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The Critic's Resource on AntiEvolution

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.


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: 

For Hoppe's reports on the hearings, search for "Freshwater" on: 

For the referee's report (PDF), visit: 

For the story in the Mount Vernon News, visit: 

For the Associated Press report (via CBS News), visit: 

For the 1/11/11 story in the Columbus Dispatch, visit: 

For information on the Freshwater lawsuits, visit: 


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: 

For information on the mentioned initiatives, visit: 

For NCSE's resources on the Santorum Amendment, visit: 


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

For Zimmer's article (PDF), visit: 

For information about In the Light of Evolution, visit: 

Thanks for reading! And don't forget to visit NCSE's website -- -- where you can always find the latest news on 
evolution education and threats to it.


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

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