in Sunday School," according to The Sun News.
"There is an enormous amount of allusion in great literary works to the Bible that they don't know. It will help them to analyze better and make connections," she said.
"You can look at it from a historical perspective or a socio-political perspective. You can look at the Judeo-Christian values and how they have influenced government and politics."