I had an interesting moment this week about using The Bible in my classroom. We are currently reading Steinbeck's East of Eden. If you haven't read this book before (and you should - it truly is one of the great American novels), Steinbeck draws very heavily from biblical stories. He even names two different sets of brothers Charles and Adam, then Caleb and Aron, underscoring (with same first initials) the allusion to Cain and Abel. Later, he draws on a lot of Eden-esque descriptions as well as including characters that seem aligned with Eve and even Satan.
So far, we have read Section I, which focuses heavily on Adam and Charles. Steinbeck is setting up all of his biblical allusions, and it's really quite strikingly similar when you look at Genesis 4. Abel and Cain both give their father gifts, but the father only like's Adam's gifts. Charles gets jealous, and tries to kill Adam. Charles later hurts his forehead pushing a boulder and gets a large scar on his face (mark of Cain). Cyrus, their father, is a god-like figure in many ways.
If kids don't know the story of Cain and Abel, they just can't understand what Steinbeck is trying to do. So I did an activity that had us read together the first two paragraphs of Genesis 4, which tells the story of Cain and Abel, and discuss the several comparisons (most of which I outlined above) between Charles and Adam versus Cain and Abel. It was a quick 15-minute activity.
A few minutes into the activity, one of my students said she felt uncomfortable discussing The Bible and asked to leave. I did not let her, and told her we were reading the passage as a tool for analysis of East of Eden. She did not complain anymore, but that night she put a message on FaceBook about the Bible not belonging in public schools.
I admire her passion and definitely agree that The Bible should not be used to preach to students in schools. Indeed, I am a fierce advocate of the First Amendment. But deliberate religious illiteracy is not what the First Amendment is about. Just as if we read a Muslim novel that drew heavily from the Koran, we would read any appropriate passages from The Koran to deepen our understanding, or a World History class might read from religious texts for comparative purposes, if I did not provide my students with that miniature lesson, then I would not be doing my job. I would be forcing my students to read the novel with a curtain over their heads.
Still, this is new to me. In my other brief usages of The Bible in the classroom (with Morrison's Song of Solomon, with Gabriel in Fences), I've never had a protest like this. I get some joking comments about The Bible not belonging in schools from the younger kids, and I always explain that it's okay to use it as a springboard for understanding a biblical allusion better, and they get it. This hasn't become a "thing" in my classroom at this point, I don't think, but I've certainly never had a student ask to leave before. I hope I handled it okay. I did post a long, and, I hope, non-combative (I really like this student personally, and recognize a lot of myself in her railing-at-injustice stances), reply on Facebook.
Note, not that it really matters, but I'm not really even a Christian. I'm pretty much evangelically agnostic. And, in general, I am not a fan of The Bible, mostly because I think it's used as a tool of discrimination too often. But I know it, at least with a passing knowledge. I couldn't be much of a reader otherwise.
Soft Yellow Chiffon - I’m staying in a nice little third-floor studio flat at 12 rue Popincourt, six or seven blocks northeast of Place Bastille and a block and a half southwest...
1 hour ago