Interview with mother in the Freshwater cross-burning affair

| 30 Comments

The mother of the boy at the center of the Freshwater affair, Jenifer Dennis, has given her first interview to the Columbus Dispatch. Two excerpts:

Zachary Dennis, now a high-school freshman, told his mother that his eighth-grade teacher, John Freshwater, held his arm down Dec. 6 and used an electrical device used to test gases to burn a cross on his forearm during a science class demonstration.

“He said ‘Mr. Freshwater said this cross will be here for awhile; it’s like a temporary tattoo,’ “ recalled Jenifer Dennis, Zachary’s mother.

and

“We never intended to go in to get Mr. Freshwater in trouble,” said Mrs. Dennis. “I send my child to school and expect my child not to come home with an injury to his arm.”

I know the Dennis family, and know that they originally wanted only to assure the safety of Zach and the other children in Freshwater’s classes. Freshwater’s other behaviors at issue came to light in the aftermath of his burning the child and his subsequent publicity seeking via demonstrations outside the schools and on the Mt. Vernon public square.

The termination hearing on Freshwater resumes tomorrow (Tuesday). I’ll be there.

30 Comments

Freshwater the Crossburner

TNX for the reminder, Reed.

Freshwater had to hold his arm down, did he? Well, he couldn’t have the little calf squirming during the branding. That would have messed up the cross–oops–I mean “X.”

Reed, that’s really not helpful. The term “Crossburning” has specific connotations which are highly emotionally charged. Freshwater clearly is a stupid, self-righteous bigot and all-around jerk, but he isn’t at all similar to the KKK.

I notice in this witness’s account, a general assumption that the mark is a cross.

Joshua Zelinsky said:

Reed, that’s really not helpful. The term “Crossburning” has specific connotations which are highly emotionally charged. Freshwater clearly is a stupid, self-righteous bigot and all-around jerk, but he isn’t at all similar to the KKK.

As a Southerner myself, I see many similarities between the two. Bigots are all made from the same mold.

Thanks, Reed, for pointing out that it is not that the bigot can place a burden on these people for this reason. For the bigot it is that he can do it to anybody at all.

Bigots come in all shapes and sizes, as do other bothersome types. In the end they are so similar. One trick ponies. With time and attention, one begins to recognize them as members of the same herd. Focusing on their particular fixations becomes less informative than the fact that they are so particularly fixated. Poor slobs. All they really wanna do is be in charge. Who could blame them?

Frank B said:

I notice in this witness’s account, a general assumption that the mark is a cross.

I notice that the mother reported that her son said Freshwater characterized it as a cross.

Video of mother talking about it here.

Bigots are all made from the same mold.

Apparently the word “bigot” is derived from “by God”.

As I have said before, what is the equivalent of Social Services (i.e. Social workers) in the US ? If this had happened in the UK Social Services would have taken a very dim view indeed. Almost certainly there would be either a criminal prosecution or public inquiry and the teacher would at least be suspended, pending an investigation. Most likely he/she would loose their job if they were found guilty of the offence.

Peter Henderson said:

As I have said before, what is the equivalent of Social Services (i.e. Social workers) in the US ? If this had happened in the UK Social Services would have taken a very dim view indeed. Almost certainly there would be either a criminal prosecution or public inquiry and the teacher would at least be suspended, pending an investigation. Most likely he/she would loose their job if they were found guilty of the offence.

We yanks have social services too, though they are run by the individual States not the Federal government. So their funding and rules change State-by-State.

Suspended pending an investigation is exactly what happened. But unfortunately, only after years of this behavior. I don’t know whether we can really fault the State for that though, it appears from news stories that no one formally complained to the authorities until recently.

RBH said:

Frank B said:

I notice in this witness’s account, a general assumption that the mark is a cross.

I notice that the mother reported that her son said Freshwater characterized it as a cross.

Take a look for yourself http://pandasthumb.org/archives/200[…]MTVERNON.jpg

Just a quick quote that seems relevant here:

The Age of American Unreason, by Susan Jacoby

Both the Constitution and the pragmatic realities of living in a pluralistic society enjoin us to respect our fellow citizens’ right to believe whatever they want – as long as their belief, in Thomas Jefferson’s phrase, ‘neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.’ But many Americans have misinterpreted this sensible laissez-faire principle to mean that respect must be accorded the beliefs themselves. This mindless tolerance, which places observable scientific facts, subject to proof, on the same level as unprovable supernatural fantasy, has played a major role in the resurgence of both anti-intellectualism and anti-rationalism.

Not being a writer, I couldn’t possibly have said it better. Unfortunately, this begs the question of what to do about it. Moving to another country is not an answer. Education should be, but the structure of education in America lends itself far better to local biases in favor of “supernatural fantasy” than it does to rational thought.

Sometimes, I despair.

but the structure of education in America lends itself far better to local biases in favor of “supernatural fantasy” than it does to rational thought.

Is it the structure, or is it simply that a lot of the people running the system are biased that way?

Henry

Henry J said:

Is it the structure, or is it simply that a lot of the people running the system are biased that way?

