Timothy Sandefur posted Entry 2909 on February 17, 2007 11:01 PM.
Trackback URL: http://www.pandasthumb.org/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.fcgi/2899

In 2006, the United States Supreme Court issued a little-noticed decision called Garcetti v. Ceballos, 126 S. Ct. 1951 (2006), that has some interesting—and disturbing—implications for how public employees can express themselves on the job. A January 24th decision from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, called Mayer v. Monroe County Community Sch. Corp., has now applied the Ceballos doctrine to the case of a government school teacher who alleged that she was unconstitutionally fired for telling students how she felt about the war in Iraq. And this raises the issue of whether the doctrine might be applied in cases involving government teachers who express to their students their own views with regard to evolution and creationism.

In Ceballos, a deputy D.A. in Los Angeles became convinced that there were inadequacies in an affidavit that had been used to support a search warrant in a certain case. As a good civil servant ought to do (and as a government prosecutor is ethically required to do), Ceballos wrote a couple memos to his boss regarding the problem. The D.A.’s office failed to follow through, and Ceballos was ultimately called to testify on the matter by the defendant in the case. Afterwards, he alleged that the D.A.’s office retaliated against him by reassigning him, denying him a promotion, and other things. He filed a lawsuit alleging that this retaliation violated his free speech rights.

The Supreme Court ruled against him. Although government employees “do not surrender all their First Amendment rights by reason of their employment,” the government can curtail its employees’ speech in certain circumstances. To decide whether its actions violate the First Amendment, the Court asks (a) whether the employee was speaking only as a private citizen on a matter of public concern, and (b) whether the government had a good reason for treating that employee differently than any member of the general public as a consequence of the speech. But in this case, Ceballos’ self-expression was “made pursuant to his duties.” Id. at 1959-60. And this fact “distinguishes Ceballos’ case from those in which the First Amendment provides protection against discipline. We hold that when public employees make statements pursuant to their official duties, the employees are not speaking as citizens for First Amendment purposes, and the Constitution does not insulate their communications from employer discipline.” Id. at 1960 (emphasis added).

It’s nice when the Court draws clear lines, but there’s a big problem with this one. It encourages government to deter whistleblowers by drafting their employment descriptions so broadly as to encompass whatever speech the government wishes to deter. If the government can punish Ceballos for writing memos about faulty warrants, it can simply tell all incoming deputy D.A.s that their duties include writing memos about faulty warrants—and then fire them when they do so, leaving them with no First Amendment protection.

In the Mayer case, elementary school teacher Deborah Mayer alleged that she was fired after telling her students that she had honked when passing some demonstrators holding signs saying “Honk for Peace.” The Seventh Circuit explained that its previous decisions had long held that teachers “must hew to the approach prescribed by principals (And others higher up in the chain of authority).” Slip op. at 3. A school doesn’t really regulate speech “as much as it hires that speech.” Expression is “the commodity” that a teacher “sells to her employer in exchange for a salary.” Id. at 3. This is why a teacher “can’t use her classroom] as a platform” for self-expression:

[A] high-school teacher hired to explicate Moby-Dick in a literature class can’t use Cry, The Beloved Country instead, even if Paton’s book better suits the instructor’s style and point of view; a math teacher can’t decide that calculus is more important that trigonometry and decide to let Hipparchus and Ptolemy slide in favor of Newton and Leibniz.

Id. at 3-4. Because the current-events lesson that Mayer was teaching “was part of her assigned tasks in the classroom,” the court found that the Ceballos case “applie[d] directly.” Id. at 5.

Not only does the teacher sell his or her expression to the school, the court went on, but “the pupils are a captive audience. Education is compulsory, and children must attend public schools unless their parents are willing to incur the cost of private education or the considerable time commitment of home schooling. Children who attend school beacuse they must ought not be subject to teachers’ idiosyncratic perspectives.” Id. at 4. Although recognizing that the “[m]ajority rule about what subjects and viewpoints will be expressed in the classroom has the potential to turn into indoctrination,” the court held that the best solution to this problem was to ensure that “the power should be reposed in someone the people can vote out of office…. At least the school board’s views can be debated openly, and the people may choose to elect persons committed to neutrality on contentious issues.” Id. at 4. Thus the school had the constitutional authority to order Mayer to “[keep] her opinions to herself.” Id.

This decision has obvious ramifications for the evolution/creationism conflict: teachers who want to use their classrooms as platforms for preaching Intelligent Design or other forms of creationism are not protected from termination by the First Amendment when they deviate from the lesson plan.

I think I agree with the decision in the abstract. The First Amendment, after all, prohibits only coercive government actions, or those acts that amount to coercion (such as fraud). An employment contract is entered into voluntarily and therefore doesn’t raise the same concerns—in theory.

But I’m a little concerned with the idea that the teacher waives his or her complete right to self-expression when signing up to become a government employee. Could a school prohibit a teacher from wearing a cross around her neck during class hours? If the prohibition extended equally to all religious symbols, then this would seem perfectly within the power of the government acting as an employer (since any private employer should be free to do the same). But it is a disturbing idea nonetheless. We don’t normally expect a free government to act in such a way.

One concern that comes to mind is “academic freedom.” The Supreme Court has never actually held that a teacher’s academic freedom is protected by the First Amendment—certainly not below the college level—but it has certainly come close, and the reason is that school classrooms are very close to a traditional forum for the exchange of ideas. Cases like Pico have taken great care to preserve the freedom to exchange even controversial ideas in schools, and the Court’s references to a “right to receive ideas” speak to the concern over orthodoxy being maintained in the classroom.

In addition, the Seventh Circuit’s idea that the political process is enough to prevent the school system from being used for indoctrination is not comforting: it makes no sense to rely on a majoritarian political process to protect individuals from the indoctrination resulting from what the court itself calls “majority rule.” The First Amendment has long been understood to be an important anti-majoritarian rule. And as far as educational values are concerned, it is just as important that teachers inculcate a sense of critical thinking and independence in students as that they teach their students a prescribed curriculum. Schools ought not to be mere factories for memorizing what’s in the book. I have a teacher friend who sponsors an after-school “free thought” club for her students who are atheists, agnostics, or similar. This opinion would permit the school to shut down such a club pretty easily. The chilling effect that decisions like this might have on innovative teaching and the encouragement of independent thought is troubling.

Don’t get me wrong: it drives me crazy when school teachers use their position as an opportunity to preach politics or whatever other message they personally want to convey. But there is a serious down side to this decision as well. I think a better solution is to allow teachers to express their religious views, even during class time, so long as those opinions are clearly labeled as the teacher’s own, and not as the government’s official position, and so long as it is not really disruptive to the educational process. This alone would teach an important lesson. After all, if Mayer was trying to introduce her students to the idea of political protest and open debate that (supposedly) lies at the heart of the American Constitution, it’s more than a little disturbing to see a government agency retaliate against her for expressing her opinion.

My concerns are not well thought out, and are only policy-based. I can’t say that the Mayer decision is wrong on First Amendment grounds. But I think there are serious downsides to seeing teachers as nothing more than mouthpieces for the school board, and we should keep them in mind.

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Comment #161488

Posted by Jedidiah Palosaari on February 18, 2007 1:19 AM (e)

In a more conserative area of the country, could a teacher also be constrained from sharing her opinion that evolution is true, under this ruling? Especially if it’s the school board that determines what is appropriate?

I think very strongly that this particular case was very inappropriately decided. The teacher didn’t tell the students what to believe, or even how she stood on the Iraqi War- she said that she “honked for peace”. Frankly, who’s against peace, as a general concept? What kind of person would be like that? Especially in a society with the No Child Left Unrecruited Act, where, in violation of international agreement, under-age citizens can be prostyltized by the US Military to join, on school campus, it hardly seems that such a remark by a teacher really even tips the balance.

Comment #161490

Posted by snaxalotl on February 18, 2007 1:22 AM (e)

I think I share both your agreement with Ceballos in the abstract and your concerns about unfettered employers, but I would question your apparent concern that there are problems that would be properly addressed by a different Ceballos decision. Departments which are wrongfully managing the flow of information should, I think, be charged with violating their duties. The employee is a tool of the employer, and it is better to complain about the misuse of a tool than violation of the right of the tool to be used properly - the latter might produce the same result, but it is an appeal to the wrong principle IMO. The rights which have been violated are those of the people who expect departments to honestly manage information. Perhaps our rights demand (a) that we sue departments that fire reasonable whistle-blowers and (b) that properly run departments have an independent office somewhere in the hierarchy that a whistle-blower can safely complain to.

Ceballos doesn’t seem to remove the complete right to self expression … an employee couldn’t be reasonably terminated without the employer demonstrating that their actions were substantially at crossed purposes with the employer’s mission; Ceballos merely says that an employee doesn’t have a natural right to thwart his employer’s goals. I presume that minor quirks which don’t unreasonably thwart the employer are still protected by prohibitions against discriminatory dismissal, and I’m as pleased as you are that the quirk of spouting creationism isn’t protected as a teacher’s right. Ordinary innovative teaching should be protected by being consistent with local policy, and where it is not then you have a written policy which should be challenged at a higher level than the classroom.

I can’t see how Ceballos has any bearing on running free-thinking meetings outside classes. That teacher isn’t abusing his duties as an instrument of the school. Of course what he says in class will attract more scrutiny, but atheist teachers are typically much better at reining in unsubstantiated personal opinion than creationist teachers are - a hostile school wouldn’t be able to rely on Ceballos without having official policy which in some way restricted neutral scientific facts.

Comment #161492

Posted by snaxalotl on February 18, 2007 1:29 AM (e)

Jedidiah wrote:

I think very strongly that this particular case [Mayer I presume] was very inappropriately decided.

I would agree with that, but it seems to me that the Mayer case was argued wrongly - defended on the basis that a teacher has the right to express any opinion, rather than arguing that honking for peace is such a minor quirk that the dismissal amounts to unfair discrimination

Comment #161498

Posted by Daryl Cobranchi on February 18, 2007 4:14 AM (e)

I think a better solution is to allow teachers to express their religious views, even during class time, so long as those opinions are clearly labeled as the teacher’s own, and not as the government’s official position, and so long as it is not really disruptive to the educational process.

Strongly disagree. It’s coercive by the mere fact that the teacher is an authority with power over the students. Under your scenario the following is allowed:

Teacher: I’m a conservative Christian. Now the government or the school can’t tell you that you have to be a Christian. But I STRONGLY believe that if you’re not a Christian you’re going to spend eternity being tortured in Hell. Abraham, what do you think? Miss Shivaramakrishna?

Comment #161510

Posted by Chip Poirot on February 18, 2007 7:20 AM (e)

This is an atrocious ruling but one that has been coming for a long time. Those of us who are pro-science should not be celebrating this movement but lamenting it. In fact, we should be out in the streets protesting it.

The issues that are raised by all these cases show continuous steps back in expression of academic freedom and even protection of whisteblowers.

First, the Ceballos case was a dangerous blow to whistleblower protection. In the past the Courts had ruled that public employees had some limited First Amendment rights when they spoke in a non-disruptive fashion as public employees on matters of public concern (as opposed to matters of personal concern). The speech of the DA was clearly a matter of public concern and was non-disruptive. In fact, the actions of the DA’s office (improperly obtaining a search warrant) were in and of themselves potentially illegal. The next time a DA’s office breaks (or bends) the law in a criminal case ethical DA’s will think long and hard about risking their lives to protect the Constitution from overzealous prosecutors.

Second, in the past, the courts had ruled that even private employees had some very limited protection when exposing illegal acts (but not unethical acts) by their employers.

I think we can consider whistleblower protection to be on life support if not completely dead.

The extension of this reasoning into the classroom is extremely dangerous. What the courts are now saying is that K-12 teachers do not have the right to comment on curricular matters. In the past, First Amendment K-12 law had allowed teachers some limited rights to comment on matters of controversy in the class as long as they followed the curriculum and followed school district policy in introducing potentially controversial material.

Why should K-12 teachers have some limited First Amendment rights to comment on issues that are curricular? Because the public has an interest in educating students to be part of a democratic society. Thus as long as the teacher is not proselytizing students for a particular point of view, we should encourage high school teachers to expose students to a range of opinions. Should this range of opinions include classroom discussion about a teacher’s (or student’s) views on Creation-Evolution? Within limits-yes. Just as this freedom should include the right to discuss Vietnam (and express an opinion), the right to discuss the Constitution (and express an opinion) and so on.

The real danger here however is how this dagger is now encroaching on higher ed. What we need in higher ed is a real academic bill of rights (not the phony bill of academic rights being sponsored). It’s time for the NEA, AFT, AAUP to wake up and smell the First Amendment burning.

Comment #161511

Posted by DMC on February 18, 2007 7:24 AM (e)

What are you bellyaching about? You have already implicitly agreed that the Courts can decide these issues…look at Dover.

The fact is, the Supreme Court has finally say on what laws our representatives pass will be allowed to stand.

You really think we still have representative government?

O.K. if you say so…

Comment #161513

Posted by Chip Poirot on February 18, 2007 7:39 AM (e)

DMC,

I think you misunderstand Dover. In Dover one small part of the problem was that teachers were refusing to follow the established curriculum. The Science teachers exercised their academic freedom and refused to read the disclaimer passed by the school board. If you apply this case the school board could fire teachers who refuse to read such disclaimers since they would be going against Board policy-even if they believed that Board policy was unconstitutional. Similarly, by the logic of this case, a high school teacher who voluntarily tells students (after covering the established curriculum) that he or she personally has objections to evolution, or simply refers them to panda’s thumb and the discovery institute could be fired. You could be fired for using “Talk Origins” in your classroom.

The other problem in Dover was that the school district was establishing religion.

So you are simply misciting Dover.

Finally, to illustrate how far public employee First Amendment protections have drifted there was a famous case (I’ll try to find the citation later) where a police dispatcher stated words (to a fellow employee) to the effect that she was glad Reagan had been shot. Her off hand comment was held to be non-disruptive and protected speech.

Comment #161514

Posted by Ric on February 18, 2007 7:48 AM (e)

Ceballos aside, creationist teachers should be able to be fired, if they express their creationist views in the context of teaching, for simple inability to perform the duties for which they were hired. A math teacher who added 2 plus 2 and got 5 wouldn’t stay a math teacher long, and rightfully so, since they obviously couldn’t do math. In the same vein, a science teacher who taught that the world was created according to the Genesis account obviously can’t do science.

Comment #161516

Posted by harold on February 18, 2007 8:33 AM (e)

I’ve always felt that teachers who overtly preach one sectarian view, or who offer eccentric pseudoscience when they should be teaching the curriculum, should be fired.

Of course, teachers should NOT be fired for expressing their own religious and cultural traditions, as by wearing a cross, a kepah, a head scarf, or the like. Students need to understand that it’s a free society, and that the teacher has a private life outside the classroom, which may include whatever cultural and religious activities the teacher chooses. Students may be attracted to the implicit cultural or religious traditions of a popular teacher, even without being preached at, but that’s just the price we pay for living in a free, diverse society.

The Ceballos decision appears to be an outrage, in the Ceballos context.

Not surprisingly, one of its first uses was to punish a teacher for a very mild expression of opposition to the Iraq war. In the long run, though, the program to censor and suppress all expressed opposition to the war seems to have gone badly.

It would be an excellent silver lining if it were used to get creationist teachers fired.

DMC -

First of all, what I bellyache about is right wingers scheming to put pseudoscience that nobody really even believes into public school science curricula, with the primary goal of using pandering to convince many evangelicals to vote against their own economic and security interests, not to mention their own civil rights. That’s how I see ID. You may disagree.

What you can’t disagree with is that, in fact, the ID-promoting school boards in Kansas and Dover were booted out of power in the first election after their schemes were revealed. Our democracy has many flaws, but yes, for the time being, we do have representative government to some degree, and ID in schools was rejected by representative government.

The excellent decision by Judge Jones was grounded in laws promulgated by representative legislators, of course, as well.

Comment #161517

Posted by qetzal on February 18, 2007 8:41 AM (e)

I think a better solution is to allow teachers to express their religious views, even during class time, so long as those opinions are clearly labeled as the teacher’s own, and not as the government’s official position, and so long as it is not really disruptive to the educational process.

Really? I disagree quite strongly.

Are you familiar with the recent dust-up at Kearny High School in NJ?

Comment #161519

Posted by Chip Poirot on February 18, 2007 8:53 AM (e)

Harold and Ric,

You are confusing ability to teach and learn with actual belief. You are also confusing types of knowledge and types of argumentation.

First, a creationist could be perfectly capable of clearly communicating standard evolutionary concepts and evidence in the classroom. Provided on is able to do so and teaches the established curriculum to the level which the principle or other person evaluates the teacher, there is no question about competence.

Second, you are entering a grey, slipper slope area. True, such matters as the age of the earth and the fact of evolution are consensus points for science. Consensus however does not establish truth. Thus IMO, as long as the established curriculum is taught competently a teacher should have the right to communicate their disagreement with consensus points.

Third, these debates/issues are debates/issues in society at large (though in this case not so much in science per se). Personally, I think we will get better learning outcomes if we acknowledge students’ concerns/objections and explain to them the nature of the debate.

If in doing so a teacher says “I am required to teach and test to the curriculum” and does so in a competent and professional fashion, then any further expression of belief that is non-disruptive to the classroom and is age appropriate should be not only protected, but encouraged.

We should always be encouraging critical thinking by students, though we should not use that critical thinking as an excuse to force psuedo-science into the schools.

All that said there are many issues ranging from interpreting Moby Dick to discussing the history of the Vietnam War to the efficacy (or lack thereof) of supply and demand where teachers should have academic freedom even in the K-12 setting.

I am not so concerned that an occasional teacher may express an outlandish belief in a science classroom that I want to resolve the problem by destroying all critical thinking in the classrooms.

Comment #161525

Posted by harold on February 18, 2007 9:56 AM (e)

Chip Poirot -

I almost agree with you. Certainly there are some issues that can be presented as “controversies” or “debates” to students.

But the problem is that there is a difference between legitimate controversy and the literally infinite easily discredited but potentially confusing objections that anyone can raise to any established fact or strong theory (I use “theory” in the mathematical and scientific sense here, not to mean “hypothesis” or “guess”).

And when distortions are knowingly used to advance a contemporary political agenda, often by people who don’t even believe their own distortion, it becomes easy to see that this shouldn’t be allowed.

For example, students learning history shouldn’t have to deal with denials of the holocaust, the slave trade, and the like.

With regard to YEC, the issue was decided thirty years ago. It’s a sectarian religious view, not a scientific view. All advocates of YEC admit that their views are informed by what they (mistakenly, in my view) perceive to be a “literal” interpretation of the Book of Genesis, and that if they weren’t fundamentalist Christians, they wouldn’t hold YEC beliefs. Therefore, declaring a belief in YEC in science class, as a “counterpoint” to legitimate science, is like declaring a belief in Mormon or Hindu creationism in the context of science class. It violates the rights of the students. The teacher’s purely religious views are being presented, to the impressionable and captive student, as if they were equivalent to mainstream science. This is a dead issue, and in fact, this is why ID was invented in the first place. To bastardize creationism sufficiently that it could be sneaked in.

ID has been subjected to the same scrutiny, has been found to suffer from at least the same deficiencies (plus a weaselly and vacuous nature to boot, in my opinion - YEC made real assertions that could easily be tested). It most certainly doesn’t belong in schools.

Of course, teachers can privately “believe” in ID or YEC if they have the discipline not to distort science lessons.

I believe that such “beliefs”, especially “belief” in ID, are not usually very sincere, and are usually a code or proxy for especially ideological adherence to the contemporary political clique known as “the conservative movement” (although it is not “conservative” in the dictionary sense).

“ID advocates”, in practice, are too obsessed to keep their views to themselves. I would strongly recommend that ID advocates not go into teaching. It makes no sense to take a job where you will be required to frustrate yourself.

Comment #161528

Posted by Chip Poirot on February 18, 2007 10:14 AM (e)

Harold,

So what’s next? Loyalty oaths to evolution? Loyalty oaths to officially established beliefs on matters of “historical consensus”?

I repeat-as long as the established curricular material is taught and taught competently the principle of requiring belief in material or establishing a litmus test (beyond the litmus test of the appropriate credentials) to hold a teaching job is repugnant and would quite fortunately be struck down even by this court!

Students will survive exposure to controversial, unpopular or even wacky ideas even at the K-12 level provided they are competently taught the standard material.

Comment #161531

Posted by Ric on February 18, 2007 10:28 AM (e)

Chip,

Of course I disagree. What I said was that if a teacher teaches creation theory, that exhibits incompetence in the field and should be cause for dismissal. Of course a teacher can believe whatever they want and should be free to express those beliefs outside of the context of actually teaching them.

But truly, there is no controversy over evolution, and teaching that there is is not encouraging critical thinking.

As a side note, it is my personal belief that if a science teacher is a creationist, that betrays incompetence in the field of science, or it betrays lack of critical thinking skills, or it betrays a very deep and fundamental misunderstanding of science. Yet as long as they keep such beliefs outside of their teaching, I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that they be fired over them, as I indicated in my first post.

Comment #161537

Posted by Jim Anderson on February 18, 2007 11:26 AM (e)

After a hard day of teaching, if I go home and blog about my day (“Today we started Moby-Dick…”), that speech is still protected, isn’t it? It’s about my official duties, but not a part of them. Or do I misunderstand the definition of “pursuant?”

Comment #161539

Posted by harold on February 18, 2007 11:41 AM (e)

Chip Poirot -

“So what’s next? Loyalty oaths to evolution? Loyalty oaths to officially established beliefs on matters of “historical consensus”?”

I stand by my assertion that denial of the holocaust or African slavery should not be advanced as history, and creationism should not be advanced as science, at taxpayer expense in public schools. There is no implication of a demand for “loyalty oaths” in this position. It is perhaps ironic that you would use the term “loyalty oath” as an insult. Have you perhaps, in other contexts, argued that critics of President Bush should be punished for “treason”?

I did suggest that most ID advocates probably lack, at a personal level, the self-control to teach without inserting their beliefs as an “equal alternative to science”. However, if even one person can “believe” in ID privately and yet teach the curriculum (without distortion, ridicule, or omissions) publicly, that person could certainly be a competent teacher.

“I repeat-as long as the established curricular material is taught and taught competently the principle of requiring belief in material or establishing a litmus test (beyond the litmus test of the appropriate credentials) to hold a teaching job is repugnant and would quite fortunately be struck down even by this court!”

Absolutely true, and absolutely compatible with my points above. But inserting politically motivated content which is well known not to be accurate, as a “counterpoint” to the established curricular material, would be a violation of “teaching competently”.

You can’t simply declare every arbitrary or political distortion to be a legitimate controversy. It is obvious that if a teacher presents Newton’s gravitational equation “competently”, for example, but then falsely declares that it is controversial, and that another version, which he “believes” in, exists, in which the distance term in the denominator is not squared, and that students should “critically” choose whichever they like, the overall lesson is “incompetent”. It is unreasonable to have teachers repeatedly express false material; it defeats the whole purpose of school. Teaching biology and then presenting ID as an “alternative” would be analagous. And the courts have agreed.

If a teacher has an issue with the curriculum, the classroom is usually not the place to express it. There are many valid routes open to teachers who believe that the curriculum should be modified, and teachers use them all the time. If a teacher really cannot abide the mainstream curriculum, though, it may best for them to leave teaching, voluntarily or otherwise.

