Fire him. Right Now.

As some of you have already seen at Pharyngula, Dispatches, and the Lippard Blog, a New Jersey public high school teacher was caught on tape teaching religion instead of history. One of the audio recordings is available online. The quality is poor, but a with a little bit of equalizer work it is mostly understandable. The material that is on it is absolutely and completely outrageous. Things were said that don't belong within ten city blocks of a public school classroom, and it's a damn shame that the worst than can be done to the teacher is terminating his employment. Some of the things said really make me wish that it was possible to criminalize, and jail people for, establishment clause violations.

Here are some examples. The transcription and any errors therein are my own. Italics in the quotes reflects places where I feel the speaker was stressing a word.

Early on, we are treated to the spectacle of a public school teacher explaining, to a class that he is teaching, why he homeschools his own children:

"My problem... my problem with schools is not that I think my kids are not going to learn reading and writing and arithmetic or learn it well. [inaudible] The highest value in public education is tolerance, but tolerance of what? [inaudible] There are a lot of things I don't want my kids tolerating. Ethnic diversity, yes. Deviant sexual behavior, no. Um. Things like that. And that's all being taught right from...umm...right from kindergarten up. I still believe in the concept of sin, man's fallen nature, and all that stuff that is... know, considered old-fashioned nowadays, and that's how my kids are going to be raised. And when you think about those things, that's what people who are concerned with public education are for the most part concerned with."

Nice, huh. Public schools are bad because they're too tolerant, and he doesn't want to raise his kids to be as tolerant as the public schools. It gets better, though:

"Your family...let's suppose you have a religious family. You send your kid... you surrender your kid to the state from preschool on up to twelfth grade. Mom and dad are trying to tell you that the Bible is God's word and their lives are deeply rooted in faith. But yet the "smart" people -and I say that in quotations because they're not all really that smart- the teachers that you're exposed to from kindergarten to twelfth grade, never once will you see them crack open a Bible. Never once will you hear them quote it. And never once will you hear a prayer [inaudible]. Over the course of twelve years, what's the transfer? "Smart" people don't have faith. Don't believe. That's the transfer."

Sounds like he probably had some idea that what he was doing was a no-no, doesn't it? but things just keep going downhill:

STUDENT 1(judging by audio quality improvement, the student making the recording): Isn't the whole point of public school so that you can separate personal beliefs from teachers and administrators from non-... know, non religious teachings during school. Like, school prayer and all that?

"TEACHER": No. The purpose of public school is to provide free education for people who couldn't afford education. Seriously. (laugh) That's the purpose of public school. What it's become is social engineering. It's supposed to reflect the values and belief systems of parents as well as school boards elected from the population. And I've gotta believe that most of the people on the school board have faiths that may be similar to mine, but yet the state comes up with some wierd perception of what education ought to be [inaudible].

STUDENT 1: What... what... would decide what... what should be.. what religion should be taught in schools? What would decide that?

"TEACHER": No. It's not about point is it's not about teaching religion. And, you know, all these issues will come up when we get into the 1920s, and things begin to get legislated, and [inaudible] 1920s. But the public schools shouldn't teach a religion, but the scriptures aren't religion."

STUDENT 1: They're not?

"TEACHER": The scriptures are at the foundation of the world's religions... the world's main religions, anyway. Religion is a set way of doing things.

And it just keeps getting worse.

"TEACHER": ...the Bible. We should be able to bring that into the classroom, read it, and it should be [inaudible]...

STUDENT 1: But what if some students don't believe in the Bible?

STUDENT 2: I don't either [noise from other students in background as well]

"TEACHER": That's their perogative. What if the student doesn't belive in evolution? What if the student doesn't believe in ummm some other aspect of, you know, of the educational program?

STUDENT 1: Well, evolution is scientific.

From there, things deteriorated further, into a discussion of scientific method, evolution as "faith", and other nonsense issues - in what was allegedly a history class, but which had not yet, in 15 minutes of audio, actually ventured into history. Or, for that matter, away from religion. That's as much as I'll subject you to from the recording. You can listen to it yourself if you want, but it just keeps going downhill.