Henry

Well, both I suppose. But the structure, that is local control over education, makes it difficult, if not impossible, to fix. On the gripping hand, while most of the industrialized nations have national education standards, I’m not sure I’d trust the Feds with the task. Can you imagine what might have happened to curriculum standards over the last 8 years?

“On the gripping hand”—HAHA I remember that phrase from reading science fiction in high school.

OMG!!

I happen to be reading Jacoby’s book right now, but I’m not sure how much further I can go without bursting a blood vessel:

A 1998 survey by researchers from the University of Texas found that one out of four public school biology teachers believes that humans and dinosaurs inhabited the earth simultaneously.

(Emphasis mine)

and

To add to the muddle, it seems that Americans are as ignorant and poorly educated about the particulars of religion as they are about science. A majority of adults, in what is supposedly the most religious nation in the developed world, cannot name the four Gospels or identify Genesis as the first book of the Bible.

In other words, “I’m not really sure what my Bible says, but I know your evilution is wrong!”

He also zapped a special needs student - http://bit.ly/3rm274

Reed A. Cartwright said:

“On the gripping hand”—HAHA I remember that phrase from reading science fiction in high school.

The Mote in God’s Eye. An awesome book, IMHO.

My thought on the education issue is this, have a national association of experts in the given fields come up with a national curriculum for each class, leaving some room (say between 0 and 25 percent depending on the class) for local control. This way the government isn’t directly involved, the curriculum is being developed by people who understand the field in question and the locals still have some control for the introduction of localized curriculum, for instance an English class may have 25% of their time unspecified so that they can fill it with literature either from or relevant to the area in question.

What say ye?

fredgiblet said:

My thought on the education issue is this, have a national association of experts in the given fields come up with a national curriculum for each class, leaving some room (say between 0 and 25 percent depending on the class) for local control. This way the government isn’t directly involved, the curriculum is being developed by people who understand the field in question and the locals still have some control for the introduction of localized curriculum, for instance an English class may have 25% of their time unspecified so that they can fill it with literature either from or relevant to the area in question.

What say ye?

Well, other than using one group of experts instead of 50 groups, how is that different from what the States do now? You don’t think the States use education and science experts to develop their standards?

Okay Kansas and Texas are arguments against the State system, but keep in mind that whatever shenanigans can be played at the State level can also be played at the Federal level. Federalizing education standards does not guarantee quality, it just means the political appointees who decide which experts are used are the same for each State. You might call this the “One Screwup To Rule Them All” system. :)

Moreover, national associations such as AAAS do come out with recommended science standards, so there is good, consistent guidance out there if the States want to make use of it. We aren’t lacking for good standards, we’re lacking political will to employ them.

fredgiblet: take a look at the BSCS curriculum- http://www.bscs.org/ I think this has already been done (my HS bio class used a BSCS text) as mentioned by eric above the AAAS, and the NSF come out with/contribute to science standards/ or recomendations - why a state or local BOE wouldn’t want to take advantage of these resources? I can’t think of any credible reason other than ideology.

“The Mote in God’s Eye. An awesome book, IMHO.”

Seconded. First hard science fiction book I ever read.

A very long time ago.

:)

jasonmitchell said:

fredgiblet: take a look at the BSCS curriculum- http://www.bscs.org/ I think this has already been done (my HS bio class used a BSCS text) as mentioned by eric above the AAAS, and the NSF come out with/contribute to science standards/ or recomendations - why a state or local BOE wouldn’t want to take advantage of these resources? I can’t think of any credible reason other than ideology.

I think embarrasment and pragmatism are very common non-ideological reasons. If you are an elected official and your State’s graduating seniors can only pass the BSCS standards for (e.g.) 8th grade, are you really going to want to implement them?

“how is that different from what the States do now?”

I was under the impression that local school boards had an enormous amount of leeway with deciding their curriculum, is that incorrect?

“We aren’t lacking for good standards, we’re lacking political will to employ them.”

Part of the idea was that the standards would be enforced, so I guess all we really have to do is enforce the ones we have.

What electical device to test gases, would produce a burn mark?

Eric Bloodaxe said:

What electical device to test gases, would produce a burn mark?

A Tesla coil.

fredgiblet said: I was under the impression that local school boards had an enormous amount of leeway with deciding their curriculum, is that incorrect?

That’s a good question. I’m not sure. States usually have standards that all their local districts are required to follow. This is why we’ve had fights over State standards in Florida and Texas. In terms of implementing those standards, I suspect you may be right, locals have great control. But every state is different. For instance, Texas is famous (notorious?) for approving textbooks at the State level, whereas most States don’t do that, they let the locals do it. So some local school boards are going to have much more leeway than others.

But let me ask a question in return: how does it work in the UK? Is your federal government responsible for deciding school curriculum, or do they (like our States) generally stick to defining a set of standards and then letting local administrators figure out how to implement them? I suspect that our systems may not be too in this respect. We lack your national standardized tests, but I would count that like a “standard” rather than a “curriculum.”

I live in Washington…

Whoops, sorry. I’m confusing threads. You know its time to stop posting when…

fredgiblet said:

I live in Washington…

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This page contains a single entry by Richard B. Hoppe published on October 27, 2008 5:03 PM.

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