Ohio Teacher Gives Cross-Burning Whole New Meaning

21 06 2008

[John] Freshwater has taught eighth-grade science in the district for 21 years.

In April, the school board hired HR On Call Inc. to investigate Freshwater, four months after the parents of a child in his class said he had burned a cross into the child’s arm, causing swelling and blistering.

[family photo provided to media via school district]

Hamilton called the complaints “fabrications created by a couple of students. … Not a single child has ever been harmed,” he said.

Freshwater’s earlier “defense” claim was to dismiss the children’s brand-like burn scars as merely X shapes, not the Christian cross symbol.

I don’t see how this would’ve helped him with shocked parents and school officials concerned with potential liability for his actions. It’s downright delusional imo– considering that hitting kids and leaving any mark at all is a serious offense with or without religious motive, and I seem to recall a kindergarten teacher fired for hugging kids who looked like they needed it! (Here’s a recent teacher-hug-spells-trouble news item from Texas.)

Intelligent teachers designing or not, Christian or not, effective or not, all ought to have learned one big lesson in our litigious system by now: any physical contact with a student in your charge is fraught with peril no matter what your intentions, and cooperation of the child with any such contact is no defense for the teacher.

Because the child’s independent consent is deemed not yet possible, the teacher must do all the thinking for both of them, and bear all the responsibility alone, like Rick singlehandedly deciding Ilsa and Victor’s fate — if not the free world’s! — in the movie Casablanca: “Oh, I don’t know what’s right anymore; you’ll have to do the thinking for both of us.”

And another thing, wouldn’t his Christian creationist supporters be put off by him trying to call the cross burns an X and deny it was religious expression (unless it was a wink-wink conspiracy to lie about it in service of the greater truth, which I can’t imagine ten commandment literalists rationalizing with a straight face?)

So maybe I’m not the only one who noticed that was a dumb argument all around.

But please tell me how is this any improvement legally or in any kind of thinking besides magical — now with an apparently different lawyer, the burns are dismissed altogether, as if they never happened and left no marks?!

Or maybe I am being too credulous, not parsing this story for the whole truth legally and holy truth spiritually? Is it all a clever word trick, like Bill Clinton’s use of the word “is” — arguing the burns are real and Freshwater did indeed perform the burning, but because it *is* a holy cross, it can’t therefore be “harmful” to any child bearing it?

You know, that medieval meme saving the spirit through mortification of the flesh, and how that’s not harm but a GOOD thing?

Or maybe he’s switching to some crazy doctrine of immaculate infliction, spontaneous stigmata sent by God to the wicked science class and the teacher was just standing by as witness? (Evidence of the monstrous harm done when kids are taught alchemy, that leaden lies can be transformed into golden truth, if only you believe hard enough and get a bunch of other people to believe it too?)

Or maybe this is all being set up by everyone involved, from the parents to the school board and the Christian creationist community, as the next big test case, sigh.

The family of the boy filed a lawsuit last week against Freshwater and district officials, claiming the boy’s civil rights were violated.

The branding was done with a machine used to show characteristics of gases.

In Mount Vernon, the public debate over Freshwater is reflected in signs on the road, one saying that if the school board made Freshwater remove his Bible from his classroom, the community would get rid of the school board.

“It saddens us that we’re at this point,” said Mary Lou Sinzinger, a Freshwater supporter. “This God-fearing community is one of the reasons we moved here.”



23 responses

21 06 2008

The official report is here, including another child’s arm with the same mark pictured.

And here’s Freshwater’s own “statement” from April 16 — apparently misdated 2007 instead of 2008 — defending the Bible on his desk etc. as representing his own first amendment freedoms.

Taken together with the usual argument about a Christian teacher’s faith and values being so integral to who they are, that their religion necessarily will be brought into every job situation (including the public school science classroom) and there actively expressed and demonstrated with no boundary or limit possible — couldn’t we all mutually agree quite neutrally and constitutionally then, that declaring oneself Christian is prima facie evidence one is unsuited and ineligible for certification and employment in public school teaching?

That’s a rhetorical question, useful to think about if these arguments are ever to be sorted. . .

21 06 2008

WTF goes on in Ohio schools anyway??

Assault at Mifflin High School

In 2005, a developmentally disabled girl at Mifflin High School was forced to perform sex acts in the school auditorium. The assault and the district’s response provoked strong reactions from the community. This page reflects some of the stories published by The Dispatch in the aftermath of the attack.


Blemished backgrounds: The hidden pasts of school-bus drivers

When Columbus police stopped a school bus driver for making an illegal turn in January, they found a syringe of cocaine on board and a driver with a shocking history.

The situation raised an alarming question: How could someone with three drunken-driving convictions and four other traffic offenses be fit to drive children?

