Freshwater: Misrepresenting the case

One of the salient properties of anti-evolutionist coverage of the Freshwater affair has been a systematic misrepresentation of the case. On various anti-evolutionist blogs and Christian news outlets, the case has consistently been characterized as being concerned solely with Freshwater’s personal Bible on his desk, excluding any mention of the various religious items displayed in his classroom, his use of blatantly creationist materials in class, his insubordination, and his multiple mutually contradictory accounts of what he in fact taught and what he did with the Tesla coil. In a recent report of an interview with Freshwater all those themes are repeated. It’s of note that the interview is on a web site with the motto “Restoring Truth to History Class,” one of whose recent emphases appears to be on Islamic infiltration into public school curricula in the U.S.

Given the false statements in its Freshwater story, I wonder what “truth” means to that site. The first paragraph of the story has four sentences. Every sentence has an error of fact. Below the fold I’ll walk through parts of the story, pointing out some of the distortions, misrepresentations, and plain falsehoods it contains.

The first paragraph is a model of the creationist approach. As I noted, every sentence of that paragraph has an error of fact. The first sentence reads:

This morning, I spoke with John Freshwater, a teacher of 23 years who was fired from the Mt. Vernon, Ohio high school because he had a Bible on his desk.

Nope. The termination resolution adopted by the Mt. Vernon Board of Education contains exactly zero references to Freshwater’s personal Bible.

The second sentence contains just one fairly minor inaccuracy:

Freshwater, married for 32 years is a proud father of three; a son who graduated from the United States Military Academy, a daughter who graduated from the United States Naval Academy, and a daughter who is still in the Mt. Vernon High School.

Freshwater’s son did not graduate from the U.S. Military Academy. In fact he dropped out of West Point, attended Desales University, and completed his degree at Cedarville University, a fundamentalist Christian institution. He then joined the Army, completed officer training last year, and is a 2nd Lieutenant.

The third sentence has another falsehood:

In 2006, [Freshwater] won Outstanding Teacher of the Year, and has always earned excellent evaluations.

Freshwater’s evaluations were excellent, as best I know, but he never received an “Outstanding Teacher of the Year” award because the Mt. Vernon district has never had such an award in the 40 years I’ve lived here. He did receive a couple of “Distinguished Teacher” awards, the sole criterion for which consisted of being nominated for the award by an administrator. Those awards were made for anything from classroom performance to service on committees or other extra-curricular service, and a number of them were awarded every year. The year my wife received a Distinguished Teacher award at least four other teachers also received one. Freshwater’s nominator, former Assistant Principal Tim Keib, testified that he couldn’t even remember who else he nominated for the award.

The fourth sentence has another falsehood:

However, in 2008 a complaint was lodged about the Bible that had always sat on his desk in the classroom.

The original complaint was about Freshwater’s use of the Tesla coil on students in class. Later, teachers, parents, and students alleged that he used creationist materials, prayed at Fellowship of Christian Athletes meetings, and so on. The issue with his personal Bible was whether it was part of a more extensive display of Christian materials in his classroom.

That paragraph is illustrative of the general anti-evolutionist approach.

There are still more errors in the story. Skipping ahead a bit, in the third paragraph we read

Mr. Freshwater believes that the genesis of the problem began in 2003 when he taught the theory of evolution to his 8th grade class. The teaching requirements stated that the theory of evolution was to be critically analyzed. This Mr. Freshwater sought to do, but learned that the school would brook no criticism of evolution. The school administration and some of the faculty objected to Mr. Freshwater’s critical discussion of evolution, and the data related to evolution, in spite of the requirement to analyze evolution critically. (italics in the original)

The “teaching requirements” for 8th grade biology contained no such language. In 2003 Freshwater proposed that the district adopt the Intelligent Design Network’s Objective Origins Science Policy. Later he claimed that what he wanted to do was import a 10th grade biology indicator–the “critical analysis of evolution” language adopted by the Ohio State Board of Education–into his 8th grade class. The Board of Education rejected his proposal. Nevertheless, testimony showed that he imported creationist materials into his teaching of science.

So the report of an interview with Freshwater is riddled with errors of fact. One wonders where those errors came from, given that the author of the report claims to have spoken to Freshwater.