It should come as no surprise to anyone who teaches literature that a good background in the Bible is really helpful for students. So much of Western literature derives influence from the Bible, whether through symbolism or allusion. As a teacher in the South, I never worried about bringing up the Bible in class when an author clearly referred to it. I have been known to find the reference and read that, too. I think that’s just good teaching. It is nice to work at a school where students are taught Tanakh (the Torah plus other books that make up the Christian Old Testament) and also Rabbinic literature. They know much more than any other students I’ve taught, and they pick up Biblical references. Therefore, “Call me Ishmael” means something to them, and I don’t have to spend a lot of time explaining it. I agree that studying the Bible as the most influential source for so much Western canon is a good idea, but I understand why it makes people nervous. There is a fine line to be walked. Oddly enough, my students are fairly well-versed in New Testament, having studied it in middle school, and I rarely have to describe references to the New Testament in great detail.
I think what people fear about the Bible is directly related to idiots like Republican Alabama State Representative Gerald Allen, who tried to push through a bill to ban books written by homosexuals or that have homosexual characters from public schools.
What that meant was no Tennessee Williams — The Glass Menagerie is a staple of American literature curricula across the country. It meant no Truman Capote. By extension, does that mean he might have banned To Kill a Mockingbird, as Dill was based on Harper Lee’s childhood friend Truman Capote? The Color Purple would have been gone. He even went after some of Shakespeare before backing down and allowing “classics” to be exempt, although the article’s author maintains Allen couldn’t define what a classic was.
Librarian Donna Schremser sums it up perfectly: “[T]he idea that we would have a pristine collection that represents one political view, one religious view, that’s not a library.”
Thank God for absenteeism:
When the time for the vote in the legislature came there were not enough state legislators present for the vote, so the measure died automatically.
Let’s hope it stays dead, for the good of Alabama’s schoolchildren.