Sunday, January 02, 2011
before you felt the pain
before I could complain
with no need to atone
... but left me all alone!
I am sending this letter to all the parents of the students in the first semester of my 8th grade AIG science class last year. This class included the teaching of evolution, as required by the state's standard course of instruction. While teaching evolution, the students and I had an open discussion about God, religion and evolution. I cannot recall the details of the discussion, but I know my intention was to allow everyone to express themselves freely on these topics.
The discussion led to comments about the Bible and how it should or should not be interpreted. This is the first time that I have participated in such a discussion with students, and I regret that certain students perceived that I was taking a position on how the Bible should be interpreted.
I have learned much from this experience and wish to assure you that I respect your right, and the right ofyour children, to decide your own views on religion and on the interpretation of the Bible. I know, under the Establishment Clause of our Constitution, that a teacher in the school setting is not to advance or disparage religion or the Bible. Further, I recognize that a teacher should not take a position favoring one religion, or one interpretation ofthe Bible, over another.
In the future, I will refrain from sharing my personal religious beliefs with the class.
While I know my intentions were good and that this was an isolated situation, I do
apologize for the manner in which I taught this particular class that day.
The question was whether that would be understood as her speaking pursuant to her official duties, and not not as a private citizen. The court concludes it was official and cites a case where a government attorney was forced to apologize to a client. I'm not so sure that the letter as a whole reads that way but the basic idea is right. After all, we're happy to force creationist teachers to teach evolution as part of their duties.
It would be interesting to know exactly what were the changes she wanted to make to the letter.
Mike from Ottawa
That was my own first impression but what is said in the letter boils down to:
~ She doesn't remember what she said about God and Bible interpretation (which she also maintained in court);
~ She regrets the perception that she was advocating a particular Biblical interpretation (instead of just reporting that there are other views), which she should not have been doing as a teacher in a public school, especially in a science class;
~ That she will respect the students' right to their own religious beliefs (which she is required to do anyway);
~ She is (now?) aware of the constitutional prohibition against advancing or disparaging religious views or favoring one view over another;
~ She won't do so (again?) in the future.
You can (and I suspect the court did) read between the lines of her admission that the discussion "got out of control" that she realized that she had gone too far and, so, the apology was appropriate.
If I was her lawyer, I would have wanted some indication that she was being required to explain herself (and wasn't just groveling to the parents to save her job) and maybe a stronger statement that she did not intend to violate any students' rights to their beliefs but I can see where the court would take that as quibbling after she had initially agreed to the letter.
Do you require creationist teachers to say they personally believe what they are teaching?
We can and have required teachers to refrain from advocating in class that "creation science" is better than the sciences of biology, geology, physics, etc.
On the same grounds, we can require teachers to refrain from advocating one Bible interpretation as better than another.