I'm always fascinated by news stories about Bible classes in public schools.
I first delved into the subject 20-plus years ago when I wrote a front-page story for The Oklahoman on a debate over elective courses in Bible and religion in the Oklahoma City School District.
In today's post, I want to highlight a Des Moines Register story that goes the extra mile — yes, the reporter actually talked to teachers and students — in reporting on a bill introduced in the Iowa Statehouse.
The Register's lede:
A Statehouse proposal to expand access to Bible literacy classes in Iowa public schools is causing controversy among parents and educators.
Proponents say classes on the Bible provide important historical or cultural context for students. But opponents say the legislation is a backdoor to teaching Christianity.
To get more perspective, the Des Moines Register went looking for places where the Bible is already being taught in Iowa classrooms.
It found a course in one of eastern Iowa's most liberal enclaves: Iowa City.
Three high schools in Iowa City offer a "Bible as Literature" class.
Now, that opening isn't the most exciting one I've ever read — but it certainly presents the facts in an impartial and straightforward manner.
Keep reading, and the paper offers some nice details from teachers and students about what the class actually encompasses:
The course has been offered for multiple decades, teachers said. It began as a way to teach students about biblical stories, such as David and Goliath, that are common references in literature and pop culture.
Some teens don't understand the references coming into the class, teachers said. Others do, but they want to go deeper into how the Bible has influenced literature and artistic expression such as music.
he 12-week English class is offered to juniors and seniors as an elective. In a sense, it is a crash course in what's often referred to as biblical allegory.
"We talk about it not as a historical text, and not as a religious text, but as a piece of literature," said Kerri Barnhouse, a West High teacher who has led the course for about 10 years.
The story is at its best when it sticks to what the teachers and students know. That is, the curriculum and the approach in the class.
If I had been the editor, I would have suggested either (1) leaving out certain sections of the story that accuse others of bad motives or (2) doing the journalistically responsible thing and letting those attacked respond. These two sentences, for example, either need to be cut or expanded to include the other side's point of view:
She and others who teach the class in Iowa City question the motives behind the current legislation, which has been backed by the conservative Christian group the Family Leader.
There's nothing that prevents the class now, so they wonder why is the legislation being introduced.
That criticism notwithstanding, kudos to the Register for actually going to a school and interviewing teachers and students.
That happens sometimes on stories like this, yes, but not nearly enough.