A team of Dispatch reporters set out to make sense of the daily developments and explain how the system allows some people to drive school buses despite blemished backgrounds.

22 06 2008

Reader comment on the Columbus Dispatch education blog last month, during the investigation:

Here is my complaint. I live in this town. There are signs all over the place….”the bible is a book of education”, etc. It is if you are in church. It is stressful here, even if you don’t have a child in school. Kids are being harassed at their school if they don’t stand up for this teacher. What kind of freedom of speech is that??? I just don’t get it. They aren’t supposed to have religion in schools. Period. Agree with it or not, that is how it is. If he wants to teach Christianity, he needs to teach in a Christian school. That is why they have Christian schools. The other day, a state government official, was on the public square leading a prayer in defense of this teacher. I mean seriously, what is going on there???

Also, since when can you brand a child with a cross, or anything else for that matter? I am almost positive that is not in the curriculum.

I am a Christian, but this is so very wrong.

It is so very sad watching the constitution slip away day by day. What will be next?


Posted by Jenny | May 19, 2008 4:40 PM

22 06 2008
Nance Confer

Has Freshwater’s church said anything about all of this?


22 06 2008

Good question for which I have no answer —

23 06 2008

Via Daryl, very clear words on constitutionality in Freshwater’s classroom.

23 06 2008
Talk About Teaching the Controversy! « Cocking A Snook!

[…] About Teaching the Controversy! 23 06 2008 While science teacher John Freshwater is still playing out some kind of Christian belief competition with word games, Parenting Beyond […]

27 06 2008
Ignorance Makes the N-Word Even Scarier Unspoken « Cocking A Snook!

[…] evolution, Ken Ham’s Creation Museum and the public school science teacher burning crosses into eighth-graders’ flesh for Christmas. Ignorance isn’t just about failing to master the rigors of science and math; […]

11 08 2008

Freshwater still has not been fired. Appeals are pending. (See below)
Nance had asked about what Freshwater’s Christian supporters were saying about his beliefs belonging in public school teaching; these websites might help fill in that context::

Bible on the Desk
Support Freshwater
As you can see by the name of the first site, the pro-Freshwater frame is that he’s being persecuted just for “having a Bible on his desk.” Like any political campaign, a snappy, simple, false soundbite to repeat ad nauseum is key. Also it includes this notice on the homepage:
“This is the only official source of information from John Freshwater and his team of legal and spiritual advisors. No other person or group has the authority to speak for or on the behalf of Mr. Freshwater.”

So the second site’s notice (of course) is:
“NOTE: Any comments or information posted on SupportFreshwater.com are strictly from a private citizen and not affiliated with John Freshwater, his attorneys, or any other group. ”

And he has his own wikipedia page now too. Here’s a science blog taking issue with that wiki page, and with some group of radicalized Christian men called Minutemen United, whose devotees apparently flooded Freshwater’s August 4 hearing, with the result that now the August 26 hearing might be closed to the public?

The MU claim it wasn’t just the bible on the desk but in the science teaching: “Freshwater’s real crime, in the eyes of secular “educators”—successfully challenging the concept of evolution.”
[But his wiki page reveals that his only degrees are an AA in recreation and a bachelor’s in education — how singularly brilliant an evolutionary biologist could he be?]

Also, the cross-branding was in December right before the district got a new superintendent in January, Steve Short. So did he come in as some reformer to purge the Christians? Not likely. The Minutemen United blog refers to him as,

Steve Short—whose eldest son is a worship minister in Kentucky and whose youngest son is studying to be a pastor. . .asked if Darwin’s Origin of the Species is a religious text, Short answered, “Sure it is.”

Here’s the Zanesville TimesRecorder editor’s commentary this month, as the beat goes on:

On Monday, 500 people turned up at a public hearing at which Freshwater defended his actions. His appeals hearing is scheduled to begin Aug. 26.

If this were a simple matter of a book in a classroom, I would be squarely in Freshwater’s corner. There is nothing wrong with a teacher displaying a Bible on a desk.

And there is nothing simple about the schemes of the religious radicals seeking to overthrow the American government.

Make no mistake: Many of John Freshwater’s supporters believe the United States should be ruled as a Christian theocracy. The idea of a secular school system that favors no religion drives them crazy.

They cite the Freshwater story as an example of religious persecution. What they don’t want you to focus on is his refusal over the years to adhere to district policy and his determination to teach religious theories like “intelligent design” in public classrooms. The independent report on his conduct makes his insubordination clear.

I’m not sure what would please the theocrats more – turning Freshwater into a Christian martyr when he’s fired, or allowing him to return to the classroom and proselytize.

The problem with “putting God back in the schools” is this: Whose God should be there?

