More on the teacher accused of insulting religion in his class

I blogged very briefly on Friday about the lawsuit against Dr. James Corbett, who, along with his school district, is being accused of using his AP history classroom to indoctrinate his students in anti-Christian attitudes. I’ve discovered two things since then. First, the LA Times article from which I quoted was disingenuous in the extreme in citing to the inappropriate things Corbett said, since it managed to whitewash the lengthy anti-religious rants in which he engaged. Second, if you read the comments left at that same LA Times article, you’ll see a common threatd running through those that defend Dr. Corbett. Almost without exception, his supporters say that it’s appropriate to crudely insult religion and to use history lessons as a rant against Christianity. Why? Because in their minds he’s speaking truth, and it’s an educator’s responsibility to bring truth to his students, especially the benighted Christian ones. It doesn’t seem to occur to them that there is a problem, not with discussing faith, but with insulting faith. I’ve taken many comparative religion classes over my career as a student, which included discussions of the absence of religion, and all were thoughtful and respectful in their approach to and comparison of the different ways of worshipping or denying God.

Not so Dr. Corbett. If you’d like better examples of the crudity of Corbett’s discourse, crudity that is an insult to the Christian religion and that has nothing to do with scholarly discourse about the nature of religion, you only need to check out the allegations in the actual complaint against him.

For example, in the full quote alluded to in the LA Times article, he basically calls religious people ill-informed idiots: “How do you get the peasants to oppose something that is in their best interest? Religion. You have to have something that is irrational to counter that rational approach…. [W]hen you put on your Jesus glasses, you can’t see the truth.”

Another instance of his approach to discussing religion is to take one item of data about two different countries — their religious practices — and from that extrapolate to broad reaching conclusions about their crime rate: “People — in the industrialized world the people least likely to go to church are the Swedes. The people in the industrialized world most likely to go to church are the Americans. America has the highest crime rate of all industrialized nations, and Sweden the lowest. The next time somebody tells you religion is connected with morality, you might want to ask them about that.” It doesn’t seem to occur to him that a huge, melting pot frontier nation such as America might have developed differently from a small, entirely homogenous nation such as Sweden. A man who thinks this simplistically hardly seems fit to be a teacher, let alone an AP teacher. (Incidentally, Laer, at Cheat-Seeking Missiles, who wrote a wonderful post about the Corbett lawsuit, took the time to show the factual errors underlying this particular rant.)

Corbett also goes on lengthy rants about birth control, something that seems far removed from AP history, and that involves insulting entire American political parties: “….[C]onservatives don’t want women to avoid pregnancies. That’s interfering with God’s work. You got to stay pregnant, barefoot, and in the kitchen and have babies until your body collapses. All over the world, doesn’t matter where you go, the conservatives want control over women’s reproductive capacity. Everywhere in the world.” That’s news to me. I do know that American conservatives disapprove of out of control sexuality, believing that it is demeaning to the dignity of men and women alike, and that many of them are opposed to abortion, believing that it is destructive of the nascent life of a fetus. The only ones I know who do currently seem to advocate Corbett’s “Barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen” attitude are the Taliban but, peculiarly, their views don’t seem included in his rants.

It’s also a bit hard to see where Corbett’s view of Rush Limbaugh (“I love Rush Limbaugh. A fat, pain in the ass liar. And, boy, is he a liar”) fits into the AP History curriculum. Frankly, I also don’t see room in the curriculum for the vulgarities that roll of this man’s tongue. This is a teacher who demeans students, rather than who uplifts and educates them.

The bottom line is that teaching history and critical thinking are not skills that involve lengthy rants that take aim at specific religions and political views, let alone rants that shower students with vulgar language. Those students who have left comments saying that they felt free to disagree with him miss the point. As a public school teacher, Corbett’s job is to provide information, which can include information about doctrine or its effect on historical movements (such as the anti-Slavery movement in American history, for example, which was strongly affected by its adherents’ Christianity). It is not to shout soap box slogans that merely hark back to what were, I’m sure, his youthful days as a Marxist imbued anti-War activist.

