News & Criticism

The Fine Art of Burying the Lede (Creationism-vs.-Torture-in-the-Classroom Edition)

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I just clicked through this story at Drudge headlined "Ohio town split over teacher accused of preaching…."

It takes you to a Columbus Dispatch tale of John Freshwater, who might be bounced from his job as a Mount Vernon eighth-grade science teacher for pushing creationism in the classroom:

An investigator for the district found that Freshwater's teachings undermined science education in the public school district and that his students had to be re-taught science principles when they got into higher grades.

Far more important, to my mind, is what got buried toward the end of the piece:

The family of one of Freshwater's former students who had a cross burned onto his arm by the teacher sued the school district and Freshwater last month. The suit says the boy's civil rights were violated.

I'm as pro-evolution as the next mammal or Pokemon desperately trying to rise above both nature and nurture, but I really think burning a cross onto a student's arm deserves to be in the first paragraph.

I did a quick Google search to get more background on the story and came across National Review's Kevin Williamson thinking the same thoughts (only more quickly and succinctly):

I might have written this Columbus Dispatch story a little differently. Seems a teacher in Ohio is going to be fired after accusations that he has improperly inserted his personal opinions into the curriculum….They're arguing about whether the guy went a little too Genesis during eighth-grade science when he burned a cross into a student's arm? Egad. Mightn't that have been a little higher in the story?

More here.

Update: National Review's Williamson pointed me to this additional story. Freshwater has been fired and seems likely to appeal his dismissal. Snippets from the story:

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 told The Columbus Dispatch for a story published Friday.

Several students interviewed by investigators described Freshwater, who has been employed by the school district located 40 miles northeast of Columbus for 21 years, as a great guy and their favorite teacher….

Freshwater used a science tool known as a high-frequency generator to burn images of a cross on students' arms in December, the report said. Freshwater told investigators he simply was trying to demonstrate the device on several students and described the images as an "X," not a cross. But pictures show a cross, the report said.

Daubenmire sounds like a great friend, but that's a pretty big exception, don't you think?

The longer story and an image of the cross on a student's arm is here.

I am tempted to turn this into a pro-school-voucher story because, well, you know, nothing bad ever happens at private schools. But I think in the end it might just be an anti-school story. Or an anti-Ohio story. Or maybe just a summer vacation story.

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  1. The heck with the placement of the assault on the student in the news articles.

    How is it that he apparently wasn’t fired for that, but may be fired for departing from the assigned curriculum?

  2. They probably have a better case for firing on the Bible stuff.Public school,unions etc

  3. Couldn’t he just have burned a cross on the student’s lawn instead?

  4. What the hell? Even disregarding the placement, the phrasing is as if this is a ludicrous thing to sue somebody over.

  5. It has to do with tenure charges and what they can bring against him as a matter of violating his contract.

    Tenure assures him due process in court, and the list of charges that can be brough against him is limited to his conduct and fitness as a teacher. Freshwater claims he burned an “X” onto the student’s arm, and not a cross. Sounds fishy, given the guy’s religious nature, but plausible enough to reject it as grounds for dismissal. The charges of not teaching the curriculum stick better than a dubious “was it an ‘X’ or a ‘cross'” argument.

  6. Fire him for burning anything into a student arm. Jeez.

  7. Wait, so assault isn’t reason to fire a teacher?

  8. SugarFree, he was demonstrating a high-frequency generator which will temporarily brand the skin but is apparently not painful to use and the marks fade away. It’s sort of a focused, instant “tan” and the students who were branded volunteered to let him use the HFG on them.

    Not that marking a “cross” or “X” or whatever was necessarily right. Just trying to lay out the facts.

  9. lol pokemon

  10. Nige, assault is absolutely a reason to fire a teacher, but as with any other person accused of assault or any other crime, Freshwater has recourse under the law to challenge his dismissal (much as some might dislike this fact). The burden of proof is on the accusers. The question is whether or not Freshwater assaulted the student in question. See my response to SugarFree.

  11. Guys in my high school used to brand their girlfriends all the time. It was no big deal.

  12. I can dis the Columbus Dispatch with the best of them, but the paper’s had articles, including those about the branding (or, as some would prefer, “branding”) for months now.

  13. “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”

    I mean, damn.