“Students will survive exposure to controversial, unpopular or even wacky ideas even at the K-12 level provided they are competently taught the standard material.”

This may be true (or it may not). I am not arguing wholesale against presenting “controversial, unpopular, or even wacky ideas” in school at any rate; there may be appropriate times for doing so. But presenting pseudoscience as an “equal alternative” to mainstream science, to naive schoolchildren, at taxpayer expense, is unacceptable.

Comment #161545

Posted by Gary Hurd on February 18, 2007 1:01 PM (e)

There have already been a number of cases that establish that a public school teacher is required to teach the curriculum, and that the interjection of creationism is not a violation of their 1st amendment rights. The extention of this to political speech does not seem too far a stretch.

Thje NCSE has a good article “8 Major Court Decisions against Teaching Creationism as Science,” by Molleen Matsumura that gives a short review and links to each case.

The Dover case is not appropriate here as it addressed the actions of a school board.

There is of course the problem that if all people were actually to obey all laws all the time, society would self destruct. This is basis for the well known labor action of “work to the contract” which is a good way of closing down a factory without a declared strike.

Comment #161546

Posted by Chip Poirot on February 18, 2007 1:07 PM (e)

Consider a few possible situations:

1) While teaching a unit on evolution a high school teacher has to confront the overt anger, hostiliy and resistance to learning evolution by students. The students will face widespread support from the community and threaten to walk out of the classroom. In the end they actually do and the principle allows them to do this (actually happened in a local school district).

In order to prevent this the teacher decides to discuss and confront the student’s resistance and so has a class discussion day. During this class discussion the teacher talks about YEC and ID and points students to resources (pro and con) on the debate. The teacher expresses the opnion that YEC and ID are junk science.

I would say this is protected speech (or at least should be). I would also say it is good teaching (understanding student resistance to learning and trying to deal with it appropriately).

Now, suppose the teacher expressed the opposite opinion for whatever reason but the standard material was presented and presented competently. This too should be protected expression of ideas even at the K-12 level.

2) While teaching a unit on the Cold War the teacher disagrees with the view expressed in the textbook that US military confrontation of the Soviet Union was necessary. The teacher discusses some different schools of history while teaching the curriculum and expresses his view that much of the Cold War was bad policy.

This too should be protected expression at the K-12 level.

Why are people so afraid of having free discussion in the K-12 classroom provided the curriculum is covered? Part of the purpose of education is to create citizens capable of functioning in a democracy.

Just dumping a standard curriculum into a student’s brain without asking the student to engage in the ideas is bad teaching. Having school principles being able to fire a teacher every time the teacher says something about the curriculum the principle doesn’t like is not conducive to educating students in a democratic society.

There is a strong public interest in extending academic freedom at the K-12 level and defending it in the University as well. For that matter there is a strong public interest in insuring that prosecutors will feel free to stand up to abuses of the Constitution.

Good grief! Do people really want to live in a world where whoever is in charge has the power to just tell you to shut up? I’d rather defend the right to present some bad ideas than shut down the right to promote good ideas. The last thing we need is an officially defined list of “good” and “bad” ideas. PC sucks. It sucks whether it is being promoted by the right, by the left or out pure bureaucratic interest.

If we can’t have free discussion of ideas in the schools where can we have free discussion?

Comment #161554

Posted by Googler on February 18, 2007 1:51 PM (e)

Actually teaching specific religious doctrines as such in public schools is illegal. It really doesn’t matter if the teaching is embedded in some sort of standard curriculum, or if a teacher is doing it individually as part of ‘private religious expression’ or “academic freedom”. It can’t be done. So teaching any form of creationism is prohibited, even without this case, because creationism has been held to be a religious doctrine.

The rules aren’t so specific insofar as political teaching or political doctrines are concerned. Obviously, some subjects require some discussion of current politics.

In general, public schools don’t allow teachers to display partisan political material in classrooms or make partisan political statements to their pupils. As I said, some subjects require some discussion of current politics, but there should be clear guidelines about what can and cannot be displayed or said as part of teaching the subjects. That isn’t an unreasonable limitation.

Private religious and political expressions, as apart from teaching, are another matter, and a school would be in hot water if they tried to limit that. The teacher wasn’t in trouble from a private political expression, only because of the way it was introduced into the classroom.

Sandefur wrote:

… I’m a little concerned with the idea that the teacher waives his or her complete right to self-expression when signing up to become a government employee. Could a school prohibit a teacher from wearing a cross around her neck during class hours?

Probably not - certainly not as a specific personal religious expression. Of course, the school could bar all neckwear or jewelry for safety or other reasons, but specifically singling out crosses - or any other personal religious symbol - would be against the law.

Of course, there is a ‘reasonableness’ doctrine in play, but a small symbol could hardly be unreasonable.

Sandefur wrote:

If the prohibition extended equally to all religious symbols, then this would seem perfectly within the power of the government acting as an employer (since any private employer should be free to do the same).

Actually, that isn’t true. Even a private employer would be in hot water if they took any action against an employee for this reason. Religious discrimination in employment is absolutely illegal - whether based on a particular religion or on religion in general. The employer would have to show that their policy is not related to religion - and that would be impossible if their policy applied only to “religious symbols”.

Sandefur wrote:

[The ruling] encourages government to deter whistleblowers by drafting their employment descriptions so broadly as to encompass whatever speech the government wishes to deter.

That’s an entirely different subject.

Of course the ruling does that - but that wasn’t anything new. In fact, absent specific laws, government employees who are “whistleblowers” don’t have any protection - whether in schools or in government in general. That’s why we needed specific whistleblower protection laws. We now have these laws at the Federal level, and I believe many states also have similar laws. Not perfect, of course, but better than nothing.

Note: the above applies to the US. I don’t know about other countries.

Comment #161573

Posted by qetzal on February 18, 2007 4:05 PM (e)

Chip Poirot wrote:

Why are people so afraid of having free discussion in the K-12 classroom provided the curriculum is covered? Part of the purpose of education is to create citizens capable of functioning in a democracy.

In Kearny, NJ, a high school history teacher spent a full class period discussing how the Bible is literally true, how it’s full of prophesies that have since happened, even claiming there were dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark. He went on to explain that Jesus died for our sins, and if we don’t acknowledge that, we belong in hell.

That’s the sort of “free” discussion of religion you will get in US K-12 classrooms. Moreover, only Christians will be truly free to discuss their beliefs. In the above case, a student (Matthew LaClair) complained that the teacher was proselytizing in class. He (LaClair) was promptly villified by other students and by a significant fraction of the adults in the community. However, I have no doubt that if a Muslim teacher had made similar comments about Allah, the Koran, and Muhammed, he would have been fired and run out of town within days.

I see no need for a teacher to discuss his/her personal religious beliefs in a public classroom. Nor do I think they should have the right to do so.

Comment #161574

Posted by harold on February 18, 2007 4:15 PM (e)

Chip Poirot -

You continue to insist that requiring tax-payed teachers in public schools to teach the curriculum, and not their own political beliefs, is akin to “ordering people to shut up”, “demanding loyalty oaths”, and various exaggerated things. (While not actually directly showing what anyone else said that could possibly be construed that way.)

Having a public education system that imparts a solid body of general knowledge does not inhibit freedom of expression, critical thinking, or respect for civil rights.

“1) While teaching a unit on evolution a high school teacher has to confront the overt anger, hostiliy and resistance to learning evolution by students. The students will face widespread support from the community and threaten to walk out of the classroom. In the end they actually do and the principle allows them to do this (actually happened in a local school district).

In order to prevent this the teacher decides to discuss and confront the student’s resistance and so has a class discussion day. During this class discussion the teacher talks about YEC and ID and points students to resources (pro and con) on the debate. The teacher expresses the opnion that YEC and ID are junk science.

I would say this is protected speech (or at least should be). I would also say it is good teaching (understanding student resistance to learning and trying to deal with it appropriately).”

It is common in teaching science to make reference to past hypotheses that seemed good but were proven wrong. “Lamarckism” (somewhat unfairly named) and “Lysenkoism” are sometimes used in this way while teaching evolution. One could use ID or YEC this way, but I would suggest that it would NOT be a good tactic, but rather, insensitive and confrontational, to make reference to a community’s religious beliefs this way. If the intolerance and fanaticism of the community prevent its students from learning science, well, that’s too bad. The teacher might want to get involved in pro-science activities as a volunteer.

“Now, suppose the teacher expressed the opposite opinion for whatever reason but the standard material was presented and presented competently. This too should be protected expression of ideas even at the K-12 level.”

Yes, it was obvious that this was what you were building up to. The same point you made before. If the teacher perfunctorily and unenthusiastically rushes through the actual science lesson, then they should be allowed the “freedom of expression” to follow it up by preaching ID or creationism that directly contradicts the actual lesson. Just the old stale “equal time” argument that right wing creationists have been using unsuccessfully for decades.

Nope, sorry, it doesn’t work that way, and if you read to the end, I’ll explain why.

ID and creationism are wrong as science, so although it may not be the best thing to do, it’s perhaps acceptable to use them as examples of how not to do science.

But to preach politically motivated, sectarian pseudo-science as science, at children whose parents could be of any religious tradition, violates the civil rights of American taxpayers. You can’t have it, the courts have told you you can’t have it, the voters have told you you can’t have it; it’s not going to happen, you can’t have it, and if you come into a public school and try to use my tax dollars to preach divisive, sectarian, politically motivated pseudoscience at anybody’s kids, I’ll fight back, and there are millions and millions more like me.

And in fact, although you may fantasize about teaching YEC or ID to naive high school kids, I can turn you against your own scenario. Simply imagine, if you can, that after “presenting the standard K12 material”, the teacher begins preaching Hindu creationism, or Mormon creationism, as his version of science. It would be the exact same thing. Do you support that freedom of speech for teachers, on your tax dollar?

Comment #161579

Posted by Gary Hurd on February 18, 2007 4:41 PM (e)

I think that you are all missing an inportant point- there are lots of kinds of creationism. All of them are religious, all are false, all are protected under the 1st amendment. Public school teachers are prohibited from attacking religious belief just as they are prohibited from promoting religious belief.

The only position consistant with the Constitution is that science is taught in science class. Period.

Now Sandefur’s worry that the Federal Courts have run amuck is too little too late. The extreme right “conservatives” he and his ilk have backed under the guise of “libertarianism” have brought down the judicial branch. Sandefur’s bosses have recently crowed over their “victory” for school segregation. Yeah, hip hip for the right of racists to be racists.

Comment #161591

Posted by Sir_Toejam on February 18, 2007 6:26 PM (e)

2) While teaching a unit on the Cold War the teacher disagrees with the view expressed in the textbook that US military confrontation of the Soviet Union was necessary. The teacher discusses some different schools of history while teaching the curriculum and expresses his view that much of the Cold War was bad policy.

not a fair comparison. you are comparing a subject where there are legitimate differences of opinion WITHIN the subject material, vs. a case where there is an attempt to introduce opinions that are OUTSIDE of the actual material.

More correctly using your example, the analogy to science would give you a debate between say the overall impact of neutral mutations vs. selection on the resulting evolution of ovserved traits. NOT a debate between frickin’ science and religion.

This is why nobody in their right mind considers “teaching the controversy” to be a good thing; you are talking about the value of comparing religious beliefs to actual science, and I can give you oodles of evidence that all this does is confuse kids further, not help.

get it straight, people: creationsism is NOT science, in any way, shape, or form, and this is THE ONLY point that needs to be made if the issue is raised by a student in a science class.

you want to get together after school and have a meeting with the kids and their parents to eplain to them why their religious beliefs have nothing to do with science? fine and dandy. However, the comparison of religious belief and science does NOT belong in a science classroom, period. Has far less to do with the constitution, and far more to do with good teaching practice in general.

Comment #161610

Posted by chip poirot on February 18, 2007 10:08 PM (e)

Sir Toejam,

If you would please kindly read my posts and address them in the context. If you care to look back over the archives of PT and you will see that I am not an advocate of “teach the controversy.”

What I am advocating is the principle that even K-12 teachers should have academic freedom to introduce controversial material related to the curriculum so long as they follow a school district’s policies.

If you also care to read over the archives you will see I am generally no fan of Timothy Sandefur.

It is extremely difficult to say you have academic freedom in history class and then turn around and establish viewpoint discrimination in the science classroom.

I am concerned about teachers abusing academic freedom to introduce inappropriate material. But safeguards can be put in place.

The problem is that the courts are saying that teachers have no academic freedom in the classroom to speak on curricular matters. Thus the First Amendment is dead where it is needed most.

Killing academic freedom at K-12 in order to stop creationism is to use a bazooka to try and kill a gnat. You won’t stop creationism this way and in fact what you will stop is teachers speaking their minds.

One of the key points in Dover was that the teachers refused to read the disclaimer they were ordered to read as a matter of district policy.

If these kinds of precedent hold up then the next time a school district passes a disclaimer and a teacher refuses to read it the district will be able to fire that teacher.

Agree or disagree with me-either one is fine. It is discouraging that people have so little support and confidence in the principle of academic freedom.

Comment #161612

Posted by Sir_Toejam on February 18, 2007 10:17 PM (e)

It is extremely difficult to say you have academic freedom in history class and then turn around and establish viewpoint discrimination in the science classroom.

no it’s easy to say, it’s also easy to say that isn’t the case as it stands.

Which is exactly why i pointed out that your example is in error if that is the point you were trying to make.

there is just as much academic freedom in the sciences as in history.

we frown on holocaust denial as “historical point of view” in a similar way to “creationism” as being any part of science. Is it worthwhile to discuss holocaust denial in a class on history? No, it’s a complete waste of time. However, you know that kids occassionally will bring it up in a history class, because their parents/pastor/friends told them there was no holocaust.

based on what you’ve written so far, you are still not painting an accurate picture of what teaching is all about, let alone teaching science.

this isn’t about academic freedom. There is nothing that limits such in history or in science.

IOW, I can understand quite well where you are coming from, even if you have done a poor job of trying to get us there, but I completely disagree that the issue you are addressing is really one of academic freedom.

the rest is intended to head off any creobots that would jump in the wide open door you have painted for them, apparently without even realizing it.

Comment #161614

Posted by Chip Poirot on February 18, 2007 10:59 PM (e)

Sir Toejam,

Until fairly recently K-12 teachers had limited rights to discuss curricular issues.

Historically, the courts had argued that K-12 education should attempt as much as possible within age appropriate limits to come close to the University atmosphere of wide ranging discussion.

Now the courts are saying that teachers are basically transmittal devices for Board policy with no rights to comment on the curriculum.

The courts are not saying that they want to define limits as those limits were always there. You are raising bogeys. No one ever had the right at the K-12 level to introduce holocaust revisionism.

What is being discussed here is the right for example in a class discussion on civics to use one’s personal political activism as an example or to say in a class on civics that one thinks George Bush is a bad (or a good President).

You think that you have found a way to keep the creationists out. I am telling you what you have found is a way to keep the creationists out only so long as the courts keep ruling against teaching creationism.

We are one precedent away from school districts (as in Dover) being able to tell students that they must teach creationism.

Perhaps when that happens you will see the value in academic freedom. If being able to discuss controversial subjects related to the curriculum is not academic freedom, then I cannot think of anything that would meet the concept of academic freedom.

I agree with what the old standard was: K-12 should attempt as much as possible, within age appropriate limits to mimic the ideal of academic freedom in Universities.

Of course this case will soon be extended to Universities and so we will not have to worry about academic freedom there either.

Comment #161615

Posted by Sir_Toejam on February 18, 2007 11:10 PM (e)

Historically, the courts had argued that K-12 education should attempt as much as possible within age appropriate limits to come close to the University atmosphere of wide ranging discussion.

again, you are implying this is an issue of academic freedom when it most certainly is not.

you have much confusion to overcome.

good luck with that.

Comment #161616

Posted by Sir_Toejam on February 18, 2007 11:13 PM (e)

If being able to discuss controversial subjects related to the curriculum is not academic freedom, then I cannot think of anything that would meet the concept of academic freedom.

Ok, then you’re just an idiot, because all of the examples you have used so far do not pertain to “controversial subjects” related to the curriculum of the classes under discussion.

or didn’t you understand my explanation of why we also shouldn’t waste time debating holocaust denial in a history class?

really, you are sooo confused as to what academic freedom means, I really see no way to set you straight.

Comment #161620

Posted by MarkP on February 19, 2007 1:09 AM (e)

Chip said:

No one ever had the right at the K-12 level to introduce holocaust revisionism.

Why not? If holocaust revisionism is not allowed (and I’d agree), then why do you favor allowing evolutionary revisionism? They are perfect parrallels.

What is being discussed here is the right for example in a class discussion on civics to use one’s personal political activism as an example or to say in a class on civics that one thinks George Bush is a bad (or a good President).

The question of whether Bush is good or bad is a subjective valuation, an area where there are legitimate differences of opinion among historians. Opinions are ok in that subject because that’s all anyone has. The situation for creationism is completely different, because creationism is not a legitimate scientific difference of opinion. It is religion dressed up as science, in a cheap tux in the case of ID, with no more validity than the theory that the universe sprang fully formed from my left nostril, and no more right to take up valuable class time.

I am telling you what you have found is a way to keep the creationists out only so long as the courts keep ruling against teaching creationism.

Well no shit, that’s what the courts are for.

Comment #161638

Posted by Chip Poirot on February 19, 2007 6:33 AM (e)

First of all, the very definition of academic freedom is the right to introduce controversial material related to the subject matter. You might wish to reference the AAUP’s statement on academic freedom. In fact, according to the AAUP academic freedom also includes the limited right to introduce controversial material that is not directly related to the subject matter. This is still at least the standard for higher ed, though given this ruling I see the day coming when it will not be the standard for higher ed.

In the past courts had ruled that this standard should be applied **as much as possible** to K-12 while recognizing that there needed to be age appropriate limits.

I am saying that should be the standard.

Let me try again:

1) First of all, with respect to whether or not I know what “teaching is about” let me say I think it should be about more than just channeling state standards. I don’t want to get off subject by discussing the pitfalls of the standards and testing movement. As long as there are standards they need to be taught and they should be taught well. Good teaching is not “Teaching to a test”. Good teaching aims at having students learn content broadly and deeply and where appropriate, learn to use critical thinking. At the K-12 level only a little bit of education should be focused on critical thinking.

2) Teachers should have within age appropriate limits the right to express opinions on the curriculum.

3) The case we are talking about involved a teacher who expressed a controversial opinion (which wasn’t even that controversial) about a public protest and was fired for expressing an opinion about a public protest during a classroom discussion on current events. That is the type of expression that I think should be protected.

4) You can protect freedom of expression and prevent inappropriate material from being introduced into the classroom by writing clear, concise guidelines for schools. Many schools in fact have such guidelines.

5) Nobody has answered my question about what you do when students literally walk out of a science class where evolution is taught.

6) Even if teachers don’t have the right to teach ID or YEC students do have the right to ask the teacher a question.

So what is a teacher to do when he or she faces an audience of students who are hostile to the subject matter. Do you:

a) refuse to answer the question and thus increase hostility and student resistance to learning;

b) answer the question honestly and suggest to the student additional resources where they might explore their questions in more detail?

I say b. I say you refer to the student to talk origins and true origins. I say you explain to students why you think ID/YEC are not good science. If in that context a teacher says something like: “we need to focus on learning the material on evolution” and spends class time teaching the material, students are not harmed if the teacher states the view that he or she does not agree with the material.

I would much rather have school districts confront resistance and social attitudes directly and have those attitudes discussed openly then refuse to address the issues at all.

Furthermore, there are other lessons we are trying to teach students. Education is not just about memorization of facts approved by disciplinary committees (though some of that is in fact necessary). Education is also about learning to engage in open discussion, about learning to live in a pluralistic, democratic society and about learning to evaluate and weigh arguments.

How much freedom of speech there is should depend on the age of the students. What you are suggesting will simply lead to local school districts having the power to tell teachers not to say anything other than the officially approved lesson plan.

I think that creates a terrible educational environment and sends the wrong message to students about speech in a democratic society.

Comment #161669

Posted by Ric on February 19, 2007 9:09 AM (e)

Chip, I am pretty much in agreement with your comments in post #161546. I don’t thinbk it is bad teaching to do what you’ve suggested. I think it’s good teaching. And perhaps I didn’t provide enough context for my original comments, but doing what you suggest is not, in my mind, teaching creationism. In fact, it’s teaching evolution and shows competency in the field. Teachers should not be able to espouse creationism qua teacher, because that shows incompetency.

Comment #161675

Posted by harold on February 19, 2007 9:32 AM (e)

Chip Poirot -

If a student “asks about” ID or creationism, there is an easy and appropriate answer.

Obviously, if a student did ask such a question, it would probably be rehearsed, pre-arranged, and at the instigation of manipulative creationist adults, with the blatant goal of disrupting science education for everybody’s children. Nevertheless there is a perfectly acceptable answer. Something along these lines…

“This is Biology class. Among professional scientists in biomedical fields, there is no controversy with regard to the theory of evolution. It is a major, central, underlying theory and is almost unanimously accepted by scientists working in relevant fields, as well as by people with university or graduate education in relevant fields.

If you wish to learn even more about it, I can give you some references for age-appropriate books about genetics, molecular biology, biochemistry, microbiology, and ecology, as well as the physics, chemistry, and mathematics you need as a foundation.

If you feel that the theory of evolution is at odds with your personal spiritual beliefs, you should discuss that with your spiritual advisor, and perhaps with family or friends. We cannot spend class time on that matter, however.

If you are curious about the legal and political issues surrounding ID and creationism, that may be an appropriate topic for an advanced Civics class, but this is Biology class”.

If the teacher incompetently or dishonestly replies to such a question by expressing an unjustified personal opinion that creationism or ID is a scientifically valid alternative to evolution, they should certainly be disciplined. The same is true if they use the question as an excuse to launch into a rights-violating religious sermon, directed toward a captive audience of children. If the teacher is a repeat offendor, or especially vehement in committing these types of offenses, certainly firing is warranted, as is a civil suit on behalf of those whose education was distorted and whose rights were violated. Naturally, depending on the degree of the offense, milder measures might be indicated. If the teacher is merely poorly informed about the subject matter and misled by the media, for example, a simple warning, coupled with substantial remedial training and a temporary reassignment to a lower grade level where lesson material is less complex, might be sufficient.

Comment #161679

Posted by qetzal on February 19, 2007 9:46 AM (e)

Chip Poirot wrote:

Nobody has answered my question about what you do when students literally walk out of a science class where evolution is taught.

First, you suspend them for truancy and give them zeros on any assignments they skipped.

Then you explain to them that they are welcome to object to evolution (or any other subject) if it conflicts with their religious beliefs. They are not required to “believe in” evolution. They are, however, required to understand evolution. They are required to understand why it is essentially universally accepted among biologists, how it explains the diversity of life, what it predicts, and so on. They can do all of that, get As in the subject, and still continue believing that God created the universe in 6 literal days.

If that’s not good enough, you explain to their parents that they always have the option to home-school or send their kids to private schools.

You can protect freedom of expression and prevent inappropriate material from being introduced into the classroom by writing clear, concise guidelines for schools. Many schools in fact have such guidelines.