One thing should be crystal clear by this point. That teacher, however good he might otherwise be, has absolutely no business teaching in the public schools. That entire production was completely disrespectful to any student (and their parents) who has different religious beliefs. It was totally disrespectful to any student who might have been wrestling with issues of sexuality. It was totally disrespectful to the United States Constitution, and to the fundamental principle that religion cannot be endorsed in the public schools. It is clear from what was said that he knew that what he was doing is frowned upon, and he went ahead and did it anyway. He should be fired, and fired soon.

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John, much of the bible reffers to or details events that all other evidence and records say never happened. The glaring discrepancy is the complete lack of mention in Egyptian records of any mass escape of Jewish slaves, not to mention the suggestions that the earth is 6000 years old.

I am a freshman in high school, so I know where you're coming from about the sex, drugs and self-mutilation. If a parent is confident that they have taught their kid their values, and given them a sense of self worth, then having the kid go to public middle and high schools and be exposed to that kind of stuff is probably good for the kid in the long run, as we are all going to have to accept eventually that our generation is massively fucked up. Furthermore, being exposed to the great variety of cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds found in public schools will give a kid a more balanced outlook on life. I know kids who went to private schools that were upper class and basically all white and asian, and kids who are homeschooled. Many of them have shockingy intolerant attitudes towards the poor and minorities.

While many of the founding fathers did hold deeply christian beliefs, they also recognised that not everyone believed the same things they did, and that they had no right to force their beliefs or the consequences thereof on others.

Oh, and the Koran that the Muslim representative from Minnesota (whose name I forget at the moment) was sworn in on was a copy that once belonged to Thomas Jefferson, borrowed from the Library of Congress' rare/historically signficant book collection.

He wasn't caught teaching religion... There are ways of doing that, and he wasn't doing it. He was caught preaching religion. But the rest of your post is spot-on.

- JS

saying that he should be able to bring a bible in and read it does seem like a bit of a stretch, but technically, the bible is historical in that it's been read for hundreds of years by millions of people, including some who've changed the world after being influenced by it. and regardless of whether or not you believe what it says, it does coincide with events that happened throughout the rise of civilization.

referring to the fact that his children are homeschooled, he is a parent..but luckily not one of a public school student who's been exposed to classmates as young as 12 showing off the scars on their wrists[often hidden under bracelets], as young as 13 talking about drug use [go look for marijuana leaves, "happy pills" & rainbow syringes all over their myspace pages], and as young as 14 telling everyone about all the sex theyve been having [gay or straight and not limited to the kind you're thinking of]. yeah. that's what we go through now, what we hear on a daily basis. pretty hardcore stuff, and my school was for the intellectually gifted kids you'd expect to be perfect. it wasnt just us though, it's literally like that everywhere, so it makes sense that he doesnt want his kids in that kind of environment.

as for the JS guy, yeah he might have been preaching, but so what? it's not like he was forcing his beliefs on anybody. it's not like it wouldve mattered if that kid just blocked out his teacher's voice. nothing would happen. I was however, forced to sit through hour long classes that sounded like evolutional sermons [and you can't say anything against this unless you've listened to a sermon in an actual church] & refusing to listen wouldve affected the grades my future rests upon. i consider that to be disrespectful towards my beliefs..that it's either i listen to people trying to discredit my faith and pass or i fail.

but that's just me. i'm just a high school sophmore living through all of this as we speak.

for the record, the majority of the authors of the United States Constitution were deist or protestant [like the teacher] meaning he couldnt have been disrespectful, cuz it wouldve meant disrespecting himself since he shared their beliefs.

last thing: ever heard the phrase, "there's no such thing as bad publicity?" writing these articles in an attempt to put him down only benefits our cause since it gets the gospel out to more people. more importantly, on the internet where it can be read by all.


X- What is an "evolution sermon"? Is that kind of the same thing as an "algebra sermon"? If "physics" offended my religion would it be inhumane to force me to sit through physics classes? For an intellectual kid you seem pretty opposed to "facts" and "science."

Also, your deism point, I don't even know where to begin. Your logic is comical. Try substituing "slave owning" for "Christian" in your own example. Actually, forget that, that logic would be too much for you. I will say though that Thomas Jefferson would be rolling in his grave right now. Go read Jefferson's version of the bible. If he were alive today he would unquestionable believe in evolution. Sorry to burst the bubble created by some bible thumper who wanted to give you credible and intelligent historical role models.

