Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Freshwater Cross Burning Case

I'm sure many of you have already read about the John Freshwater case, where an eighth-grade science teacher was eschewing the required curriculum in favor of preaching fundamentalist Christian values, denigrating scientific theories, and promoting pseudoscience like Intelligent Design. His students were apparently so poorly educated in his class that they had to be retaught the material in high school. To add injury to insult, he apparently burned crosses into some of his student's arms.

One would think this would be an open and shut case, and anyone acting like that would be fired immediately, but apparently this behavior has gone on for over a decade. It took the cross burning to garner the proper attention. Yet Freshwater still has some defenders in the community. Prominent among them is professional irritant Dave Daubenmire, friend of Freshwater, and a former high school football coach who's district was sued years ago over his own proselytizing. "Coach" Dave offers these tidbits:

"With the exception of the cross-burning episode … I believe John Freshwater is teaching the values of the parents in the Mount Vernon school district"

Right, and OJ was a great guy except that whole knife thing. That aside, someone needs to tell Coach Dave that the law of the land says a teacher cannot dismiss the science curriculum simply because it conflicts with his religious views, or those of the parents. I know you guys hate to hear this, but part of the purpose of a public school system is to prevent ignorant parents from making that a permanent family trait. Otherwise they might all end up being like this:

"Do you think there are other teachers in the public classroom that are trying to drive their opinions in the classroom? I don’t care who you are. You cannot separate your value system from your teaching."

The issue is not having opinions in the classroom. The issue is taking opinions of a religious nature, and presenting them in place of the approved curriculum in violation of the law.

As for separating your value system from your teaching, this is not only possible, but easy, especially so when teaching subjects like science where one's personal values are completely irrelevant. Science is about evidence, and the theories that explain it, not personal values. E = Mc^2 whether you believe in sex before marriage or not. Value systems place moral and utilitarian measures on our choices, thereby guiding our personal decisions. What does this have with teaching history, or math, or English, or science?

It seems people like Daubenmire and Freshwater misunderstand, as did Bill Buckingham and Alan Bonsell of Dover fame, the entire pedagogy of our school system at its most basic level. No wonder they keep walking into this legal buzz saw. This is going to be a festival of Schadenfreude.

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