NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2011/01/14
(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)
Dear Friends of NCSE, The Mount Vernon, Ohio, science teacher accused of teaching creationism was officially fired. Church & State reviews the developments in the creationism/evolution controversy in the five years since Kitzmiller. And a preview of In the Light of Evolution: Essays from the Laboratory and Field.
FRESHWATER OFFICIALLY FIRED On January 10, 2011, the Mount Vernon City Schools Board of Education voted 4-1 to terminate the employment of John Freshwater. A middle school science teacher in Mount Vernon, Ohio, Freshwater was accused of inappropriate religious activity in the classroom -- including displaying posters with the Ten Commandments and Bible verses, branding crosses on the arms of his students with a high-voltage electrical device, and teaching creationism. A local family sued Freshwater and the district in 2008; the case was finally settled in December 2010, with a payment to the plaintiffs of almost half a million dollars. Shortly after the lawsuit was filed in 2008, the Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education voted to begin proceedings to terminate his employment in the district; as the Columbus Dispatch (January 8, 2011) explained, "Before Ohio teachers can be fired, they are entitled to a hearing before a referee, who then makes a recommendation to the school board." In Freshwater's case, the administrative hearings proceeded sporadically for the better part of two years. Detailed reports on the hearings by Richard B. Hoppe are available on The Panda’s Thumb blog (search for "Freshwater"). In his report, issued on January 7, 2011, R. Lee Shepherd, who presided over the hearings, recommended Freshwater's firing, writing, "he persisted in his attempts to make eighth grade science what he thought it should be -- an examination of accepted scientific curriculum with the discerning eye of Christian doctrine." Discussing Freshwater's presentation of "the evidence both for and against evolution," he observed that while the evidence for evolution was provided by the science textbooks, "the evidence against evolution was based, in large part, upon the Christian religious [principles] of Creationism and Intelligent Design." Although Shepherd's recommendation was not binding on the board, four of its five members voted to fire Freshwater. Margie Bennett, the president of the board, told the Mount Vernon News (January 11, 2011), "It was not an easy decision. We don’t believe there are any winners or losers in this situation. It is a very difficult situation for everyone. We are glad it has been resolved." The News added, "Freshwater, by law, may file an appeal with the Knox County Court of Common Pleas." The Associated Press (January 11, 2011) reports Freshwater as expressing disappointment in the board's decision but not indicating whether he would appeal. The Columbus Dispatch (January 11, 2011) described the hearings as "among the most costly and lengthy that education experts can recall." Allowing teachers on the verge of termination to have a hearing "protects teachers and also discourages districts from keeping rogue teachers in less-sensitive positions." With regard to the Freshwater case, however, Rick Lewis, the executive director of the Ohio School Boards Association, commented, "It's sad that they had to spend all that money to do what they thought was right all along." (The cost to the board was reportedly $902,765, the bulk of which was for the board's legal counsel.) For the 1/8/11 story in the Columbus Dispatch, visit: http://www.dispatch.com/live/content/local_news/stories/2011/01/08/state-hearing-officer-concludes-mount-vernon-teacher-should-be-fired_.html For Hoppe's reports on the hearings, search for "Freshwater" on: http://pandasthumb.org/ For the referee's report (PDF), visit: http://ncse.com/webfm_send/1545 For the story in the Mount Vernon News, visit: http://www.mountvernonnews.com/local/11/01/11/mv-board-terminates-freshwaters-contract For the Associated Press report (via CBS News), visit: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/01/11/ap/national/main7234603.shtml For the 1/11/11 story in the Columbus Dispatch, visit: http://www.dispatch.com/live/content/local_news/stories/2011/01/11/district-pays-to-uphold-firing.html?sid=101 For information on the Freshwater lawsuits, visit: http://ncse.com/creationism/legal/doe-v-freshwater-mv http://ncse.com/creationism/legal/freshwater-v-mount-vernon "CREATIONISM'S EVOLVING STRATEGY" Writing in the January 2011 issue of Americans United for Separation of Church and State's journal Church & State, Sandhya Bathija reviewed the developments in the creationism/evolution controversy since the Kitzmiller v. Dover case. Warning, in the words of her subtitle, "Five years after a landmark court ruling against 'intelligent design,' evolution opponents are still on the prowl," she allowed that there's good news to accompany the bad news: "it's clear the decision gave the science community new momentum to ramp up instruction on evolution." "After the large amount of publicity from Dover," NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott explained, "the science community is much more