Student Interest in Bible Classes Dropping in Ga., Other States

Bible education classes offered in some Georgia public schools are purportedly dwindling in number, with fewer students interested in taking the religious courses.

Waning interest has caused administrators to cut back on the number of classes as a result, not able to afford small classroom sizes due to budget cuts, The Associated Press reported.

Where at least 25 students were needed to keep a class running, only about a dozen students were signing up for the elective Bible courses, one administrator in Georgia described.

“We’re not going to utilize a teacher for a whole period with 10 to 15 students,” Superintendent Charles Nagle of Columbia County schools told AP. “In the past, we may have considered that, but with the economy being the way it is, we just can’t afford to do that.”

Nagle had to cut down the Bible classes being offered in his small district from three to one due to the low numbers.

Like Georgia, many other states claimed to be displaying similar trends as well, not only due to loss of interest but hardships in training and funding courses.

“The economy is taking a toll on how many schools consider offering Bible classes because it’s difficult to find qualified teachers and set aside the funding for the textbook and materials,” Sarah Jenislawski, executive director for the Bible Literacy Project, explained to AP.

Before laws passed, approving “nonsectarian, nonreligious academic study of the Bible” in public schools, most schools were concerned more about whether the classes were legal than the money, Jenislawski added.

Now, Bible classes were “having trouble [just] keeping the lights on and keeping the air conditioner running.”

Though Bible classes currently face many bumps in the road, just last year the outlook could not have been more promising.

The Bible Literacy Project had compiled a report that documented the increasing popularity of biblical courses for the 2009-2010 academic year.

BLP, which publishes a student textbook designed for public school courses on the Bible, found that more than 350 schools in 43 states were implementing courses on the Bible.

Among those states, Georgia in particular showed a favorable response to the courses. Right behind Texas, more than 10 percent of Georgia public high schools were utilizing the Bible program.

Although interest may have hit a peak during the last few years, Bible education courses now appeared to be slowly fading out of favor.

“When we first started offering [Bible courses] it was new and kids had interest in taking the classes,” Bill McCowan, another superintendent from Georgia told AP. “We’ve expanded our elective offerings in social studies and history to include more Advanced Placement coursework. There’s only so much student head count to go around.”

Mark A. Chancey, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Southern Methodist University believed that a decline in enrollment for Bible courses was fairly typical.

“Bible courses have been around for decades,” Chancey, a member of the Society of Biblical Literature Working Group on the Bible and Public Education, told The Christian Post via email.

“Some individual courses are taught year after year, but in other cases districts find that there isn't enough student demand to justify offering them regularly. In most cases, courses in individual school districts just come and go. Statistics from mid-century show this was the case even 50 years ago.”

Appropriate materials were hard to find, state guidelines were often insufficient, and teacher training for these particular classes were usually not available, Chancey also commented.

“I feel for teachers who want to teach this course and are dedicated to giving the material and their students their very best efforts and yet can’t get adequate support from their state or from the local district.”

Despite a drop in the number of classes and difficulties in funding and training, he predicted that Bible education classes would never disappear completely.

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