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May 6 2009
teacher in trouble for criticizing creationism

I've posted links here before to stories about public school teachers who got in trouble for forcing religion on kids. Well, this one is the opposite:

Guardian Story

A US teenager has successfully won a lawsuit against a teacher who described creationism as "superstitious nonsense".

Chad Farnan, a devout Christian studying at California's Capistrano Valley high school, persuaded a judge that his European history teacher, James Corbett, violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment, which courts interpret as banning government employees from promoting, or displaying hostility towards, religion.

Farnan claimed Corbett made comments that were "derogatory, disparaging and belittling regarding religion and Christianity in particular". In legal documents submitted to the US district court, he said he was uncomfortable going to class and felt as though Corbett had created an atmosphere in which he could not effectively learn "both because and regardless of his religious beliefs".

I have to admit, I think the judge ruled correctly here. Obviously, there is a fuzzy line somewhere. I mean, a teacher should not get in trouble for teaching some facts about history or science even if a child finds them in conflict with their religion. But, this teacher was going out of his way (and out of his syllabus) to insult religion, which was really not his job as a teacher. So, I agree that just as a Christian public school teacher should not be trying to save the children in his class by teaching them about his "savior", an atheistic teacher should also not be trying to save them from the falsehoods of religion. That's the deal we've agreed to in trying to maintain freedom of religion through separation of church and state. At least, that's the way I see it. Anyone disagree? It would be interesting to hear from someone who thinks this ruling was wrong.

May 11 2009
Re: teacher in trouble for criticizing creationism

I can't see how you agree with this ruling.

The purpose of the education system is to teach students about the real world and prepare them for there future. How is lying to them and saying that the events described in Genesis actually happened, helpful? I mean in this case the teacher was right on the button it is superstitious dribble that was invented thousands of years ago in a naive attempt to explain the origin of the planet. Sure he could have been more understanding and less condescending but schooling is supposed to dispel the illusions, teach people what is real, and what is just made up.

I agree that an Atheistic teacher should not try to "recruit" students to Atheism just as a religious teacher shouldn't use his influence to convert his or her students to there religion but the history of the planet is well documented and does not support any part of the creation story. If you want to hear creationism in classes attend a comparative religion class and while your there you can learn the hundreds of other creation myths many of which coincide remarkably with the Judeo-Christian story (coincidence?).

Saying history and earth science teachers should have to teach creationism is like telling medical professors they should teach the merits of blood letting or law professors teaching the art of prosecuting witches.

Other creation stories

May 11 2009
Re: teacher in trouble for criticizing creationism

I can't see how you agree with this ruling.


Saying history and earth science teachers should have to teach creationism is like telling medical professors they should teach the merits of blood letting or law professors teaching the art of prosecuting witches.

I didn't say that history and earth science teachers should teach creationism! I said that they shouldn't be intentionally discussing topics outside of their syllabus for the specific purpose of insulting religions.

First of all, this guy was a European history teacher. The invention of the Judeo-Christian creation myth and the geology of the ancient Earth are both outside of what he was supposed to be talking about. Why was he discussing that at all?

Now, I'm not saying that the teacher should either lie or cover up the truth when discussing things that are on the syllabus. I want a geology teacher to be completely honest about the fact that all of the evidence indicates the Earth is billions of years old, that we understand how the geological features on it (from mountains and rivers to continents and oceans) formed from purely natural processes, etc. However, I also think the teacher should do this without specifically mentioning religion. Leave it up to the students to notice for themselves that this conflicts with what they've heard from clergy and decide for themselves which makes sense. (So, I'd really hope that the teacher has time to explain how we know this, because the evidence is really quite strong.)

But, I really don't think your "schools should teach the truth" idea is going to work, because whose idea is it to decide what is true? In a democracy, presumably it will be the majority that decides. So, perhaps your truth would win out in Europe, but in "stuck-in-the-middle-ages" USA, creationism would be the preferred choice. I think it is more reasonable to just agree that public schools don't teach religion: pro or con.

