Could the Bible Pass This Test?


If the Bible underwent the kind of selective scrutiny that various texts receive from the Carroll County Board of Education's review process, it would never pass muster.

Obviously, members of the school board, in assessing instructional materials, should reject any book that is blatantly offensive. Of course, finding uncalled-for racial, religious, sexual or political slurs in school textbooks is ever a challenge these days. In order to market their products to the widest possible number of school districts, most American publishers go to great lengths to edit out material that could possibly be interpreted as offensive.

Then again, they haven't subjected their wares to the Carroll school board's paranoia. In the case of a history book rejected this week, "Around the World in 100 Days," by Jean Fritz, board member Joseph D. Mish Jr. objected to a passage dealing with the fourth century sacking of the royal library in Alexandria, Egypt. The text, according to Mr. Mish's reading, made a broad and objectionable anti-Christian generalization by saying Christians at that time were not interested in scholarship. Assuming Mr. Mish's argument is correct, the offensive passage is no reason to jettison the book. In fact, teachers could use it as a springboard for a discussion about the impact of religion on independent intellectual inquiry through history.

If Mr. Mish's standard were applied to the Bible -- which President Clinton this week said should be more welcomed in public schools as a source for instruction discussion -- even this book would be unacceptable. It depicts adultery, brutality, rape, homosexuality, patricide, infanticide, genocide. The Bible describes just about every despicable human act imaginable, yet is still viewed as a wellspring of important lessons.

If Carroll's school board continues to hinge its evaluation of books on an isolated sentence or paragraph, it is setting an impossible standard. Rather than engage in such flyspeck analysis, the school board would better serve the community by evaluating books using standards such as the clarity and quality of the writing and organization and emphasis of basic themes. The fact that one person found one passage offensive should not be grounds for eliminating an otherwise suitable book from classroom use.

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