Teachers can slam creationism in school

I can understand the frustration, but I would probably find a different way to respond to the challenge of a fundamentalist student. Nonetheless, if students are aggressively challenging teachers with fundamentalist, anti-science claims, then teachers need room to respond. The NCSE reports:

The case originated when Corbett, a twenty-year history teacher at Capistrano Valley High School in Mission Viejo, California, was accused by a student, Chad Farnan, of “repeatedly promoting hostility toward Christians in class and advocating ‘irreligion over religion’ in violation of the First Amendment’s establishment clause,” according to the Orange County Register (May 1, 2009). Farnan cited more than twenty offending statements of Corbett’s in his complaint.

The federal Appeals Court ruled in Corbett’s favor:

In broaching controversial issues like religion, teachers must be sensitive to students’ personal beliefs and take care not to abuse their positions of authority. … But teachers must also be given leeway to challenge students to foster critical thinking skills and develop their analytical abilities. This balance is hard to achieve, and we must be careful not to curb intellectual freedom by imposing dogmatic restrictions that chill teachers from adopting the pedagogical methods they believe are most effective. … At some point a teacher’s comments on religion might cross the line and rise to the level of unconstitutional hostility. But without any cases illuminating the “‘dimly perceive[d] . . . line[ ] of demarcation'” between permissible and impermissible discussion of religion in a college level history class [Corbett was teaching Advanced Placement European history], we cannot conclude that a reasonable teacher standing in Corbett’s shoes would have been on notice that his actions might be unconstitutional.

Author: Mike White

Genomes, Books, and Science Fiction

5 thoughts on “Teachers can slam creationism in school”

  1. The Court’s opinion was more than gratifying, it was a victory for free thought and academic freedom. The 9th Circuit affirmed that in America, no religion has a right to demand that teachers defer to their beliefs. If that were true, teaching would become a Constitutional minefield. The Court held that “teachers must be given leeway to challenge students to foster critical thinking skills and develop their analytical abilities.”

    Chad’s lawyers argued that questioning “Creation Science” violated the First Amendment, but American law gives no special place to any religion. One person’s religion is another person’s superstition. To Jews, Muslims, Hindus and dozens of other religions, the New Testament is “Christian Superstition,” just as their views are superstition to Christians. When I referred to a religious belief as “superstition,” I sought to show respect for all by favoring none. My classes have Jews, Hindus, Bahai, Muslims, Buddhists, and others. Chad would demand a special place for his views, but in America, all beliefs should be treated equally by government.

    jim corbett

  2. Amen! I imagine that this whole ordeal must have been a huge weight on your shoulders for the last two years, but I’m glad that you saw it through. Each case like this adds to the nearly uninterrupted string of creationism’s failure in court. I congratulate you on your win, and on your willingness to stand up for the principles you just described.

    I’m very sympathetic to you and the many other teachers who face challenges from highly ideological motivated, fundamentalist students who are being trained by their parents/church leaders/etc to aggressively attack teachers over scientifically solid issues that have unfortunately become socially controversial.

  3. You mentioned my willingness to see it through. My father fought a right wing takeover of the Anaheim Public Schools over 55 years ago. He was labeled a “Communist” for opposing similar nonsense. At the time, he read me a poem by Robert Service that has stayed with me (I was in elementary school at the time):

    “Carry On”

    And so in the strife of the battle of life
    It’s easy to fight when you’re winning;
    It’s easy to slave, and starve and be brave,
    When the dawn of success is beginning.
    But the man who can meet despair and defeat
    With a cheer, there’s the man of God’s choosing;
    The man who can fight to Heaven’s own height
    Is the man who can fight when he’s losing.

    Carry on! Carry on!
    Fight the good fight and true;
    Believe in your mission, greet life with a cheer;
    There’s big work to do, and that’s why you are here.
    Carry on! Carry on!
    Let the world be the better for you;
    And at last when you die, let this be your cry!

    Jim Corbett
    I’ve also been inspired by Clarence Darrow who said, “The lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for.”

  4. I’m a fan of Robert Service, but wasn’t familiar with that one.

    As someone who tries to get stuff working in the lab, I find this part especially relevant:

    “But the man who can meet despair and defeat
    With a cheer, there’s the man of God’s choosing;
    The man who can fight to Heaven’s own height
    Is the man who can fight when he’s losing.”

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