TREVOR BARNES ON AN UNEXPECTED (AND UNWANTED?) GIFT

The King James Bible to every school …’an empty gesture, potentially divisive, and a thinly-disguised attempt to tell teachers what to teach’ .

 

Image courtesy of bookchen via flickr.com ©©

So, a copy of the King James Bible is to be distributed to every state primary and secondary school in England, is it? Well three questions immediately come to mind. One; why haven’t they got copies already? Two; what exactly are they expected to do with them? And, three, if Richard Dawkins says it’s a good idea, could it be time for a rethink?

But no. A bandwagon is rolling and few of our grandstanding politicians and one-issue lobbyists are content to let it pass by unboarded.

“Through a glass darkly”, “hiding your light under a bushel”, “wolf in sheep’s clothing”, “East of Eden”; the usual phrases were quoted as literary and cultural justification for this exercise in munificence that’s reportedly been bankrolled by Tory philanthropists and evangelical Christians.

The trouble with this sort of thing, though, is that for all its good intentions it tends to get people’s backs up. And not just the National Secular Society whose opposition was entirely predictable.

There are many teachers out there, for example, who’ll see this as, at best, an empty gesture landing them with a needless and quite possibly divisive dilemma over what precisely to do with this unexpected gift and, at worst, a thinly disguised attempt to tell them what they should be teaching and how they should be teaching it. As if filling out grids, marking SATs papers, teaching an ever widening curriculum, and preparing for a dawn swoop from OFSTED schools inspectors wasn’t quite enough to be getting on with.

But even worse is the nagging suspicion that a book of holy scripture is being used in a quasi triumphalist way prompting those of a multi faith persuasion to be clamouring soon for the Guru Granth Sahib, the Baghavad Gita, and the Koran to be accorded a similarly lofty place next to the school trophy cabinet.

Of course, in an English context, the King James Version is quite different from its Sikh, Hindu, and Muslim counterparts. Its role in forming our language and contributing to our values, in shaping our history and informing our culture is unique - and not exclusively religious (hence the Dawkins’ seal of approval). But it won’t stop the awkward squad from demanding for their holy books religious parity of status thereby making headteachers’ jobs more demanding still - especially in areas of ethnic diversity.

Agreed, the King James version is a literary and cultural masterpiece, a matchless translation of enduring beauty and power but it’s not there to be foisted on schools unilaterally.

Besides, the best schools access it already, weaving it unobtrusively into their English, history, and RE lessons as it is - instead of suddenly being required to shoehorn it into an already groaning timetable at central government request.

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