Surely everyone can agree that no one in 2022 should be thinking about — let alone saying out loud — ways to torture our fellow human beings, our neighbors, our students.
Everyone it seems except the local teacher of eighth-grade students at East Hamilton Middle School who is said by the mother of a student to have taught middle-schoolers a lesson on "how to torture a Jew" in an elective Bible-as-literature class.
"[The teacher] wrote an English transliteration of the Hebrew name of G-d on the whiteboard. This name is traditionally not spoken out loud, and is traditionally only written in the Torah. She then told her students, 'If you want to know how to torture a Jew, make them say this out loud,'" the student's mother wrote on Facebook last week.
"My daughter felt extremely uncomfortable hearing a teacher instruct her peers on 'how to torture a Jew' and told me when she came home from school that she didn't feel safe in the class," the mom wrote.
The family is Jewish and are members of the Mizpah Congregation in Chattanooga. The mother, Juniper Russo, reported the Feb. 2 incident to the school system and to the Anti-Defamation League. The school system is investigating the complaint, according to a statement.
The Bible history class is taught in 29 Hamilton County public schools and is funded by the nonprofit organization, "The Bible in the Schools."
We're talking "funded by the nonprofit" to the tune of $1.8 million a year.
On its website, the organization, which was founded here in Chattanooga in 1922 by Dr. J.P. McCallie (also the founder of The McCallie School), takes credit for teaching the Bible in schools locally for a century.
The website also states its classes are "non-sectarian" and teachers are "required to teach from a viewpoint-neutral perspective and adhere to a court-approved curriculum."
Hmmm. If you want to torture (fill in the blank — whites, Blacks, Jews, Muslim's, Baptists?) make them — well, fill in the blank again.
As Russo wrote: "How can we say that our schools have zero tolerance for bullying if a teacher is actually instructing students on how to do it?"
Yes, it's entirely possible, perhaps probable, this teacher — an employee of the school system, not the nonprofit — did not mean to make anyone afraid. And frankly, sometimes some of us need to feel a prickle of discomfort to understand the real pain of being harassed or attacked. That's why talking things through in classes — complete with probing questions or pointed remarks — can be illuminating.
But we need to ask ourselves: If we are comfortable teaching Bible "history" or "literature" (always pictured and written about on the organization's web site is the King James version), would we equally welcome a $1.8 million contribution to our schools to teach Torah history? Or to teach The Quran as literature?
How about a $3 million donation to teach The Atheist's Bible in 29 of our 39 middle and high schools?
Who knows, maybe we could get a $5 million gift to teach the Ku Klux Klan white supremacist ideology. Don't laugh. It was real. According to History.com, thousands of children were "christened" and "participated in the KKK and its auxiliary organizations: the Junior Ku Klux Klan for teenage boys, the Tri-K-Klub for teenage girls, and 'Ku Klux Kiddies' and 'cradle clubs' for children and infants beginning in the 1920s."
Perhaps someone could explain to us how it is that our teachers are now being bullied by lawmakers not to talk to students about our founders who were slaveowners or about anything that might be construed as supporting "critical race theory," yet it's OK to write on a whiteboard a sacred name that Jewish people are told not to utter aloud and then say, "If you want to torture a Jew make him say this?"
This incident, and the rash of school library book bannings, including one in McMinn County where "Maus, a Survivor's Tale," about the author's parents' Holocaust experience, have painted Tennessee as intolerant in headlines all over the world.
It will get worse before it gets better. We're about to spend millions of our tax dollars on a Baptist college's "informed patriotism" curriculum for teaching history and civics, if Gov. Bill Lee gets his way. And he will. After all, it was our supermajority Republican lawmakers in the General Assembly who voted last year to ban the teaching of anything that might be seen as critical race theory and make white people uncomfortable about our nation's racial and slave history.
That Baptist college, Hillsdale College of Michigan, developed "The Hillsdale 1776 Curriculum" specifically to counter The New York Times' 1619 Project and critical race theory. The curriculum, which it heavily exports, is described as "a more patriotic approach to American history." By the way, our century-old Bible classes are exported, too. Bibleintheschools.com says it has requests for program replication in at least 15 states.
We can't stop other school systems from teaching Bible "history" or literature — as opposed to religion history or literature — in other states, but we certainly can have a bigger say on our own school system accepting 30 pieces of silver for the group to proselytize here.