© Glendon Mellow, The Flying Trilobite

Checking in with the Mother Ship: NCSE

(Part 5 of several. Start here.)

kirkAfter dropping a note to my son’s high school principal about some apparent shenanigans in the boy’s science class, I flipped open my communicator to check in with the Mother Ship — a.k.a. the National Center for Science Education. Do this sooner in the process, do it later, but do it. NCSE has seen it all.

I started with a brief summary of events (as if they hadn’t already been following along on the blog, which of course they had), then asked four questions. Within an hour, I had a reply from NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch. He confirmed that I have “been handling the situation very well indeed.”

The backs of my wrists snapped to my hips, and I did a preen-and-strut around my office, head pistoning, uh huh, uh huh, uh huh. An important ritual, not to be skipped.

My first question: Is it reasonable to insist on seeing the overheads my son was referring to?

The request to see the overheads is reasonable, he said. “It still makes sense, I think, for you to pursue the overheads, to put the teacher on notice that he can’t ignore a reasonable request like that.” He added that union restrictions might protect the teacher in this situation. Georgia teachers are not unionized (with mostly unfortunate results, from what this husband of a teacher has seen, oy!), so that is not an issue here.

He then added a point I would not have considered: If the overheads were downloaded from somewhere (as opposed to self-prepared), they might be subject to a district policy which requires review and approval of supplementary materials. He suggested I check with Connor. (I did — Connor said the overheads were “very homemade.”)

I spent some time on the district and state DOE websites and was unable to find a specific policy regarding parents’ rights to see classroom materials. Such a thing would be helpful, so without going into the current unpleasantness, I’ve dropped a note to the area superintendent asking if such a policy is in place.

Second question: What should I expect by way of report from the principal?

Not a lot, as it turns out. “You probably can’t expect much in the way of a report from the principal, who doesn’t have much incentive to share information with you (and is probably constrained by law, to some extent, in what he can share about employee discipline, in any case). In the absence of evidence for a sustained and serious attempt at undermining the integrity of science education on the teacher’s part, it probably isn’t worth insisting.”

Question #3: Does the fact that the course was not biology make a difference?

Hell (or words to that effect) no, Glenn said. “If Connor’s home ec teacher said the same thing, you’d still be right to be concerned! Moreover, general physical science courses are typically the first (or early) in a sequence of science courses, where ideally the latter courses build on the earlier courses; if the physical science teacher is miseducating students about the nature of science, he is impeding their ability to learn in their later courses (as well as in college science courses).”

Excellent point. I had been inclined to cut Taylor if not a lot of slack, at least more than I would someone showing ignorance in his own specialization. But Glenn is right to note that the damage done to the science sequence is arguably even greater because it can pre-fit students with a warped lens.

And finally: The teacher is now on notice, and the principal knows who to watch and why. Do you consider that a sufficient resolution in this case?

“As noted above, there’s a bit more that you could do, if you were so inclined…But in the absence of evidence of a sustained and serious attempt at undermining the integrity of science education on the teacher’s part, I think that what you’ve done is enough.”

If I encounter this again, there are a few things I will do differently. I’ll cover those next time in the post-mortem. But it’s helpful to hear from folks who’ve seen this kind of thing from every possible angle that I’ve done all right.



This was written on Sunday, 12. September 2010 at 14:09 and was filed under action, Atlanta, belief and believers, Kerfuffles, My kids, Parenting, Science. You can keep up with the comments to this article by using the RSS-Feed.

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Comments »

  1. I am finding this site very useful, and well written.

    Now, from the other point of view, how should I deal with a teacher (history) who has more than once made disparaging remarks about religion? Not blatant, but definitely disparaging.

    I am not a teacher, and have no connections per se, and am concerned about possible reprecussions for my nephew if his parents say anything.

    Any advice?

    Comment: JD – 12. September 2010 @ 6:45 pm

  2. @JD: It depends on the nature of the remarks. If you feel they constitute an abridgement of religious freedom, or a violation of state standards is evident, it should definitely be addressed…IF it’s okay with your nephew. I did not approach Connor’s teacher until I had cleared it with Connor (and promised to be civil).

    If your nephew is comfortable with his parents talking directly to the teacher, I would have a very civil sit-down with the teacher and discuss the concerns in terms of religious freedom (not offense). If your nephew is not comfortable with that, they should go to the principal with the concern instead and ask that the child be kept anonymous. Not ideal, but I would definitely not do something that makes the student feel vulnerable.

    Comment: Dale – 12. September 2010 @ 7:06 pm

  3. Well done throughout, Dale! I don’t expect you’ll hear much else–from what the principal said earlier it sounds like this is the first time this has come up with this teacher. Just a warning and no other disciplinary action, wouldn’t you think?

    Backpats for Dale, everybody! And cookies!:))

    Comment: yokohamamama – 12. September 2010 @ 7:27 pm

  4. Re: determining whether or not the slides were downloaded from somewhere, Connor may have said “the overheads were ‘very homemade,’” but many of the young earth creationist slides I’ve seen are very cheesy – not very professional looking at all, so I’d recommend still pursuing this course of action.

    Comment: Tim Helble – 13. September 2010 @ 11:23 am

  5. This has been really interesting. There are always issues at school that crop up. I remember being shocked when my son first encountered the Pledge. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me that he would be required to say it until he came home reciting it. Of course the class would say it when he started public school. But we spoke with his teacher and she said first of all he could leave the room and second she did try to explain on a 5 year old level what it all meant instead of simply reciting big words. It made us feel better just having that discussion – and we knew he was too young to understand or share our objections. So no fuss made, then or now, that would make him feel like the freak.

    I like the idea of clearing things with your kids before you make a fuss; that way they aren’t the ones singled out by teachers OR the other kids.

    Comment: bcornelius79 – 13. September 2010 @ 2:35 pm

  6. Dale, thanks so much for sharing this story with all of us. I live in fear of this sort of situation myself, so seeing someone else go through it is a great comfort.

    Comment: jenea – 13. September 2010 @ 9:30 pm

  7. Congrats, Dale. It shows great judgment that you are articulating a goal and a point at which you can be satisfied. I think it’s easy to want the satisfaction of a hand-wringing apology or big Bonfire o’ Overhead Shame, but that isn’t always a realistic (or even ideal) resolution. By having goals and being satisfied with quieter victories, you make it obvious to people on both sides that you’re in this for good science, not ideological kudos. Which, I think, is what Phil Plait was saying in the video you posted: we get further when we’re more interested in being productive than vindictive.

    …And how damn cool is the NCSE?

    Comment: Allison – 14. September 2010 @ 8:44 am

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