Thursday, January 8, 2009

Public Education Ethical Dilemma

Columbus Dispatch Editorial: Teaching moment

Mount Vernon school district learning the hard way to nip problems in the

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

"Supporters of fired Mount Vernon Middle School teacher John Freshwater are
right about one thing: It's a shame the school district has spent $200,000
to date to defend the firing.

Since the Mount Vernon City Schools Board of Education voted in June to
fire Freshwater, the district has racked up legal expenses. The appeal
hearing, to which Freshwater is entitled by state law, began in October and
has been delayed two months by attorneys' scheduling issues.

This is an expensive lesson.

The unfortunate experience should be a cautionary lesson to other school
districts dealing with teachers whose personal beliefs get in the way of
their responsibility to educate: Don't look the other way for years, even
if the teacher is well-liked and personable. The mistake was not in firing
Freshwater but in waiting so long to do it.

Freshwater, who was hired to teach science, lost his job because an
independent report concluded that he pushed his Christian beliefs onto
students in his classroom and that he used an electrical device to burn
marks onto students' arms.

Though Freshwater says the marks were meant to be Xs, branded students say
they were to represent crosses.

The complaint of the "branding," brought by one student's parents, was
shocking, but it wasn't new to school officials; neither were the
complaints about Freshwater's religious comments nor, most important, that
he used a science classroom to promote nonscientific, religiously based
ideas of creation.

The controversy gained notoriety last spring, when Freshwater defied orders
to remove a Bible from his desk and other religious items from his
classroom. His popularity throughout the case has been evident. Some
parents and students have denied that he pushed his religion on anyone;
others have said that, even if he did, he was representing the beliefs of
most people in the school district.

Even if that's true, it doesn't excuse Freshwater's actions. All
public-school students are entitled to education free of religious
indoctrination, yet he told students that homosexuality is a sin and
declared that some non-Christian religions are false. He told his students
that the law required him to teach the theory of evolution but that it
can't be true because it isn't supported by the Bible.

A high-school teacher testified that she often had to re-teach the basics
of evolution to students who had been in Freshwater's classes, for fear
that they would fail that part of the state proficiency test.

Parents had been complaining of Freshwater's proselytizing for at least 11
years. If officials had reined in his behavior when it first surfaced,
perhaps he would have been more likely to respect his bosses' orders to
stick to science.

Allowing him to become entrenched made a warranted dismissal much harder.

The supporters packing the hearing room where Freshwater's appeal is being
heard show that he has lots of community support. That suggests he could
build a career as a motivational speaker, an activist for Christian causes
or a teacher in a religious school.

But his demonstrated disregard for science, not to mention his poor
judgment with the electrical device, disqualifies him to teach in public

Other school districts with budding John Freshwaters should take heed.
Confronting a popular teacher is controversial, but preserving sound
education is essential."

If you were on the school board 11 years ago, what would you have done?


David Plumb said...

Also, should the board face the consequences as well? Should they also be held accountable? And, who is most at fault?

Sam Greene said...


I heard about this over the summer. Terrible.

I feel that the board should absolutely face the same, if not harsher consequences. Complaints were lodged and they did nothing. The fact that they are spending money in his defense leads me to believe that they support him. If this is the case, they are breaking the law as it is illegal to proselytize for any religion in a public school.

I think the saddest thing is that the children are being denied a complete Science education. If their parents wanted them to receive a religious education they could pursue that outside of public school. The person who is most to blame in my opinion is the teacher himself. However, the school board absolutely should suffer some consequence for ultimately condoning this for 11(?) years.

I would like to pose a question at this point. If you had children and it became legal to teach about ID as an alternative to evolution what would you do? Would you pull your children out of school



P.S. Come to our Social!

Eric G. said...

In response to the article: Wow. If my student was in that class I'd be pissed as all hell. (As much as I hate kids, I think teachers using corporeal punishment takes the fun away from the parents... JOKING ASIDE). I mean, BURNING kids IN CLASS is just inexcusable. Worse though in my mind (those wounds can heal for all I care) is the religious views the teacher presented in, best place of all the science class. Homosexuality as a sin, bible on desk etc is just as dangerous to a kids mind and development. Kinda reminds me of my high school spanish teacher who occasionally talked about Christianity during class. Sad thing, with a great personality teachers can and usually can get away with a lot.

To answer David - I think the teacher is most at fault and deserves to be punish as such. The board though should have acted sooner yes, but thats in the past and now they should at least issue an apology and update their rosters and check the teachers' teachings.

To answer Sam - Yes, I would pull my child out of the classroom if ID is ever (it will never though) be allowed to be taught. Hell, I may even home school my kid in the sciences which may not be a bad move seeing how I love sciences. Of course I would contact the board and other parents to bring awareness of the issue.