What if a teacher goes outside those guidelines? Can the district discipline or fire them? If so, the local district is still controlling what teachers can say. If not, the district can’t prevent inappropriate material from being introduced into the classroom.

I agree that a teacher should not be fired for telling a class “I honked for peace.” I don’t agree thata teacher needs broad latitude to express personal opinions on controversial subjects. I don’t think that’s essential for fostering open discussion. In fact, I suspect it would often be counterproductive. Like it or not, teachers are authority figures. That authority will tend to give their opinions more apparent weight. A teacher who routinely expresses personal opinions may actually inhibit open discussion. It can be hard enough for students to express opinions counter to their peers. How much harder if the opinion is also counter to the teacher’s? How many students will do what Matt LaClair did, and openly challenge a teacher who tells his class that the Bible is literally true?

If the goal is to introduce conflicting opinions on a given topic, there are better ways. A teacher can easily say, “Some people (such as X) think one thing. Other people (such as Y) think another. Let’s discuss.” There’s certainly no need for the teacher to express their personal opinion on the matter, and I really don’t see much value in it.

None of which is meant to suggest that teachers should have no freedom to express opinions in public K-12 classes. Certainly they should. But I disagree that such expression is essential to open discussion and critical thinking in the class.

The reason teachers should be free to express some personal opinions in class is no different than the reason that all of us should be free to express most opinions in most situations. It’s a basic human right. A teacher’s right to express opinions shouldn’t be abrogated unless there’s a compelling overriding interest. I don’t see where a local district has a compelling interest in preventing a teacher from saying “I honked for peace.” I do think districts have a compelling interest is preventing teachers from expressing religious opinions as facts, or misrepresenting science, or denying known historical events. And if districts won’t do that, then courts should force them to.

Comment #161689

Posted by fnxtr on February 19, 2007 10:39 AM (e)

Chip:

We are one precedent away from school districts (as in Dover) being able to tell students that they must teach creationism.

You may well be one president away from that scenario, too. Let’s hope not.

Comment #161699

Posted by MarkP on February 19, 2007 12:31 PM (e)

Harld suggested:

“This is Biology class. Among professional scientists in biomedical fields, there is no controversy with regard to the theory of evolution. It is a major, central, underlying theory and is almost unanimously accepted by scientists working in relevant fields, as well as by people with university or graduate education in relevant fields.

If you wish to learn even more about it, I can give you some references for age-appropriate books about genetics, molecular biology, biochemistry, microbiology, and ecology, as well as the physics, chemistry, and mathematics you need as a foundation.

If you feel that the theory of evolution is at odds with your personal spiritual beliefs, you should discuss that with your spiritual advisor, and perhaps with family or friends. We cannot spend class time on that matter, however.

If you are curious about the legal and political issues surrounding ID and creationism, that may be an appropriate topic for an advanced Civics class, but this is Biology class”.

This is almost verbatum to an introductory statement my physical anthropology instructor made for his class. Worked wonders, although that was at a fairly elite university setting.

Chip, if you only think ID/creationism should be treated as the unscientific sham it is, and only if a student raises the question, then I don’t see much disagreement here. Most of the objections here are against including it per se in the science curriculum. I also second the notion that if/when a student does raise objections to evolution in class, the probability is very high that it is really a position held by the parents, and is not offerred as a scientific question per se.

And if the kids walk out of a class because they don’t like the material, they should all get F’s, regardless of what sort of class it is.

Comment #161719

Posted by Chiefley on February 19, 2007 3:57 PM (e)

“This is Biology class. Among professional scientists in biomedical fields, there is no controversy with regard to the theory of evolution. It is a major, central, underlying theory and is almost unanimously accepted by scientists working in relevant fields, as well as by people with university or graduate education in relevant fields…”

Yes, I agree with this approach. Stating it this way, the teacher is not expressing their opinion about evolution, rather the teacher is stating a fact. The quoted statement above is a verifiable fact about the scientific community’s acceptance of ToE. It is hard to see how anyone being fired for stating this fact could be upheld in a court.

If a teacher is asked about their own beliefs in the matter, they should explain that “belief” has little value in well established scientific theories. The acceptance of ToE is not based on anyone’s belief. It is simply an acknowledgement that ToE offers the most comprehensive explanation of the diversity of life on the planet. Predictive and explanatory power are the main criteria for accepting a theory. Belief is not on the list of criteria.

By the way, this is why the term “consensus science” is an intellectually dishonest device to undermine the nature of scientific acceptance of a theory. Its as ridiculous as saying that we use the rules of addition because it was decided as a consensus among mathematicians. In the bogus world of “consensus science” theories that have no powers of prediction, (such as a + b = a, for all values of a and b), are simply minority opinions which have not yet received enough votes among mathematicians.

I think we let Creationists talk us into almost going along with this notion of consensus science, thereby making us feel uneasy about what seems to be undue restriction on what should be taught in science class. Some stuff is simply wrong, and we know this because it has no powers of prediction. Just because some idiot thinks a + b = a for all values of a and b, does not qualify it as a “controversy” that deserves valuable discussion time in a high school algebra class.

My point is that opinion and belief are not very important to science and a teacher can stay out of the realm of belief and opinion very easily under almost any challenge.

Comment #161731

Posted by Chip Poirot on February 19, 2007 6:42 PM (e)

When all else fails we can always misquote Hopper and Pempel.

Comment #161779

Posted by Sir_Toejam on February 20, 2007 12:37 AM (e)

First of all, the very definition of academic freedom is the right to introduce controversial material related to the subject matter

emphasis mine.

please stop repeating yourself, you still don’t get it, even when you write it.

Comment #161818

Posted by Chip Poirot on February 20, 2007 7:03 AM (e)

I think I get it and get it very well.

I’ll repeat myself one last time for the record.

Recent precedents have eviscerated the right of K-12 teachers to comment in the classroom on curricular matters. In the past the courts had held that high schools should come as close as possible to the open exchange of ideas that occurs at the University level. Allowing K-12 teachers this level of academic freedom would probably, as a practical matter, allow K-12 teachers some limited discretion in discussing ID/YEC in the classroom. Provided the teacher presents material competently and teaches the material, there is no **practical** way to protect academic freedom and to say at the same time that opinion A is allowable and opinion B is not.

While I am concerned that academic freedom could be abused by religiously motivated individuals (or others) to introduce religious material into K-12 science instruction I believe
a) safeguards can be built into school district policies to prevent this-along with such matters as holocaust revisionism;
b) I would rather run this risk than the opposite risk: the chilling of all unpopular speech at the K-12 level.

Furthermore, it is naive in the extreme to believe that the current direction of the courts will enhance protection for science instruction. What the precedents do is reinforce the right of school districts to establish the curriculum and force professors to be in essence, channelers of the local school district’s point of view on the curriculum-even if that curriculum is horrendous.

This means that as soon as the courts allow for instruction in ID/YEC which will happen with one more precedent/president, school teachers will have no right whatsoever to challenge the pseudo-scientific views imposed on them by the district.

As matters stand, evolution is poorly taught (if at all) and in many locales student and parent resistance effectively prevents it from being taught.

Students also have academic freedom (far more than teachers) as do parents to comment on the curriculum. Thus students (like it or not) can and will ask questions about the teaching of evolution as will their parents.

I would prefer to run the risk of too much free speech than to run the risks of too little free speech. Protection good speech at the K-12 level requires (As it does a the University level) to simultaneously protect bad speech. Education in a democracy should not just “teach the curriculum” and force mass material down students’ throats for standardized exams, but should also inculcate in them a spirit of inquiry, critical thinking and appreciation for the role of free speech in a democratic society.

Finally, the most recent precedents will almost surely be applied to the University level.

As a University professor I think I “Get” very well the clear and present dangers posed to academic freedom.

What I also get very well is that a few people like you, who should know better and should be protection free speech are instead so intent on shutting up creationists that they will cut off their nose to spite their faces.

I think I get it. Thanks.

Comment #161859

Posted by Sir_Toejam on February 20, 2007 2:14 PM (e)

a) safeguards can be built into school district policies to prevent this-along with such matters as holocaust revisionism;

holy crap, but you’re dense. Safeguards are ALREADY built in, or did you want to cycle back to the court history again?

b) I would rather run this risk than the opposite risk: the chilling of all unpopular speech at the K-12 level.

the introduction of first ammendment arguments here is really just a case of mental masturbation, as we already tacitly agree in education that we do, in fact, only teach what IS RELEVANT to the course material.

holocaust denial, creationism, and the moon being made of green cheese relate to NOTHING that is taught at the secondary level, so are not applicable at all.

Not a matter of free speech, idiot. It’s a matter of what is relevant to the subject being taught, and the mere fact that teachers only have so much time to deal with getting across the relevant facts necessary to convey the appropriate understanding of the material at hand. Sure, I could waste an entire science class period talking about how Chimpy McGrin’s words and actions have had a negative impact on the furtherance of scientific endeavor. However, that has NOTHING to do with an understanding of science itself. It would be a waste of time for the students, and for myself, given that I am being paid to teach them science, and they are there to learn science. In fact, I would expect any parents learning of this to challenge me on wasting their kid’s time. So you see, it simply isn’t a matter of free speech, more than it is simply a matter of teaching things RELEVANT TO THE SUBJECT MATTER.

I think I get it. Thanks.

no, you really don’t. It doesn’t matter if you ARE a university professor (go figure, I was one too).

you keep confusing the very simple issue of what it means when you say, er… RELAVENT TO SUBJECT MATTER.

Moreover, teaching at the university level allows far more lattitude than at the secondary level, for multiple reasons. Or hadn’t you considered that?

Comment #161861

Posted by Sir_Toejam on February 20, 2007 2:38 PM (e)

here, chip, try this on for size:

I don’t know what subject your expertise is in, but for the sake of argument, let’s say law.

Ok, so you’re teaching a class in CA civil code this quarter. for a week of that class, you decide to spend time talking about moral law and the bible.

hmm, is it an issue of free speech that most (hopefully) of your students would think you are wasting their time with irrelevant philosophical musings?

what about the university? Don’t you think they might frown upon a professor that decides to use their law class to dicsuss biblical philosophy?

don’t you think that if more than one professor pulled that, the university would be well justified to put regulations in place that penalize? Would that really be considered anti-free speech in your mind?

aside from the substantive issues, there are also constitutional issues involved with presenting specific religious philosophy within the public school system, or do you really think that creationism presented in a science class would be presented from multiple religious viewpoints (muslim, hinduism, buddhism, judaism…)?

really, I don’t think you DO “get it”.

Comment #161862

Posted by qetzal on February 20, 2007 2:39 PM (e)

Chip, you’re contradicting yourself, even within the space of two successive paragraphs. First you say:

While I am concerned that academic freedom could be abused by religiously motivated individuals (or others) to introduce religious material into K-12 science instruction I believe
a) safeguards can be built into school district policies to prevent this-along with such matters as holocaust revisionism;
b) I would rather run this risk than the opposite risk: the chilling of all unpopular speech at the K-12 level.

Then you say:

Furthermore, it is naive in the extreme to believe that the current direction of the courts will enhance protection for science instruction. What the precedents do is reinforce the right of school districts to establish the curriculum and force professors to be in essence, channelers of the local school district’s point of view on the curriculum-even if that curriculum is horrendous.

What is the difference between school districts establishing policies to prevent inappropriate introduction of religion or holocaust denial, and school districts forcing teachers to channel the district’s view (at least as regards religion and holocaust denial)?

Either teachers are free to say anthing they want (which you don’t seem to support), or districts have some right to control what teachers say (which you also don’t seem to support). It can’t be both.

Provided the teacher presents material competently and teaches the material, there is no **practical** way to protect academic freedom and to say at the same time that opinion A is allowable and opinion B is not.

I flatly disagree, and half the time, it sounds like you do, too. Is holocaust revisionism an allowable opinion or not? You already said you believe districts can build in safeguards to prevent its introduction. How can you believe that and simultaneously claim there is no practical way to disallow holocaust revisionism as an opinion?

I believe it is both possible and essential to have practical guidelines governing what topics are and are not acceptable in K-12 classes. I also believe such guidelines are possible without excessively infringing the academic freedom of K-12 teachers.

Comment #161863

Posted by Sir_Toejam on February 20, 2007 2:44 PM (e)

Furthermore, it is naive in the extreme to believe that the current direction of the courts will enhance protection for science instruction.

Naive???

it already HAS, chip, many times. most recently here in CA.

At some level, even the most conservative of courts realizes the underlying issues involved. Hence, the Dover decision, for example, was made by a VERY conservative judge appointed by GW himself.

no, I’m not particularly worried about the direction the courts will take in the future.

Comment #161882

Posted by Chip Poirot on February 20, 2007 6:03 PM (e)

Let’s try it one more time:

Historically the definition of academic freedom as defined by the AAUP has included the following:

1. The right to freedom in teaching methods;
2. The right freedom in research;
3. The right to introduce controversial material related to the subject matter;
4. The right to introduce controversial material not related to the subject matter so long as appropriate discretion was used;

These rights as defined by the AAUP are circumscribed by academic responsibility as well.

In response to some concerns the AAUP updated its definition of academic freedom to include the right to comment on University governance and even to criticize administrators.

As far as the AAUP is concerned these rights should hold regardless of one’s tenure status and regardless of the nature of the University (academic freedom applies to private schools as well).

Historically, courts were willing to uphold only portions of academic freedom under the concept of the 1st amendment and the 1st amendment only applied to public universities. The rest was up to Universities to negotiate with their faculty as a matter of contract.

Basically, the courts had historically upheld the right to introduce controversial material directly related to the course, freedom in research and the right to comment on matters of public concern as a private citizen. First Amendment law did not for example uphold the rights of faculty to criticize administrators per se or the right to participate in the University’s governance process.

For a period of time the courts had taken the position that K-12 education should try as much as possible to mimic the University atmosphere. Thus teachers had the specific rights to comment on curricular matters and to express political opinions related to the curriculum in the classroom. Several precedents, including the most recent one have no effectively eviscerated this concept of the 1st amendment in the K-12 level and I cannot think that Universities are far behind. Note, these rulings relate to faculty as employees but would not apply to students who would retain broader First Amendment rights than employees.

Now, let’s go back to the old concept: It is dynamic, somewhat subjective and also balanced out by competing goods. Teachers still had to cover the curriculum, they still had to be competent and especially at the K-12 level the material they discussed had to be age appropriate. It is this latter issue “age appropriate” that makes decisions on 1st amendment expression difficult to judge sometimes. That is why it makes sense, even though it seems contradictory, to allow a school district to impose limitations at K-12 that would be rejected out of hand at the University level. To the extent that I sound like I am contradicting myself it is because when the law tries to balance competing goods (as it often must) it sometimes winds up being ambiguous and slippery.

What courts seem to have done at the K-12 level is say “we are no longer going to deal with the ambiguous and slippery but will simply rule that teachers have NO First Amendment curricular rights rather than some limited curricular First Amendment rights.”

Personally, I believe that the concept of First Amendnment rights on curricular matters at K-12 should extend to protecting non-disruptive comments on matters of general public concern where the curriculum is concerned. How that line is drawn will always be a bit ambiguous.

At the University level the matter becomes much more complicated as the goal of academic freedom is to protect even speech that is “out there” and socially repugnant. So holocaust revisionism is protected speech at the University level as far as I am concerned.

There is a problem in trying to determine where professional competence, professional responsibility and free speech intersect.

In my own area (economics) I find myself to be a critic of the dominant paradigm. In spite of that I think I have a responsibility to insure student competence in the standard paradigm. That does not preclude however my discussing why I think there are deep problems with rational choice theory or explaining why the models of perfect competition are poor models, or heavens forbid, why I think Veblen might have gotten some things right and Marshall got a few things wrong. Some economists consider me the equivalent of a young earth creationist though I disagree strenuously.

But to protect the right of people in dissident paradigms to teach and publish freely I also have to defend the right of people to teach and speak freely in paradigms I disagree with.

But whether I agree or disagree the point remains: someone in a law class for example has the right to discuss critical legal theory, pragmatist interpretations of the law, or strict constructionism.

Suppose a law professor chose to spend some time on the Judeo-Christian sources of law? Well, why not. It is one influence. Suppose this person discusses favorably the view that the founding fathers sought to develop a Christian Republic? Well, I think that that theory is poor scholarship but that does not mean I think the person should be fired or censured for discussing it favorably in class.

Free speech does indeed sometimes (often) lead to protection of bad speech. I’m not bothered by limited classroom discussion of intelligent design or YEC provided it is not officially sponsored by the school district. Holocaust revisionism at the K-12 level to my way of thinking raises a number of other issues.

Either way, turning teachers into channelers of school district approved lesson plans is bad law and bad public policy.

Comment #161883

Posted by harold on February 20, 2007 6:12 PM (e)

Sir Toejam and others -

I’ve concluded that Chip Poirot isn’t dense, but rather, a typical creationist. He did raise a couple of interesting points, but he wouldn’t commit to a reasoned discussion, or acknowledge other peoples’ responses to his points.

He’s using a popular creationist tactic - sometimes referred to as the “Black knight approach”, in reference to a famous Monty Python scene in which a knight insists repetitively that he isn’t defeated as his limbs are all chopped off (in case anyone isn’t familiar with it). In other words, just repeat, and don’t acknowledge the reality that has been pointed out to you.

What follows is my paraphrase of his arguments.

He started out arguing that teachers as long as teachers rush through the real lesson, they should then be allowed to preach ID and creationism as “science”, contradicting the real lesson.

Although he didn’t overtly acknowledge that this “equal time” approach is a major violation of taxpayer’s rights, he did attempt one more argument; a typical attempted “gotcha” trap. He essentially tried to argue that if a student could be sent in with a rehearsed “question about intelligent design”, that this should allow the teacher to launch into a divisive, sectarian creationism spiel, directed at a captive audience of students in tax-supported public schools, of diverse backgrounds.

This was also patiently and collegially shown to be fallacious.

But as I knew he would, he came back and repeated vague insinuations directed against straw men, rather than just plain admitting he was wrong.

It’s rather clear to me now that he has little interest in the legitimate subject of balancing a teacher’s right to individual expression against the need to respect students’ rights, including the right to be taught the curriculum correctly. He just wants to argue for teaching creationism, by hook or by crook.

Comment #161885

Posted by Professorzero on February 20, 2007 6:51 PM (e)

As a Science teacher I make a point of keeping my personal beliefs out of the classroom. When asked to comment on my religious views (I am an atheist) I always decline. Similarly, I never offer my students my opinions on politics in the classroom. As a parent, I expect my childrens’ teachers to afford them this same courtesy. While I find it unfortunate that the teacher in this case has had to experience such negative fallout, I still agree with the general tenor of the decision.

Comment #161886

Posted by Chip Poirot on February 20, 2007 7:05 PM (e)

Harold,

Your remarks are defamatory and bear no relation to what I have written.

If you would please kindly take the time to read what I have written carefully you will see that what you claim I say happens to simply not be what I have said.

I find it disturbing in the extreme that the participants in this discussion equate civil libertarianism and First Amendment radicalism with Creationism.

What I have said from the very beginning is that I find the direction of Supreme Court precedents on free speec in the K-12 levels to be dangerous.

A teacher was fired for stating during the course of a civics lesson that she honked in support of an anti-war rally.

Yet it seems that people on this forum are so gung ho that they might find a way to prevent a creationist from presenting his or her views that they ignore the very real danger these precedents present to any long term defense of science.

I find the blatant disregard for the First Amendment, the willingness to resort to name calling, ad hominems and outright misrepresentations as well as defamation to be repugnant.

It is clear that you all find the idea of First Amendment radicalism to be too threatening to even countenance and thus must attack me personally rather than deal with my arguments.

And for those who think “opinion” and “belief” have no place in scientific discussion but that the social sciences are the place for mere opinion, please take the time to vist Elliott Sober’s page and to read the discussion on this very same forum on Elliott Sober’s critique of Popper.

Or you all prefer to go on misquoting Hopper and Pempel?

I am now bowing out of this forum as it is clear that further discussion is fruitless.

Fortunately for you, no real damage has been done by your defaming me by calling me a creationist.

Comment #161887

Posted by Chip Poirot on February 20, 2007 7:09 PM (e)

Professorzero,

Personally, I believe in academic freedom and the right to speak my opinion in my classroom. I also believe in the right of my students to speak their opinions.

I find that open discussion of ideas works better than refusing to discuss “opinions”.

Comment #161893

Posted by Sir_Toejam on February 20, 2007 7:37 PM (e)

further discussion is fruitless.

you’ve made that abundantly clear, since you simply cannot seem to refrain from misparsing the actual issue at hand.

Comment #161894

Posted by Sir_Toejam on February 20, 2007 7:44 PM (e)

Basically, the courts had historically upheld the right to introduce controversial material directly related to the course, freedom in research and the right to comment on matters of public concern as a private citizen.

so, even after writing that (my emphasis added), you STILL cannot see the difference between addressing creationism in a science classroom and first ammendment rights?

again, the first ammendment issues that are of concern to you can easily be addressed while you are acting as a PRIVATE CITIZEN, and are not appropriate for addressal in the context of a PUBLIC school teacher in a classroom setting.

so, yet again, you’re incorrect in framing this as an issue of free speech.

Comment #161905

Posted by Chip Poirot on February 20, 2007 8:41 PM (e)

You continue to twist and distort and refuse to even address the isssues. Yet you and Harold engage in open defamation and put words in my mouth that I never said.

If academic freedom includes the right to introduce controversial material directly related to the subject matter, and even to introduce controversial material not directly related to the subject matter then that right protects the right to comment on the curriculum.

If you limit academic freedom only to rights that you have outside the classroom as a private citizen, then you effectively eviscerate academic freedom.

In trying protect the right of a teacher to voice an opinion on matters of controversy in a high school civics class one also has to protect the right to voice an opinion in a science class that one might not particularly like.

What you said was that teachers should be fired for their beliefs and opinions, rather than for how well they presented the material. You then twisted my words-nay-engaged in outright lies about what I said while Harold engaged in an outright smear about my beliefs-to make it sound like I thought teachers could give a cursory nod to the standard material and spend their time on pseudo-science. In fact, I never said or implied anything of the sort.

The problem is that your hostility to academic freedom prevents you from even admitting and recognizing that we are talking about academic freedom. For you this concept seems to imply nothing more than having teachers act as channeling devices for the local school board while insuring that students are presented with nothing remotely controversial or offensive but just engage in forced march to meet standardized testing requirements. No need therefore to worry about the niceties of critical thinking, open discussion, learning the importance of democracy, debate and citizenship or how to engage in civil discussion on opinions-no sirree bob. For you, we should just cram standardized tests down student’s throats.

Now I don’t know if you believe that, are simply unaware of the implications of what you say, or are just so frothing at the mouth at the chance to fire creationists that you don’t mind turning into a caricature of what the Disco Institute alleges is actually occurring in public schools.

I find you, your style of argument, your lies, defamation, twisting of my words, disrespect for open discussion and outright ignorance about modern epistemology to be beneath my contempt and not worthy of my time.

I have participated in enough discussions on this board so that people know that I am not an advocate of YEC, ID, “teach the controversy” or any other similar position. Similarly, my clear, pointed and consistent disagreement with Timothy Sandefur is well known for all who care to actually read what people say.

