Some Iowans have been suggesting that teachers should be required to teach the Bible and patriotism in the Iowa Public Schools. These are important subjects and, as a university professor, I agree they should be taught. Indeed, as a specialist in American literature and culture, I teach them every semester.

All teachers of literature know that the Bible is one of the most important books in literary history, and an understanding of it is required to fully appreciate that history. The Bible informs the belief system of many writers and has provided imagery and motifs for innumerable poems and novels. It also provides moral and spiritual guidance for many people, and therefore should provide a yardstick by which they can judge their political leaders. For instance, readers of the Bible will know that we now have a president who has broken all of the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament repeatedly, and whose public and private behavior completely violates the model presented by Jesus Christ in the New Testament.

As for patriotism, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution play a role in American history comparable to the Bible in world history, and an understanding of both of these texts is crucial to understanding the history that ensues. In particular, I teach my students about the many ways in which our government has violated many of those principles, both nationally and internationally, and encourage them to read such patriotic writers as Henry David Thoreau, Frederick Douglass, and Susan B. Anthony, to show how powerfully these foundational documents have provided them with the political principles upon which to express their dissent which, to my mind, is a pillar of patriotism. And, of course, an understanding of these documents should also teach Americans how tragically the foundational principles of this republic are being violated by the current administration. I can think of few less patriotic acts than to vote for a white supremacist who doesn’t believe in the rule of law and who is in thrall to a foreign power.

So, yes, teach the Bible, and insist that your students measure their leaders by its demanding moral strictures. And yes, teach patriotism, and insist that your students judge their leaders by their adherence to our founding principles.

Glass is a professor of English at University of Iowa. 

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