  14. OK, let’s say (for the sake of argument) that the branding was actually quite innocent. If so, then the story should have either provided the context to support it or not mentioned it at all. Tacking that on at the end of the story without any context would be like reporting a water pistol usage at a recreational event as “The teacher is also accused of shooting a student.”

    Either way, it’s sloppy writing: If the incident was as serious as it sounds in the snippet above, then put it front and center. If it was as innocent as has been suggested in the comments here, then either provide crucial context or don’t mention it at all.

  15. I hope the teacher got permission from the kids’ parents because I don’t think a minor can give consent to be branded, etc., etc.

  16. thoreau,
    BZZZZ. Sorry. Wrong answer.
    That was the eighth story about this particular teacher in the Dispatch.
    The writer couldn’t “not mention it.” But neither could she rehash all the pros and cons in four column inches, which was probably all she had, writing on deadline from an evening meeting, with the presses probably already running.

  17. I, for one, compliment this teacher on branding his students. How else do you tell the little brats apart?

  18. “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”

    completely irrelevant. it’s not his job to teach values, it’s apparently his job to teach science and actually avoid teaching values.

  19. Instant-tan branding? Finally a way to get “POOR IMPULSE CONTROL” on Epi’s forehead, at least for a little while.

    As for the delusional teacher, I’m not sure I’d call that assault either. But T-Rexs eating coconuts is an all-out attack on common sense, so many an assault case could be rustled up…

  20. The cross burning (on the arm) thing was all over the place for a while. The sketchyness of the details though made it sound to me like it might not stick. The creationism thing though seems much more likely to work to get rid of him.

    Local news (here in Columbus) this morning said he branded the kids with a “Science Device”. Sounds like something a supervillian would have:

    “BEHOLD MY SCIENCE DEVICE !!!!!”

  21. Finally a way to get “POOR IMPULSE CONTROL” on Epi’s forehead, at least for a little while.

    I already have that tattooed on my dick so that when I bang skanks I can remind myself why I’m fucking such a piece of trash.

  22. I’ve lost count of how many performance reviews I’ve had that started with the phrase “With the exception of the cross-burning episode, Jennifer’s doing a great job.”

  23. What would have happened if a branded student’s dad had, upon viewing the stigmata, showed up in class and dislodged a few of the “really great teacher’s” teeth?
    That would have been an excellent lesson.

  24. Couldn’t he just have burned a cross on the student’s lawn instead?

    I guarantee that would have made the story’s lede graph.

  25. The friend, Daubenmire, is an interesting character himself.
    http://www.rightwingwatch.org/individuals/dave_daubenmire/index.html

  26. @Epi, Sugarfree,
    More Snowcrash references? You guys are such nerds.*

    @Jennifer,
    😀

    *I must be, too, for recognizing the references.

  27. I’ve lost count of how many performance reviews I’ve had that started with the phrase “With the exception of the cross-burning episode, Jennifer’s doing a great job.”

    If you learned a little self-control, you might get a raise once in a while.

  28. Maybe the kid needed a quick way to fend off vampires?

  29. She works for a newspaper, Happy. She’s not getting a raise in any case.

  30. I’ve lost count of how many performance reviews I’ve had that started with the phrase “With the exception of the cross-burning episode, Jennifer’s doing a great job.”

    Yeah Jennifer, but those had more to do with your celebrated hatred of whitey than any religious beliefs.

  31. It’s old news, but the story really is that most of the outrage was over the presence of his personal bible, not the branding.

    I am an atheist and think the outrage over the bible is silly. I watched the news when this happened. My memory may be foggy since it was so long ago. However, most of the evaluations quoted on the news ( and were used to build a case for firing him) were along the lines of ” This teacher liked to debate and encourage us to question things.”

    He should have been fired for the branding, but he was actually fired for encouraging debate.

    The school board’s deal was basically: If you want to be a teacher, do not hold any opinions, do not debate or encourage discourse with your students. Your job is to get your students to memorize the approved textbook.

  32. She works for a newspaper, Happy. She’s not getting a raise in any case.

    Au contraire — I got the maximum raise our financially strapped company allowed. Woo hoo!

    Of course, five days later my boss and I got slashed in the Great Tribune Job Cuts of 2008, so it was one of those Pyrrhic-victory raises.

