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An Ohio Teacher, His Bible, and a Tesla Coil

 
 
Reply Wed 20 Jan, 2010 03:34 am
New York Times wrote:
Teacher With Bible Divides Ohio Town
By IAN URBINA
Published: January 19, 2010

MOUNT VERNON, Ohio " Most people in this quiet all-American town describe themselves as devoutly Christian, but even here they are deeply divided over what should happen to John Freshwater.

Mr. Freshwater, an eighth-grade public school science teacher, is accused of burning a cross onto the arms of at least two students and teaching creationism, charges he says have been fabricated because he refused an order by his principal to remove a Bible from his desk.

After an investigation, school officials notified Mr. Freshwater in June 2008 of their intent to fire him, but he asked for a pre-termination hearing, which has lasted more than a year and cost the school board more than a half-million dollars.

The hearing is finally scheduled to end Friday, and a verdict on Mr. Freshwater’s fate is expected some months later. But the town " home to about 15,000 people, more than 30 churches and an evangelical university " remains split.

To some, Mr. Freshwater is a hero unfairly punished for standing up for his Christian beliefs. To others, he is a zealot who pushed those beliefs onto students.

“Freshwater’s supporters want to make this into a new and reverse version of the Scopes trial,” said David Millstone, the lawyer for the Mount Vernon Board of Education, referring to the Tennessee teacher tried in 1925 for teaching evolution. “We see this as a basic issue about students having a constitutional right to be free from religious indoctrination in the public schools.”

Mr. Freshwater, who declined to be interviewed, has said he did not mean to burn a cross on any student’s arm. Instead, he said he intended to leave a temporary X on the skin using a device called a Tesla coil during a science demonstration. He says he had done that, with no complaints, hundreds of times in his 21 years as a teacher at Mount Vernon Middle School.

In a radio interview in 2008, he said he had been a target for removal since 2003, when he proposed that the school board adopt a policy to teach evolution as theory, not proven scientific fact. “I ruffled some feathers,” he said.

Married and a father of three, Mr. Freshwater, 53, was popular among students, always willing to stay after school to tutor or listen to students who needed someone to talk to.

In testimony at the board hearing, his supporters said he had consistently received positive evaluations from superiors and won distinguished teacher awards at least twice.

But school officials and former colleagues presented a different picture.

One high school teacher said she consistently had to reteach evolution to Mr. Freshwater’s students because they did not master the basics. Another testified that Mr. Freshwater told his students they should not always take science as fact, citing as an example a study that posited the possibility of a gene for homosexuality.

“Science is wrong,” Mr. Freshwater was reported as saying, “because the Bible states that homosexuality is a sin, and so anyone who is gay chooses to be gay and is therefore a sinner.”

A third teacher testified that Mr. Freshwater advised students to refer to the Bible for additional science research.

School officials said Mr. Freshwater’s science classroom was adorned with at least four copies of the Ten Commandments and several other posters that included verses from Scripture.

Mount Vernon is not a place accustomed to controversy and news media attention. It is proud of its wholesomeness. Wooden porches are adorned with American flags. A Civil War hero sits atop a tall obelisk in the center of the impeccably preserved town square. Tour guides brag about the Woodward Opera House, which is billed as the oldest freestanding opera theater in the country.

“The whole issue has been an embarrassment,” Ann Schnormeier said as she sat with 10 other women at a religious study meeting at First Congregational United Church of Christ near the center of town. She said her grandson, like many students, adored Mr. Freshwater.

“People have faith here in this town,” she said, “but Mr. Freshwater was crossing the line, and the school board has rules. There are laws, and he needs to leave his teaching position.”

Mr. Freshwater, who is currently suspended without pay, does not see things that way.

Last June, he filed a federal lawsuit against the school board seeking $1 million in damages, and in April 2008, he called a news conference at the town square to say that while he was willing to remove posters and other religious materials from his classroom " as instructed by the school board " he was drawing the line on removing his Bible.

The reaction was immediate.

Students held a “bring your Bible to school” day. Others started wearing T-shirts with “I support Mr. Freshwater " God” on the front. As the case dragged on, producing more than 5,000 pages of transcripts and more than 30 days of oral testimony, some Freshwater supporters vowed to broaden the fight.

Callers to local talk radio said that if Mr. Freshwater lost his job, they would look for indiscretions by other teachers and lobby for their removal.

Among those attending school board meetings were members of a local group called the Minutemen.

“This case woke a lot of people up around here,” said Dave Daubenmire, the founder of the group, which he named Minutemen because they “are a group of Christian guys who will show up on a minute’s notice to peacefully show support for their faith.”

In town, pastors are divided.

