Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Follow Up on Preaching Teacher

JewsOnFirst has a follow up on the story of the teacher in New Jersey who regularly used class time to proselytize his students, telling them that if they didn’t believe in Jesus they were going to hell, that dinosaurs were on Noah’s Ark, and so forth. Predictably, the student who turned the teacher in for this unconstitutional behavior is being harrassed and threatened. Just as predictably, the school is doing little about it other than praising the teacher. The school had best be careful here. This is an open and shut case that could end up costing them a lot of money.

Comments

  1. #1 Will
    November 29, 2006

    The preaching in class was bad enough, but the fact that the teacher lied about it before the tapes were revealed is most damning. This teacher doesn’t belong teaching in public schools, and the administration needs to go if they turn a blind eye to this.

    I hope this story doesn’t disappear from public discourse, because it is really appalling.

  2. #2 jba
    November 29, 2006

    Frankly I hope the school isnt very careful about it. I think if handled right (or wrong, depending on your outlook) this could be a great boon for keeping religion out of the non-religious/philisophical classroom. I dont want the school to loose a lot of money and have to sacrifice good things for the students, but if they get smacked hard enough it might make other take a harder look at what is going on.

  3. #3 Russell
    November 29, 2006

    In an important way, this exemplifies the history of first amendment conflict. The increased presence of atheists has served to provide the religious right an enemy target. But it is most often the case that the plaintiffs in first-amendment cases are not atheists, but members of minority religions. Government sponsored religion never is and never will be neutral among the various religions and sects. The political issue is not between the religious and the non-religious, but between those who favor separation of church and state, and those who hope to have the state favor a particular style of religion.

  4. #4 Dan
    November 29, 2006

    The school had best be careful here. This is an open and shut case that could end up costing them a lot of money.

    The school district had best be very careful, indeed. The kid’s father is an attorney, and he’s already contacted counsel about the matter. My guess is that an injunction isn’t far off, together with the attorney’s fees to get it. The school district will have no one to blame but itself.

  5. #5 JanieBelle and Kate
    November 29, 2006

    Matthew LaClair said he reproached the school superintendent, Robert Mooney, saying “I thought when I gave this information to you, it would be handled by an adult, I guess I was wrong.”

    Well, I guess that about sums it up….

  6. #6 Monimonika
    November 29, 2006

    This is what I think the defense will more-or-less say:

    The alleged “preaching” was done only in the first week of class, before textbooks were handed out. In other words, there was some time in the classroom when the teacher was unable to teach US history and thus had some time to kill (while keeping the students entertained). As the fun, popular person he is, the teacher used this time for some chatting with the students.

    He was not teaching during this time, just stating his personal opinions to questions that were asked of him. Since he was not teaching as a public school teacher during this time, he has the right to free speech as an individual.

    …so, how’d I do?

  7. #7 Jim Ramsey
    November 29, 2006

    Monimonika,

    So the students could have left at any time???
    The teacher was not being payed???
    These class days were not counted by the state as days the students in class were supposed to be studying history???
    The teacher can’t possibly teach anything about history without a textbook???

    Also, the teacher was so proud of his way of entertaining the students that he lied about what he was doing until he was caught.

    Maybe the teacher did teach his students something about values!

  8. #8 Keanus
    November 29, 2006

    This reminds of my experience 35 years ago when I went recruiting schools and classrooms in which to pilot a new earth science textbook (I was then a publisher of K-12 science textbooks). Among the many districts who offered classrooms in which to run the pilot was one in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, a wealthy suburb of Philadelphia. The teacher had ten year’s experience in the classroom and taught earth science and biology and was a bio major in college. At the end of about a month when I visited the school with one author, we discovered to our dismay that the teacher was a young earth creationist who taught that the earth was only 6000 years old and that evolution was false. You can imagine what that did to our pilot in that school. But it illustrates that one needn’t assume that creationists are found only in Kansas, rural Alabama and Texas. They can be found almost anywhere. But like all subversives, they often hide behind a facade to be revealed only when something unusual intrudes, like a Matthew LeClair or a publisher’s pilot. The school in Newtown Square, in a system then noted for its academic excellence, retained the teacher despited my protests–something about tenure.

  9. #9 Monimonika
    November 30, 2006

    Thanks for the great counterpoints, Jim! [/not sarcasm] :)

    I was just stating what seems to be the views of those who defend the teacher’s actions. One thing I want to know is whether I accurately got their basic argument down or if there’s more (irrationality) to it.

    Personally, I am lenient enough to acknowledge that not every single second of class time has to be spent on the subject being taught. I had a Behavioral Science (BS for short :-D ) teacher who talked to us about how he watched his school burn down one morning back when he was in high school (no one got killed or injured). It was a short, interesting story, and it was only for the very first day of class.

