On the surface, it looks like an inspiring story about a Mount Vernon science teacher sticking up for his Bible, here in the 10tv piece Student Backs Teacher In Fight To Keep Bible On Desk. The teacher’s name is John Freshwater, and recently a parent complained that he keeps a Bible on his desk, and he was told to remove it.
No way, said Freshwater. That would violate my First Amendment rights.
My first two thoughts were, no, it wouldn’t, and then, say, what’s the problem with keeping a Bible on your desk? I mean, that’s not the science text-book, right?
I’ll tell you what I wasn’t curious about at all, and that’s “Gee, I wonder what a student of his from fifteen years ago thinks about this?”
10tv goes ahead and tells me anyway. She says that it was nothing unusual even fifteen years ago for Freshwater to have Bibles and other religious stuff displayed in science class and that she supports him. Which is wonderful, but I’m pretty sure that’s not how it works in terms of district policies.
Much more relevant would be the following two facts gleaned from this story: That the Ohio Department of Education leaves the decision about religious articles up to the individual school districts, and that this individual school district has a rule against “devotional exercises or displays of religious character.”
So as delighted as I am to hear about Freshwater’s former student and her wonderful experience fifteen years ago in his religious-themed science class, it turns out that the Ohio Board of Education does not make Previous Student Voucher Allowances for breaking district rules. I know, it hardly makes sense.
No, just like students don’t get to debate you about whether or not they are allowed to wear hats, Freshwater doesn’t get to debate us about whether or not he can keep a Bible on his desk.
Personally, I don’t care if he has one on his desk and I would never complain about it, but rules are rules. I assume the district is concerned about a slippery slope – if he can keep a Bible on his desk, how about a stack of Bibles, or a statue of the Virgin Mary, or a six-foot crucifix on the wall behind him?
Very quickly, I’m starting to think, okay Freshwater, you want to climb down out of the Loony Tree and teach science or do you want to spend a bunch of time and money on hearings defending your right to keep your Bible on your desk?
Well, he wants to spend time and money on hearings defending his Bible. Which is weird, because a subsequent article he’s featured in – Board Hears Comment On Teacher’s Religious Views – we start hearing about other allegations, in particular that this guy was teaching creationism in science class, and has been for a long time. So it’s really not about his Bible at all.
Not surprisingly, Freshwater still wants to talk about the Bible on his desk. But keeping a Bible on your desk is considerably less troubling than teaching the opposite of science in science class. He’s also accused of holding spiritual “healing” sessions, which again sounds awesome, but probably violates that same district rule that’s giving his Bible so much trouble.
And then of course, there’s the cross he burned on a kid’s arm with an electrostatic device, detailed in Report: Teacher Burned Cross Into Student’s Arms. I have to tell you, I liked this guy better about six paragraphs ago when he was a beleaguered man of God who only wanted the comfort of his Bible by his side, to help him through the day.
Well, surely it was an accident, right? I mean, this guy didn’t really grab a kid and brand him with the cross of Christ right in the middle of a public school, did he? Is he a small town science teacher or the albino nut job from Angels and Demons?
That’s in fact the most baffling statement in the report: “Contrary to Mr. Freshwater’s statement that he simply made an ‘X,’ not a ‘cross,’ all of the students described the marking as a cross and the pictures provided depict a cross.”
Simply? Mr. Freshwater’s statement that he simply made an X? So, we’re going to sit around arguing about what exactly the guy burned on to a student’s arm?
Please tell me that the school district with a rule against keeping a Bible on your desk also has a rule against burning things – anything at all – into your students’ arms? Please, please tell me this, for I wish for my skull to remain in one skull-shaped piece.
It’s really hard to find a place to start talking about all the various things I don’t like about this series of articles – there are actually about ten of them, chronicling two years of this batshit craziness – but I think most troubling to me is the subtle spin the writers keep putting on it.
They keep wanting me to think of this guy as Wacky Robin Williams, the Eccentric but Dedicated Teacher With A Good Heart. Why else would they trot out a student from fifteen years ago, with nothing interesting to say except Mr. Freshwater Was Cool? Why else would I get a quote from Freshwater’s pastor, regarding his uninformed and irrelevant opinion about Freshwater’s teaching skills?
Well, not totally uninformed. The pastor tells us that he’s observed Freshwater in class, and surprise, he supports him fully.
My question is, if the Bible was causing problems in class, then what the hell was the pastor doing there? Was he sitting on Freshwater’s desk, too? I’ll just bet that pastor really objectively thought this through before coming down on the side of the Bible, right?
Even the article called Report: Teacher Burned Cross On Student’s Arms makes sure to let me know that “When asked about their favorite subjects, some students answered, ‘Evolution because we always had debates about it,’ and ‘I liked debating about creation and evolution, because it’s always fun to debate.’
Why are you telling me this? Am I supposed to think, oh, that’s nice, debate is healthy and the students are engaged, what a great teacher? Because that’s not what I think.
I think creationism is not in the curriculum, and that it’s therefore not going to be on the test. And so yes, the students love to “debate” evolution because they can bait their religious nut teacher into blowing the whole day on it.
And as far as science class goes, there is nothing to debate. You teach, students learn – it’s not Philosophy or Political Science or the Debate Club. Should we let them debate chemistry as well? Listening to a bunch of teenagers “debate” this would be about as helpful as listening to them debate Bigfoot or the polarizing question of the Earth’s roundness.
Throughout the series of articles, here’s what I keep seeing. First someone says, Hey, this guy burned a cross into his student’s arm. Then Freshwater says something like, “Other teachers were allowed to keep Bibles on their desks.” He wants so bad for that to be the issue, and I don’t blame him, but it’s not.
I mean, let me clear the whole confusing topic up, since it’s apparently so hard. Burning anything at all onto your student’s arm ought to be grounds for termination. Freshwater is extremely lucky that he isn’t currently plucking his teeth out of that Bible with a pair of needle nose pliers while an ER tech removes his electrostatic device from his rectum.
You can’t keep the Bible on your desk because it isn’t your desk anymore. How’s that sound, Crazy Town?
And although they didn’t quite word it that way, the State of Ohio agrees – they recommend his termination in this article. And the court system agrees, too – they just awarded $450,000 to the parents of the student with burned arm.
Which naturally leads to Freshwater filing a lawsuit against the school district, for a cool million. Because he’s such a great, caring teacher who loves his Bible and his students and his job.
That is, after all, what Jesus Would Do, right? File suit against a public school district after physically assaulting one of his students with an electrostatic device?
I have to say, I thought at first that the Bible on his desk was harmless, but thanks to this unintentionally stellar teacher, I have now learned why such rules are necessary. If this guy had kept his Bible by his bedside, and brought his brain into science class, he might have been able to remind himself that religion and science are two separate things. Then an entire school could have avoided an appalling media circus, and stayed focused on educating children instead of defending against lawsuits.