“I support Freshwater as a man of faith, but he is not supposed to be conveying these views in school,” said the Rev. R. Keith Stuart, pastor of First Congregational United Church of Christ.

Miles away, Mr. Freshwater’s pastor, Don Matolyak, posited that the criticism of Mr. Freshwater was part of a larger trend toward bigotry against Christians.

“If he had a Koran on his desk, he’d be fine and no one would say a word to him,” Mr. Matolyak said. “If he had ‘Origin of Species’ on his desk, they would celebrate that.”

The family of Zachary Dennis, one of the two students who say they were branded by Mr. Freshwater, said they were eager for the matter to be closed. “We are religious people,” Jennifer Dennis, Zachary’s mother, said in an interview. “But we were offended when Mr. Freshwater burned a cross onto the arm of our child.”

After teachers and students criticized Zachary for speaking up, she said, the family sold its house and moved.

“We are Christians,” she said, “who practice our faith where it belongs, at church and in our home and, most importantly, outside the public classroom, where the law requires a separation of church and state.”


Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/20/education/20teacher.html

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Type: Discussion • Score: 6 • Views: 3,094 • Replies: 16
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sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Wed 20 Jan, 2010 06:31 am
@Diest TKO,
Science-types -- is the Tesla coil excuse plausible? (I don't know.)
tycoon
 
  1  
Reply Wed 20 Jan, 2010 07:04 am
@sozobe,
These coils are usually high voltage, creating long, showy sparks. It is inconceivable to me to be subjecting student's bare skin to this, even if it only "temporarily" leaves a burn mark on the skin, which the teacher admits. IMO, this excuse does not fly. Nor does his explanation that the burn is an X and not a cross.

Half a million public school dollars lost because of this fool.
0 Replies
 
Diest TKO
 
  1  
Reply Wed 20 Jan, 2010 07:14 am
@sozobe,
sozobe wrote:

Science-types -- is the Tesla coil excuse plausible? (I don't know.)

It's not the tesla coil that makes an excuse, it's the notion that it's an X and not a cross. Seems like he knows what he did, and knows it was inappropriate, so he's trying to make a plausible excuse. Not that burning any shape or symbol into someone's arm is acceptable. That by itself seems grounds for firing and a lawsuit against the teacher, school, and district.

T
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0 Replies
 
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Wed 20 Jan, 2010 07:23 am
Tycoon and Diest, thanks. You get at the part I was asking about -- whether it's a cool thing that leaves an actual temporary (but painless) mark, or whether it's irresponsibly harmful.
0 Replies
 
DrewDad
 
  1  
Reply Wed 20 Jan, 2010 07:53 am
@sozobe,
sozobe wrote:

Science-types -- is the Tesla coil excuse plausible? (I don't know.)

It does not sound plausible to me. Tesla coils produce electric arcs. You do not touch them, or touch others with them.

Perhaps he's created slight burns that faded, but it doesn't sound like something a teacher should be doing.
0 Replies
 
boomerang
 
  1  
Reply Wed 20 Jan, 2010 08:02 am
I found this:

Quote:
Teacher Burned Crosses With a High Frequency Generator
John Freshwater, a middle school teacher in Columbus Ohio, was fired by the school board for preaching his Christian beliefs and using a "high frequency generator" to burn the image of a cross into students arms. (You can read the full article here) What exactly is this "high frequency generator" thing?

The device in question is called a Tesla coil. It is technically not a generator as reports have claimed, but actually something called a transformer. It is similar to the big glass globes that have electrical arcs dancing around inside, the ones where if you place your finger on it, the arcs move to your fingers. The type that John Freshwater used had no glass globe surrounding it. The arc of electricity, actually 50,000 volt lightening bolts, directly hits an object brought near to it.

Is the device harmful?

Basically no, however most school demonstration grade Tesla Coils will burn the skin and are moderately painful to experience. We all know that putting a fork into a wall outlet is dangerous, but why? A wall outlet is a source of 120 volt, 60 hertz, alternating current. When you stick a metal object into a wall outlet, electrical current will travel from the outlet to the ground through your feet. A Tesla Coil takes that 120 volt wall current and transforms it into a 50,000 volt source. The reason it is safer is because it also increases the frequency from 60 hertz to something between 25,000 and 2 million hertz. This means that someone hit by the lightening will not be electrocuted; the current will travel harmlessly along the outside layer of their skin rather than through their body.

Why did the Tesla Coil burn images into the students skin?