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  • SGT Dave

    In reading comments here and elsewhere I find some defending this individual under the premise of his “thought-invoking” methodology. I have, in my experience, encountered exactly two teachers secure enough in their professional ability and knowledge to use this method without rancor or retaliation. One was in high school and one in college. A number of other teachers claimed to have this distance; they did not. Strangely enough, the two that did provoke thought and discussion did not use that as a selling point for their classes; only those who wanted a soap box did.
    Though I was in opposition to one (a die-hard Truman Democrat) on many social issues, we had a common line on defense and the military. The other was a social conservative with whom I argued long and hard about defense obligations to other nations. Neither class was history – one was Comparative Political Systems and the other Philosophy of Government.
    History, despite spin, is written and done. There are facts to be learned and lessons garnered. There is, however, no significant room for anti-religious bias. Religion IS history until the late 20th Century. If you pitch anti-Christian for that period you are tacitly supporting another religion (faith based system) – be it Islam, Shinto (Japanese wartime variant), Norse paganism (German wartime/National Socialist variant), or Communism (if you call Marx a “prophet” and look at his followers the model fits better than you would think).
    There is no room for obscenity or invective; the statements quoted are entirely unacceptable. The most devastating line I ever heard in an argument was delivered in a conversational tone; “Is it better to spend lives, time, and treasure across the ocean or wait for the enemy to make you spend it in your land?” (It was a discussion about WWII, strangely omniscient of my view on the conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan today).
    Enough of history lessons; lines were crossed and steps have been taken. Notably the “gotcha” lawsuit argument is not as potent as some infer; the family stated they will not seek damages if the teacher is removed. That doesn’t sound like a money thing to me.
    SGT Dave
    “The greatest trick the Devil ever performed was convincing men he did not exist.”

  • Synova

    By “gotcha” I didn’t mean “out for money” but that I didn’t know if solutions were sought prior to filing a law suit.

    Reading the complaint it says specifically that it was known that other people had complained and that nothing was done.

    I’m not at all surprised and will admit that I’d expect absolutely nothing to be done unless it was forced because that’s how schools work.

    A Christian kid shouldn’t have to listen to how Christians are bad, bad, bad, any more than a girl should have to endure being told she can’t understand Math or a boy sit for being told that men are naturally criminals or minority students told that they are violent (hah! there’s a reason for low crime in Sweden that you’d never hear in his class) or atheist kids have to listen to how they’re going to hell or Jewish kids how Jews killed Jesus or…

    Someone in one of the comment threads called it “Socratic”. My daughter’s school does the “Socratic” thing but it’s a separate event, carefully planned and controlled to encourage students to consider ideas and learn to question and defend them. It is not, even remotely, teachers spouting their ideological and religious beliefs (beliefs about religion are religious beliefs, no?) to a captive audience.

    And young people, even teens who I believe are every bit as *smart* as they will ever be, have little experience defending their views or debating. I tell my daughter, just because someone doesn’t know how to explain why they think what they think or support it, it doesn’t mean they’re wrong. It just means they can’t argue their point well. Being able to “logically” dominate a classroom of 17 year olds is not impressive.

    It’s probably easier, actually, than logically dominating an 8 year old because a 17 year old is starting to understand that they *ought* to be able to logically support their opinions and for many small children logic need not apply.

  • Trimegistus

    There’s a very simple solution to this. Make up some letterhead calling yourself the American Islamic Relations Committee or something and write to the local school board demanding that this infidel be fired for denigrating religion. He’ll be gone before lunchtime.

  • SGT Dave

    Thanks, Synova.
    I like your argument; I know a lot about systemic inertia (I’m a military type).
    On a side note about crime and Sweden; a friend is writing a paper on another factor that makes a lot of people cringe when talking about crime. It has to do with impersonal (actions against an unknown or little known person) and personal (close relation or co-worker) driven crimes. This factor that many social construct adherents hate?
    The weather. Yep, property crime (vandalism, robbery, house-breaking, and car theft primarily) are at their height when there is good weather. Notably so is mugging and non- and short term- acquaintance sexual assault (including rape). When there is bad weather you have a rise in murder, known-assialant assault, and known-assailant sexual assault.
    The reasons are simple – and frightening. In good weather people get out and about. Criminals hate the bad weather like everyone else. In bad weather tempers flare and there is nowhere to go to relieve the pressure. Individuals are trapped by mother nature with their abusers. The later crimes are underreported. This means that the already skewed statistics regarding Sweden could be even further off. Notably, areas of high population density and mass-transit do not hold as closely to these models, unless you factor in the transit stations and multiple-family buildings (apartment complexes) as “fair weather” areas. Then the numbers fit, more or less.
    All in all it was an interesting paper to read; as soon as my friend publishes it I will provide a link to his research and the background studies.
    Just some food for thought,

    SGT Dave
    “They never protest in the rain; only on sunny days.”