It so happens that in this case he has made a valid point. My only critique of him in this case is that he did not go far enough: I think this case was wrongly decided and reflects the prevailing, right wing hostility to academic freedom and First Amendment rights of public employees in general. Dissents from this direction and tone of the court have been admirably filed and written by at least four Supreme Court justices. Not being a Constitutional scholar I cannot say that this case was wrongly decided, but I can say that absent Republican appointees to the bench this case might easily have gone the other way. I find it ironic that you are siding with Thomas, Scalia, Rehnquist, Souter and now most likely with Roberts and Alito in expressing such clear hostility to academic freedom.

The irony here is that these are all Republican judges (not liberal judges) and that their hostility to the First Amendment rights of public employees is echoed generally by people like Sandefur and apparently by you as well. We are one Supreme Court justice away from having the teaching of evolution suppressed.

What is it about the idea of protecting bad or unpopular speech in order to protect good speech that you don’t get?

And why do you and Harold have to defame me in order to make your points?

Academic freedom protects bad speech as well as good speech. It protects unpopular and popular speech-not just speech that you happen to like.

Comment #161906

Posted by Sir_Toejam on February 20, 2007 8:58 PM (e)

You continue to twist and distort and refuse to even address the isssues.

projection.

thought you were done with us, Chip?

Comment #161907

Posted by Sir_Toejam on February 20, 2007 9:02 PM (e)

Academic freedom protects bad speech as well as good speech. It protects unpopular and popular speech-not just speech that you happen to like.

However, if you re-read the origninal contribution, you will AGAIN see it does NOT protect irrelevant speech.

which IS the point at issue, which YOU are the one who keeps distorting and trying to make into an issue of first ammendment rights.

You do notice, don’t you, that the court in this case had no need to propose that the legislature write an ammendment to the constitution in order to accomodate their ruling, right?

the reason we throw epithets at you is that we usually only see this level of intractability in creationists.

Comment #161908

Posted by Sir_Toejam on February 20, 2007 9:05 PM (e)

I find it ironic that you are siding with Thomas, Scalia, Rehnquist, Souter and now most likely with Roberts and Alito in expressing such clear hostility to academic freedom.

YEEEEfrickinAAWWWWNNNN!

will you never tire of constructing strawmen?

Comment #161914

Posted by Sir_Toejam on February 20, 2007 9:22 PM (e)

The irony here is that these are all Republican judges (not liberal judges) and that their hostility to the First Amendment rights of public employees is echoed generally by people like Sandefur and apparently by you as well. We are one Supreme Court justice away from having the teaching of evolution suppressed.

*sigh*, hey, I’m just as liberal as the next guy, but even I can see that ain’t gonna happen, and in fact mentioned the Kitzmiller case and a very conservative judge in order to directly counter your hysteria.

Comment #161934

Posted by qetzal on February 20, 2007 10:27 PM (e)

Chip Poirot wrote:

I find it disturbing in the extreme that the participants in this discussion equate civil libertarianism and First Amendment radicalism with Creationism.

The only one making that equation is you, apparently as a strawman to dismiss reasoned arguments without actually responding.

What I have said from the very beginning is that I find the direction of Supreme Court precedents on free speec in the K-12 levels to be dangerous.

A teacher was fired for stating during the course of a civics lesson that she honked in support of an anti-war rally.

Yet it seems that people on this forum are so gung ho that they might find a way to prevent a creationist from presenting his or her views that they ignore the very real danger these precedents present to any long term defense of science.

First of all, several people who’ve disagreed with you on this thread have also said they disagree with firing the teacher in question.

Second, you’re assuming your conclusion; namely that these precedents really do present a real long term danger. That’s not established fact, it’s your contention, and it’s not being ignored, it’s being disputed. Obviously there’s a difference.

A reasonable person can agree that firing the teacher in the above case was unacceptable on 1st Amendment grounds, yet disagree that this requires giving K-12 teachers the freedom to discuss their religious opinions in class.

I find the blatant disregard for the First Amendment, the willingness to resort to name calling, ad hominems and outright misrepresentations as well as defamation to be repugnant.

Blatant disregard? If someone disagrees with you on the proper scope of the 1st Amendment, how is that blatant disregard? I agree there’s no need for name calling, but you seem to be doing your own share of misrepresntation. As for defamation - I only ever see that term used in a legal context, and I don’t think anyone’s defamed you here.

It is clear that you all find the idea of First Amendment radicalism to be too threatening to even countenance and thus must attack me personally rather than deal with my arguments.

So personal attacks are bad, unless you’ve been attacked first, and then they’re warranted? None of us could possible disagree with you on any rational basis? We’re all too threatened to countenance your ideas.

And for those who think “opinion” and “belief” have no place in scientific discussion….

Did anyone actually say that? Did someone even imply it? If so I missed it. This is just another mischaracterization on your part. You could even call it a misrepresentation.

I hear that’s a bad thing to do when trying to have a rational discussion.

Comment #161978

Posted by Chip Poirot on February 21, 2007 6:17 AM (e)

Qetzal,

Actually, I disagree with your characterization of the debate. It seems to me that Sirtoeham, Harold, Professorzero and others have blatantly said that they think academic freedom applies only to statements made as a private citizen and not to statements about the curriculum made in the classroom.

At least one person has indeed stated overtly that “opinion” and “belief” have no place in science. Yet another has overtly stated he agrees with the ruling and does not believe teachers should even voice their opinion at school. Harold has accused me of being a creationist. Sirtoejam has twisted my words and said that I advocate things i do not advocate. I fail to see how miquoting Hopper and Pempel and lying and distorting about my position (including one outright act of defamation) constitutes “rational discussion”. You too add your voice to the distortions of my position on this forum. And then you call this “rational discussion”.

What I have said is that 1st amendment law as it applies to public school teachers should recognize the right to voice an opinion on the curriculum, provided that the curriculum is taught competently in the context of their performance of their duties as public school teachers. I never said teachers should be allowed to give only cursory attention to the curriculum and then go off on a religious tirade or give equal time to YEC.

Why did I actually say?

First I said that when teaching many subjects teachers should have the right to voice their opinions. I gave some examples about matters of historical interpretation where high school history tends to be very poorly taught.

Sir Toejam said that if a professor voiced disagreement with evolution they should be fired for incompetence. I said that that was akin to requiring loyalty oaths because it requires teachers to profess a belief. Competency in instruction should be determined by evaluation of teaching and not evaluation of belief-even if that belief is outside the pale of what people in the discipline believe to be the truth. Several people then countered that “belief” has no place in science and have made statements to the effect that they believe science is some kind of pure, distilled set of facts. My argument is that as long as the material is presented competently and professionally a teacher has the right to say “I agree with this” or “I disagree with this”. That is not the same as advocating equal time for YEC or holocaust revisionism. Firing people for expressing a belief is viewpoint discrimination.

In the past the courts had recognized that at the K-12 level schools should try to approach the atmosphere of the University classroom as much as possible- subject to appropriate age constraints. I am arguing that this should be the standard at the K-12 level. I say that recognizing that it will create messy situations some times and it will lead in some cases to K-12 professors stating beliefs or opinions I personally wish they would not endorse. So what? My colleagues at the University state opinions all the time I prefer they would not endorse. We don’t need committees regardless of who they are composed of running around making sure people do not express a “bad” opinion. I prefer to have free speech even if that means protecting some bad speech. That is the point.

What I hear people saying is that they are so concerned to prevent the bad speech they want to make sure no one can voice an opinion at all in the course of their duties as a teacher on curricular matters but can only say things outside the classroom as “private citizens”. That is what the courts are saying and that is what many posters on here are saying.

Their vindictiveness is betrayed by their willingness to tell outright lies and twist my words.

Furthermore, like it or not, K-12 students do have First Amendment rights and in fact, have more First Amendment rights in some respects than school employees. Regardless of who “puts a student up to it” students in K-12 classrooms will ask questions and they deserve to have their questions addressed courteously and respectfully. Shutting students up will not create an environment where students are interested in learning more about evolution. Instead, it will reinforce all the negative stereotypes they have been fed about evolutionists and create a sense of being persecuted. Giving them straightforward answers and referring them to resources such as for example Panda’s Thumb or Talk Origins as well as the Discovery Institute or True Origins could be a good way to point them to furher personal investigation. Under this ruling such expressions could be punished and I think that is an absurd outcome.

It is not so hard for me to imagine furthermore that some high school students might actually take the time to come up with questoins on their own. It could even be a case where a 16 or 17 year old is in the process of re-examining or reconsidering beliefs he or she has been taught, or perhaps he or she is looking for ways to counter their YEC friend’s arguments. I fail to see how rudely shutting that student down, regardless of the student’s motivations serves any educational purpose.

I don’t care if people agree or disagree with me but I do object to being constantly slandered and misrepresented and being told that I don’t “get” the concept of academic freedom.

To the contary, it is most (unfortunately) of the posters on this forum who can’t seem to grasp the concept that academic freedom protects both good and bad speech-even on the curriculum at the K-12 level.

Comment #162028

Posted by Sir_Toejam on February 21, 2007 2:05 PM (e)

Sir Toejam said that if a professor voiced disagreement with evolution they should be fired for incompetence.

Where on earth did i say that???

OK that’s it. You’re officially an idiot, and really not deserving of further thought on this matter.

Instead, I challenge you to show that you REALLY are a university professor, because even an udergrad wouldn’t attempt such a horridly innacurrate strawman. Stawman? heck, it hardly even resembles that. Is there anything even more extreme as an analogy for the falsity of your statement?

so put up or shut up. tell us where you are a professor, doc, ‘cause I’m not buying it.

Comment #162030

Posted by Sir_Toejam on February 21, 2007 2:08 PM (e)

hmm, I smell a Larry Farfromsane behind Mr. Poirot.

Comment #162031

Posted by harold on February 21, 2007 2:15 PM (e)

Chip Poirot -

My final comments.

I did not mean to defame you; I made it clear that my paraphase was a paraphrase, that is, my interpretation and summary of what you said.

You did not deny being a creationist, so I assume that you are one.

I am a vehement supporter of academic freedom; I have been a professor myself, albeit of a very technical course for health care professionals.

I was outraged by the firing of the teacher who “honked for peace”, as I thought my comments made clear.

I am anything but a fan of Judge Scalia.

I emphatically disagree that academic freedom includes the freedom to deliberately or incompetently misrepresent basic science, however. Nor do I agree that the highest level of academic freedom, as is critical in a university setting with adult students, or the freedom of private expression upon which our country is built, is necessarily applicable to public high schools.

Actually, debates about freedom of expression almost have no place here. It is so transparently wrong to lie about objective, consensus findings in science to students - even the method of lying is to give lip service to the actual science but then present something that contradicts it as an “equal alternative” - that freedom of expression need hardly be mentioned.

There are plenty of legitimate controversies in science, and should be, but that doesn’t justify teaching a chemistry class the wrong molecular weights of the elements, for example. Not even if you run through it before you say “The ‘government curriculum’ required me to teach the Periodic Table of Elements. Now let me show you why I think it’s all wrong, and why the truth proves that my religion and political party are the correct ones!”.

In fact, irony of irony, it’s the first ammendment right of students and taxpayers that creationism violates, not the other way around.

By claiming the “freedom of expression” to misrepresent politically motivated, divisive, excluding, sectarian mistruths as “science”, you violate the rights of students of all religious persuasions and cultural backgrounds to receive and adequate education.

Comment #162038

Posted by Chip Poirot on February 21, 2007 3:02 PM (e)

Sir Toejam,

My apologies on that one point. You are correct. You did not say that. Other people said that but you did not so I confused your position with that of others and inaccurately inferred that you took that same position.

I don’t really like to publish personal information on the web.

But since you demand proof please reference the following:

“How Can Institutional Economics be an Evolutionary Science” in The Journal of Economic Issues Volume XLI, Number 1, March 2007. The JEI should be available in most University libraries or can possibly be accessed by EBSCO data host.

And for the person who said (whoever it was) that I never denied being a Creationist that was because it seemed patently obvious that I was not and nobody asked me if I was, and third, I was not aware I needed to deny anything.

For the record: I am not a Creationist or a proponent of Intelligent Design. I am not an advocate of “teach the controversy” (at least as far as it concerns the K-12 level). ID is a metaphysical/philosophical point of view and may therefore to my way of thinking legitimately be discussed in a University philosophy class. I do not advocate teaching it as science at any level.

Comment #162041

Posted by Sir_Toejam on February 21, 2007 3:14 PM (e)

Religion, false though it may be, is the only reliable instrument for shaping the average person into an obedient and well-behaved subject of state and society, by Norman Levitt, mathematician at Rutgers University

your apologies ring hollow. anybody who could construct such a ridiculous strawman, could not possibly be interested in honest discussion. Moreover, you weren’t just constructing strawmen of my arguments, but rather of everyone else’s arguments as well, as was pointed out to you on several occassions.

bottom line, your arguments are off target, you engage in constant misinterpretation, deliberate or not, and you have not indicated you are understanding any of the points being made in rebuttal.

In short, what differentiates you from a simple troll at this point?

why don’t you move on to a more receptive audience… maybe the DI would love to hear about your “championing” of free speech rights.

phht.

as far as I’m concerned, you’re a waste of time.

Comment #162042

Posted by Sir_Toejam on February 21, 2007 3:16 PM (e)

now that’s weird.

the quoted section was supposed to be this:

My apologies on that one point. You are correct. You did not say that. Other people said that but you did not so I confused your position with that of others and inaccurately inferred that you took that same position.

whatever.

Comment #162060

Posted by FHS on February 21, 2007 5:41 PM (e)

“Furthermore, like it or not, K-12 students do have First Amendment rights and in fact, have more First Amendment rights in some respects than school employees.”

I’m sorry Chip, but if you are suggesting that a K-12 students 1st ammendment rights extend into a public school classroom, you are just wrong, end of story.

As a high school Biology teacher, I can tell you that the classroom teacher has the responsibility to insure that his/her classroom is a safe learning environment for all students, not just students inclined to expouse a certain viewpoint whenever the feel like it. In the classroom, the teacher decides what is or is not appropropriate for classroom discussion based on the state curriculum standards, period.

“Regardless of who “puts a student up to it” students in K-12 classrooms will ask questions and they deserve to have their questions addressed courteously and respectfully.”

Certainly, students should be treated with respect, and all questions should be addressed courteously and respectfully. However, that does not mean a classroom teacher has the responsibility to discuss every question that a student asks during class time. Quite the contrary. As I said, the teacher’s responsibility is to determine what is appropriate for discussion. Telling a student, respectfully and courteously, that question is outside the curriculum is par for the course for a high school Biology teacher and appropriate when necessary. In fact, “shutting a student down” who insists on co-opting valueable classroom time for tangential and irrelevent points is also par for the course.

While I appreciate you going to bat for our right to free speech, I feel that your efforts are not relevent in the case of Creationist issues in a Biology classroom. Every classroom teacher has signed a contract that impliciting, sometimes explicitly, states that he/she will teach curriculum according to state standards. It is a stretch, at best, to suggest that Creationist issues are are even relevent to a Biological Sciences curriculum.

I appreciate your concern that a classroom should be a place for critical thinking. However, it is also a place to teach disciplined thinking. That means that if a student wishes to talk about creation in a Biology classroom, it is the teacher’s responsibilty to say, “I’m sorry John, that point is irrelevent to this discussion of Evolution.” It’s insulting to suggest that being a responsible Biology teacher somehow limits critical thinking in the classroom. I mean, don’t you think there are enough relevent issues within the study of Evolution to insure that critical thinking will always be part of teh curriculum without having to invoke manufactured controversies?

Comment #162066

Posted by Chip Poirot on February 21, 2007 7:00 PM (e)

FHS,

You raise a number of issues.

First, let’s deal with the primary one: what is a teacher’s responsibility to the curriculum?

What I have stated again and again is that while teachers have a responsiblity to teach the curriculum they also should (and in fact used to) retain some limited First Amendment rights to comment on the curriculum in their capacity as school district employees. The standard used to be that K-12 should try within age appropriate limits to mimic the environment of the University. That doctrine has now been abandoned and I think that makes high schools all the worse.

The string of precedents on this issue is disturbing. In one case, a teacher who had scrupulously followed school district policies in having students perform a controversial play was disciplined for the play. While the court agreed she was disciplined for her point of view and while it recognized she had followed district policy the court ruled that since her speech was on a curricular matter she had no rights and therefore refused to hear her First Amendment case.

As I said before: consider what this implies about Dover and the next time a group of science teachers disagree with established district policy.

Second, I have never said that critical thinking in the science classroom requires presentation of creationist or intelligent design concepts. People have (deliberately IMO) misrepresented my position. I agree wholeheartedly that critical thinking is by definition disciplined thinking and that means setting some limits on thinking.

What I was responding to was an assertion by one poster that a professors belief or statements made in a classroom to the effect that they did not agree with evolutionary theory should constitute grounds for dismissal due to incompetence. What I actually said was that competence should be established by how well the actual material is presented.

What I also said was that if we recognize that professors have some limited First Amendment rights to comment on the curriculum and to introduce controversial material then some bad speech and some unpopular speech will be protected-including in some instances the speech of K-12 teachers that conflicts with established curricula on evolutionary theory. AS long as the material is presented well and covered thoroughly I do not see the harm in allowing an individual teacher to discuss controversies in society. That would allow a teacher to present material about why YEC arguments are wrong and to refer them for example to TalkOrigins. To say then that that speech is allowed but the opposite speech is not is to establish viewpoint discrimination. Therefore, my concept of free speech extends to an individual teacher, within limits, even in a science classroom stating their disagreement with established science curricula-as long as the established material is covered effectively and thoroughly. I never said it should be covered perfunctorily.

Personally I believe student objections/questions about evolution even if they appear to be motivated by YEC or ID concerns should be answered directly. While I recognize that teaching K-12 is different from teaching in the University and that high school biology is different from cultural anthropology or a General Education Seminar course, I think that a science teacher ought to be able to comment on issues that are outside the narrow scope of a textbook.

I also think (my non-expert, non-lawyer opinion) that if a student asks questions in class or challenges a teacher’s opinion about a matter and that student is sanctioned due to the point of view the student expresses that that student would have a First Amendment claim against the school. I’m not saying I’m not wrong but I think I am right.

While people may find it emotionally satisfying to say “suspend students” who walk out of a science class due to religious reasons, I can tell you that is not going to fly in Southern Ohio. I would rather have those students in class and confront their resistance, discuss it openly and frankly and explain to them why I disagree with them and provide them some resources then try to impose draconian solutions.

Now, whether I am wrong or right, practical or impractical about the level of free speech we can or should realistically have in the K-12 level is debatable. Whether I am wrong or right that the public has an interest in general in protecting the free speech rights of public employees, acting as public employees to comment on goverment corruption and abuses of power is also debatable. At least three Supreme Court justices agree with me on that one and I’ll give you a hint who they are not (Scalia, Thomas etc.).

Even if I am wrong I think people should be able to deal with the issue of free speech and academic freedom by arguing about the realism of the standard I suggest rather than accusing me of saying things I never said, questioning my academic credentials and engaging in outright defamation.

I appreciate your thoughtful and civil comments as well as your perspective as a K-12 teacher.

Comment #162067

Posted by Sir_Toejam on February 21, 2007 7:06 PM (e)

I suggest rather than accusing me of saying things I never said

ROFLMAO.

you’re insane, and off your meds.

admit it and move on.

Comment #162188

Posted by FHS on February 22, 2007 1:29 PM (e)

Sure Chip,

“I also think (my non-expert, non-lawyer opinion) that if a student asks questions in class or challenges a teacher’s opinion about a matter and that student is sanctioned due to the point of view the student expresses that that student would have a First Amendment claim against the school.”

Let me make myself clear here. I would never “sanction” a student for disagreeing with my point of view in a classroom or even shut a student down out of hand for simply disagreeing with my point of view in the classroom. I never meant to suggest that either of those options are how teachers should respond. Students disagree with me on a daily basis. I agree that sometimes the disagreements do make for relevent discussion.

My point is that the teacher bears the responsibility for what happens in a classroom and is given the authority to determine what is or is not relevent material that can be discussed, period. That authority should not be undermined, and the state recognizes that. If the teacher determines that an issue is irrelevent to the curriculum, the student cannot simply claim that his/her 1st ammendment rights have been violated and sue the school. Believe me, situations like these are resolved between teachers, administrators, and parents long before the school as a whole or laywers become involved.

“Personally I believe student objections/questions about evolution even if they appear to be motivated by YEC or ID concerns should be answered directly.”

I agree. “I’m sorry John. Those issues have no relevence to the material being presented” is a direct answer and the only fair one to every other student in the class who is there to learn Biology and not waste valuable time debating irrelevent manufactured controversies.

“While I recognize that teaching K-12 is different from teaching in the University and that high school biology is different from cultural anthropology or a General Education Seminar course, I think that a science teacher ought to be able to comment on issues that are outside the narrow scope of a textbook.”

We are allowed to comment on issues outside the scope of a textbook, depending what you mean by “scope”. My scope is the California State Standards for Biology, not necessarily a textbook. We are not allowed to step outside that scope, but, it’s a broad enough scope to inlclude plenty of material for a full years worth of Biology instruction, complete with relevent controversies and opportunity for focused debate. I understand that you are not happy with the idea of standards. I happen to agree with the “idea” of standards (not necessarily standards based testing) for my own reasons, but that is a seperate discussion.

“Therefore, my concept of free speech extends to an individual teacher, within limits, even in a science classroom stating their disagreement with established science curricula-as long as the established material is covered effectively and thoroughly.”

While I agree with the idea of “standards”, I do not necessarily agree with the particular standards we are “limited” to, especially when it comes to Evolution. I often editorialize to my students about other issues I would like to expand on, like Neutral Theory versus Natural Selection or even how I wish that phylogeny could be covered more thoroughly. Oh Well.

Personally, I see no point, however, in presenting a whole unit on Evolution, then editorializing about my “belief” in Evolution either way. Professionally, Biology teachers are required to have a 4 year Biology degree or at least a minimum number of college units in Biology. We are required to take science methodology classes for our teaching credential and pass a subject matter competency exam in Biology. We sign a contract stating, in effect, that we will teach the state approved curriculum. I would find it, at best, disingenuous to go through the training, teach a unit in Evolution “competently”, then declare that “I don’t really believe it though. Here’s why…”. At worst it, it undermines what you have entered into an agreement with the state to teach and, indeed, shows incompetence.

Should a teacher be fired for that? Not outright, but they should be warned at least, and not do it, period.

The bottom line is, speaking about Creationist issues in a science classroom specifically is simply not allowed, period. That’s as much a Constitution issue as it is a 1st ammendment and free speech issue.

Furthermore, however you wish to define “Scope” or “Standards” Creationist points of view have no relevence to Biological Sciences curricula unless you are seriously trying to redefine Biological Sciences iteslf. The issue of free speech regarding Creationist issues in a classroom just does not apply.

Now…

“While the court agreed she was disciplined for her point of view and while it recognized she had followed district policy the court ruled that since her speech was on a curricular matter she had no rights and therefore refused to hear her First Amendment case.”

I would have to see the specifics of the case. Having a speech “on a curricular matter” and “staying within the curriculum” are two seperate things. If a Biology teacher presents a unit on Evolution, then turns around and presents a lesson on creationist counterpoints to Evolution, then yeah, that’s “on a curricular matter” but, like I said, completely unacceptable as a Biology lesson no matter how it’s presented.

