We Don’t Need Bible Literacy, We Need Science Literacy

The president’s tweet condoning the return of Bible literacy to public schools is a sobering reminder that secular education needs protection.

After #ExposeChristianSchools briefly trended on Twitter, the New York Times hurried to provide readers with a recap: "Everyone Was Taught to be Accepting: Readers Share Stories of Their Christian Educations" (Jan 29, 2019). I was disappointed their writer Dan Levin selected responses and background information which came across biased in favor of Christian education. It seems that an attempt to share both sides of the story may not have been successfully executed. Many of those applauding Levin appear to be Christians themselves; even his tweets endorse their side of the story.

I am a science writer and communicator who advocates for science literacy through social media. When President Trump recently tweeted about Bible literacy returning to schools, I was shocked that a president would be in favor of teaching Christianity in public school. But considering his vice president Mike Pence openly celebrates "a rich tradition in America of Christian education", I shouldn’t be shocked. I shouldn’t be shocked when I hear Pence’s wife works at a school that excludes parents, students, and teachers who are not heterosexual. But even after growing up in a conservative Christian community, the religious right continues to surprise me.

Many of my followers on Twitter were surprised when I shared my family’s Christian homeschooling background and conservative values in response to #ExposeChristianSchools. I actively advocate for putting science literacy in schools, for mentoring women and minorities in STEM education, and likely come across as deeply agnostic, if not downright atheist. Hearing that a science writer such as myself grew up in a home that censored science, where I internalized the idea women are inferior, where even my bisexuality was repressed, shocked my followers. Hundreds reached out with messages of support when I considered writing about my experience; thousands liked and shared it as well. This post is one of the many ways I will be following up on that tweet — there is much more to come.

Bible literacy does not have a place in federally funded public schools: it’s why secular education exists. If parents want a Christian education, they can home-school or send their children to private Christian schools. In fact, my parents did both. I somehow ended up attending a public high school, where I quickly found that my Christian education left me far behind my peers in science, math, and history. I lacked a foundation in these subjects, and I had never been taught about evolution or the Big Bang. It was in college that I would discover, and ultimately pursue, my passion for science — likely because I’d never had an opportunity to indulge in it before then. I am pursuing a degree in microbiology at Oregon State University now, entirely without my parents support.

If parents want their high school students to learn about religion, I encourage them to enroll their child in a community college course in religious studies. There, students can explore religious texts of the world and the history of their development. But this should remain an activity that takes place outside of federally-funded K-12 public school. What American schools really need is a renewed emphasis on science literacy.

According to the National Science and Math Initiative, only around thirty-six percent of high school graduates will be be prepared for college-level science. If they had an education anything like my own, their first year will revolve around playing catch-up with their peers. I had to take introductory math and science courses that were at (and in some cases, below) high school level. Although I found my love for science and a new enjoyment in math during those classes, the reality is that many people, especially women and minorities, will choose to stop studying STEM subjects during that time. The root of the issue is inadequate preparedness and a lack of support.

If we improved science literacy in our K-12 schools, we would encourage more students to pursue STEM after they graduate. With a growing need to fill jobs in the STEM fields, this is important not only for our economy, but also for recruiting more women and minorities into these careers. We can start by improving our science education at the K-12 level, ensuring our students are prepared to succeed in college and equipping them with the science literacy skills they’ll need to navigate in the world beyond higher education.

As a bookstore employee and a book reviewer, I introduce adults to popular science; a genre of nonfiction written to share science with the general public. And as a result, adults feel more confident in their understanding of science — and more comfortable with their children studying it as well. When people without a science background understand why, for example, things like vaccines work, or how climate change works, it empowers them to scrutinize and evaluate their beliefs — and, in some cases, shift their perspective.

I believe science is for everyone. With an new emphasis on science literacy, there will be a powerful and positive effect on the public by making intimidating subjects more accessible.

But Bible literacy?

Let’s leave that in Sunday School.