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Springfield has recently been named the fourth most “bible-minded” city in America. In part two of our series (See Part 1 here), KSMU’s Samantha Nichols reports on how this characteristic has had an impact on education in the city.
Bible-mindedness may be most closely-associated with religious institutions, but its effects can be felt in other parts of the community as well. For example, some parents in the Springfield Public School District have voiced concerns about the school district being too secular. Andy Hosmer, a member of the school board, says when approached they try and be respectful of citizens’ opinions.
“What we have are people occasionally speaking to the Board of Education with issues they have regarding a whole variety of things and some of those things are their concerns that our schools are not religious enough or that give short shrift to religion in the schools,” said Hosmer.
Despite the occasional request for a more biblically-based curriculum, Hosmer noted that the city’s Bible-mindedness does not have a huge impact on how the district conducts its business. While Springfield’s Bible-mindedness may affect individuals in the school district, it is not always relevant to school board decisions.
“We have 25,000 students and we try to give each one of those students the best possible education. You know, where they come from on a religious spectrum doesn’t impact the education that we give them, whether they are strong believers or students that don’t believe,” said Hosmer.
Of course, not every Springfield family turns to the public education system. Springfield is home to a number of private schools and homeschooling organizations, many of which hold religious affiliations. Teri Shepard is treasurer for Southwest Home Education Ministry (SHEM), the local coordinator for legal information, homeschooler training, and a convention for those interested in beginning homeschooling. SHEM adheres to an agreed upon standard rooted in Christian beliefs, but is open to all area homeschoolers. Shepard explained that those who choose homeschooling come from three major groups, with the largest group representing those choosing homeschool for religious reasons.
“There is a large perspective of a Christian nature for homeschoolers; however, there is an increasingly growing population of those with a special needs perspective and those with a secular perspective. Those that have a Christian background traditionally come from a specifically Christian background of all denominations and those families tend to lead more of a Bible-based curriculum, however not exclusively,” said Shepard.
Shepard estimates that those choosing homeschooling for religious motivations represent about 75% of those who turn to SHEM. But, changes in the American education system such as Common Core have affected how American families view education, Shepard says, prompting non-religious groups to turn to home schooling as well. She sees the study as accurately reflective of the home schooling population in Springfield, although she emphasizes the growing number of families who choose homeschooling for non-religious purposes.
“I would say that the majority of homeschoolers that comprise the 75% of the homeschool population that is Christian-based at least weave the Bible or a Bible curriculum into their daily homeschool. I, however, believe that there is a growing population that is homeschooling for other reasons outside of religious reasons,” said Shepard.
Shepard also noted the importance of educating children about all religions.
While Springfield did jump two spots from the previous year in the American Bible Society's rankings, there is a growing community of Ozarkers who claim no religion. Data from the Ozarks Regional Social Capital Survey found a 3.3% increase in this population from 2008 to 2010. When compared to national data conducted by Pew Research's Religion and Public Life Project, the Ozarks is still well below the national number of those who identify with no religion.
For researchers, Springfield's Bible-mindedness poses an interesting area of study, but for residents, this attribute is a part of life. Whether a person is a believer or not, the religious culture of Springfield is hard to miss.