Comment #162242

Posted by FHS on February 22, 2007 7:33 PM (e)

I posted my last set of comments on my lunch break and ran out of time, but I did want to address one more point now that I’m home:

“While people may find it emotionally satisfying to say “suspend students” who walk out of a science class due to religious reasons, I can tell you that is not going to fly in Southern Ohio. I would rather have those students in class and confront their resistance, discuss it openly and frankly and explain to them why I disagree with them and provide them some resources then try to impose draconian solutions.”

Quite frankly, I’m glad I don’t teach in Southern Ohio then. Confronting resistance on a daily basis is practically part of my job description and I welcome the challenge. When it comes to confronting resistance to a specific aspect of my curriculum, however, I am glad that I do indeed have a set of state standards to rely upon. Simply put, as a classroom teacher, I am not allowed to discuss religious issues in my classroom and for good reason. I understand that there are kids, and parents, who do not understand nor agree with this fact. So be it, but that doesn’t change the Constitution.

While I think that some on both sides of this issue may disagree with me, it is not my job to juxtapose science against religion. It is my job to competently present the science, period. If a student or parent finds issue with the science on religious grounds, then they must find a way to deal with their issues without turning my classroom into a battleground. While it is the highlight of my teaching to discover that a student can begin to think critically about an issue, I don’t find it particularly comforting that teaching Evolution causes young teenagers, who are already dealing with the problems of being a young teenager, to question their religious beliefs. It is not my job to strip God from the lives of my students. If I “confront” a student regarding religious issues by suggesting that my science curriculum has better answers to their spiritual questions, then I am imposing my personal viewpoint and overstepping the authority granted to me by my teaching credential. If I take their side and suggest that, despite what I just taught, their religion has better answers to my scientific questions, what have I accomplished as a classroom science teacher other than, again, overstepping my authority in the name of free speech?

If a student feels compelled enough to walk out of my class at that point, school policy and the law has more to say about that than I do. I can only impose my classroom policy, draconian or otherwise, such that the student has to face the consequences of his/her actions.

Ultimately, the parent has the right to decide which classroom their child will be in. Counselors can only give advise, they can’t choose for the parent. The parent has every right to pull the child out of my classroom if that’s what they feel is the best course of action. There is no law in my state that says a child has to take Biology.

Comment #162267

Posted by Sir_Toejam on February 22, 2007 9:07 PM (e)

While I think that some on both sides of this issue may disagree with me, it is not my job to juxtapose science against religion. It is my job to competently present the science, period.

actually, if you ignore the insane misstatements of Chippy, you’ll find no disagreement with that statement by anybody on this thread.

Comment #162280

Posted by FHS on February 22, 2007 10:04 PM (e)

If I had ignored Chip, I’d still be lurking. I basically agree with the original post and I’m torn by a lot of the same concerns. I’m just glad I teach Biology where, at this point anyway, my options are pretty straightforward and don’t put me into some moral dilemma regarding lesson content every time I step into the classroom.

Thanks though.

Comment #162323

Posted by Chip Poirot on February 23, 2007 7:07 AM (e)

Thanks again for your thoughtful and civil reply FHS.

A few points:

1) I am not against standards per se. I am increasingly concerned with the “standards” and “assessment” movement . Of course you need standards and that has to include specified content. I’ll leave that subject go.

2) Since I don’t teach at the high school level I am reluctant to comment on what people do and don’t do in the classroom-and I am certainly not questioning your personal effectiveness.

What bothers me about your overall approach (some of which I realize may be legally required) is that it seems to lead to teaching as presenting a standardized curriculum to students and then gearing all subsequent discussion and teaching only to that standardized curriculum. Whether or not this will really lead to better educational outcomes remains to be seen.

It remains my view that even at the high school level there is nothing wrong with discussing some general background issues related to science and some implications of science. I don’t for example see why a high school biology teacher could not engage the class in a limited discussion about why Darwin was significant in the 19th century or why people sometimes feel threatened by science.

3) On a more general level what you describe is an approach that seems geared in all subjects to strip controversy from the curriculum. Personally, I find that textbooks and standards are presenting a rather false view of history and in return presenting students with a very bland, sanitized, non-threatening version of history, civics, government, etc.

As an example (of a college level text) a well known general social science text describes Martin Luther as a “free thinking monk” whose ideas “spread across Europe like wildfire.” I can imagine students memorizing that passage, regurgitating it on a standardized exam and thus missing the whole point of the Reformation (regardless of whether on loves it or hates it).

If this is exemplary of how controversial topics are presented in high school (and I suspect it unfortunately is) then there is a desperate need for a high school teacher to engage the students in a more thorough discussion of the significance of the Reformation whether than just channeling approved school district policies on presenting the Reformation so no one, regardless of their views, is offended.

In order to do this, high schol teachers need to be able to have something resembling the University ideal of academic freedom.

I don’t see how we can grant that academic freedom to history teachers and not to science teachers.

My concern remains that this type of ruling seems tailor made to strip all meaningful discussion and analyses from high school classsrooms.

Comment #162475

Posted by FHS on February 23, 2007 10:44 PM (e)

Chip,

Maybe it sounds like I’m defending the state’s position regarding most issues. I’m not really. I’ve been adamant mostly about my views regarding religion in a science classroom. Reading through your latest response I see a lot of misunderstanding, either about what I’ve said, or my representation of my responsibilities. For example, Your comment regarding what a “standardized curriculum” (I guess a canned curriculum) looks like versus a standards aligned curriculum, and regarding what can and can’t be presented in a science class as related or “relevant” background material (Darwin and Darwin’s voyage on the Beagle definitely can). Clearly, Kitzmiller versus Dover has a lot to say about how the process of changing teaching standards can and can’t be undertaken if you feel so strongly about how content standards should be improved or expanded. I would love to discuss those issues further, just not here.

More to the point, you feel that K-12 teachers can be much more effective if given more academic freedom. By academic freedom, I assume you mean more expansive 1st amendment rights. I wouldn’t completely disagree. We just don’t seem to agree about where the limit should be placed. Personally, I feel like I have plenty of latitude regarding academic freedom to be an effective high school Biology teacher. Others disagree regarding their own and others situations. I’m not surprised since the level of oversight alone varies so much from teaching site to teaching site and from classroom to classroom. Given the amount of freedom even the Constitution confers to teachers, you’d be amazed about how much discrepancy there is from classroom to classroom.

So be it. That’s not the issue I have with your stance.

You feel that teachers are generally competent and responsible enough to handle more academic freedom in the classroom, yet, under other circumstances (adhering to content standards for example) those same teachers are reduced to parroting the state’s mandated curriculum to the detriment of our students.

Sorry, but academic freedom and 1st amendment rights about what can be taught in a K-12 classroom are important, but do not have nearly as much impact as the freedom to determine how content is taught in a K-12 classroom. The students are a captive audience and your first job is to reach them. Topic expanding controversy and catering to their every concern regarding content is only one way to reach some of them, while simply alienating others.

The only real disagreement I have with the original post is that I feel teachers are, indeed, given abundant opportunity and latitude for personal self expression to reach our kids. You cannot be an effective teacher, science or otherwise, without personal self expression. No administrator at my school would bat an eye if I decided to, with a reasonable amount of guidance, put on a stage play about DNA replication, or have my kids write a rap song about natural selection, as long as the lessons are effective and the kids can demonstrate learning the content.

Freedom of personal self expression, in this case, should not equate to freedom to express ones personal viewpoints regarding content. Both should have some limits in a public school classroom though, just not the same limits.

Comment #162481

Posted by Sir_Toejam on February 23, 2007 11:36 PM (e)

hmm, I just ran across this:

The important point of the NPR discussion was the new tack by IDers[iots], using ‘academic freedom’ as a guise to get creationism into science classrooms. After a seminar and editorial in a local news paper a year ago, I still receive letters from one particular IDer. My standard first response (to all queries) is a list of about 30 books, review articles, and primary source research papers with the kindly delivered comment to master this material and then we can have an intelligent debate. About a month ago, I received the ‘academic freedom’ argument. My two page reply, summarized to one sentence: the argument raised is a red herring, the issues with regards to a science class are: relevance, accuracy, and integrity.

so while chippy continues to claim he’s no creationist, his posts sure do resemble the new tack discussed on NPR today.

interesting.

Comment #162506

Posted by Chip Poirot on February 24, 2007 6:52 AM (e)

Not that you have done anything to merit a response Sir Toejam, but I thinnk it is important to clarify something here.

1) I have been a sometimes contributor to the discussions here on PT off and on for several years. Anyone who wants to take the time to red the archives can simply verify I am no Creationist/ID’er. Anyone who knows me personally would find the proposition ludicrous. But rather than deal with the argument you have resorted to outright lies and smears.

2) The ID/Creationist line on academic freedom is that ID/Creation Science deserve special protection for academic freedom. There are some state bills going around that would give protection specifically to Creation Science/ID in the classroom.

I believe a good faith reading of my posts would reveal that that is not what I am arguing for. I am arguing for the general concept of academic freedom in order to protect the exchange of ideas in the classroom at the K-12 level.

If my advocacy of the view that K-12 classrooms should, within age appropriate limits try to mimic the level of academic freedom we are supposed to have in the University puts me at odds with some, then that is really a tragedy. What it tells me is that people have become so overly focused on keeping ID/Creation Science out of the classroom that they are willing to sacrifice the academic freedom of a high school history teacher to dispute the history textbook or of a high school civics teacher to express oppposition to the war in order to achieve their goals.

3) I am quite accustomed to the foes of academic freedom accusing me of various and sundry things. After all, this has been the tactic of the PC brigades/Cultural Studies/Lit Crit crowd on college campuses for years. If you are not for censoring racist, sexist, speech then you must be a racist and a sexist yourself.

I do not disagree that the standard for science instruction is relevancy. I have never said otherwise. What I have said is that you cannot have one standard for academic freedom in the history and government classroom and another in the science classroom. I have also said that teachers need to teach the curriculum and do so competently and professionally. Their ability to do so is what should determine their fate.

Comment #162597

Posted by FHS on February 24, 2007 4:25 PM (e)

Chip,

I came into this discussion late but still tried to address some of your points and concerns on good faith.

“…K-12 classrooms should, within age appropriate limits try to mimic the level of academic freedom we are supposed to have in the University…”

I actually agree with you on this point. I have simply stated adamantly from the start that as a high school Biology teacher, I can say with absolute certainty that an absolute limit to academic freedom, age specific or otherwise, specifically in a science classroom, is the discussion of religiously based arguments and issues, period. Students bring it up in the classroom, of course. Parents often interfere, sure. But, still, the responsibility of the science teacher, the school, the district, and the state is NOT not to discuss them. No appeal to the 1st amendment rights from any party involved in a K-12 science classroom can change that. You haven’t addressed my point directly. Instead you’ve raised point after point which, does indeed suggest you are trying to find an end around this simple assertion in the name of religious rights in a public classroom, not “academic freedom” in the public classroom.

You’ve basically just insisted that it “ought” to be different for reasons that involve your view of what academic freedom should be like in a K-12 classroom, and indeed, what curriculum “ought” to be like in a classroom.

“I do not disagree that the standard for science instruction is relevancy. I have never said otherwise.”

No, but you have suggested that the standards for science, indeed the standards for K-12 teaching in general, are, at best, too limited based on your idea of academic freedom. At worst, you have openly stated, “Personally, I find that textbooks and standards are presenting a rather false view of history and in return presenting students with a very bland, sanitized, non-threatening version of history, civics, government, etc.”

That’s fairly damnimg to the point that, “If this is exemplary of how controversial topics are presented in high school (and I suspect it unfortunately is) then there is a desperate need for a high school teacher to engage the students in a more thorough discussion of the significance of the Reformation whether than just channeling approved school district policies on presenting the Reformation so no one, regardless of their views, is offended.”

I find that incredibly presumptuous, and insulting to all the teachers (I’m not presumung to count myself among them) who are effective and who do engage students in thorough discussions of the significance of any number of topics every day by simply working within teh content standards. I’m certainly not saying that K-12 insutruction cannot be significantly improved and that every classroom is effective. It certainly can improved and there are plenty of “bad” teachers to go around. I’m not even saying that more “academic freedom” can’t help improve K-12 instruction.

It’s just that frankly, like Sir_toejam, I do read your brand of “academic freedom” to mean more “academic freedom to discuss religious issues”. That doesn’t mean I think you are a Creationist.

“What I have said is that you cannot have one standard for academic freedom in the history and government classroom and another in the science classroom.”

I am not going to insult my fellow K-12 history or government teachers by presuming to know more about their subjects or content standards. I would think that, yes, religious “issues” are more relevant to either of those subjects than Biology and can be more broadly discussed as part of content standards. Still, you would have to show me that, indeed, after a U.S. History teacher has discussed that the Pilgrims came to the New World to escape religious persecution how it would be o.k for the teacher to declare a personal viewpoint like, “…and I think they did the right thing because I am a Christian.” I’m fairly sure they could be disciplined for the same reasons as a Biology teacher who presents a lesson on Evolution then declares, “…and I do/don’t believe it because I am a Christian/Muslim/Atheist/Wiccan….” How can that be interpreted as having different standards for academic freedom?

“What it tells me is that people have become so overly focused on keeping ID/Creation Science out of the classroom that they are willing to sacrifice the academic freedom of a high school history teacher to dispute the history textbook or of a high school civics teacher to express oppposition to the war in order to achieve their goals.”

Nope, two seperate issues that you are conflating.

Keep ID/Creation (lol) Science out our of the classroom, defintely, without question, yes. Church + State = bad, mmmkay?

As for other “academic freedom” issues, keep in mind the all important concept of “age appropriate limits”. You simply cannot ever have equal academic freedom in various K-12 classes versus university classrooms because of “age appropriate limits”.

Is it appropriate for a university professor to declare “I am against the Iraq War” to university students who have volunteered and been selected to attend a university? Is it appropriate for a high school U.S. History teacher to declare to 17 year old high school juniors who have had some experience discussing issues, but who stiil are required to be in class “I am against the Iraq War”. Is it appropriate for a middle school teacher in 7th grade World Geography to declare to his/her 11 year olds, “I am against the Iraq War.” I have my own opinions, but I don’t know.

So tell me, do you think more academic freedom equates to having more freedom to talk about religeon in a classroom? Why or why not?

Sorry, that’s the teacher in me? =P

Comment #162601

Posted by Sir_Toejam on February 24, 2007 4:47 PM (e)

I believe a good faith reading of my posts would reveal that that is not what I am arguing for. I am arguing for the general concept of academic freedom in order to protect the exchange of ideas in the classroom at the K-12 level.

actually, you should be far more careful what you write then, because it sure does come across that way.

all of us who objected to your spins pointed out the difference between what first ammendment rights are vs. relevance, accuracy, and integrity.

hence the reason i bolded that section of my last post.

you still don’t seem to get it, and you still seem to prefer to spin what the rest of us keep saying into something none of us ever said.

In short, you display the dishonesty of a creationist, your argument, as written, is EXACTLY the same premise as that of the creationists, and so what on earth thinks you separate from them in anything you have said here?

I don’t believe you are being honest here, and at this point, the more you speak, the more you appear to prove that.

you can continue your discussion with FHS if you wish, for my part, I haven’t found you honest, nor worthy of further engagement on this issue.

Comment #162748

Posted by Chip Poirot on February 25, 2007 9:04 AM (e)

FHS,

Let me see if I can clarify and I am sorry if you think I am spinning. I’m really not trying to do so. I may be doing a poor job of dealing with an issue that requires some nuance.

I used the Reformation as one example (I could think of multiple others that are unrelated to religion) about how K-12 curricula get watered down by people who write curricula and textbooks. The people doing so are mostly not K-12 teachers but committees of scholars selected by publishing companies. Publishing companies in turn go out of their way to avoid offense to any group at all. This results IMO in a watering down of history and many other acdemic subjects. If you thought I was blaming teachers, I was not. I will however fault groups like NCATE (North Central Accreditation Teacher’s Education), and University education departments in general for increasingly focusing on pedagogical technique and decreasing the content education of K-12 teachers.

Let’s take the examples you gave.

A University professor tells a group of students, many of whom are recently signed up for the military and on their way to Iraq that he thinks the war is a bad idea. Protected speech? Yes-at least on my campus and according to my NEA negotiated contract and I would think on most campuses as well. Let’s suppose the professor went further and urged those considering joining the military not to do so. I would say protected speech.

Let’s take another issue: suppose a teacher at the University level in a writing class chooses a series of readings that some students believe are degrading to women and several students write on themes that female students find objectionable. At least at the University level this is specifically protected speech on a curricular matter. Suppose a women’s studies professor says that she believes women should organize politically to defend the right to choose. Again, protected speech as long as the student’s grades don’t depend on their agreeing with her.

A biology professor refuses to cover clearly established departmental curricular guidelines on evolutionary topics: I would say not protected speech. Now suppose that same professor presented the material, did so competently and then chose to discuss material that he believes as a practicing scientist is scientific but other members of his department regard as religious based. I would say “protected speech” at the University level.

First of all, the recent Supreme Court ruling is a dagger aimed at higher ed. Because if you apply that ruling to higher ed it will eliminate any ability of professors to voice controverisal opinions (or even non-controversial opinions)on any matter that is curricular related. So if I state that in my opinion Bush’s tax cuts were a poor policy while discussing fiscal and monetary policy, I could then be fired for voicing that opinion because it would in my capacity as a professor teaching the curriculum.

What I am basing my own analysis on is the AAUP statement on academic freedom and subsequent commentary on that statement by the AAUP (see www.aaup.org).

My argument is very simple: I want that statement, as much as possible to apply to K-12. Of course there are going to be limits and places where it cannot be fully implemented.

You do raise an interesting problem with 1st amendment law that I admit I have not fully addressed. That problem is the tension between allowing religious expression and the prohibition against establishment of religion by a government entity.

I’m not up on the full range of precedents to comment on where the line is precisely drawn in K-12. As I understand it a teacher can wear a cross but a teacher cannot use his/her position to proselytize (which seems sensible). Yet a teacher can act as advisor to an officially recognized school club that is religious in nature. Schools can grant use of their facilities to religious organizations provided they do so to all community organizations. Offically sponsored school prayer is illegal (a prohibition I agree with).

If you recognize that teachers have First Amendment rights on curricular matters in the classroom, then that means that they have rights in an appropriate context to voice their opinions.

So the question is: is a high school science classroom the appropriate context to comment on “theories” (to use the term loosely) that have been ruled by the courts to be religious in nature rather than scientific? My argument is that to a very limited degree it may be, depending on how it is done.

A student asks the following question:

Is it true that there are people with established scientific credentials who disagree with evolution?

Answer: yes there are. Most scientists believe evolution is valid, established science and that is why the state has made it part of the science standards. There is a debate in society about evolution and there are some people who believe that evolution is not good science and disagree with how science is practiced. Here are some websites you might want to look at if you wish to more fully explore the nature of the debate. The teacher writes down urls to panda’s thumb, talkorigins, and also to some creationist/ID web sites.

The teacher then says: I personally believe that there are problems with how science is done and practiced. I don’t entirely agree with what is in the textbook and proceeds to engage in limited short class discussion about student’s views on the matter.

Provided that teacher is covering the material in the textbook/curriculum competently, thoroughly and professionally and is being courteous to the students, I can live with that.

Stating that I view that speech to be worthy of protection is not the same as endorsing that speech. Similarly, stating that speech to be worthy of protection is not the same as having as my motive for stronger First Amendment protection for all forms of normally protected expression in the K-12 classrooms does not mean that my underlying motive is to protect religious speech in particular.

My underlying motive is to protect the rights of K-12 teachers to express opinions on curricular matters. Now, whether the ACLU and the NEA for example would agree with me on each and every particular, I don’t know. I do know that the NEA has often expressed concern about the loss of faculty rights to express an opinion on curricular matters. Since I am an NEA member I often get little blurbs from them on the high schools. Also, several years ago I wrote to the Ohio head of the ACLU to ask her opinion about whether or not teachers could express an opinion on intelligent design. The reason I wrote her was because I had recently heard Del Ratszch, in a public debate with Michael Ruse, assert that the law precluded any discussion whatsoever of ID in the high school classrooms. Now, I will grant this is not the strongest basis of evidence but the Ohio head of the ACLU did tell me in an e-mail that she did not interpret the law that way. I had gotten to know her during a campus visit that I sponsored to discuss the problems with the Patriot Act.

Now, if this is the official opinion of the ACLU in Ohio, I do not know. But that said, I think that for the most part, with a few exceptions, my views on First Amendment expression are pretty consistent with those of the ACLU.

It is possible that in my zeal to protect all First Amendment expression I lean more towards protecting religious expression than the ACLU does. If I do so it is certainly not out of religious motivation and anybody who knows me can tell you that.

Comment #162794

Posted by FHS on February 25, 2007 3:07 PM (e)

Thanks Chip,

You’ve clarified much for me.

First of all, I cannot speak to anything regarding 1st amendment rights at the secondary school level. I defer to the expertise and experience of you and others here. I have my opinions regarding Science instruction at the secondary level, of course.

“Now suppose that same professor presented the material, did so competently and then chose to discuss material that he believes as a practicing scientist is scientific but other members of his department regard as religious based. I would say “protected speech” at the University level.”

I believe you if you say this is protected speech at the secondary level, but refer back to this:

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/02/trained_parrot_awarded_phd.php

Again, I have my opinion, as do you I’m sure, but this simply raises too many other issues that are way beyond the scope of this discussion. As for the rest regarding secondary teaching, I’m not trying to ignore your points or gloss them over. I just don’t have anything that even resembles an informed opinion.

“What I am basing my own analysis on is the AAUP statement on academic freedom and subsequent commentary on that statement by the AAUP (see www.aaup.org).

My argument is very simple: I want that statement, as much as possible to apply to K-12.”

If the AAUP statement constitutes what you feel exemplifies this concept in the K-12 classroom, I think I can agree with the spirit of your intentions. I went to the site, and looked for the statement you are referring to. I found the 1940 statement and the subsequent comments. From the statement and I found this:

“Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject.[2] Limitations of academic freedom because of religious or other aims of the institution should be clearly stated in writing at the time of the appointment.[3]”

Hopefully I understand the reference numbers in the statement correctly, but I think they refer to these comments:

“The intent of this statement is not to discourage what is “controversial.” Controversy is at the heart of the free academic inquiry which the entire statement is designed to foster. The passage serves to underscore the need for teachers to avoid persistently intruding material which has no relation to their subject.

Most church-related institutions no longer need or desire the departure from the principle of academic freedom implied in the 1940 Statement, and we do not now endorse such a departure.”

If I went to the wrong place and I am misrepresenting what you stand for, please let me know. Those are not my intentions. Like I said, I am no expert on instruction at the university level, but I don’t see, on casual skimming, the huge gap that you see between what university professors can do and what K-12 teachers can do based on the statement and comments. As a silly example, if you are a university professor teaching U.S. History, can you reasonably expect to defend your 1st amendment right to come into the classroom and spend an hour talking about how you spent the weekend redecorating your house and changing the brakes on your ‘57 Chevy anymore than I can as a high school Biology teacher? Certainly, it will depend on circumstances, etc. I can definitely answer that question as to what the states expectations are for a high school Biology teacher regardless of circumstance. I only have my opinion based upon my expectation as a university student what would happen at the secondary level. I don’t know.

