Bible Ban at Uni?

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Jul 7, 2011 05:38
(Sorry for the provocative title ;-))

We had an interesting discussion in class the other day. It started when our tutor gave us a poem by Chesterton called "The Donkey." He told us that this poem had been a part of the final examination for future English teachers in Germany. The candidates had an hour to analyse the poem without using any dictionaries or other reference works.

Now, the poem is basically about a donkey who laments that he is ugly and that everybody despises him. But he, too, had his hour of glory: "there was a shout around my head/ And palms about my feet." The last verses contain an allusion to the biblical story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey and people laying down palm fronds in front of him.

If you don't get the biblical reference, the poem doesn't make much sense. Many students in my class argued that it was unfair to set such a task, especially in an important exam, because many students were Muslims, atheists, agnostics etc. and couldn't be expected to know anything about the Bible.

I am really in two minds about this. On the one hand, it was perhaps a bit mean to use such a text in an exam. On the other hand, the Bible, classical antiquity and many other areas are inherent parts of Anglo-American and European cultural heritage, so students might be expected to read up on these subjects if they haven't already done so. But I'm really not sure about this, so I didn't take part in the discussion, which got very heated indeed :-).