May 11 2009
Re: teacher in trouble for criticizing creationism

I agree that a teacher teaching AP European History should avoid lecturing on topics outside his purview, however, I can see several scenarios in which creationism could be included into the discussion when covering time periods like the protestant reformation, Copernicus, the flat earth theory, or the crusades. Any of these subjects could draw tangents to creationism and under such circumstances it would be negligent of the professor not to make reference to them (though that doesnít give permission for blatant bashing).

As for your "Truth by Committee" argument while democracy is a great thing (although Hamas was elected into power overwhelmingly in Gaza), truth is not a subjective thing that you can vote yes or no on. The purpose of education systems is to educate people and by cherry picking facts and substituting fables where we feel it may offend the ignorant we end up with students who canít tell truth from bologna.

BTW lying to our children under the premise of "it's just a little whit lie no one will care" does matter. By telling children fables and purporting them as truth, "George Washington had wooden teeth and cut down a cherry tree", while seemingly innocuous creates children who believe authority unquestioningly. Where would scientific discoveries come from if researchers simply followed established practices and accepted other peopleís assessments?

No society can prosper when truth is suppressed.

May 17 2009
Re: teacher in trouble for criticizing creationism

I think it sets a dangerous precedent when commentary is not allowed. Everyone dismisses Greek and Roman mythology, as well as the Eastern creation myths as superstitious nonsense, so why is it wrong to take it one step further and say that the Christian creation myth is any different?

It is also perfectly legitimate for a teacher to say something to the effect that creationism is superstitious nonsense -- just saying that is not proselytizing in any way. Yes, the teacher was insensitive or maybe an ass, but that doesn't justify the lawsuit and punishment. Free speech should be protected -- that freedom includes criticism, even the most base of criticisms.

By rejecting creation myths, schools aren't actively teaching atheism, either. They just aren't endorsing wackjob ideas that disagree with science and the academic community.

Sorry, tried to hit a bunch of things there after a long day of studying...

May 18 2009
Re: teacher in trouble for criticizing creationism

I think it sets a dangerous precedent when commentary is not allowed.

Let's consider a hypothetical example: suppose there is a town in Iowa where there is one Jewish family and one family of atheists among all of the Christians in the town. If the teachers at the public school that their children attend are always "commenting" to them about how their families are going to hell because they believe the wrong thing, would you still apply your same argument?

If you really don't want to set a precedent of limiting commentary, I'd consider that to be idealistic...and I have some appreciation of idealism. But, you'd have to really stick to it and apply it fairly to everyone. You couldn't say "Only teachers whose comments *I* agree with are allowed to make such comments in the classroom". I know you think you've got a handle on "truth" and so you'd link it to that, but the fact is that not everyone agrees with you and so if we ever tried to actually enact this as a rule it would just come down to a question of whose idea of "truth" we'd be using -- and I have a strange feeling that it would not be yours that wins out in the end.

I don't think religion is the only subject that teachers have to be careful talking about. Despite what the Christian fundamentalists say when trying to get religion into the public school classroom, the idea of "academic freedom" applies ony at the level of college and university professors. Elementary school teachers, on the other hand, are limited by the fact that everyone is very sensitive about how minors are treated and what things they are exposed to. I think this sensitivity is justified. Minors are very suggestible and parents really should have some say over how they turn out. To me, this justifies some compromises like the agreement that specific opinions on religion and religious philosophy are not to be expressed by the teacher.

It sounds as if you're not happy with that deal, but I don't think you've really thought through the consequences of saying that teachers can share their religious opinions with their young students. I think it would be a disaster!

May 22 2009
Re: teacher in trouble for criticizing creationism

It's criminal the teacher was punished in a court of law. Our own supreme court system has ruled that creationism is not science. The teacher commented on creationism....not a particular religion, but even so, as someone mentioned before...what's with double standard of dismissing greek mythology but not christian mythology?

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