More to the point:

“Of course there are going to be limits and places where it cannot be fully implemented.”

Again, not to be condescending, but I don’t know if you have a realistic and practical idea of what “age appropriate” actually means and the incredible amount of responsibility it entails even without considering the relevancy of a certain viewpoint. Was it appropriate or harmful for an elementary teacher to mention to her students that she “honked for peace”? I can’t say. I don’t teach her students. I don’t know if any of her students have brothers, or fathers, or sisters or mothers fighting in Iraq and how they would feel about a teacher “honking for peace”. It’s the teacher, and by extension the school who bear the responsibility for knowing that. All I’m saying is the yardstick for measuring the appropriateness of the expression of a viewpoint has to be different at the various levels. You cannot resonably expect to apply university standards for this when the ability to deal with “controvesry” and critically think about issues is so absolutely age-dependent.

Specifically:

“I’m not up on the full range of precedents to comment on where the line is precisely drawn in K-12. As I understand it a teacher can wear a cross but a teacher cannot use his/her position to proselytize (which seems sensible).”

Yes on both accounts. I don’t have a problem with teachers wearing symbols of whatever they believe in. We agree on the sensibility of proselytizing, which means we both agree with the establishment clause.

“Yet a teacher can act as advisor to an officially recognized school club that is religious in nature. Schools can grant use of their facilities to religious organizations provided they do so to all community organizations.”

Yes. I can’t really comment with any authority as to why religious clubs and religious activities are given permission to be held on public school property. I suspect it has much to do with the voluntary nature of these activities, at which point 1st amendment rights have more precedence and public schools feel their responsibility to the general well-being of the community (or their budgets) can be justified, perhaps. I don’t know.

“Offically sponsored school prayer is illegal (a prohibition I agree with).”

Yes.

“So the question is: is a high school science classroom the appropriate context to comment on “theories” (to use the term loosely) that have been ruled by the courts to be religious in nature rather than scientific? My argument is that to a very limited degree it may be, depending on how it is done.”

Chip, again, do not conflate two seperate issues, “academic freedom” and “religious freedom”. Feel free to argue all you want that it “may be” appropriate. The simple fact of the matter is, IT CAN’T BE DONE DURING OFFICIAL CLASS TIME even based on something as grey as “academic freedom” let alone something as arguable as “relevance”. Either you are going to accept this or you aren’t. It’s a moot point. Period.

I’ll play along anyway:

“A student asks the following question:

Is it true that there are people with established scientific credentials who disagree with evolution?”

Certainly, the kid has every right to ask this or any other question in class, state points of view, call me a horrible teacher, whatever without fear of being sanctioned, as long as they are not disruptive about it.

This question is definitely a can of worms though.

If the answer is how a teacher would handle this question in a high school Biology classroom, so be it. I have no objection to the response based on anything we’ve discussed regarding “academic freedom”.

“…and proceeds to engage in limited short class discussion about student’s views on the matter.”

The teacher is in no way required to discuss the student’s views on the matter, limited, short, or otherwise. The teacher is, of course, free to do so if it is “relevant” (there’s that word again) to the science. As far as I know, a teacher can discuss personal views and related topics outside of class time. If the kid wants to come in after school and ask questions about religious issues, I don’t know that there is any mandate that would prevent a teacher from being able to discuss these issues. If the kid brings up the issue and really really really wants to discuss it, I would certainly invite more discuss outside of class time.

“Provided that teacher is covering the material in the textbook/curriculum competently, thoroughly and professionally and is being courteous to the students, I can live with that.”

So can I, as professional courtesy to fellow teacher’s as well.

“Stating that I view that speech to be worthy of protection is not the same as endorsing that speech.”

Good, because, IMHO as a Biology teacher of course, he/she left some worms crawling on the floor and certainly has misrepresented the significance of Evolution as a science and why it is being taught as a standard while giving too much credence to manufactured controversy that simply does not exist. It’s certainly not how i would answer the question.

“The teacher then says: I personally believe that there are problems with how science is done and practiced. I don’t entirely agree with what is in the textbook…”

I can’t argue with a teacher’s “academic right” to say this. I sincerly hope that he/she can actually support the assertations, whatever they may be and in whatever context, if they intend on discussing their personal viewpoints further. I hope they don’t resort to pseudoscience, more manufactured controversies (that aren’t religious of course) or, in short, anything that can be construed as incompetence in her/his field of expertise.

I will emphasize, again, that if any of the discussion or the teacher’s “personal belief” are remotely religious in nature, they cannot be discussed, period. That’s the line you cannot cross. If you as a teacher stated “I personally believe that there are problems with how science is done and practiced. I don’t entirely agree with what is in the textbook…” and those personal beliefs are religiously motivated, it’s pointless to say at best.
If the teacher is simply baiting the students into a religious discussion, during class or otherwise, I would consider that an abuse of his/her’s authority and seriously question the teacher’s ethics and competence.

“It is possible that in my zeal to protect all First Amendment expression I lean more towards protecting religious expression than the ACLU does. If I do so it is certainly not out of religious motivation and anybody who knows me can tell you that.”

Fair enough. I can say without question, I don’t feel religious expression, certainly in public schools, even needs to be protected. Quite the contrary. It shouldn’t be in public schools, period, yet anecdotal evidence for religous expression in classrooms being given plenty of latidtude is all over the blogs we read. One teacher fired for “honking for peace” while another teacher caught blatantly preaching the Bible to kids in a classroom gets a slap on the wrist, for example. Dover, Kansas, Ohio, New Mexico, etc. The move to get religion into classrooms doesn’t need help. Keeping religeon out of the classroom and keeping the integrity of science instruction does.

Have we beat the dead horse enough? =P

Comment #162800

Posted by FHS on February 25, 2007 3:29 PM (e)

Quick clarification:

“I can say without question, I don’t feel religious expression, certainly in public schools, even needs to be protected.”

Not what I meant to say.

Should read, “I certainly don’t feel religious expression in public schools even needs to be protected.”

Comment #162801

Posted by Chip Poirot on February 25, 2007 3:31 PM (e)

This horse is not only dead it is hamburger.

Just a few points. Yes, you have the AAUP statement correct. We could argue about its interpretation (an issue I am fairly up on) but we can leave that for some other time.

The point I think you are not recognizing is that religious expression, like expression of political beliefs is considerd to be “core expression” under First Amendment (free speech clause as opposed to establishment clause) Law. The First Amendment also specifically protects religious expression in and of itself. So religious expression as long as it is not officially sponsored is indeed protected speech in the public schools as is anti-religious speech. Actually, you might want to read over the Dover case as the judge in Dover went through at great length the standard for determining when religious speech is being officially sanctioned.

I’m a little bothered by your concern that students might have their feelings hurt or be uncomfortable when they hear a particular controversial opinion in the classroom. By the time you get to high school civics or even junior high civics you know people have multiple opinions on the war and you know that you are going to have to face opinions that make you “uncomfortable”. Provided a student is not singled out and abused or ridiculed and the teacher distinguishes his/her opinion from official school policy not only is no harm done, but the cause of learning to live and deal with contrary opinions is advanced.

Finally, as to you link to Pharyngula:

This is where the horse started taking a beating. I disagree entirely with what he says on that post. In fact, something like this came up several years ago when a professor at some University tried to make students sign a statement professing belief in evolution.

Sorry-that is repugnant to me however much I may disagree with YEC’ers and ID’ers. Nobody is ever obligated to believe. They are simply obligated to demonstrate competent understanding on exams, papers, etc.

I have myself encountered this issue once or twice and I have always told students in my anthropology class that if the topic bothers them they may feel free to simply say “according to the textbook” or “according to the Professor”. I don’t care if they believe it. I’d like to think I have an impact on changing their beliefs sometimes but I never require belief and nor should anyone else.

In an odd sort of way I admire that YEC’er who took the time to actually learn evolutionary theory and to be competent and write a dissertation in it. One of the worst things about arguing with YEC’ers and ID’ers is how they simply don’t get evolution. Well, at least this guy has taken the time to really understand it.

I have to (on a daily basis) teach in a paradigm that I believe to be seriously flawed (mainstream economics). I’m not required to believe it. I’m simply required to present it competently and clearly to my students which I do.

Comment #162802

Posted by nobody on February 25, 2007 3:50 PM (e)

From Chip:

Chip wrote:

A student asks the following question:

Is it true that there are people with established scientific credentials who disagree with evolution?

Answer: yes there are. Most scientists believe evolution is valid, established science and that is why the state has made it part of the science standards. There is a debate in society about evolution and there are some people who believe that evolution is not good science and disagree with how science is practiced. Here are some websites you might want to look at if you wish to more fully explore the nature of the debate. The teacher writes down urls to panda’s thumb, talkorigins, and also to some creationist/ID web sites.

The teacher then says: I personally believe that there are problems with how science is done and practiced. I don’t entirely agree with what is in the textbook and proceeds to engage in limited short class discussion about student’s views on the matter.

Text of the intelligent design statement Dover, Pa., teachers were instructed to read to their students:

The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin’s theory of evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part.

Because Darwin’s theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The theory is not a fact. Gaps in the theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.

Intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view. The reference book, “Of Pandas and People,” is available for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what intelligent design actually involves.

With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the origins of life to individual students and their families. As a standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on standards-based assessments.

Present in both statements:(a) students are only being taught evolution because it’s in the textbook/standards; (b) Reference to ID sources.

Alternate scenario:

Student asks, “Is it true that there are people with established scientific credentials who disagree with evolution?”

Teacher responds: “Yes, there are a few scientists who disagree with evolution, and these scientists are overwhelmingly those who are not specialists in either biology or evolution. Most if not all of the objections to evolution are religious in nature, not scientific, so this particular issue is one you’d best discuss with your parents or a clergy member.”

Comment #162807

Posted by Chip Poirot on February 25, 2007 5:15 PM (e)

Nobody,

I find your quote mining and twisting of context to be counterproductive.

If you would go and read Dover you will find that the judge discussed the relevant legal precedents. One of the tests he applied was whether or not a reasonable person would believe that the school district (government) was sponsoring the activity. In applying that standard (correctly IMO for what it is worth) the judge found that the statement established a religion because it was officially endorsed by the school district.

A second issue in that case was the refusal of the teachers to read the statement, thus necessitating the principal to read the statement. If you believe that teachers have no rights whatsoever to disagree with the curriculum then it follows logically that the school district had the legal right to fire the teachers for refusing to read the statement.

I am not saying that I personally think that is how a teach **should** respond. It is in fact now how I would **want** a teacher to respond.

My personally preferred response (and the one I give) is yes, there are some people with legitimate scientific credentials who disagree. They disagree about the nature of science. My opinion is that they misunderstand science. My view of science is one that descends from the enlightenment and searches for natural causes and natural explanation for the natural world. If you want to explore the debate further, go to X. As a University professor I sometimes spend a limited amount of time discussing the issue in my anthro class and teach a course geared to college seniors where I discuss the debate at great length and express my **opinion** (horrors!) that ID is not legitimate science and that the judge in Dover ruled correctly.

Where and how the lines get drawn in a high school biology class are difficult to judge. My concern is that the courts are saying there is no First Amendment right to express an opinion on the curriculum period. What they should be saying is that there is a delicate balance and we need to protect free expression of ideas at the K-12 level.

As I have said multiple times: advocating protection of speech I think is bad is not the same as advocating for that speech.

There is a difference between a teacher expressing an opnion on a subject vs. having the speech coerced by the government.

At least the judge in Kitzmiller saw it that way.

It has been a common tactic of the YEC/ID movement to take quotes out of context by people like Stephen J. Gould or Larry Laudan to try and show that they support the YEC/ID position. You and multiple others seem determined to mimic that tactic to try and show that I am an advocate of YEC/ID.

Comment #162824

Posted by FHS on February 25, 2007 7:07 PM (e)

Fine Chip.

I am certainly still learning about what my responsibilites mean for me and my students in my classroom. I hope my effectiveness as a teacher hasn’t plateaued. I assure you, my first priority in the classroom is the well being of my students. If learning more about my 1st ammendment rights, how to find your 1st amendment grey area regarding when it’s appropriate or not to talk about religion, and using such discussion helps me be a better Biology teacher and reach my students more effectively, I will explore it further.

However:

“I’m a little bothered by your concern that students might have their feelings hurt or be uncomfortable when they hear a particular controversial opinion in the classroom.”

You either do not understand my “concern” or you are simply misrepresenting it to emphasize your point of view. If me stating “All I’m saying is the yardstick for measuring the appropriateness of the expression of a viewpoint has to be different at the various levels. You cannot resonably expect to apply university standards for this when the ability to deal with “controvesry” and critically think about issues is so absolutely age-dependent.” simply means “teachers shouldn’t make their students uncomfortable or hurt their feelings” then whatever. It invloves so much more, but fine.

Since you brought it up specifically though, I’m more than a little bothered by your suggestion that the “feelings” of students are somehow secondary to the right of a teacher to “express my point of view”. Maybe in some academic discussion like this they are, but in practice they are not. Quite frankly, you have no idea what it takes to interact with 150 high school teenagers, or younger, everyday if you truly believe that “By the time you get to high school civics or even junior high civics you know people have multiple opinions on {insert topic here} and you know that you are going to have to face opinions that make you “uncomfortable”” is an excuse for a kid to actually be made to feel uncomfortable because of your personal point of view on anything, whether the teacher meant to hurt the kid or not.

On the other hand, you seem really concerned about not offending a student who wants to express his/her point of view in a class, relevant or not. Obviously you favor the “academic freedom” in either case. My concern is effective teaching in either case and I would try to be sensitive to the kid either way.

“Provided a student is not singled out and abused or ridiculed and the teacher distinguishes his/her opinion from official school policy not only is no harm done, but the cause of learning to live and deal with contrary opinions is advanced.”

One of the first things you learn is that with 150 kids a day who “are required to be in school” over 5 classes, you can’t control who will or will not feel singled out, abused, or ridiculed by something you or another student in your class says. That could be anything you say, related to topic or not. Despite your best efforts with class rules, grading policies, and the class syllybus, it just happens regardless. Their feelings may not even be relevant to anything you expressed but you still have to deal with it or learning in the classroom for everybody suffers. I learned it the hard way and believe me, “You’re just gonna have to deal with controversy and learn that people have different opinions than you” does not cut it when you’re dealing with a 15 year old kid with raging hormones. Depending upon their age level and cognitive development, they are “learning” how to deal with it. You’re job is to help them deal with it, not to intellectually throw kids to the wolves when they are not ready to deal with it.

I’m not saying personal points of view CAN’T be dealt with in a high school, or lower, level, but it takes work and preparation and you can’t simply assume you’re kids are ready for it when you feel the need to express your point of view. You have to be sensitive to the feelings of your students if you want to be an effective teacher because K-12 kids need to feel safe and comfortable with the idea of discussion, not necessarily the topic or viewpoints being discussed. University students are “expected” to be at this level. K-12 is hopefully where they “learn” to do this.

In short Chip, I’m certain I have a better idea of what what “age appropriate” limits mean and entails to K-12 education in practice and not in some half considered opinion of the 1st amendment in regards to K-12 education. If you don’t want to acknowledge that there are significant considerations compared to the university level when it comes to “freedom of expression”, okay. You’re opinion regarding this issue doesn’t affect what I have to do every day in the classroom in the least just as my opinions don’t affect you.

As for the Pharyngula thread, your scenario regarding the University structure teaching evolution spoke more to those issues and the university level than what I cared to discuss. That was my point.

Take care

Comment #162829

Posted by Chip Poirot on February 25, 2007 7:52 PM (e)

FHS,

I can see that you and I see some things quite differently due to our different teaching experiences and job requirements. I think I have tried very hard and succeeded in assuming your good faith and I wish you would see my good faith.

I’ve heard far, far too much emphasis placed on “not offending” people rather than on encouraging people to think and to deal with intellectual demands.

My view is as follows: students should be able to speak and to have their opinions fully heard in a classroom environment. Allowing students to speak out, have their concerns heard and addressed IMO helps to make students less resistant to learning. Students and everyone else has a right to have their opinions heard and to not be belittled, ridiculed or demeaned. There is no right to not be offended. There is no right to not be uncomfortable.

I think that high school students deal with and confront a significant level of brutality, meanness and unfairness in their daily lives that they are certainly capable of hearing about opinions on the Iraq war without crumbling and falling apart.

You raised the concern that a student whose older brother/father had just enlisted to go fight in Iraq might hear the teacher’s endorsement of anti-war protest and then feel uncomfortable. There is no reason why the student should not be encouraged to voice that discomfort in a civil way in the classroom.

About the time students graduate from high school they are deemed old enought to go fight (and die in that absolutely insane war) and vote. In other words, 16 and 17 year olds are very close to making life and death decisions. We do not need to insulate them from strong opinions on the Iraq-or any other war.

Again, I will repeat: part of the purpose of education is not just to train narrowly for job skills but also to train to participate in a democratic society. Participating in a democratic society requires the ability to encounter, learn from and argue productively about multiple points of view.

I’ll say it one last time: prior to several recent court rulings the courts had held that K-12 should make every effort to mimic the atmosphere of higher ed and thus recognized limited rights to comment on curricular matters and matters of public concern in the classroom. The courts have now eviscerated this concept. I think this sends an extremely poor message to students about free speech in a democratic society. I cannot help but think of the absolutely horrible message that was sent to those students in the teacher’s high school civics class: protest an unpopular war and lose your job for it.

That is not the message we should send if part of the purpose of education is to educate citizens for a democracy. The message we need to send is how to learn to participate in a Habermasian ideal speech situation.

So yeah: toughen em up intellectually! Forced debating lessons. give them intellectual training classes and not this silly feel good, values clarification, watered down, don’t offend anybody crap that is peddled in textbooks.

If the result is a student has to occasionally deal with an idiosyncratic science teacher I can live with that. I can live with that a lot, lot better than teaching students that their teachers are fearful of discussing their own political opinions.

Comment #162986

Posted by FHS on February 26, 2007 7:10 PM (e)

Chip,

Not seeing eye to eye is fine with me and I’m willing to learn from this discussion. As far as good faith goes, I’ll see that we are having a “discussion” in good faith when, 1) you stop misrepresenting what I say and dodging my points 2) extend the same professional courtesy to me as I have to you.

I know this is long, but I will ask you to read this post fully, then respond to three points without conflating them.

Are there significant “Age appropriate” limitations between the various K-12 grades and the university level to consider for academic freedom or not?

Even if you have complete 1st amendment rights by any measurement, do you think it’s “appropriate”, or not, for instructors to exercise the full extent of those 1st ammendment rights irrespective of their level of instruction, or not?

Who has the responsibility to determine what is “appropriate” in a classroom and does anybody have the right to challenge the appropriateness?

Don’t dodge the points. And please, do not lecture to me further about WHAT my responsibilities are as a fellow educator.

If you plan to dodge my points or lecture to me, don’t bother to respond and we can end this here.

“I’ve heard far, far too much emphasis placed on “not offending” people rather than on encouraging people to think and to deal with intellectual demands.”

If you will read my posts Chip, you’ll see that I am not emphasizing that. I am guilty of responding to your assertations regarding this issue, not emphasizing it. I do think that it is a consideration in “age appropriate” limitations to academic freedom but only one consideration.

“I think that high school students deal with and confront a significant level of brutality, meanness and unfairness in their daily lives that they are certainly capable of hearing about opinions on the Iraq war without crumbling and falling apart.”

I never said anything contrary to this “opinion” Chip. Nice lecture though. I actually have some experience with what those high school students are actually dealing with on a daily basis. Give me that at least.

Me: “Was it appropriate or harmful for an elementary teacher to mention to her students that she “honked for peace”? I can’t say. I don’t teach her students. I don’t know if any of her students have brothers, or fathers, or sisters or mothers fighting in Iraq and how they would feel about a teacher “honking for peace”.”

You: “You raised the concern that a student whose older brother/father had just enlisted to go fight in Iraq might hear the teacher’s endorsement of anti-war protest and then feel uncomfortable. There is no reason why the student should not be encouraged to voice that discomfort in a civil way in the classroom.”

Original Post: “In the Mayer case, elementary school teacher Deborah Mayer alleged that she was fired after telling her students that she had honked when passing some demonstrators holding signs saying “Honk for Peace.””

Me: “All I’m saying is the yardstick for measuring the appropriateness of the expression of a viewpoint has to be different at the various levels. You cannot resonably expect to apply university standards for this when the ability to deal with “controvesry” and critically think about issues is so absolutely age-dependent.”

Like I said, either you don’t understand what I’m trying to explain, are trying to misrepresent what I am trying to explain, or are just dodging my point. I spoke DIRECTLY to the MAYER case to ILLUSTRATE the importance of AGE APPROPRIATENESS at the other levels.

Furthermore, I would be a true dumbass if, as a high school teacher, I tried to argue against a statement like “There is no reason why the student should not be encouraged to voice that discomfort in a civil way in the classroom”. I can give you 20 reasons off the top of my head why that statement is more like an absolute truth because, professor, K-12 teachers have to put that statement into practice as part of the job description everyday they teach.

Maybe you just can’t fathom what it takes to, first, “teach” many K-12 students simply “how” to even voice something, anything, in a class full of students and a teacher. Second, maybe you just have no idea what it takes to “teach” K-12 students to voice, something, anything, let alone “discomfort”, in a “civil way”. These skills have to be taught.

What it takes to “teach” these skills effectively speaks to the AGE APPROPRIATENESS of what you do and what you SAY in the various K-12 classrooms. You want K-12 to mimic the university as much as possible given “age appropriate” limitations”, yet gloss over those age appropriate limitations as if they are meaningness. Meaningless to the point where a K-12 teacher SHOULD express the same level of academic freedom as University instructors. To me, that is your tragic fallacy in logic that speaks to much more than just the “comfort level” of a student.

Can you speak directly to what “age appropriate” means to you, please?

Here’s a challenge for you if you can’t:

Take any one of your university lectures and try to present it to the average elementary school class of your choice. Then try presenting it to the average 6th, 7th, or 8th grade class. Take it to high school, try it there. Then, come here and tell me something about “Age appropriateness” and what it means for your academic freedom. Try engaging in discussion. You can insist that the right to repeat your lecture verbatim, complete with your word for word expression of viewpoints, is protected by the first ammendment all you like. I’d still call you a crappy, ineffective, teacher.

“Again, I will repeat: part of the purpose of education is not just to train narrowly for job skills but also to train to participate in a democratic society. Participating in a democratic society requires the ability to encounter, learn from and argue productively about multiple points of view.”

Thanks again professor, one education professional to another. I’ll check my Teacher Education 101 notes. I’m sure I’ll find a similar statement like that on the first page of day 1.

You, as a university instructor, receive the students which are the products of K-12 education, for better or for worse. The only problem is, you haven’t demonstrated that you have the first clue about what it means to have to “train” K-12 students to “participate”, or “learn from and argue” about anything based on what you’ve said here. They seem like sentiments to you. K-12 teachers write whole lesson plans around those concepts, within the standards I might add, despite your personal feelings about what writing K-12 curricula is all about.

Finally:

“The message we need to send is how to learn to participate in a Habermasian ideal speech situation.”