    However, even then my teacher didn’t waste a whole 40 minutes on just irrelevant story-telling (maybe 15 minutes, tops, to tell his story and other minor stuff about himself). The rest was either free chat time or asking him questions related to psychology. The next day, BOOM, we were learning stuff so we can pass tests and get grades.

    Actually, about the only time he came close to really wasting class time was when I brought in a pamphlet I had found that vehemently argued against medicating kids with behavioral problems. I showed it to him thinking I could talk with him about it later (you know, have a fun discussion). Instead, the whole lesson plan for that day was scrapped in favor of him explaining to everyone all the propaganda tactics that were employed by the pamphlet. It must have seemed too good an opportunity to show his students a real life example of psychological manipulation.

    …aaand maybe he had a political point to make, too.

    I wonder. If he did the same thing today, could he possibly get in trouble for pushing his views onto his students during class time (I mean, we weren’t necessarily on a section that related to psychological manipulation at the time)? I am making no assumptions as to the specific reason a person may file a complaint (could be from someone who is anti-medication, or just someone disgruntled with getting less learning time for the class material, etc.).

    Anyway, rambling aside, did I get the other side’s basic arguments? Are there more?

  10. #10 csrster
    November 30, 2006

    All this reminds me of an Art teacher I had many years ago who used to use classtime unashamedly to talk about, well, just about anything. Some of his views, so far as I can remember, included his own variation of what is now known as three-strikes-and-your-out (“Three-strikes-and-your-dead”, to be precise), why we should have allied with Hitler against Stalin, and what a lousy general Montgomery really was. He was a dickhead in lots of other ways, but strangely he was also the teacher everyone wanted to have, because at least he didn’t bore your arse off talking about Art all the time. His philosophy, which he explained to us quite explicitly, was that he was “a teacher first, an art teacher second”. The last I heard he had retired in order to “reinvent himself” – and about time too, echoed the chorus.

    So was he a good teacher or a lousy one? I’m still not sure, but I _am_ sure life in his class would have been a lot less interesting if he had been expected to “teach to the curriculum” and check his personal opinions in at the door.

  11. #11 Jim Ramsey
    November 30, 2006

    Monimonika,

    Yes, I had figured that was what you were doing. In the same vein, I wanted to show that knocking down those excuses wouldn’t be hard.

    What really offended me about the teacher was his lying. I’m a pretty serious Christian, and I thought it was the other side (Satan, et al.) that was supposed to be liars. I thought the Christians were on the side of truth and light. This teacher as much as said, “Look at me, I’m a Christian” and then he started lying. Grrrrr!

    I’m afraid I also have an opinion about medicating kids. My wife once proposed (with tongue only partly in cheek) that instead of medicating 20 kids with Ritalin in a class, they should feed the teacher “speed”. Why not medicate 1 adult, instead of 20 children.

  12. #12 Will
    November 30, 2006

    So was he a good teacher or a lousy one? I’m still not sure, but I _am_ sure life in his class would have been a lot less interesting if he had been expected to “teach to the curriculum” and check his personal opinions in at the door.

    I don’t think anyone’s arguing that every minute of class time has to be spent on the subject at hand. What is being argued is that no amount of class time should be spent preaching your religious views, as this is forbidden by the Constitution.

    There’s also that little matter of the teacher lying to cover his sorry ass.

  13. #13 kehrsam
    November 30, 2006

    I have to agree that the argument that the teacher shouldn’t spend every second “teaching to the test” is a bit of a straw man. I had several high school teachers who would drop everything to discuss current events, controversies, etc, if it were clear that they could engage the students in thinking.

    The difference between those teachers and the one in question is that they never told us what they thought of the subject. If necessary, they would state the argument for both sides and then gently nudge the discussion toward the relative merits of those positions, rather than just stating our own opinions. And I never knew where they stood on the issues being discussed, even subjects such as gays and legalizing drugs.

    A teacher can lead a discussion without proselityzing. I know, I’ve done it.

  14. #14 GH
    November 30, 2006

    I’m a pretty serious Christian, and I thought it was the other side (Satan, et al.) that was supposed to be liars. I thought the Christians were on the side of truth and light.

    And by proxy I guess that makes non Christians the lies and the darkness?

  15. #15 kehrsam
    November 30, 2006

    GH, if you think you’re one of Satan’s cabana boys, then, yes. Otherwise, he probably wasn’t talking about you. ;D

  16. #16 Jim Ramsey
    November 30, 2006

    GH,

    No, that’s not the point at all.

    Honesty and truthfullness are important in many belief systems. That includes belief systems that are not based on a belief in a God or Gods.

    But honesty and truthfullness are what I expect from a Christian. I often don’t get it, but I expect it anyway. This teacher rubs our noses in his Christian righteousness and then lies. That is not acceptable.

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