John Freshwater had been a science teacher in Ohio public schools for 24 years. His eight grade students in Mount Vernon, Ohio, generally scored at or above the state and national averages on test scores. He believed that students learned better with hands on experiments and making learning fun.
On one occasion, he was demonstrating a Tesla coil which burned an ‘X’ on a student’s arm. The burn was minor and it seems that no one other than the parents saw the burn. They did take a photo of the arm and claimed he had burned a cross and not an X.
In 2008 Freshwater committed an unpardonable sin of asking his science students to think critically. He taught them to ask questions about different theories which would lead them to further investigate the theories for themselves. This has been a fundamental aspect of science for centuries. His method was successful and his students responded well and excelled.
When it came to evolution, he encouraged them to question and investigate the tenets of evolution. When the topic of creation was brought up, he encouraged the same kind of critical thinking and questioning as they did for evolution.
Even though this has been a foundation of science for years, Freshwater soon learned that to question evolution was nearly akin to committing high treason. He was ordered to stop that method of teaching. He was also ordered to remove all religious items from his classroom including the Bible that always sat on his desk. Freshwater complied with everything except removing the Bible and he was summarily suspended under charges of teaching creationism and religious doctrine in his public school classroom. In 2003, the school board denied his request to teach students that there were controversies with the theory of evolution.
A Mount Vernon School District review board determined that Freshwater had in fact taught creationism and failed to comply with orders to remove religious items from the classroom and burned a cross in a student’s arm during an experiment. In January, 2011, Freshwater was officially terminated from his teaching job.
Freshwater appealed to two different courts, claiming that his right to free speech and academic freedom had been violated by the school district. Unfortunately, both courts refused to hear his case. His case has been taken on by the Rutherford Institute and president of Rutherford, John W. Whitehead commented about the case saying:
“Academic freedom was once the bedrock of American education. That is no longer the state of affairs, as this case makes clear. What we need today are more teachers and school administrators who understand that young people don’t need to be indoctrinated. Rather, they need to be taught how to think for themselves.”
And when it came to the supposed cross that had been burned into the arm of the student, Whitehead explained:
“No one but the reporting family observed the alleged mark, as the family took a picture of the student’s arm instead of taking the child to a physician or showing the arm to any other potentially interested adult.”
Whitehead and Rutherford Institute took their appeal to the state supreme court who recently announced that they would hear the case.
I’ve known other teachers who have suffered similar fates for just questioning evolution without any mention of creationism. I spoke with a man who had taught high school biology for nearly 20 years in a Midwest public school. One day he asked his students if they saw any problem with the laws of biology and the theory of evolution. By the end of the week, he was suspended because one student complained to his parents who immediately contacted the ACLU who contacted the school who suspended the teacher.
It seems that in today’s academic world, the only thing that cannot be questioned is evolution. Everything else is fair game, but evolution is religiously protected and guarded. Freshwater not only questioned it, but tried to teach his students to think critically and question it instead of blindly accepting it. Hopefully, the Ohio State Supreme Court will recognize the hypocrisy that exists in the educational system and will exonerate Freshwater and allow him to return to what he loves, teaching America’s next generation of leaders how to think for themselves.