Frankly, if misrepresenting, ignoring, or otherwise dodging stated points in favor of lecturing to your audience about your viewpoint is a Habermasian ideal speech situation, you’re welcome to it.

Comment #162987

Posted by David B. Benson on February 26, 2007 7:17 PM (e)

FHS — Applause from the gallery…

Comment #163000

Posted by Chip Poirot on February 26, 2007 9:43 PM (e)

FHS,

Just what is your point? And just how have I dodged your points?

One more time, from the top. My points, very simply and clearly expressed.

1) Prior to several recent precedents, including the ones cited above, public employees had recognized and limited First Amendment rights in their capacity of public employees and in their capacity as citizens;

2) Specifically, this First Amendment right extended to the right of teachers to comment on the curriculum, including areas of controversy.

3) Several recent cases took this right away. At least one of these cases has taken away the right of District Attorneys for example to comment in their capacity as district attorneys on potential unconstitutional practices by the District Attorney’s office even thought it is a legal and ethical obligation of District Attorneys to do so.

Thus far, the issue is clear. One either agrees with these precedents (I do not) or agrees with them (do you or don’t you) or agrees with them in part but has some reservations (as Sandefur does apparently).

The result of these precedents is a follows:

4) In Mayer, a teacher engaged in what I think should be (and used to be) clearly protected First Amendment speech on a curricular issue. She did not harangue her class or fail to cover the curriculum adequately. She spoke on a matter of public concern in an effort to engage her class in a dialogue on political issues. I believe her speech should be protected. During the Vietnam War many teachers spoke out against the Vietnam War. Certianly, in discssing the Vietnam War a teacher should be able to say “I think this war was a mistake” or for that matter “I think we should have stayed longer and fought harder”. In short, the Mayer case precludes a teacher from offering any kind of reasoned judgement on the curriculum at all.

This is what you said about this case in an earlier post:

“Again, not to be condescending, but I don’t know if you have a realistic and practical idea of what “age appropriate” actually means and the incredible amount of responsibility it entails even without considering the relevancy of a certain viewpoint. Was it appropriate or harmful for an elementary teacher to mention to her students that she “honked for peace”? I can’t say. I don’t teach her students. I don’t know if any of her students have brothers, or fathers, or sisters or mothers fighting in Iraq and how they would feel about a teacher “honking for peace”. It’s the teacher, and by extension the school who bear the responsibility for knowing that. All I’m saying is the yardstick for measuring the appropriateness of the expression of a viewpoint has to be different at the various levels. You cannot resonably expect to apply university standards for this when the ability to deal with “controvesry” and critically think about issues is so absolutely age-dependent.”

I read this statement and I see handwringing on your part where to me speech should be clearly protected. A consequence of what you are saying seems to me that you leave the decision to protect speech or not to protect speech up to the principal. In fact, I am not even sure what you are saying. I think the age appropriateness in this case is clear. We are talking about a high school teacher teaching civics. I think that a discussion of anti-war opinions in high school is age appropriate. Is that clear enough for you?

I am not talking about giving my lectures to high school students-which i would never do because they are generally not ready to deal with certain subjects at that particular stage (but not because for the most part I think the material is shocking or offensive).

Of course age appropriate has to be applied to some degree on a case by case basis. I never said otherwise. What I said was that there should be a balancing act and that the ideal should be as age increases to approach the openness of expression of a University. How can we tell age appropriate expression? Well, one way is to listen to the music they listen to, the books they read, the movies they watch, the things they are exposed to. Is a discussion of Catcher in the Rye too controversial for 17 year olds? I would think not. I am not saying a teacher should be able to substitute Catcher in the Rye for an already established book. I am saying that if the teacher goes through the proper channels, has Catcher in the Rye adopted and in the context of the classroom discussion expresses an opinion on the book, that speech should be protected.

In short, I think that the balancing act should not be a simple matter of being left to the whims and political vicissitudes of local principals, school boards and community decency squads. There should be First Amendment protection for speech.

In other words, to make a long story short, I want to see the courts revert to their balancing act they had previously established.

While you (and others) accuse me of multiple things and then do the very same things you accuse me of (in addition to others engaging in deliberate outright smears that are clearly established falsehoods), my position is not very different at all on these issues from that of the NEA and the ACLU.

So, as I stated from the beginning, my first and primary concern is protecting political speech in high school history and civics classes.

Now, on to the thornier issue of what to do with respect to “religious speech”, specifically in cases related to the science curriculum.

As I stated, I agreed with the decision in Kitzmiller enthusiastically. Furthermore, I agreed with the actions of the science teachers who refused to follow established school district curriculum. A consequence of what you appear to be arguing for (if indeed you because I really cannot tell) is that the school district had the right to fire these teachers because they expressed an opinion on the established curriculum.

Do you recognize that point? Do you and the others on this forum see that a consequence of Mayer is creationist school boards firing science teachers for teaching evolution or for refusing to read district approved statements? It is not sufficient to wait around for the ACLU to come charging in and have the school district overturn these policies: jobs will be lost in the meantime. Nor do I think you can count on Roberts and Scalia and Alito to do the right thing. So we are now one precedent and one president away from having high school teachers fired for commenting in favor of evolution.

For the purposes of K-12 education science has been defined and ID and YEC have been defined as religion for the purposes of determining separation of church and state. However, again, if you read Kitzmiller you will see that the judge used the reasonable person standard to determine whether or not one can tell if the state is establishing religion.

What I am saying is that in a discussion in a science classroom numerous issues may or may not arise. What is Science? Is there a connection of Science to philosophy? Is Science just a dry memorization of facts? Some of these issues may come during discussion of the history of science. Some of these issues may come up elsewhere. It may be the case that a student looking for answers to challenges from his or her evangelical friends to his or her support of evolution seeks answers from his or her science teacher. I think a science teacher should feel free to offer those answers.

In the context of answering such student questions I do not believe one can establish that only one particular point of view can be expressed (well, actually, one can and one has as is evident in Mayer). But I don’t think one can consistently say that you can have multiple opinions in other classrooms but only one **opinion** offered in a science classroom.

What people are advocating is in effect “viewpoint discrimination”.

So, in one sense I do agree with what many people appear to be arguing for here. What you are arguing for is difficult to tell so I won’t even try to characterize your position.

The only way to insure that ID and YEC opinions are never expressed by a teacher in the K-12 environment is to adhere strictly to Mayer. If people want to celebrate Mayer because that insures that YEC and ID will never be mentioned favorably by a K-12 teacher, feel free.

I won’t celebrate that ruling no matter how strongly I believe YEC and ID are not creation science.

I’d prefer students to be able to hear political expression in a high school civics class for goodness sake. If in order to protect good speech I have to protect bad speech, so be it.

If others want to ban speech (and that is the practical implication of Mayer) on all curricular matters save for adhering to every jot and tittle channeled by the school board into the teacher’s brain, then advocate that.

All I ask is that people not hide behind hand wringing and conscious distortions and misrepresentations of my point of view.

If there is a specific, focused question you want me to answer, just ask it.

Comment #163004

Posted by Lynn Goodman on February 26, 2007 10:29 PM (e)

In response to comment # 161574, by “Harold”:

“And in fact, although you may fantasize about teaching YEC or ID to naive high school kids, I can turn you against your own scenario. Simply imagine, if you can, that after “presenting the standard K12 material”, the teacher begins preaching Hindu creationism, or Mormon creationism, as his version of science. It would be the exact same thing. Do you support that freedom of speech for teachers, on your tax dollar?”

I know Chip Poirot quite well, and you are completely missing the point of what he is trying to say. He is well-read in both Science and religion (and does not limit himself to just one; he could quote to you from the Dine Creation myth just as easily as he could from the Judeo-Christian Creation myth. And he, too, would tell you that they are both myths, have the same validity in terms of their claims to “truth”, and certainly does NOT fantasize about teaching YEC in any forum, let alone the classroom.)

When he says that once a teacher has covered the material in the curriculum, the teacher then has a right to express his or her own views on the subject, he does NOT mean that

“If the teacher perfunctorily and unenthusiastically rushes through the actual science lesson, then they should be allowed the “freedom of expression” to follow it up by preaching ID or creationism that directly contradicts the actual lesson. Just the old stale “equal time” argument that right wing creationists have been using unsuccessfully for decades.”

He would more likely say that following a thorough and well-informed session on evolution, the teacher has the right simply to say that he/she does not personally subscribe to this theory. And yes, he does understand that within science, evolution as a whole is largely considered to be a closed subject. He also understands that within the scientific community, there is still some debate about the mechanisms by which evolution occurs.

Chip is, as I said very well-read on science and on evolution in particular. He even took the time to audit a class specifically on evolution, attended regularly, did more than the required reading, and when he raised points, they were well-considered and valid. I know this because I was in the same class (I am finishing up my degree in biology.)We have had many interesting discussions about evolution and about science as a whole.

I repeat: Chip is not a believer in YEC. He considers it not “junk science” but completely beyond the realm of science. Just as he considers the never-ending belief that the Earth is, in fact, flat.

Comment #163007

Posted by Lynn Goodman on February 26, 2007 10:48 PM (e)

Sir Toejam:

“we frown on holocaust denial as “historical point of view” in a similar way to “creationism” as being any part of science. Is it worthwhile to discuss holocaust denial in a class on history? No, it’s a complete waste of time. However, you know that kids occasionally will bring it up in a history class, because their parents/pastor/friends told them there was no holocaust.”

Yes, it is worthwhile to cover this in a history class, because at some point in their lives, kids are going to encounter Holocaust denial, and I think perhaps it is important to let them know that this viewpoint is out there, that some people advocate it, and that these people are precisely the reason that we do fail to learn the lessons offered by history. again. And again. And yet again.

Simply ignoring Holocaust denial will not make it go away, and educating our children about this viewpoint and encouraging them to think about it may do some good. Failing to educate them about Holocaust denial will only result in their inability to form a good counter-argument. So when their peer want to indoctrinate them into a viewpoint that denies that the Holocaust ever happened, what happens to the kid?

Without having previously been exposed to this viewpoint and the great potential for harm that it brings with it, the kid is more likely to just “go along with the gang” - and we have another convert to Holocaust denial. Get enough of them, and history might just repeat itself. Maybe if it is taught in school, more of our kids will understand what an absolutely ludicrous and harmful idea it really is.

Comment #163010

Posted by Lynn Goodman on February 26, 2007 10:59 PM (e)

Sir Toe jam:

Are you unable to write and to respond to material that you disagree with without resorting to second-grade-level name calling? It strikes me as both offensive and quite beside the point.

But if you must…one more neuron and you just might have a synapse.

By the way, what is your definition of academic freedom? Do you have one?

Comment #163027

Posted by Sir_Toejam on February 26, 2007 11:27 PM (e)

Yes, it is worthwhile to cover this in a history class, because at some point in their lives, kids are going to encounter Holocaust denial, and I think perhaps it is important to let them know that this viewpoint is out there, that some people advocate it, and that these people are precisely the reason that we do fail to learn the lessons offered by history. again. And again. And yet again.

have you ever had a student tell everyone in your class that the holocaust was fiction?

have you then spent the rest of the class trying to convince him that it wasn’t?

what if the shoe is on the other foot?

what if it is the teacher that says the holocaust was fiction, and the student challenges that?

neither deals with history as history, so it’s a waste of actual CLASSTIME to debate it.
get it? Nowhere did I EVER say that addressing the issue of creationism WASN’T worth addressing, I explicitly stated it doesn’t belong in a science class, and should be addressed OUTSIDE of the classroom setting.

hence, you, just like your evident compatriot, apparently enjoy making strawmen of what other people are saying, then accusing them of doing that very thing to you!

as to my vehemence at chippy, perhaps you missed the MANY times he made strawmen of not just my arguments, but everybody who posted in this thread. when called on it in reasonable fashion, he ignored it and proceeded to make the situation even worse.

when his strawmen arugments became so blatant as to be laughable, he finally tried to apologize, but why on earth should one take such an apology at face value given the egregious nature of his approach to argument to begin with?

which, I might add, he proceed with AGAIN, after I gave up on him and FHS proceeded.

If the construction of strawmen is what constitutes reasoned arguement in the part of the woods you and chippy hail from, I see no reason to pull my punches, and haven’t the slightest care that you view it as “rude”.

Comment #163028

Posted by Sir_Toejam on February 26, 2007 11:33 PM (e)

By the way, what is your definition of academic freedom? Do you have one?

if you had a complete set of neurons yourself, and weren’t just projecting, you might actually have been able to pull it out of several posts where i essentially defined academic freedom as being limited by:

relevance, accuracy, and integrity.

and pointed out numerous times how and why creationsim does not fit as worthy of discussion as a subject in a science classroom.

hence, why I said this was never about ACADEMIC freedom, and is NOT an issue of free speech.

also why I made note of the fact that the judges did not need to rewrite the constitution in order to make the conclusions they did in this case.

so my conclusion for you is that you have rather poor reading comprehension skills, and should curtail your career as a concern troll before you dig yourself any deepeer.

Comment #163066

Posted by FHS on February 27, 2007 2:06 AM (e)

Now you’re just being obtuse Chip.

These are my points:

1) Are there significant “Age appropriate” limitations between the various K-12 grades and the university level to consider for academic freedom or not?

2) Even if you have complete 1st amendment rights by any measurement, do you think it’s “appropriate”, or not, for instructors to exercise the full extent of those 1st ammendment rights irrespective of their level of instruction, or not?

3) Who has the responsibility to determine what is “appropriate” in a classroom and does anybody have the right to challenge the appropriateness?

I didn’t ask you to restate yours. I can read and comprehend at a sufficent level I think.

Is this the best you could do for a response to mine?

You: “Of course age appropriate has to be applied to some degree on a case by case basis. I never said otherwise. What I said was that there should be a balancing act and that the ideal should be as age increases to approach the openness of expression of a University. How can we tell age appropriate expression? Well, one way is to listen to the music they listen to, the books they read, the movies they watch, the things they are exposed to.”

What? To some degree? Case by case? Huh? What exactly is this balancing act you speak of and what exactly is it we are supposed to be balancing?

Translation: You don’t have the first clue what age appropriate means “in practice” in the K-12 classrom, just like I figured.

I have a better idea than “listen to the music they listen to, the books they read, the movies they watch, the things they are exposed to” which, btw, is pretty damn entertaining to actually do I’ll tell yah. Sometimes I don’t have a choice with 20 Ipods blaring in class.

Why don’t you listen to just one person who actually has the classroom experience dealing with the students? I conceded every point regarding what you “know” about university teaching and even conceded that there, in theory, quite possibly, may be, a way you could talk about religeon in a science classroom if you interpret the 1st amendment the way you do if I had your considerable knowlegde on the subject. I will not concede that you can even presume to even have advice, in passing, for me or anybody teaching K-12 regarding what is “appropriate” in our classrooms, based on anything you’ve said in this thread.

You: “We are talking about a high school teacher teaching civics. I think that a discussion of anti-war opinions in high school is age appropriate. Is that clear enough for you?”

Ok help me out here Chip. I was referring to the Mayer v. Monroe County Community Sch. Corp. in the ORIGINAL POST WAY AT THE TOP. Maybe that Grey Goose and tonic I had the night I wrote regarding the Mayer case affected me. I’m willing to concede that. But, when I read the ORIGINAL POST WAY AT THE TOP regarding the Mayer case, this is what I was referring to:

“In the Mayer case, elementary school teacher Deborah Mayer alleged that she was fired after telling her students that she had honked when passing some demonstrators holding signs saying “Honk for Peace.”’

Now, in California, elementary school means 1st through 5th grade, sometimes 6th grade, and is taught by a teacher holding in multi-subject general ed credential. There’s no such thing as a Civics class. High school is 9th through 12th and is taught by teachers holding single subject credential in subjects such as Civics, and Biology like me. I read that Deborah Mayer was an elementary school teacher which I assumed to mean 1st through 5th (sometimes 6th) grade, and not a high school (9th through 12th) teacher.

I actually did try to click on the hotlink to go to the case and get more info before posting something that makes me look like a asshat (got that one from listening to my students btw), but it was a dead link. Seriously, did I miss something? I apologize if I did.

Beyond that, I really wasn’t interested in a lecture and your rehashing of all your opinions. To be fair, I did learn something from the discussion and i do think you carried the 1st amendment baton as far as you could. When it comes to actual K-12 issues, I think it’s time to hand it off to someone who could carry it with a bit more authority. Not saying it’s me, but for fuck sake, anybody (My students cuss a bit sometimes, sorry. Bad influence).

To express my 1st amendment rights like a good boy…It is my considered opinion, as an experienced K-12 teacher, that your opinion as a university professor, regarding what is or is not appropriate speech in a K-12 classroom, sucks donkey nads (Got that one from listening to my students too).

Comment #163082

Posted by Chip Poirot on February 27, 2007 6:54 AM (e)

FHS,

When you put it like that this is simple:

But I’ll concede one mistake. You are correct: the case is about elementary school and not high school. Even so, I don’t see how why a single comment about honking for peace puts 5th graders in danger and even at that level I see value in the speech. Had the teacher told the students: let’s spend the day making anti-war protestors and told them all to write letters to their congressmen opposing the war, she would have been out of bounds.There may or may not be other reasons she was fired. Who knows. But what I am arguing against is and specifically concerned about are the implications of the precedent (see my multiple posts above). Not one person (including you) has challenged me on the implications of the precedent or on my understanding of the law. Instead, there have been multiple personal insults and outright distortions of my views. I have pointed out to people that this very same precedent could be used to stifle pro-evolutionary speech.

Furthermore, I have also said that I believe this precedent will very soon be applied to the University level. My argument is against the precedent. Again, not one person has engaged me on the legal matter.

In answer to your questions/points:

1)I did not say that there should be no age appropriate limitations at the K-12 level. I said, that within the context of age appropriate material K-12 schools should make every effort to **approach** the University ideal of free speech. Obviously, there is much less protection at the 1st grade level than for high school seniors.

I’ve given several examples of what I consider to be protected speech and my comments were directed primarily at the high school level.

I find your demand that I provide an exhaustive list of what is age appropriate/inappropriate for each age level to be absurd and irrelevant to what I have advocated.

What I have said was is that teachers should have a constitutionally protected right to express opinions on curricular matters. I think this addresses the age appropriate issue. If teachers have some discretion on what materials they introduce in their classrooms I see nothing wrong with having a school policy that vets potentially controversial materials first.

I will give you an example (Unfortunately I can’t find the case right now).

In one recent precedent a high school teacher was fired for having students perform a controversial play. The teacher had first obtained the principal’s permission to have the play performed. When the play was performed, the principal took heat and disciplined the teacher. The teacher took the case to Federal Court and argued that she had been disciplined due to her controversial speech that had been within the limits of school policy. The court argue that she had been fired due to a disagreement over a curricular matter and that therefore she had no First Amendment rights.

Since the teacher followed school policy and the play had been approved, I think she was well within her rights and her speech (and her class’s speech) should have been protected.

I think my examples above respond to all your points, but I’ll proceed.

2)Teachers at any level need to balance academic freedom with academic responsibility. As I have stated again and again and again, and as Lynn Goodman pointed out I believe that teachers should give a thorough and rigorous coverage to the curriculum in any subject.

Teachers at any level are routinely evaluated for their teaching effectiveness and if a teacher is not effective then they should either be given ways to improve and work towards that, or they should find another job. My own department recently dealt with such a case. We had a new hire who held some very radical opinions and who was devoutly devoted to a complete learner centered style of teaching. We had no problem with either in principle. We had a problem with the fact that she could not pull it off and failed to even follow the contract with respect to hear teaching evaluations. If she had followed the contract, had decent teaching evaluations he opinions and teaching style would have been of absolutely no consequence to us. In fact, we had hired her because she held opinions that differed from our opinions.

I think the same principle applies at K-12. Evaluate teachers by their effectiveness. Allow them to express opinions on the curriculum. Hire and fire based on teaching performance. I think that covers the issue. The trend it seems to me is to limit teacher’s freedom to teach, to focus on pedagogical technique rather than letting people who are well grounded in relevant content have the freedom to teach. Personally, I believe teachers at the K-12 level need more freedom to teach and less monitoring.

3)School districts set the curriculum and policy and in some states, state boards as well. Teachers at any level need to follow that curriculum. As I stated, I follow curricular guidelines on a daily basis I personally disagree with. That does not mean I cannot voice disagreement with the curriculum, indicate to students that there are other approaches to economics and in a few places introduce students to the controversies. My syllabus and courses still meet the Ohio Transfer Articulation Guidelines for my subject (IMO, though I participated in drawing up the TAGS I think they have been mostly a waste of time).

If teachers do not like the established guidelines they should go through proper channels: school committees, public board meetings, their union, and even the courts. I could envision a case where a teacher or a teacher’s union brings suit against a school district because its policies are over restrictive.

If courts grant teachers First Amendment rights then courts will be the final arbiter of what is/is not protected speech. I suspect that part of the reasoning behind the court’s decision is that they don’t want to be inundated with hearing suits in every district. But this is a red herring IMO. In the past, courts were not swamped with 1st amendment cases so there is no reason the *previous* standard should not hold.

So to repeat:
1) My first and primary concern is about the implication of this standard;
2) My goal is to protect speech that is controversial but clearly within well understood limits of specific disciplines;
3) Sometimes in order to protect good speech it is necessary to protect bad speech;
4) This precedent is a dagger aimed at higher ed.

Comment #163159

Posted by FHS on February 27, 2007 4:07 PM (e)

“When you put it like that this is simple:”

Put it like what Chip? Cutting and pasting the points from the previous post and putting numbers next to them? But, sure, no problem.

“I find your demand that I provide an exhaustive list of what is age appropriate/inappropriate for each age level to be absurd and irrelevant to what I have advocated.”

I never asked you to provide an exhaustive list of anything. A simple yes or no would have sufficed, although I had hoped you would engage in a “good faith” discussion rather than lecturing to me again. The thing about it for me is that you can ask any K-12 student or teacher that same question and all they’ll have to do is show you the Teacher/Student expectations that we discuss on the first day of school. Again, the practical application of this “statement” is part of our job description. I personally have no problem with wearing an age appropriate filter.

I’m not surprised you have issues with even hypothesizing any kind of list of anything regarding age appropriate limitation here. Frankly, my “belief” is that it’s part of your job description as well. You’ve simply expressed nothing but distate about having to deal with it in your zeal for “academic freedom”. That’s for you to worry about. But the tragic (yes, one of your overstatements) implications of what you would like to see is just more crappy, ineffective, teaching.

“I’ve given several examples of what I consider to be protected speech and my comments were directed primarily at the high school level.”

So? I can give you thousands of examples of “actual” protected speech from every high school Biology lesson I’ve ever taught Chip. Both are just anectdotal references that to “age appropriateness” beyond what you’ve tried to lecture to me about regarding my own responsibilities.

“What I have said was is that teachers should have a constitutionally protected right to express opinions on curricular matters. I think this addresses the age appropriate issue.”

Um, no. Maybe at an academic discussion level it does, but at a “practical” level (which is what I have been emphasizing, and which as a K-12 teacher affects me the most) it speaks to nothing about how this sentiment can and should be applied in a K-12 classroom. Nothing whatsoever. It’s where discussion begins, not where it ends.

Come on Chip. Admit it. You can’t speak to, in your terms, the implications of “age appropriateness” regarding 1st ammendment rights in a K-12 classroom with any more authority than anybody else with half a brain off the street.