Finally, as to your last point, is this really good publicity for those who seek to teach intelligent design? The dinosaurs were on the ark? Do you actually believe this? Do you think that people made up evolution? If I believed in intelligent design (which I don't, especially as it is taught today) I would certainly not go about convincing people like this.

Finally, I believe you are a Christian. Do you even realize that Jesus Christ left us with perhaps the greatest moral and ethical philosophy the world has ever known? He gave us a beautiful code to live by and yet somehow the religious right in this country has twisted it into a homophobic, anti-science, ideology which ignores facts when it finds it convenient. Congratulations on ruining a beautiful religion.

I'm atheist and anti-religion. I came onto this discussion shocked and outraged, but not ready to throw stones until I knew exactly what was said, and some context. Couldn't understand the audio, but thanks to Stephen's transcript, I begin to get a pretty good idea what kind of teacher this guy is.
And, god, I wish I'd had teachers like that.
Wake up, people! He gets high school kids engaged in animated discussions about abstract ideas! Anybody who can achieve this is a hero.
He gets preachy, but he encourages debate and allows disagreement; it's worth it. I don't agree with anything he says, but if I were in that class I'd sure be thinking. And learning.

I'm 100% with the poster who started "I'm atheist and anti-religion." I'm also EXTREMELY pro gay rights and any sort of adult sexuality, soft drugs, etc., and a screaming liberal. I expected to detest this teacher... but I don't, at least based on this transcript.

I want to smack people who go on about "deviant sexuality"; I think they are flat out wrong. Yet, if we do believe in tolerance, we have to tolerate people who do have some degree of belief. We can't force teachers who passionately believe that a religious teaching is right to literally contradict it in class IF IT COMES UP. While I would have no problems if my kids were gay, I would not want them going to a school where, in Stalinist fashion, they were protected from the REALITY of some people simply thinking homosexuality is a sin. This teacher was just being honest about his beliefs and actually DEBATING them. He did NOT say "you must believe homosexuality is a sin", or: (1) you will burn eternally, or (2) you will do poorly in my class. Had he done either, I'd say off with his head.

We cannot ask to live in a society where people of faith must lie about their beliefs when they take public jobs. We CAN ask to live in a society where such people do not push those views on others, or require agreement for advancement. That's really pretty simple.

By GrazziDad (not verified) on 26 Dec 2006 #permalink

I am in agreement with the previous two posts... I haven't listened to the recording myself yet, but I plan to when I get home. The things he said were not offensive to me as an agnostic atheist, as a cultural Jew, as a bisexual, or as a progressive. I didn't like them, but he seemed civil in representing his ideas.

Highschool students are virtually adults. At least most are engaging in adult behavior. Sex, drinking, drugs, why not debate and independent thought? I think that the student had the right to disagree, but a lot of the teacher's points were valid.

For example: the scriptures are not religion, they are documents.

I had no leg to stand on in my arguments against faithful religious followers until I read and understood religious texts. They are a very important source of influence in the world, and everyone should be familiar with them. Heck, religious people should be more familiar with them. Many of the Christians that I speak to are not aware of the awful and brutal content in the old and new testaments, nor are they aware of the many inconsistencies and contradictions contained therein.

We can not deny that there are people of faith, but we can better understand them in order to better assert our confidence in our own standpoint.

The blogger pointed out that the conversation never came round to history, but the kids seem to have been actively engaged in an argument that is very relevant to very modern history as well as the foundations of this country.

I don't see this as grounds for dismissal of the teacher.

By Maxtrumental (not verified) on 28 Dec 2006 #permalink

PS. I just read the post by X^^^^^ (the highschool sophomore). You SHOULD have to listen to science that discredits your faith and you SHOULD be graded on your comprehension of the information you learned. Science may not offer perfect information because it is an evolving collection of ideas and info... that's what's good about it. It is, by it's nature, open to debate. In fact, it demands it! So learn all you can, and argue against it the best you can. It is good for all of us.

Oh and John^^^^, excellent points, I thing you addressed X very well, however I think the mudslinging (though it was relatively light) only serves to hurt your argument and justify someone like X in disregarding your views.

By Maxtrumental (not verified) on 28 Dec 2006 #permalink