attuned to why individual scientists as well as their representative science societies have to take an interest in these local education issues." The article quoted confirmation from Education Week, which recently reported (November 17, 2010), "the ruling ignited an unprecedented push by scientists and education researchers to become more directly involved in integrating evolution in science classes." Among the efforts cited by both Bathija and Education Week were Evolution Readiness, a project of the Concord Consortium and Boston College aimed at producing curricula for introducing evolution in the elementary grades; the Evolution Education Research Center, founded by Brian Alters (vice president of NCSE's board of directors) and with participants at Harvard University, McGill University, and now Chapman University; and the journal Evolution: Education and Outreach, edited by Niles Eldredge (a Supporter of NCSE) and Gregory Eldredge. Citing Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer's Evolution, Creationism and the Battle to Control America's Classrooms (Cambridge University Press, 2010), however, Bathija explained that creationists have regrouped, modifying their tactics and trying again. Richard Katskee, a former attorney for Americans United for Separation of Church and State who helped to represent the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller, commented, "The Kitzmiller court exposed intelligent design as what it is -- dressed-up creationism -- so the Discovery Institute had to go back to the drawing board." After reviewing various episodes in the renewed creationist campaign, such as the advent of "academic freedom" antievolution bills, the 2008-2009 debate over the treatment of evolution in Texas's state science standards, and the recent assault on evolution in textbooks in Louisiana, Bathija summarized, "Texas and Louisiana will continue to remain on the watch list for civil liberties groups and the scientific community." So will the new Congress, she added: "John Boehner (R-Ohio), incoming speaker of the House of Representatives, has supported teaching creationism in public schools," referring to his misuse of the so-called Santorum Amendment. For Bathija's article, visit: http://www.au.org/media/church-and-state/archives/2011/01/creationisms-evolving.html For information on the mentioned initiatives, visit: http://www.concord.org/projects/evolution-readiness http://chapmannews.wordpress.com/2010/10/12/chapman-teams-with-harvard-mcgill-in-evolution-center-expansion/ http://www.springer.com/life+sciences/evolutionary+%26+developmental+biology/journal/12052 For NCSE's resources on the Santorum Amendment, visit: http://ncse.com/taking-action/analysis-santorum-language IN THE LIGHT OF EVOLUTION NCSE is pleased to offer a free preview of In the Light of Evolution: Essays from the Laboratory and Field (Roberts & Company 2010). The excerpt is Carl Zimmer's "Darwin Under the Microscope: Witnessing Evolution in Microbes." "Darwin had seen evidence for evolution in all of the animals and plants he studied, but he never believed that anyone could see natural selection take place in his own lifetime," Zimmer writes. "Biologists now know that this is not always true. ... In fact, biologists can now carry out experiments in evolution, testing out different hypotheses about how natural selection works, over the course of a few months. And some of the most compelling results come from research on a kind of life that Darwin did not study: microbes." Edited by Jonathan B. Losos, In the Light of Evolution includes a foreword by David Quammen and articles by Janet Browne, James Curtsinger, Carl Zimmer, Daniel Lieberman, Jonathan B. Losos, Edmund D. Brodie III, Naomi E. Pierce and Andrew Berry, Luke Harmon, Douglas Emlen, Marlene Zuk and Teri Orr, Michael J. Ryan, David Reznick, David Queller, Axel Meyer, Hopi E. Hoekstra, Ted Daeschler and Neil Shubin, and Harry W. Greene. Edward O. Wilson describes it as "exactly what both other scientists and the public need in the quest for understanding of this vitally important subject: a dispatch from the front, by scientists directly engaged in research on evolution, accompanied by a leading historian and the most knowledgeable journalists." For Zimmer's article (PDF), visit: http://ncse.com/files/pub/evolution/Excerpt--lightofevolution.pdf For information about In the Light of Evolution, visit: http://www.roberts-publishers.com/index.php?page=shop.product_details&flypage=flypage.tpl&product_id=24&option=com_virtuemart&Itemid=64 Thanks for reading! And don't forget to visit NCSE's website -- http://ncse.com -- where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and threats to it. -- Sincerely, Glenn Branch Deputy Director National Center for Science Education, Inc. 420 40th Street, Suite 2 Oakland, CA 94609-2509 510-601-7203 x310 fax: 510-601-7204 800-290-6006 firstname.lastname@example.org http://ncse.com Subscribe to NCSE's free weekly e-newsletter: http://groups.google.com/group/ncse-news NCSE is on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter: http://www.facebook.com/evolution.ncse http://www.youtube.com/NatCen4ScienceEd http://twitter.com/ncse NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today! http://ncse.com/membership