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High school Bible courses criticized by watchdog group

AMARILLO - A recent report says several area schools are teaching the Bible to high schoolers in an inappropriate way for public school.

Bible is a course that's been available in Amarillo public schools for 80 years.

"We teach an academic bible course, not Sunday school," said Amarillo High School Bible Instructor Gene Shelburne.

Shelburne has taught at Amarillo high for 38 years, and ministered at the Anna Street Church of Christ for 44 years.

But he says his role as pastor and his role as teacher never mix and he's offended that his class has been labeled "problematic" in a report by an Southern Methodist University religion professor.

"He assumed the worst," Shelburne said. "He assumed that we were ignorant, that we were bigoted, that we were misusing the public class room, and he just assumed that."

The report used several lines from Shelburne's curriculum as examples of how his class presents the Bible through a conservative protestant filter.

One example is a test question that hints race originated from the sons of Noah.

"We weren't teaching that, Genesis 10 teaches that. Our kids didn't have to believe it, I don't think some of my teachers believe it, they just had to know that's what Genesis 10 says" Shelburne said.

The goal of this report is not to get rid of bible courses. The author himself is a devote Methodist. The Texas Freedom Network just wants to make sure the Bible isn't being taught as factual history.

"We're a religious liberties and public education watchdog based out of Austin. We support religious freedom for everybody," said editor of the report and

TFN gave Professor Mark Chancy the funding to do the research critical of AISD's Bible course. The professor says he doesn't doubt that Shelburne has good intentions. He says it's the state that's at fault.

"Teachers are asked to teach courses without given much help in developing these courses so that they can become constitutionally and academically appropriate," Chancey said.

He says the state needs to give more funding to schools to get Bible instructors certified to teach.

Bible courses in Texas high schools has more than doubled since a law passed in 2007 requiring school districts to create bible courses if there is a want from students or parents.

"This report was intended to catch a snapshot of the state of affairs across Texas, to highlight some of the best practices and courses that others might look to as examples, but also to document how widespread the confusion is over how to teach a bible course," Chancey said.

Regardless whether report's assertions of Amarillo courses are true or not, Shelburne and TFN can agree on one thing; learning the Bible makes for a well-rounded individual.

"How can you read literature that refers to Bible if you don't know the references? You don't have to believe it, but you've got to know what it's talking about," Shelburne said.

Dalhart, Perryton, and Boys Ranch ISDs' courses were also cited as problematic in the report.

You can read the whole document by clicking here.  

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