It’s impossible to accommodate the wide variety of Christian and non-Christian beliefs – not to mention those who choose not to believe. If prayer in public schools meant forcing kids to pray the Rosary daily, the theocrats would revolt.

The Bible tells us “there is a time to every purpose under the heaven.” When it comes to matters of faith, the time and the place are at church and at home.

The Mount Vernon school board should be commended for sticking to its principles. So should John Freshwater, who I suspect means well. I hope he puts them in practice in the appropriate venue – a private, Christian school.

13 06 2009

A Fight for Religious Freedom in the Classroom
So one year later here were are again. Freshwater is filing suit saying his own constitutional civil rights were violated (not the public schoolkids’ rights??) and he’s being proclaimed an international Christian group’s “hero of the faith” for suing to protect “religious freedom.”

Cock of the snook to Daryl for the story.

13 06 2009
Nance Confer

So the good news is he was eventually fired.

And when his ridiculous lawsuit is dismissed, all will be right in the land. 🙂


13 06 2009

Such FAITH! 😉

14 06 2009
Nance Confer

The wheels of justice grind slowly. . .. but, hell, if we can’t have some confidence that, eventually, with a lot of work, we get these things right, that would just be too sad.


14 06 2009

Ooh, good side point — compare and contrast the meaning of “confidence” and “faith” that is, if you dare! 😉

14 06 2009
The Case of Whole Truth v. Holy Truth « Cocking A Snook!

[…] This is back on the front burner, tempest in a tea party pot, small-scale yet honest-to-god religious war over secular education in the news again. Uncivil civil war. Reading through last year’s competing kinds of truth about this case, it’s pretty clear there will be no meeting of minds, no meeting of truths — and certainly no real tea party manners. […]

14 06 2009
Nance Confer

It’s the distinction I try to draw when accused of “believing” in science. I have confidence based on evidence, not belief based on faith.


14 06 2009

Confidence is a fun word to think about all by itself. Confidence game means you’re using someone’s belief based on what they are sure they see as plain evidence, to scam them (literally to “con” them) — and yet it also is a scientific/statistical term that can be expressed mathematically, as in confidence interval, that literally means a range of plausible values to express UNcertainty. 😉

14 06 2009

And to be faithful means to be “true” to something, even though if you have faith, what you’re being true TO, may be completely false and it doesn’t matter to you if it is.

14 06 2009

And there’s trust too, with its various shadings including this from Google Scholar:

* Trustworthiness as a Source of Competitive Advantage
* Jay B. Barney and Mark H. Hansen
* Strategic Management Journal, Vol. 15, Special Issue: Competitive Organizational Behavior (Winter, 1994), pp. 175-190
(article consists of 16 pages)
* Published by: John Wiley & Sons
* Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2486817

Three types of trust in economic exchanges are identified: weak form trust, semi-strong form trust, and strong form trust.

It is shown that weak form trust can only be a source of competitive advantage when competitors invest in unnecessary and expensive governance mechanisms. Semi-strong form trust can be a source of competitive advantage when competitors have differential exchange governance skills and abilities, and when these skills and abilities are costly to imitate. . .

31 12 2009
Sunday School Science Teacher Costing Schools Credibility and Cool Half-Million « Cocking A Snook!

[…] Sunday School Science Teacher Costing Schools Credibility and Cool Half-Million 31 12 2009 Remember this guy? […]

13 01 2011
Fresh News on “Christian Science” Teacher John Freshwater « Cocking A Snook!

[…] Teacher gives cross-burning new meaning […]

17 11 2011

More fresh news – as of today’s court ruling, he’s still fired. Doesn’t sound like he’s ready to accept that though.

Knox County Common Pleas Judge Otho Eyster said in his two-page ruling Wednesday that he found clear and convincing evidence that the Mount Vernon school board was right in dismissing John Freshwater early this year.

A request by the former Mount Vernon Middle School teacher for Eyster to conduct additional hearings “is not well taken,” the judge wrote.


14 11 2012

Further update via Mike Mendez from our local homeschool discussion group, still in the court of left-brained truth with his right-brained faith as truth, sigh:

[Parent Jenifer Dennis] even shared a photo with Americans United that clearly showed the red marks on his arm.

Today, Dennis says she is stunned that the case has taken so long to resolve. Yet she considers it a learning experience.

“It has taught me that what I once considered a given about individual rights is not in fact such an easy issue,” Dennis told Church & State. “I am dumbfounded that individuals still feel the need to inject personal beliefs to a captive audience of minors and that using an instrument such as a Tesla coil on a student’s flesh is an issue that I had to approach the school about to have the matter addressed.

“If families do not confront wrongdoings,” she added, “they will continue to happen and the rights of all Americans will slowly be stripped away, leaving everyone to have to follow another’s beliefs or ideals.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: