Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Why School Teachers Should Leave Religion Out of the Classrooms

From Pharyngula comes a link to The Columbus Dispatch regarding an Ohio teacher in a bit of hot water.

MOUNT VERNON, Ohio...Some students at Mount Vernon Middle and High schools want everyone to know they support a science teacher who has refused to remove a Bible from his classroom desk.


“Like him, we're expressing our First Amendment rights. He has the right to express his religion. We have the right to assemble,” said McCoy, 18, who led the afternoon rally.

On Monday, Middle School Principal William D. White told Freshwater to remove “all religious items” from his classroom by the end of Wednesday.

Freshwater agreed to take down the Ten Commandments from the door of his classroom, posters with Bible verses and Bibles on a shelf. But he refused to remove his personal Bible from his desk when students are in the room.

“That Bible is me. I want my Bible on my desk because that is me,” he said yesterday. The case has drawn national media attention.


But it's not just about the Bible on the desk. Freshwater, 51, has been at odds with the school administration on other occasions because he put God into his explanation of how the world began.

In one class, Freshwater used Lego pieces to describe the beginning of the world. He dumped the pieces, then asked students if the Legos could assemble by themselves, said Joe Stuart, 18, assistant editor of the high-school newspaper.

When Freshwater taught students about electrical current, he used a device to leave a red mark in the shape of a cross on the forearms of some students, Stuart said.

“If it were just about the Bible, I don't think people would have a problem with it,” Stuart said.

In his evaluations through the 21 years he's worked for the district, Freshwater has drawn consistent praise for his strong rapport with students, broad knowledge of his subject matter and engaging teaching style.

In 2006, he was instructed to remove from his curriculum a handout titled “Darwin's Theory of Evolution — The Premise and the Problem.” A parent had questioned its validity and use in a science classroom.

The superintendent said it had “not passed the test of scientific review and acceptance of the established scientific community.”

This story reminded me of my own run-in with a well-meaning, religiously motivated teacher in my public high school. This was around 1990. As part of the class, we had to do a 5 minute speech on a topic of our choosing. I choose to do a speech about the history of comics books with an emphasis on the 1950s comic crackdown lead by Dr. Wertham. It was slightly more than 5 minutes. The teacher was impressed by the speech, but she seemed slightly put off by comic books themselves. I got the impression that she saw comic books as morally degenerate and low-brow. I think she wished to "elevate" my reading material. So, a few days later, she returned with a selection of 4 or 5 "Christian" comic books, which she gave to me. Hey, no problem, right? White kid, from Ohio, there was a good chance I was Christian. And, back then, I was. In particular, I was happily Catholic, having spent 9 years in Catholic grade school and one year in a Catholic High School. Well, one of the comics she gave me was called Alberto.

Who is Alberto? Alberto Magno Romero Rivera was born in 1937 in the Canary Islands. He claimed to have been a priest who served as an undercover operative of the Jesuit order to infiltrate and destroy Protestant churches and institutions. He maintained that he was so successful that he secretly was made a bishop. Yet he turned his life over to Christ and became a Fundamentalist evangelist. He claimed to have rescued his sister—a nun—after she nearly died in a convent in London. Well, now you begin to understand the problem. But let me make it plain for you. This is what was in a comic book, given to me, a Catholic 15 year old, by a Public School Teacher.

Just to help you understand, the page before this page had a boy climb into bed with another boy for a little late night rendezvous. Which the Catholic priest approved of. Right. And right down there at the bottom? Ah, yes, Catholic priests and nuns accused of killing infants from nuns impregnated by priests. I'll tell you what, 1980s Spider-Man has nothing on the depravity displayed in this single comic book page.

Now, what happened next? Well, I brought the comic back to the teacher, told her I was Catholic and found this particular comic to be quite offensive. She apologized, seeming quite embarrassed, took the book back, and the matter was ended. We never discussed comic books again.

So, what happened that she found herself in this particular situation? She was a well-intentioned, slightly religious, women who had not clue one what was to be found in certain comic books published by this particular publisher. I know she did not read this book before she gave to me, because it is quite repulsive. She wanted to introduce me to a "higher form" of comic book, even though standard comic books at that time were already quite elevated, thank you very much. She probably just stopped at the nearest St. Mark's Bookstore, grabbed a handful of books from the spinner rack, and bought them, thinking "Christian comic books, way better than mainstream comic books." And she got burned. Because, I just happened to be Catholic.

That fact is that the high school I went to was very cosmopolitan. We had Muslims, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Hindus, Jews, Buddhist, Catholics, and just plain Christians. Any of the books she gave me would have been found doubly offensive to many of them. But she didn't THINK. She put her Christian blinders on and allowed herself to think that everyone else was Just Like Her. That Christian Comic Books would reflect HER values. But she was wrong. Way wrong.

That is what is happening in Mt. Vernon, as well. Maybe, just maybe, Mt. Vernon is 100% Christian. Maybe they all go to the exact same church, and hear the exact same sermons, and, at home, say the exact same prayers. But I doubt it. I doubt it very much. Someone in Mt. Vernon is feeling a little put out by Mr. Freshwater's 10 Commandments poster (which version, you ask? Hell if I know), and his Bible Verses posters. They are probably too afraid to speak out, though, for fear of being bullied by the Vocal Christian Majority.

When a teacher expresses his religious views in a compelled setting, where students can't walk away when he says something about religion they disagree with, where students may be afraid to express their contrary religious views in front of someone who has a government endorsed position of authority over them, then the teacher is stepping over the line. Parents have a right to expect that the money they use to pay for Mr. Freshwater's salary is not going to be used to proselytize a religious viewpoint they may disagree with. Students have a right to expect that when they go to a science class they will learn science and not be confronted by Bible verses. I have no problem with Mr. Freshwater keeping a Bible on his desk. Hell, he can have Fanny Hill on his desk, if he really wants to. But that is it. His job is to teach science. If Mr. Freshwater wants to preach, then he should become a preacher.

Read all of Alberto #1 here. Be prepared, Catholics, it's some sick stuff.

See what Catholics says About Alberto Here and Here. (Hint, they deny all charges.)

Read more about the Publisher of Alberto, Chick Publishing, here.

As an aside, while researching this post, I could not, for the life of me, remember what the name of the comic book was. I checked under Spire Comics, because they were the only other Christian color comic book publisher I knew but knew none of the books described by them came even close. So, imagine my surprise when I learned that Chick publishing, best known for their black and white Chick Tracks, had also published color comics. From there, it was easy to find the comic book, Alberto. Quite a long trip, for such a short journey.


Christopher said...

What I find appalling is the incursion of religion into science classes. There are a lot who will claim the same argument you make--that students in a classroom are in a compelled setting--is the reason so-called alternative theories to evolution should be taught. Most of the "alternatives" don't even rise to the level of hypotheses, much less alternatives, and are little more than attempts to pass of religion as science.

Ryoga M said...

You are absolutely correct. The state has an interest in compelling students to learn science, not superstition and conjuncture. The Kitzmiller decision was right: ID is religion, not science, and including it in a public school science class is a violation of the Establishment Clause.

Intelligent Design is also Bad Conjuncture. There is much more evidence to support the idea of a Malevolent or Incompetent designer than an Intelligent one. Prostate wrapped around the Urethra? That's an evil design, right there.

Thanks for commenting.