Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Bill Muehlenberg Trophy: Principal Ken Collins, Superintendent David Burgess and the Olsen family

A teacher of American Literature in a high school in Washington state has been giving the following lesson for the past seven years:

Controversial lesson Here are two parts of a class assignment on creation myths that stirred controversy in a Lake Stevens High School teacher's American literature class:

The first asked students to identify how an Iroquois story of creation and the biblical account of Genesis serve the four functions of mythology.

The second is this handout titled "The Problem of Evil" that the teacher gave students to read.

The lesson will be part of his teaching programme no longer. Teacher Gary McDonald was reprimanded by the school's principal after one student's parents complained that he was "denigrating their Christianity." The school's superintendent issued a written apology to the parents of Lanae Olsen, stating that he, too, was "deeply offended" by a lesson adapted from a textbook comparing Iroquois creation beliefs to other creation myths. McDonald's crime, in short, was to treat Genesis as a creation myth.

For. Fuck's. Sake. The treatment of McDonald by the school authorities and the banning of his lesson amount to nothing short of anti-intellectualism and PC thuggery. (Except in this case it's Christians who are being pandered to, so we're not allowed to call it political correctness). More than that: it's a war on thinking. A school district spokesperson suggested that " The teacher's additions are more appropriate to a college-level philosophy course than a high school literature lesson." Why? Why is it inappropriate for high school students to be encouraged to think?

The double-standards here are both obvious and breathtaking. If the same action had been taken against McDonald because of a complaint by an Iroquois student, the Right would be jumping up and down, screaming "PC!!!! PC!!!!" But if someone dares call Genesis for what it is--a fucking creation myth--it's walking-on-eggshells time.

I ought to mention that McDonald, an atheist, had in the previous lesson revealed his religious affiliation to the class after a student noticed that he didn't utter the words "under God" during the Pledge of Allegiance. So what? Do you mean to tell me that no Christian teachers have ever told inquiring students what their religious affiliations might be? As for any possible parallels some might be tempted to draw with the Paskiewicz case: apples and oranges. McDonald simply announced that he is an atheist; Paskiewicz proselytised. McDonald's lesson materials were relevant to the teaching programme (his class was studying Arthur Miller's The Crucible); Paskiewicz's maunderings on biblical literalism and biblical creationism had no place in the history lesson he was supposed to be teaching. Finally, I should add that McDonald apologised for his "error," even though it could not in any reasonable sense be described as an "error;" Paskiewicz first lied about his proselytising, then when he was confronted with evidence he played the burning martyr, and remained unrepentant. Of course, while Paskiewicz enjoyed the full support of his principal and superintendent, McDonald gets raked over the coals.

And this is the kind of education system that Julie Bishop and John Howard want Australia to emulate. All I can do is shake my head.

(Via Pharyngula)