Irrationality in the Schools

Conservatives who deny our heritage of separation of church and state sometimes try to frame the issue as being one of providing the free choice of including religion in the schools. They claim that liberals and activitt judges are infringing upon their freedom. In case anyone wonders why the courts have gotten involved in insisting upon respect for separation of church and state in the schools, this story provides an excellent example.

A Mount Vernon teacher undermined science instruction in the public school district by discrediting evolution in his classroom and focusing on creationism and intelligent design, an investigation has found.

Eighth-graders who were taught by John Freshwater frequently had to be re-taught in high school what they were supposed to have learned in Freshwater’s class, according to outside investigators hired by the district.

For 11 years, other teachers in the school district and people in the community complained about Freshwater preaching his Christian beliefs in class and slamming scientific theories, a school administrator told investigators.

It took them eleven years to act upon this? It sounds like they only reason they are finally taking action is for something even more extreme than teaching creationism:

The report confirmed that Freshwater burned crosses onto students’ arms, using an electrostatic device, in December.

Freshwater told investigators the marks were X’s, not crosses. But all of the students interviewed in the investigation reported being branded with crosses. The investigation report includes a photo of one student’s arm with a long vertical line and a short horizontal line running through it.

The family of one student who was burned filed a federal lawsuit last week against Freshwater and the district, saying the student’s civil rights were violated.

If the views of one defender of Freshwater are indicative, it sounds like perhaps the burning of crosses is the only part of this which the local community really finds to be alarming:

Neither Freshwater nor his attorney, Roger Weaver, could be reached for comment last night. Freshwater’s friend Dave Daubenmire defended him.

“With the exception of the cross-burning episode. … I believe John Freshwater is teaching the values of the parents in the Mount Vernon school district,” he said.

Daubenmire is a former London High School football coach whose district was sued in 1999 by the American Civil Liberties Union because he led his players in prayer at games, practices and meetings.

Of course irrationality in the schools is not limited to the religious right. PZ Myers points out this story in which a Canadian school called in Children’s Aid with accusations that a student had been sexually abused. Their “evidence” for this abuse was based upon the claims of a psychic:

“The teacher looked and me and said: ‘We have to tell you something. The educational assistant who works with Victoria went to see a psychic last night, and the psychic asked the educational assistant at that particular time if she works with a little girl by the name of “V.” And she said ‘yes, I do.’ And she said, ‘well, you need to know that that child is being sexually abused by a man between the ages of 23 and 26.'”

Obama, FISA, and the Blogosphere

Obama’s support for the FISA compromise, which I commented on yesterday, remains a hot topic in the blogosphere. Glenn Greenwold has summarized the issues well. The retroactive immunity for the telecommunications companies seems to be getting the most coverage, but I am more concerned with the surveilance powers it grants. The ACLU has listed the problems. Hopefully Obama’s experience in Constitutional law wil lead him to placing more controls on how surveilance is performed, and there is no doubt that he will respect civil liberties to a greater extent than John McCain or George Bush. It would be far better if  Congress were to do a better job of imposing checks on the Executive branch and include necessary restrictions in the legislation they pass.

The civil liberties aspects of this matter have been widely discussed, including in the links above. There remains some political aspects of interest, including the relationship between the liberal blogosphere and the Democratic Party. Damozel has posted a run down of blog comments from yesterday, and was kind enough to include a link to my post. While there are areas where I disagree with her which I will get to below, we both agree in our concern for the provisions beyond retroactive immunity, and in believing that political considerations in an election year are largely behind Obama’s support for the compromise. 

One theme seen in many comments in the blogosphere, including those quoted by Damozel, is the question of whether Obama will consistently pursue the agenda of the liberal blogosphere. While this might come as a shock to some bloggers, I’ve long felt that the answer to that one is “no.” Nor would I want him to on all issues, even if I wish he had on this one. I think Obama has made it clear that he does not support the liberal Democratic orthodoxy on all matters and that he plans to govern in a manner which moves beyond the recent left/right divide. That means that liberal bloggers might not always approve of what Obama does. I just wish it wasn’t on a civil liberties issue that he first showed such independence.

During the Bush years it was easy for the liberal blogosphere to be united (other than when divided over preferred candidates). While we might have a variety of opinions on other topics, there was unanimous opposition to pretty much everything Bush has done. Once the Democrats are setting the agenda, there will be far more disagreement on the left. While me might agree in opposing the Iraq war and the Patriot Act, we do not necessarily agree on all issues. In this regard I see Obama as being similar to many other individuals on the left. We agree on some issues but not on others. I have no doubt that in the future his policies will differ from the consensus of agreement on the left to the extent to which it exists. In other areas there will be differences of opinion and some of us will agree with Obama and some won’t. As I’ve written in the past, if Obama is elected I suspect that I will have a number of blog posts disagreeing with his actions. However I also believe things will be far better than if any of his opponents of either party had won.

This leads to my disagreement with Damozel and some other bloggers. She beleives that Edwards would have never gone along with this and that he is more “progressive” than Obama. The Sideshow asks, “Is it too late for all the superdelegates to throw their votes to Edwards and cause a floor fight?”

What makes anyone believe that Edwards would be the slightest bit better than Obama on civil liberties issues? You certainly cannot say this based upon his Senate years when he helped write the Patriot Act and certainly did not have a progressive record. You can’t say this based upon his years practicing law which provided no experience in civil liberties issues. While he is certainly far from perfect, I continue to believe that Barack Obama, with his experience in Constitutional law, is a far better choice.

The belief that Edwards is more progressive than Obama demonstrates the limitations of our political categories. Edwards did move to the left in supporting populist economics, but beyond this I saw no evidence of him really embracing liberal principles on civil liberties and social issues. There is a tremendous difference between the political platform one adopts in a given election year and the principles they have supported throughout their entire career. Once it was clear we were down to a choice of only three of the Democratic contenders I backed Obama considering him the only liberal of the three. I saw the choice as  being between one liberal candidate and two populist conservatives.

Many in the liberal blogosphere will disagree strongly with this, while others will agree in finding Obama the only acceptable choice of the upper tier Democratic candidates. Similarly we had strong divisions between supporters of Obama and Clinton in the final months of the primary campaign. This gets back to my earlier comments on the lack of a consensus on all matters in the liberal blogosphere. The differences between supporters of different candidates were not simply matters of disagreement over personalities. They often represented real differences in world view.

These differences were more obvious during a primary campaign and will most likely be limited in the upcoming months, even if some supporters of Edwards or Clinton periodically argue  that their candidate should have won the nomination. Assuming that Obama wins the general election, the liberal blogosphere will be in a situation where we have never been before. We will most likely have greater disagreements as to what should be done when the major political issues are no longer being for or against the policies of George Bush. We will at times support and at other times oppose what Obama is doing. While the blogosphere is pretty much united in disagreeing with Obama on the FISA compromise, even among those of us who backed him in the primaries, I suspect that it will be even more common for the blogosphere to be divided on different issues with some opposing and some agreeing with Obama. The divisions between different groups of conservatives have been apparent for years. The differences in opinion between liberal bloggers might be come far more apparent in the future.