Yep, This Should Get You Fired
    By Michael White | January 14th 2011 11:41 AM | 9 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Michael

    Welcome to Adaptive Complexity, where I write about genomics, systems biology, evolution, and the connection between science and literature,


    View Michael's Profile
    An Ohio 8th-grade creationist science teacher with a habit of branding crosses on his students' arms has been fired, after a long and tedious process and a lawsuit that cost the school district some big bucks.

    The referee who evaluated the case for termination nicely summed up in one sentence (PDF) exactly what you can't do when you're a public school science teacher:

    ...He persisted in his attempts to make eighth grade science what he thought it should be - an examination of accepted scientific curriculum with the discerning eye of Christian Doctrine.

    Freshwater demonstrated (yet again) the real motivation behind policies of "teach the evidence for and against evolution":

    In 2003, John Freshwater [the teacher] petitioned the Board asking for the implementation of a new Board policy. His proposed policy was titled "Objective Origins Science Policy". He advised the Board (through the proposal)... "much of the evidence that supports the Darwinian Evolution Theory which is taught in our public schools is controversial". His proposed solution was the addition of a Board policy "that allows teachers/students to critically examine the evidence both for and against evolution". John Freshwater's proposal was rejected and his suggested policy not adopted. Nonetheless, he undertook the instruction of these eighth graders as if the suggested policy had been implemented. Both overtly and covertly, John Freshwater began to instruct his eighth grade students in such a way that they were examining evidence both for and against evolution....

    Exacerbating this situation was the fact that the evidence against evolution was based, in large part, upon the Christian religious principals [sic] of Creationism and Intelligent Design.

    And here is Freshwater, teaching like it was 1906 and not 2006:

    Perhaps the most egregious example of Joh Freshwater's "failure to adhere to established curriculum" took place in the fall of 2006...

    ... John Freshwater told his 13 and 14 year old public school students that the Bible states that homosexuality is a sin, so anyone who chooses to be homosexual is a sinner. Mr. Stockdale [another teacher present in the classroom] described how Mr. Freshwater attempted to relate this comment to the subject of science by advising his students that science and scientists can be wrong - as when they (the scientists) declare that there is a genetic predisposition to homosexuality. Thus, in one incident, witnessed by an experienced and seasoned educator, John Freshwater not only injected his subjective, biased, Christian religious based, non-scientific opinion into the instruction of eighth grade science students, but also gave those students reason to doubt the accuracy and or veracity of scientists, science textbooks, and/or science in general.

    My editorial comment: while doubt and skepticism of scientific results are good, and in fact critical, they cease to be scientifically useful when doubt and skepticism are simply used as a defense of your own unquestioned religious beliefs against perceived threats.

    What's most sad about this story is that this guy was fired only after a half-million dollar lawsuit (which the school district lost) and two years of administrative hearings. A colossal waste of time and money.


    I would hope branding children in general would get him fired; you craft a fine sentence in saying that skepticism as a shield against all science is not really skepticism, just denial.
    Gerhard Adam
    I think its also important to recognize that there is a big difference between "wrong" and simply "inaccurate" or "incomplete".  There are clearly hypothesis, in the past, that have been demonstrated to be wrong, but equally there are many theories that have been updated to be more accurate or complete (i.e. Newton).

    Merely declaring that science can be wrong is simply stupid.  After all, by the same logic, the teacher can also be wrong.  So where does that leave us?
    Mundus vult decipi
    Becky Jungbauer
    A friend of mine, a science teacher, told me about a long-term sub in her school that was teaching creationism and for whatever the reason they couldn't fire her. She was so brilliant that she literally couldn't figure out how to turn on a computer or check her email. The creationism in this instance should take a back seat to the problem of a teacher not fulfilling basic computer skills criteria when filling out job applications. Anyone else want to start a commune so our kids aren't exposed to this level of stupid?
    Limited information, but the branding sounds like it should have received a criminal sentence.

    However, I would like to take this opportunity to air a joke which  I use when a government office or university department changes its name yet again:

    As the Texas rancher said, “I don't think these cattle will be able to take much more re-branding”.

    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    His views of creationism aside, branding children should get anyone fired.

    What does this say about evolution (devolution?) of our educational institutions? Whom do these institutions serve? At some point institutions turn into "the beast", to borrow a phrase from Robert Pirsig's, Lila, with a life of their own. My own intractable perennial question remains, is there any organizational design/government in which the well-being of all the members is synonymous with the well-being/survival of the beast?
    Citizen Philosopher / Science Tutor
    They all have a pretense about 'serving the people' but we know it is not the case.  Not sure why you keep using evolution in all kinds of contexts, though, especially when the topic is now teaching a secular viewpoint in a religious class as science - and a nutcase teacher.

    Obviously the true shame is the million dollars it cost to fire the guy; so you certainly have a point that the teacher's union has zero interest in children and sole interest in keeping teachers employed, regardless of how goofy they are.    And the school district is in the unenviable position of having to endure two years of hearings to fire someone who needed it.

    Not sure why you keep using evolution in all kinds of contexts
    Sorry for sounding obsessive :-)
    There are two reasons, actually.
    1. To provoke/coax Michael into giving his definition of evolution. (I actually think the definition you quoted from Herbert Spencer was pretty good, "Evolution is a change from an indefinite, incoherent homogeneity, to a definite, coherent heterogeneity; through continuous differentiations and integrations."
    2. To provide an alternative perspective on why institutions behave as they do. When seen as primitive organisms, it makes perfect sense that they should give top priority to self-preservation and growth. From that perspective it is perfectly natural and should be expected.
    You made an important point that I overlooked. We are actually dealing with two institutions (organisms, if you will). Local government and the teachers' union. I believe the teachers' union is probably closer to the organism stage than the local government, but that is just my gut instinct.
    Citizen Philosopher / Science Tutor

    So branding a child with the belief that "we can't let a divine foot in the door' is better?