Bible In The Schools Celebrates 100 Years Of Bible History Elective Courses

  • Thursday, August 12, 2021

As thousands of students return for another school year this August, local nonprofit Bible in the Schools (BITS) celebrates the start of the 100th school year that Bible History elective courses have been offered in Hamilton County's public schools.

Since 1922, public school students in Hamilton County have taken Bible elective courses as part of their regular school day. A 100-year-old institution, Bible in the Schools is the byproduct of the vision of Dr. J. Park McCallie, founder of The McCallie School.

After observing the benefits of Bible History classes on McCallie School youth, Dr. McCallie was convinced that Bible classes are "altogether the most worthwhile courses we have." He wanted all students, public and private, to have the opportunity to study the Bible at their school. In 1922, Dr. McCallie organized a group known as the Public School Bible Study Committee, later referred to as Bible in the Schools, and argued before the City Commission that Bible classes should be taught in the public schools.

"Today, we stand on the shoulders of one man who, in 1922, understood the academic benefit of the rigor required from students when studying such a complex text, but who also recognized that when students studied the Bible, it had a transformative impact in their lives as well as on the integrity and climate of the entire school," said Cathy Scott, the current president of Bible in the Schools.

Bible History classes follow guidelines established by a 1980 federal court ruling, which affirmed that the teaching of for-credit non-sectarian Bible History elective classes in Hamilton County's public middle and high schools is constitutionally permissible. Before 1980, elementary students throughout Hamilton County were eligible to take Bible courses; since the court ruling, the elective courses are only taught in middle and high schools.

The Hamilton County Bible History curricular framework is court-approved, taught from a historical and literary perspective, and aligns with the standards of the Tennessee State Department of Education. The Hamilton County Schools Bible History program continues to lead the nation with the largest concentration of public school students in any one school district studying the Bible.

Entering its 100th school year, Bible in the Schools now reaches 29 public schools and over 4,600 students. Demand for Bible History grows each school year: 2021 boasted the highest Bible History enrollment numbers since the program's inception. Hamilton County Schools' data reports that of the 19,006 students in the county who had access to Bible History in 2020-2021, approximately one in four students took and completed a course.

Officials said, "Bible History elective courses provide public school students with the opportunity to receive a viewpoint-neutral, foundational study — at no cost to taxpayers — of one of the cornerstone texts of world history. Courses like Bible History encourage responsible citizenship and contribute to a broad education. They develop cultural literacy in young minds and equip students to thrive in and contribute to a global world."

Bible in the Schools has provided public school students in Hamilton County with Bible History classes for 100 years, funded entirely by charitable community donations. Because of the generosity of the community, Bible in the Schools provided the largest community-funded donation to Hamilton County Schools in the 2020-2021 academic year.

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