Saturday, May 16, 2009

Follow Up: CA Court Rules in Favor of Christian Student

I received the following email in response to the podcast Dr. Fuz Rana and I recorded about the court decision against the atheist high school teacher a couple weeks ago. With the author's permission, I am posting it here. It gives more background to the situation, as well as offers a practical strategy for parents who might find their children in similar situations.
Five years ago my child had Dr. Corbett for AP European History and then later for AP Art History. Even then, he was infamous for being anti-Christan. For example, he claimed that there was no proof that Jesus was a real person. As the history 'expert,' most of the young kids believed him. Remember, while supporters try to frame this class as a 'college-level' class, these are mostly sophomores, only 15-year-olds, not 19-year-olds. What 15-year-old is going to argue with a Ph.D. professor (Berkley, of course)? The worst thing they could do was to win any discussion.

The way he runs his class is to begin each day with 15-20 minutes of monologue railing against religious and conservative views. While the lawsuit focused on his 'creationism' comment, the real issue is not really religion versus science. The real issue is that the school administration has known about Dr. Corbett's activities and has done nothing to work with him on a more appropriate way to TEACH. This is high school, not college and he is employed to teach history, not indoctrinate children. His defense of this practice is to claim that he is challenging the students to think critically. That is the key issue that has been lost. The question is not really whether he is abusive towards religion (he must have a cabinet size file that shows he is) but whether he teaches students to think critically or just to think like him.

The answer is that he doesn't teach critical thinking. He makes an outrageous statement and characterizes anyone who has an opposing opinion as foolish but NEVER follows up with a real, honest discussion about the topic. Ken[neth Samples] spends a lot of time teaching how to respectfully and properly discuss and analyze a topic (with all the big names for the usual errors). Strawman, attack the person instead of the position, ignore data, etc. Dr. Corbett is teaching those bad habits. Just read the comments from his supporters and you see the same tactics.

So what to do if your child gets a Dr. Corbett?

Use it as a teaching exercise, of course!

He may be the first but he won't be the last hostile teacher they have. Your child can learn how to engage with someone who is openly hostile to what they believe. Because they hold the student's grade in their power, the student must walk a fine line in how far to confront the teacher. Learn how to state their case clearly and with respect. Knowing that it's the teacher's class and the teacher always wins. Remember, that while you won't win in class, you can have a great opportunity to engage your classmates outside of class where the teacher doesn't control the debate. My child and I had great discussions on both what was said and how to respond.

Sometimes, what looks like a problem is really an opportunity.
Here's a shameless plug for the "Critical Thinking Skills" online course available through Reasons Institute. It is taught by Kenneth Samples and is second to none in terms of teaching people to think carefully, but in everyday terms. I'd especially recommend it for high school students as preparation for college.

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