Teaching Bible in Public High Schools: Toward a Conception of Educational Legitimacy

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This article reports on the movement to teach Bible courses in the public schools and proposes a set of principles that would enable teachers to do so in educationally legitimate ways. In the first part, we argue the need for standards of educational legitimacy to complement the norms of Constitutional permissibility. We argue that the guidance offered by the courts' interpretations of the first amendment, while helpful for deciding legal issues, is often too blunt to guide teachers and administrators. The second part of this article articulates three principles that should constitute key elements of educational legitimacy and uses our own field work in Bible classes from different regions of the country to illustrate their utility. Our conception of educational legitimacy is bounded. It provides minimal standards. Legitimacy as we conceive it should not be confused with developing higher-order interpretive and analytic skills, skills associated with best practices. Rather legitimacy stands to these skills as the skills required to pass a driving test stand to the skills used in winning the Indianapolis 500. The former, while necessary for the latter, should not be equated with them. Our job here is to establish a floor that can be used as a guide to help teachers as a collective reflect on the professionalism of their own practices. It is not to propose a ceiling.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1279-1307
Number of pages29
JournalAmerican Educational Research Journal
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2013


  • case studies
  • educational policy
  • ethnography
  • high schools
  • in-depth interviewing
  • law/legal
  • mixed methods
  • philosophy
  • policy analysis
  • social studies education
  • teacher knowledge

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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