On the gaps in our education

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The magazine rack at our local coffee shop.

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When I was 20, I got a job in the typing pool of a big city law firm. One day, I scuttled into the office of a young lawyer and closed the door behind me. “Did you know,” I whispered conspiratorially, “that the Davises are Jewish?”

“Ummm, so am I,” he laughed, pushing back his chair. “My last name is Goldstein, for crying out loud.” When this failed to register, he tried more clues, but nothing he offered up made a dent. “Wait a minute,” he said finally. “Are you telling me you’ve never met a Jewish person?”

I recall my face getting hot and how I avoided him for days after. I felt small, ashamed of my ignorance, sorry for the nasty way I’d said, “the Davises are Jewish” like an accusation, when I had no idea what being Jewish even meant.

I grew up in a place much like Lawrenceburg in rural, southern Missouri. Everyone I knew was a Christian of some sort. When I was in high school, my mother remarried and we moved to a little town of 500 with one church, and the local joke was that if you were of a differing faith they ran you out on a rail. A joke that was not all that funny, frankly, when you bore witness to a family literally and cruelly being run out of town.

The sheltered, uninformed way I grew up came to mind last week when I read that our high school principal wants to hire a preacher to teach Bible class.

Unlike my little Missouri town with one church, we have dozens of churches here, as well as a multitude of Sunday schools, Bible study groups, and Vacation Bible Schools. Most businesses around town have Bibles in the waiting rooms and/or Christian radio playing over the sound-system. I think it is fair to say Anderson County is awash in both Biblical study and Christianity.

When I graduated high school, I knew plenty about the Bible, but lacked so much else. I had a hard time managing a budget, ran up credit card debt, had never been to the theatre or a museum, struggled filling out the most basic tax forms, bought cars I did not realize I could not afford, and sometimes made unintentional but unkind comments around people of different cultures or faiths.

My question for the principal is this: what educational gap is Bible class expected to fill?

What if we offered more classes about how to buy a car or a house, how the stock market works, ways to save for retirement, how to budget and cook for a family of four, how to interview for a job? What if we took our kids on more field trips to Louisville and beyond to experience the theatre, a museum, a synagogue or a mosque, ethnic foods?

Last week a friend shared a story about her church’s Sunday service. The pastor had asked someone to sing parts of traditional Christmas songs and then he offered commentary. Can we sing still “White Christmas,” he said, or is that too politically incorrect? After a song about a boy wanting a toy gun and a girl wanting a doll, the pastor asked (sarcastically, I assume) if we can still sing a song about gender-specific toys without offending the liberals.

I do not profess to understand the purpose of that sermon, but sadly it seems both petty and no more informed than me at age 20. Instead of teaching the Bible in high school, maybe we should have a class that teaches our kids how to discuss differences of religion, ethnicity, and politics with respect, because as I can sadly attest, many of the same folks lecturing me with long lists of Bible verses recently have also made public comments and filled their Facebook pages with memes that do not exactly denote a civil, Christian spirit.

If the high school principal is set on offering a new class, why not add something like “World Religions and Cultures,” instruction that could send our kids out into the world more tolerant and less fearful of people, ideas, and religions different from them?

Filling this ever-widening gap might be the most Christian, most Biblical, education of all.

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