© Glendon Mellow, The Flying Trilobite

Post script: What should Taylor’s colleagues do?

A reader question on the “final” post in the Mr. Taylor series:

I’m curious about what you would say to a teacher with concerns about a colleague’s coverage of evolution. We have a science teacher who is evangelical, doesn’t believe in evolution or global warming, and “teaches the controversy” from what we hear. The problem is, I’m not in a position to have proof about what he teaches or how he does it. Any suggestion? — teacherlady

Boy that’s a good one. Teachers have an obligation to be responsive to parents. They have no such obligation to colleagues, and pointed questions from a faculty peer can (and probably would) be seen as galling presumption.

I forwarded the question to NCSE, and once again Glenn Branch provided what seems like a solid, reasonable answer:

It’s a little delicate, obviously, since this is a problem with a colleague, and there may be complicated workplace politics involved. But she should take the problem upstairs, to her department chair (if there is one) or her principal, whose job it is to worry about whether the teachers are doing their jobs right.

She should keep in mind that by doing so she’s going to be serving two interests: not only do the kids in the school need a decent science education, but also the district needs to be able to protect itself from possible lawsuit, as case law is clear. It’s difficult, we know, but she needs to do what is right, both for the kids and the district.

Any discomfort a teacher might feel in raising the question pales when weighed against those two interests.

In a later comment, teacherlady notes that the principal is also Christian and so might be disinclined to act. I wouldn’t assume that. In addition to the possibility that the principal is a sane, moderate Christian, the professional recognition of legal liability will generally trump personal leanings in all but the densest administrator.



This was written on Saturday, 18. September 2010 at 05:52 and was filed under action, belief and believers, Kerfuffles, schools, Uncategorized. You can keep up with the comments to this article by using the RSS-Feed.

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Comments »

  1. I am also a science teacher. In Oklahoma.
    I will try to alter details in my comment to prevent being identified, but the important points are the same.

    I have a friend at another school that this happened to. He teachers biology and, through a professional organization, had an evolutionary biologist from a nearby university come in and talk to his students.

    The principal warned FOAF not to discuss evolution. PERIOD. The principal then entereded into an extended harangue with the biologist, quoting the Bible, many ID/Creationist canards (including Hitler and Stalin), and let him know in no uncertain terms that anti-Christian propaganda would not be tolerated in that school.

    Comment: sciencecomments – 18. September 2010 @ 9:36 pm

  2. I think that going after Mr. Taylor was a waste of your time. There must be hundreds, maybe thousands of other biology teachers in the USA who use creationist “talking points” without actually mentioning creationism.

    Have you followed the John Freshwater case on the Panda’s Thumb blog? Here is a teacher who was accused of serious misconduct — burning a cross in a student’s arm to demonstrate an electrical device. But the last I heard, the school had already spent $700K trying to get rid of him.

    I strongly suspect that the principal at your school just considers you to be a troublemaker.

    Comment: LarryFarma – 18. September 2010 @ 10:22 pm

  3. Larry, from your comment it sounds like you standard for success is Mr. Taylor being formally reprimanded by an appropriately outraged principal. I think Dale has been clear that this is not the only worthwhile outcome.

    This may well be the end of the road for the discussion. In the meantime, both the teacher and the principal were reminded of their legal obligation to maintain the science standards. Connor saw first- hand that his dad doesn’t just talk about the importance of a good science education, he’s ready to take the initiative to defend it. Everyone following on the blog got a cool model for addressing these situations.

    More than anything, refusing to ignore the situation mobilizes a culture of high standards. It sends the message to everyone – principal, teachers, students, parents, NCSE, creationists – that parents will insist on their child’s right to an excellent education and that not even small, subtle attempts to undermine that right will be tolerated. Looking the other way – reasoning that this happens all the time and probably won’t have a dramatic outcome – sends a message, too. Walking away sends the message that if it’s just the occasional creationist talking point, if the principal probably won’t take it seriously anyhow, if it’s unlikely to end with a bang…then, well, maybe it’s okay if just a *little* lousy science creeps in to undermine the good stuff, so you creationists can just relax and keep doing what you’re doing.

    Even if Mr. Taylor and the principal are rolling their eyes and kvetching about this over staff room coffee as we speak, it was not a waste of time.

    Comment: Allison – 19. September 2010 @ 8:52 am

  4. @Allison: Larry is concern-trolling here, pay him no mind. Or better yet, visit his blog for the full picture.

    Comment: Dale – 19. September 2010 @ 3:13 pm

  5. Holy mother of goose, how did I miss that? Thanks Dale. I won’t feed the trolls.

    Comment: Allison – 19. September 2010 @ 9:56 pm

  6. Dale wrote

    In a later comment, teacherlady notes that the principal is also Christian and so might be disinclined to act. I wouldn’t assume that. In addition to the possibility that the principal is a sane, moderate Christian, the professional recognition of legal liability will generally trump personal leanings in all but the densest administrator.

    Essentially all of the parties on both sides of the Freshwater affair are self-identified “Christians” of one sort or another. That doesn’t preclude action on the part of administrators given an appropriate stimulus as outlined in Glenn’s remarks. However, I’ve learned that it can evoke Christian versus Christian conspiracy theories like that proposed in Freshwater’s summary brief to the referee in the administrative hearing.

    Comment: RBH – 20. September 2010 @ 12:46 am

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