Tuesday, August 05, 2008

For Homework: Discuss Why Evolution Can't Explain People Who Cling To Irrational Beliefs Despite Evidence

A while back we told you about John Freshwater a Middle School science teacher in Ohio and his rather unique classroom management technique of branding students. "It helps me learn their names faster," he told reporters. Apparently, some parents had problems with permanent disfigurement of their children and complained to the school board who promptly told Freshwater to stop teaching creationism in his science classes.

Oh, did we mention he's a science teacher who doesn't believe in science? Yeah, there's that too.

Anyway, long story short, the school board voted unanimously to fire him back in June. End of story.

Or so we thought.

Freshwater, 52, has vehemently denied branding anyone and insists he teaches evolution. "I teach that it's wrong and you'll go to hell if you believe it, but at least I teach it," he said. In a brief interview, Freshwater claimed the investigation into his activities is "biased." When asked to explain what he mean by that, Freshwater said it had been obvious "from day one that all the school cares about is me teaching science. How one sided is that?"

All this is prelude to an August 26 hearing at which a referee will consider the board's recommendation that Freshwater, who has been suspended without pay, be fired. "We would have had all this wrapped up by now," said one school board member. "But Freshwater challenged the call and the ref wanted to see the replay."

The alleged branding occurred last December during a classroom science experiment. Freshwater was using an electrostatic device common in science classroom demonstrations. Freshwater told investigators, according to an independent probe, that students often ask if they could touch the device, which carries high voltage but low current. "I felt it was my duty as a teacher to let kids hurt themselves if they wanted to," Freshwater said.

The alleged branding has overshadowed a more complex story of religious beliefs and public education. Freshwater supporters argue that religious freedom is on trial here, along with the teacher. "Why should a science teacher be limited to teaching science?" asked one Freshwater supporter. "Why can't he also teach stuff that has nothing to do with science? What's happened to freedom of speech in this country?"

"This is about the safety and well-being of students and protecting their constitutional rights to get an education," said David Millstone, who represents the school board.

"Education? That's not why I send my child to school," responded a parent supporting Freshwater. And what's the Constitution got to do with this? There's no mention of the Constitution in the bible."

Lori Miller, a mathematics teacher at the middle school, said Freshwater is being singled out for his religious beliefs. Miller said she keeps a Bible on her desk and, like Freshwater, has posters on her classroom walls with religious themes. "Of course I don't burn my students or tell them they're going to hell if they believe in algebra, so that could be a difference," she conceded.

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