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  • jj

    Not an enthusiast of the Socratic method. None of the teachers I’ve ever met in a great number of trips through school turned out to be Socrates – and far too many of them responded to a question with a question because they didn’t have an answer. Way too many intellectually lazy people hide behind it.

    It’s nice someone wants to sue this guy I suppose, but it’ll be a waste of money: I’m sure he’s a fully paid up union member. Given the work rules that teachers have managed to negotiate (if that’s the word) for themselves, about the only chance to fire him would be if he were caught disemboweling Barbara Boxer with a salad fork on the capitol steps in Sacramento at high noon. Otherwise, he’s a good little NEA finger puppet, and they’ll protect him – and does anyone seriously doubt they’ll succeed in protecting him?

    So save your money, folks, and plan on reaping what you’ve sown. The man is a fool, but he’s a professional fool, and he’s been at it long enough to have earned tenure – and untouchability – as a fully paid-up fool.

  • Bookworm

    That’s a very jaded comment, jj — and, sadly, one that’s absolutely right. I’ve never forgotten the teacher at my junior high school, long, long ago, who got a free pass for a series of increasingly vile antisemitic remarks, but who was finally “called to account” for physically attacking a student and then throwing a movie projector (those were the days) out the window. Because he was a good unionista, “called to account” meant that he was put on fully paid leave, a situation that was going on for 4 years when I lost track of him. In other words, four years of taxpayer sponsored vacation for that dreadful, sick man.

    As for the Socratic method, I went to one of the top law schools, which boasted some of America’s top law professors. Of them, only one fully understood the Socratic method, using a series of questions to lead us inexorably to the point of the lesson. The rest of the professors just kept haranguing us with meaningless questions, which was very irritating, to say the least.

  • jj

    At least you found one…

    We could have a talk about how law is not taught in this country (yes, that is what I wrote) – but that’s for another thread.

  • Scott in SF

    There is some irony in the thought that Christians now want school house Atheists to be better Relativists!

  • Hube

    As a former history teacher (I still teach but a different subject) it was ingrained in me NEVER to allow my personal political/cultural views to enter a discussion in class, even when asked by students. In addition, when covering “controversial” topics, it was essential to cover both (or more) sides of the issue.

    This situation is a no-brainer — Corbett is WAY out of line. I am, however, wary of using a lawsuit as a first line of recourse. When the student (and attorney) who filed the suit were asked by O’Reilly the other night if they had approached the teacher and/or administration first, the answer was “no.” This is wrong, IMO. More often than not, the situation will be resolved then and there. If satisfaction is not evident to Farnan (the student), THEN initiate the lawsuit.

    Also, it’s amazing — and troubling — the line of defense used by those who support Corbett. “Academic freedom!” they cry. “Censorship!” Baloney. If Corbett had said everything he said but spoke favorably of religion, the ACLU would be on his arse faster than flies on caca. If Corbett was in a college classroom, he’d enjoy more academic freedom, BTW. But he’s in a public HS.

  • Laer

    Hey,. Book, we’re going up against each other at Watcher this week … could be interesting. Good luck, oh thoughtful one. You always make me feel a bit trivial …

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  • Paul

    The teacher was out of line, but it’s interesting to read what the Plaintiffs included in the Complaint. Much of it is appropriate. That’s not to defend the teacher, but only to point out that it’s interesting how sensitive “some people” can be when the shoe is on the other foot.

  • Bookworm

    It’s also a comment on the nature of complaints. When you write a complaint, you throw in everything even vaguely related to the issue, because, in theory, it’s a one shot deal. When the litigation ends, the res judicata doctrine says that you can no longer litigate anything that can or should have been tried in the original case. So, you don’t take chances, but err on the side of caution by placing everything before the court.

  • ymarsakar

    the res judicata hehe. Like the Res Publica.

  • Alexander

    This is about a high school sophomore who had enough. He was done listening to Christian bashing and an anti-Christian view given by a teacher who saw his opinion as gospel.

    Now, (lawsuit or not) it has brought national attention to the fact that anti-Christian rants are many times more acceptable in public places than any mention of Jesus.

    You can choose to run with the crowd laughing and taunting Jesus (and his followers) or seek Him who is the truth.

    Please consider visiting Bloggers For Chad Farnan … lawsuit or not.

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