In theory someone hit by an arc from a Tesla Coil would experience no pain and it would leave no mark, however that's not the case with small devices used in middle and high school science classes. Some of the current from the device travels through at the original 60 hertz. This causes charges to jump from the Tesla Coil to the persons skin and travel through their bodies. The current is high enough to burn skin fairly quickly. This is probably why Mr. Freshwater moved the Tesla Coil into the pattern of a cross; leaving it in one spot would cause a serious and painful burn. A Tesla Coil can easily generate enough heat to set a piece of paper on fire after a couple of seconds of sustained exposure.

DrewDad
 
  1  
Reply Wed 20 Jan, 2010 08:18 am
@boomerang,
Then again, I could be wrong.
0 Replies
 
fresco
 
  1  
Reply Wed 20 Jan, 2010 10:14 am
Laughing
What is it with Americans and religion ? (Rhetorical Question).
Diest TKO
 
  1  
Reply Wed 20 Jan, 2010 10:22 am
@fresco,
Think of us as the lightning rod for this ****. We deal with the embarassing parts so you don't have to. Other countries can point to us and be like: You see, this is why we avoid that ****.

Thank us later.
K
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rosborne979
 
  1  
Reply Wed 20 Jan, 2010 01:22 pm
@Diest TKO,
Diest TKO wrote:

New York Times wrote:
Teacher With Bible Divides Ohio Town
By IAN URBINA
Published: January 19, 2010

* In a radio interview in 2008, he said he had been a target for removal since 2003, when he proposed that the school board adopt a policy to teach evolution as theory, not proven scientific fact. “I ruffled some feathers,” he said.

* One high school teacher said she consistently had to reteach evolution to Mr. Freshwater’s students because they did not master the basics. Another testified that Mr. Freshwater told his students they should not always take science as fact, citing as an example a study that posited the possibility of a gene for homosexuality.

* “Science is wrong,” Mr. Freshwater was reported as saying, “because the Bible states that homosexuality is a sin, and so anyone who is gay chooses to be gay and is therefore a sinner.”

* A third teacher testified that Mr. Freshwater advised students to refer to the Bible for additional science research.

* School officials said Mr. Freshwater’s science classroom was adorned with at least four copies of the Ten Commandments and several other posters that included verses from Scripture.

Doesn't sound like a good science teacher to me. Probably sufficient cause to fire him just for that.

Are the grounds for his dismissal based on burning a kid, or for burning a "cross" on a kid, or for being a bad science teacher?
0 Replies
 
Diest TKO
 
  1  
Reply Wed 20 Jan, 2010 01:25 pm
Maybe he's a mad scientist. In that case, he is worth every dollar.

Take over the world
K
O
0 Replies
 
ebrown p
 
  1  
Reply Wed 20 Jan, 2010 02:00 pm
@Diest TKO,
Quote:
Think of us as the lightning rod for this ****. We deal with the embarassing parts so you don't have to. Other countries can point to us and be like: You see, this is why we avoid that ****.


I think quite to opposite is true. Many countries don't even try to separate church and state.
fresco
 
  1  
Reply Wed 20 Jan, 2010 04:20 pm
@ebrown p,
Quote:
I think quite to opposite is true. Many countries don't even try to separate church and state.


That could be because for the secular majority, the church is tolerated as a senile grandparent living in the spare room, and occasionally wheeled out for births, marriages and deaths.
0 Replies
 
kuvasz
 
  2  
Reply Wed 20 Jan, 2010 06:05 pm
@fresco,
FRESCO SAID

Quote:
What is it with Americans and religion ?


Yeah, its not like how well Europeans have dealt with religion.
fresco
 
  1  
Reply Wed 20 Jan, 2010 08:02 pm
@kuvasz,
Most simply don't seem take themselves that seriously, especially when it comes to "belief". In the UK, minorities send their children to "faith schools" but often because they provide a more disciplined approach than general state education. Those who attend the Christian ones often pay lip-service to the religious messages they receive due to the dominance of the prevailing secular culture.

Generalities are always problematic, but there is statistical evidence for the unusally high figures on "belief" in the USA relative to other Western societies.
kuvasz
 
  1  
Reply Wed 20 Jan, 2010 09:16 pm
@fresco,
My friend, I was referencing the European religious wars of the 16-17th centuries that actually caused the losers to flee to the New World.

We just still contain the virus of True Belief on this side of the Pond.

Each colony had its own religious structure, from Anglican Virginia, to Catholic Maryland, Quaker Pennsylvania and Puritan New England, to the Dutch reformed Churches in New Amsterdam, which became New York.

While I do not agree with calling the US a Christian nation I do accept that American culture is steeped in Christian symbology. So, while I can see clearly the point of the teacher, I do not consider that his extrapolation of it beyond himself, alone is correct morally nor conducive to civil public debate. One man's Gods are another's Devils.
0 Replies
 
 

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