“But what I am arguing against is and specifically concerned about are the implications of the precedent (see my multiple posts above). Not one person (including you) has challenged me on the implications of the precedent or on my understanding of the law.”

Give me two inches of a break Chip. I told you, I conceded EVERYTHING, anything you want to say regarding the University level on implications, your understanding of law, whatever. I can’t speak for anybody else here, so don’t drag everybody else into our catfight. Hell, even when I try to extend you common courtesy, you can’t see past your own personal viewpoints.

I think I’ll just take back those concessions now, just on GP alone.

All I’ve done in every post one of my post is address your points about the implications for K-12. I have plenty of other snarky comments about fallacious leaps in logic, and outright hypocrisy, to express but whatever.

To summarize:

1) I don’t agree with your idea of “right of religious expression” in a K-12 classroom and the implications of Mayer to that issue.

2) I don’t think you know jack about what the practical implications are of anything regarding K-12 education.

You can have the rest. Specifically to you Chip, but with all due respect to any university personnel, good luck but keep your implications out of my classroom.

Comment #163185

Posted by Chip Poirot on February 27, 2007 6:17 PM (e)

FHS,

I’ll take your summaries and attempt to address them

“1) I don’t agree with your idea of “right of religious expression” in a K-12 classroom and the implications of Mayer to that issue. .

I don’t think you have even made the effort to understand my position enough to have an agreement or disagreement.

The implication of Mayer is that a K-12 teacher has no Constitutional right to express any opinion whatsoever on a curricular matter or on any matter related to school district policy at all . Period, end of story.

If you think my logic on this is faulty, then please show me how my conclusion does not follow from the Court’s argument.

I am not sure whether or not Mayer has any specific implication for religious speech per se in the classroom. To the extent it covers religious speech it covers it under the general rubric of speech.

To repeat a point you and many others have failed to even address: One implication of Mayer is as follows-

In Kitzmiller one of the issues was the refusal of teachers to read the statement approved by the school board. An implication of Mayer is that the schoolboard had the right to fire them for refusing to read the district approved statement. Not only am I not advocating that, I find that implication to be chilling and I am using it as an example of what is wrong with Mayer.

If you think my logic is faulty the correct my basic syllogism below:

Premises of the Court expressed in Mayer:
1. A teacher has no First Amendment right to express an opinion on a curricular matter;
2. Teachers must adhere to the approach adopted by the school district and principal;

Actual state of affairs:
3. The school district and/or principal mandate that the teacher read a statement before every science lesson;

Conclusion.
4. The teacher has no Constitutionally protected right to refuse to read that statement and may be fired for refusing to do so.

Please show me where my logic above is faulty. You and others may wish to argue that the Dover District’s actions were unconstitutional. That is now true as a matter of law (at least in that particular Federal District). But that does not matter because under Mayer it is not the right of the teacher to act on a frolic of his or her own and declare what is constitutional or unconstitutional. The teacher must adhere to the approach established by the district and principal. Thus the teacher must read the statement until he or she is informed by the District to stop. And even if the District orders the teacher to continue in violation of the court, an implication of Ceballos is that the teacher has no right as a public employee to refuse to go along with potentially unconstitutional practices by a government agency.

If you think I endorse this state of affairs then you are woefully mistaken.

2) I don’t think you know jack about what the practical implications are of anything regarding K-12 education.

What practical implications do you want me to address? I gave you specific examples. You say that this is where discussion should begin. I actually agree with that.

That is why I said that school districts should set general policies for what they consider to be age appropriate materials. They should set general guidelines for teachers to introduce potentially controversial materials. Teachers should follow these guidelines. If they follow these guidelines, they should have the right as public school employees to speak on matters of curricular concern. If they dislike the guidelines they should seek to change the guidelines through appealing to the appropriate venue, through their Union, or ultimately, through the courts. The courts should seek a balance between the open exchange of ideas and the need to insure the curriculum is taught.

I gave as an example the fairly recent case of a North Carolina teacher who followed school district policy in presenting a controversial play. She was fired when the principal got heat because some in the community found the content of the ideas expressed in that play to be offensive. Again, to emphasize the point-she had followed approved school district policy and had permission to perform the play. She was then fired for the ideas expressed in the play. The court ruled that since overseeing the play was part of her duties, she had no right to express ideas through the medium of a play.

Now do you or do you not agree with this case? Do you or do you not think a teacher should be fired for stating she honked for peace in a civics lesson?

You can have the rest.

What rest? I don’t see any evidence that you have made the slightest attempt to deal with the Constitutional implications of this case. While you keep going on about the practical implications, all I have heard from you is bland statements about following statements of student-teacher expectations.

Specifically to you Chip, but with all due respect to any university personnel, good luck but keep your implications out of my classroom.

I don’t even know what you are trying to say in this statement. It is not **my** implications that are being put into your classroom. That is the point that you cannot see. The implication of Mayer is that any example of protected speech you can show me in a high school biology class is irrelevant in a Constitutional sense. So I am not imposing any implications on your classroom.

You may be able to show me speech that as a matter of district policy or a negotiated Union contract is protected but you can show me **no speech that is Constitutionally protected in your capacity as a public school employee if Mayer holds.

Comment #163336

Posted by FHS on March 1, 2007 12:28 AM (e)

The implication of Mayer is that a K-12 teacher has no Constitutional right to express any opinion whatsoever on a curricular matter or on any matter related to school district policy at all . Period, end of story.

Mayar applies only to opinions expressed in a classroom while on duty. Show me where it applies to anything whatsoever said outside the classroom at any other time.

Premises of the Court expressed in Mayer: Again, only in the classroom. It basically says, administrators and the district are my boss. I must teach state mandated curricula. Been doing that for five years, and yes, my principal is the boss of me.

Actual state of affairs: A bit of a stretch unless you can show me where I or any science teacher is actually mandated to read a statement before delivering content. This is a hypothetical state of affairs.

Conclusion. So? I don’t care if my boss wants me to read a statement before delivering content as long as it’s not unconstitutional or otherwise so full of crap as to misrepresent the science. As Kitzmiller shows, I have avenues to pursue if the district tries to shove worthless, irrelevent, potentially unconstitutional tripe down my throat. When and if this logical conclusion actually comes to fruition in my classroom, you can tell me you told me so.

Now do you or do you not agree with this case? Agree with what? I agree wholeheartedly with the court that the teacher is responsible for the content of any lesson. I don’t know what to conclude for your account though.

That is why I said that school districts should set general policies for what they consider to be age appropriate materials. They should set general guidelines for teachers to introduce potentially controversial materials. Agreed. Are you implying that the guidelines were not properly assesed by the principal? Maybe she edited speech after the approval was given. Supposition, of course, but we don’t know, and regardless, the teacher is responsible.

Teachers should follow these guidelines. Who determines if a teacher has or hasn’t? What happens if they don’t. Teachers have due process, as determined by the status of their union contract. A teacher with any kind of permanant status cannot simple be fired for anything. It certainly isn’t a case of a) fired b) sue. She had her day in court and lost, sorry. Unless you are implying that stepping on her 1st amendment rights negates her right to due process, I don’t see the problem.

If they follow these guidelines, they should have the right as public school employees to speak on matters of curricular concern. We have all kinds of rights to speak on matters of curricular concern, just not in the classroom while we are supposed to be teaching. Unless you can show me a positive correlation between talking about curricular issues to your kids, beyond “this material is going to be difficult, be ready” and effective teaching, I dont see the point. I’m not interested in more court cases or hypothetical examples. I want to see data that shows whining about work to your students in class increases your effectiveness as a K-12 teacher before I see one crappy teacher made more crappy by giving him/him her a platform for expousing all kinds of nonsense in a K-12 class.

Do you or do you not think a teacher should be fired for stating she honked for peace in a civics lesson? In this hypothetical example, of course not. It would be absurd. If you are referring specifically to Mayer see my above response. In that specific case, there’s no reason to beleive she wasn’t given due process according to her contract before given her day in court. Again, are you implying that by stepping on her 1st amendment rights, somehow her due process was denied?

I don’t see any evidence that you have made the slightest attempt to deal with the Constitutional implications of this case. I’ve spent previous posts trying to find out what it is you mean, in practice, by age appropriate limitations to the 1st amendment in the K-12 classroom. This speaks directly to my concern which is the practical application of what YOU and Mayeri) are implying about my 1st amendment rights in my own damn classroom versus your university or Mayer’s elementary classroom. I challenged you directly to find the age appropriate limitation to your 1st amendment rights of one of YOUR own lessons in various K-12 classes. You didn’t even acknowledge it in passing.

While you keep going on about the practical implications, all I have heard from you is bland statements about following statements of student-teacher expectations. One more time, I’m concerned about what Mayer means to the minute by minute interaction between me and my students, not about some implied statement I might have to read or some vague controversy stirring discussion i might have. Student-teacher expectations are real a set of guidelines for age appropriate limitations to speech, and all sorts of other issues, that K-12 teachers actually have to have in hand at all times.

Done.

Comment #163378

Posted by Chip Poirot on March 1, 2007 6:15 AM (e)

Once again, you seem to be completely incapable of understanding that I am critiquing Mayer. Can you see that point?

Actual state of affairs: Dover v. Kitzmiller. The teacherw were required by the district to read a statement that has now been ruled unconnstitutional by the District. As i have summarized this part of Kitzmiller several times and a perfunctory search on Talk Origins can lead one to the decision and trial record of Kitzmiller, I can only conclude that you didn’t bother to read my summary of Kitzmiller, couldn’t comprehend it and are to freaking lazy to actually search for and read the case.

What you refuse to see is that Mayer would allow the principal to fire the teachers for refusing to read that statement, which was unconstitutional. The fact that it was unconstitutional is irrelevant. That is not for teachers to decide under Mayer.

Since this was an actual, recent court case and we have surely not seen the last of mandated statements, this is clearly an “actual state of affairs.”

Sadly, Mayer will apply outside the classroom. I said very clearly that the problem with Mayer is that it removed all First Amendment protections for speech inside the classroom on curricular matters. You seem to be OK with this. You seem to be saying that teachers should have no right to express an opinion on the curriculum at all. but what Mayer also does is broaden the meaning of “work related” speech. Under Mayer, your comments at a school board meeting on proposed curricular changes could be considered “work related” speech and you could be fired for it.

And actually, your right to comment on the curriculum or any other matter of school district policy outside the classroom even in your capacity (or especially in your capacity) as a school teacher is virtually nil. You have only limited rights to comment as a private citizen. That is the actual state of affairs.

You state:
We have all kinds of rights to speak on matters of curricular concern, just not in the classroom while we are supposed to be teaching. Unless you can show me a positive correlation between talking about curricular issues to your kids, beyond “this material is going to be difficult, be ready” and effective teaching, I dont see the point. I’m not interested in more court cases or hypothetical examples. I want to see data that shows whining about work to your students in class increases your effectiveness as a K-12 teacher before I see one crappy teacher made more crappy by giving him/him her a platform for expousing all kinds of nonsense in a K-12 class.

I think it is appalling you consider trying to engage in discussion in a classroom to be “whining”. You objected earlier to my paraphrasing of Dewey where he says too much time is spent on rote memorization and not enough time on critical thinking.

Lets look at the lesson that was sent to the students in Mayer. During a civics discussion, apparently about participation in politics, the teacher indicated to the class how she had recently participated in politics by expressing a political opinion. For her political opinion, that was expressed in a way that was clearly on topic and germane to the curriculum, she was fired. So the civics lesson for today is: speech that the principal doesn’t like about civics gets you fired.

I’ve given other examples of where I think speech should be protected such as a teacher voicing an opinion about interpreting the history of the Vietnam War or voicing an opinion about how the Cold War was conducted.

You steadfastly refuse to deal with the legal/constitutional issues. While you may not care about these issues, the original post was on these issues.

What you fail to understand is that while you may have due process many teachers do not have due process. It may be the case that due to the way your contract is written you may have some freedom to discuss controversial issues. If so, all to the better.

But again, the original post for this thread was on the Consitutional issues and Constitutional implications.

Or have they stopped teaching that at your school? Apparently you were absent in American Government on the days they were discussing Constitutional Law because you are clearly incapable of confronting and dealing with legal arguments.

Comment #163405

Posted by chip poirot on March 1, 2007 12:58 PM (e)

A couple of additional points:

I want to see data that shows whining about work to your students in class increases your effectiveness as a K-12 teacher before I see one crappy teacher made more crappy by giving him/him her a platform for expousing all kinds of nonsense in a K-12 class.

What the data shows is subject to dispute. It is generally accepted that students learn better, more broadly and more deeply when they are somehow actively involved in and engaged in the learning process. There is much debate about how best to stimulate active learning and critical thinking. There is also a problem about at what stage students are truly ready for critical thinking and whether or not they need to progress through myriad levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. Personally, I would argue that if one applies Bloom’s taxonomy judiciously and carefully it can be a useful guide to determining the specific skills, knowledges and abilities one is trying to elicit from students at different levels. I still think that critical thinking as defined by www.criticalthinking.org is the best ideal approach to learning to aim for (I realize as a practical matter that basic skills often need to be taught first and that a lot of this will entail drill and repetition).

Still, in that context “whining” about anything adds nothing to the learning process. Engaging a class in discussion about current issues, disputes within the subject and debates in society at large can stimulate student learning and interest and thus lead to improved outcomes. This can take place through specific classroom activities (small group discussion), class discussion led by the teacher, formal debates between groups of students. In order to be effective at this kind of discussion a teacher does need to be able to express an opinion. I think discussing with students the goals of the curriculum and why the curriculum is set up as it is can contribute to student understanding. In an ideal world, students would set their own goals and all student learning would be self directed with but minimal prompts from teachers. I think we all realize that in the real world this ain’t gonna cut it-but as much as we can and whenever we can realistically help to create student goal setting and active involvement in the setting of the goals and buy in to the curriculum, I think it will help learning. That’s a lot better than saying this is the state mandated curriculum and going on a forced march to cover a curriculum geared to passing a standardized test.

Are you implying that the guidelines were not properly assesed by the principal? Maybe she edited speech after the approval was given. Supposition, of course, but we don’t know, and regardless, the teacher is responsible.

I realize you can’t be bothered to deal with actual precedents and constitutional law, but again, I specifically discussed this in relation to another case. And that is exactly what happened in a North Carolina case: a teacher followed the district’s policies and was then fired for the content of the ideas expressed in the case. The court held that putting on a play is part of the school’s curriculum and that she had no right to express ideas on curricular matters. Therefore, she had no First Amendment right to express the content of the ideas expressed in the play in her capacity as a teacher.

Teachers have due process, as determined by the status of their union contract. A teacher with any kind of permanant status cannot simple be fired for anything. It certainly isn’t a case of a) fired b) sue. She had her day in court and lost, sorry. Unless you are implying that stepping on her 1st amendment rights negates her right to due process, I don’t see the problem.

As I said above, not all teachers have due process rights. From your description of your district you are either in a unionized district or in a district where you have specific due process safeguards built in. The reason you have these safeguards built in (aside from your union) is because the courts have recognized that public employees have due process rights as employees (to a limited degree). However, what you fail to understand (due I presume to your having been absent the day Con Law was discussed in American Government)is that generally speaking, employees do not have due process rights as employees. What Mayer and Ceballos both exemplify is a growing tendency by Republican appointed federal judges to weaken both due process rights and First Amendment rights of public employees in order to uphold the right of government as employer to hire and fire at will. So unless your contract, district policies or state law specifically grant you tenure, you have no due process rights in your capacity as a public employee.

Furthermore, while due process and free speech are intertwined to some degree they can be logically separated. One could recieve a full and fair impartial hearing as to whether or not one made the statement and then be fired for making the statement. So yes, under some circumstances getting due process will not necessarily satisfy the First Amendment interest.

Example: a college professor lecturing on evolutionary psychology is accused of stating in class that he believes rape is a biological instinct. A female student complains that this constitutes sexual harassment. The University disciplinary committee investigates and in so doing adheres to the letter of procedures scrupulously but finds he indeed did make the statement and then disciplines him for the statement. His due process rights have been protected but his First Amendment rights have been violated.

It is possible therefore that Mayer was in a district where there was no tenure or had no tenure. IT is also possible that her due process rights were upheld. If the link worked I could find out. My guess is her due process rights were weak to non-existent to begin with.I will almost guarantee you she is not in a unionized school district.

It’s all well and good to rely on your union to protect you. that only works when you have one and when your state or district actually allows you to engage in collective bargaining.

Comment #163436

Posted by Sir_Toejam on March 1, 2007 4:04 PM (e)

for once, Chip actually says something correct and on point.

the link to the case has changed since the original post was created, you can find the opinion and arguments here now:

http://www.ca7.uscourts.gov/fdocs/docs.fwx?caseno=06-1993&submit=showdkt&yr=06&num=

have fun, Chip.

Comment #163476

Posted by Chip Poirot on March 1, 2007 6:18 PM (e)

Well,

Thanks for the link and it supports what I have been saying. This court has rejected any effort at balancing. That had been the standard in Pickering and other cases which the court has now overturned.

Furthermore, the court is saying explicitly that teachers do not have the right to express an opinion, even one that is clearly germane to the subject matter in the classroom.

If pro-science forces celebrate Mayer because it now precludes creationists from introducing their opinions into a science class, they do so at the expense of what had been the right of K-12 teachers to voice an opinion on contentious issues.

What a wonderful civics lesson the students have been taught.

Comment #163504

Posted by FHS on March 1, 2007 8:56 PM (e)

Thanks for the link Sir_Toejam,

Couple of things Chip, if we can bury the hatchet.

First, the fact that she was probationary answers a lot of my questions to you regarding the Mayer case. Probationary K-12 teachers, basically, have no due process rights granted to them by their contract. They can, and have, been fired for much less. The administration doesn’t even have to state a reason for firing a probationary teacher. Her only recourse, probably, was to sue for her job back.

My permanent status affords me the full extent of due process, which is substantial, according to my union negotiated contract. Whether you believe me or not, it is my considered opinion that my administration probably would not have even tried to fire me, an experienced permanent teacher, with the union backing I have, had it been me and my administration in the same situation. In fairness to you, I can clearly see how it could affect me, and the due process accorded to me, after reading the case.

Be fair to me regarding just one point please:

I think it is appalling you consider trying to engage in discussion in a classroom to be “whining”. You objected earlier to my paraphrasing of Dewey where he says too much time is spent on rote memorization and not enough time on critical thinking.

When I said, I want to see data that shows whining about work to your students in class increases your effectiveness as a K-12 teacher before I see one crappy teacher made more crappy by giving him/him her a platform for expousing all kinds of nonsense in a K-12 class. I was literally referring to whining in the class, which I feel like you think should be protected by the first amendment, even if we agree it’s “bad speech”. I don’t disagree with you or Dewey regarding memorization versus critical thinking. I simply disagree that extending first amendment rights into the K-12 classroom will necessarily increase the ability to teach critical thinking. We will probably always disagree on that point Chip. I don’t see a need to argue about it. Agreed?

Finally, I will agree with every point you want to make about the implications of Mayer to my classroom duties. I would ask you to explain, though, how exactly you think they extend to discussion of curricular matters outside my duty as a classroom teacher. Not to be snippity, but seriously, I do actually whine about all kinds of work issues, including curricular mattters, to fellow teachers in many other situations, like District approved Union meetings on campus, department meetings, or during Friday Night Happy hour. I read the decision. You think i can seriously be fired for doing any of that according to Mayer?

Comment #163505

Posted by Chip Poirot on March 1, 2007 9:41 PM (e)

FHS,

Yes, I think we agree and I can see where there was a misunderstanding.

I never discuss University policy or department matters in class. If I discuss state standards wrt curriculum at all it is briefly and as a way of explaining to students why they need to learn the topics i cover. So I agree, whining or cmplaining, or even engaging in reasoned discourse about school policies or curricular policies is almost always inappropriate in the classroom.

When I said teachers should have the right to comment on curricular matters I meant they should have the right while teaching the curriculum to comment on issues that are relevant to the curriculum. In this case, as best I can judge, Mayer was teaching the established curriculum and simply answered student questions. That is the kind of speech I think should be protected.

Mayer may or may not have been fired for First Amendment reasons (the school board argues she was not) but the court decided to address the First Amendment issue and to address it in the most narrow way. You should listen to the oral arguments because during oral arguments one of the judges clearly stated that he did not believe that even University professors should have the right to express opinions in class. He stated that even if Yale were a public University it would have the right to require its entire law faculty to teach legal realism. This is the kind of hostility to 1st amendment expression in the classroom we are facing.

This is not a ruling pro-science forces should face no matter how much one of the judges tried to turn this into a creationist case and even miscited Kitzmiller to make his point. In addition, he made an analogy that did not even hold in this case.

In response to your questions about what rights you have to comment on district policy, your school principal, etc. outside of your classroom: as far as your 1st amendment rights to do so you have very, very few. Any speech that is anti-employer can generally be viewed as disruptive and therefore sanctioned. The reason you can freely complain to your fellow employees is because you are protected by your union. Your right to join a union is probably protected by your state’s public employee collective bargaining law or some similar statute. So you cannot be sanctioned for participating in union affairs or commenting on the contract. It may also be the case that your school or district chooses to allow employees to comment but that does not mean that you have a Constitutionally protected right to do so. As a practical matter no employer is likely to sanction employees for what they say in a bar. As a legal matter, they probably have the right to do so.

This has been the case since long before Mayer. One relevant case in this instance is Churchill. Churchill was a nurse at a public hospital and was fired for complaining about the quality of patient care to a fellow employee. The Court ruled 6-3 (if memory is correct) that this kind of speech was not protected. 3 Supreme Court justices thought it should be and at least one-I think it was Stevens-argued that the public had a compelling interest in having public operations subject to scrutiny. However, most judges did not see it that way and as in Ceballo supported efficiency over transparency.

What can you personally be fired for? I can’t say without reading your contract, though I doubt your contract departs from standard NEA/AFT contracts. In that case, probably little short of gross incompetence or illegal acts will result in your being fired.

Cases like Mayer are a good argument for teacher unions becaue that will be the only way to preserve academic freedom.

Comment #163506

Posted by FHS on March 1, 2007 10:50 PM (e)

Thanks Chip,

Wow, I couldn’t agree more. Particularly interesting to me is how you approach your own curriculum standards in class. I do much the same thing in mine. The closest thing I have to mandated statements to read before presenting content, however, are the state standards. My administration, at one point, wanted us to read the relevant standard verbatim before each lesson, but back downed after my union insisted that, per contract, we are not even required to mention them at all. I, like you, find it particularly useful to present them, in some way, to show relevance, though I rarely read them word for word. Given the implications of Mayer, I wonder what would happen if the administration pushed the district to challenge the Union. I seriously doubt they ever will, but I do wonder now. If I failed to mention, before, how important union protections are to my day to day duty as a teacher, I’m certainly glad the point has been raised now.

Sincere thanks for clarifying everything regarding Mayer outside the classroom Chip. Chilling indeed.

Trackback: Teachers’ Opinions And The First Amendment

Posted by Positive Liberty on February 17, 2007 11:13 PM

Over at Panda’s Thumb, I have some thoughts on a recent Seventh Circuit decision about teachers’ right to free speech, and what it might mean for creationists. ...