  33. He should have been fired for the branding, but he was actually fired for encouraging debate.

    You don’t debate phlogiston theory in science class. You don’t debate creationism theories either. You debunk them.

  34. He should have been fired for the branding, but he was actually fired for encouraging debate.

    What about a history teacher debating whether the Holocaust actually happened, or was a Jewish conspiracy to malign innocent Germania?

  35. Sorry, Jennifer. We’re still dodging that particular bullet at my rag.

  36. I don’t know, when its buried like that I suspect bullshit. This “cross burned into his arm” is probably like the “animal/genitalia fetish pornorgaphy” that turned out to be that famous “moose knuckle” pic.

    So, do we have a religious nut going around burning crosses into people’s arms with red-hot irons that scar the crucifix into their flesh for life, or was this a fairly innocuous little science project that left a little red X mark for an hour or so?

  37. Sorry, Jennifer. We’re still dodging that particular bullet at my rag.

    Keep your resume updated just in case.

  38. “…the students who were branded volunteered to let him use the HFG on them”

    ahhhh……a class full of budding Christopher Hitchenses……

  39. Jennifer,

    You got a long awaited raise and were fired within a week? OUCH!!!

  40. Oh, and while I don’t think creationism has any place in a secular school, it’s pretty funny they fire this guy but will oppose merit pay with their dying breath.

  41. Oh, and hey: why not give parents vouchers and let them send their kids to a cross-branding, creationism-teaching school if they so desire, or not if they don’t?

    I don’t know if nuns are into the cross-branding fad, but students Catholic schools in DC get much better test scores than the much-better-funded public schools even with all the Bible crap thrown in.

  42. You got a long awaited raise and were fired within a week? OUCH!!!

    Yeah, but I heard from a couple reliable sources that there was intense happiness in certain local government offices when word got out. See? God does indeed answer prayers; the only question is, whose prayers does he answer?

    As an atheist, I really should’ve seen it coming.

  43. So, do we have a religious nut going around burning crosses into people’s arms with red-hot irons that scar the crucifix into their flesh for life, or was this a fairly innocuous little science project that left a little red X mark for an hour or so?

    First of all, it’s only a crucifix if it also includes a representation of the body of Christ. Otherwise, it’s just a cross.

    Second, looking at the pictures, I’d say it’s somewhere in the middle. Not a permanent branding, by any means, but it did apparently last a few weeks, so it’s a bit more of an issue than just a little science project.

  44. Jennifer,

    I was working at the Isle of Capri Casino last year when they decided to give away an SUV to help with employee retention. Two days after the drawing guess who was one of the employees let go. Hope everything works out for you.

  45. Thanks. I’m sure it will some way or other.

  46. Jennifer, you got fired from the Advocate?

  47. Jennifer, you got fired from the Advocate?

    I did not mean to cause such a threadjack; I thought this was old news to everyone.

  48. Episiarch,

    Jennifer has to much dignity to work for the Advocate. She worked for the National Enquirer

  49. I did not mean to cause such a threadjack; I thought this was old news to everyone.

    I must not have been paying attention. This happens frequently, as I am usually thinking about myself.

    “I only hope they like me half as much as I do.”

  50. I don’t believe we have conversed before Jennifer. If it was posted I apologize for not noticing.

  51. I didn’t know either (but then again I travel a lot and miss days or even weeks at a time).

  52. my boss and I got slashed in the Great Tribune Job Cuts of 2008

    Cool. I’m a veteran of the Not-So-Great Purge of 2002. 10 weeks severance and Tribune stock when it was still worth something! Enjoy your time off, Jennifer. I sure did.

  53. Wrong. A good reporter should approach writing a story as if the reader has no prior knowledge. Even on deadline, an extra sentence or two would have clarified matters. That’s a giant mistake. Even just the word “temporarily” would have helped if space was such a huge concern.

    *****

    Citizen Nothing | July 8, 2008, 12:08pm | #
    thoreau,
    BZZZZ. Sorry. Wrong answer.
    That was the eighth story about this particular teacher in the Dispatch.
    The writer couldn’t “not mention it.” But neither could she rehash all the pros and cons in four column inches, which was probably all she had, writing on deadline from an evening meeting, with the presses probably already running.

  54. “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 told The Columbus Dispatch for a story published Friday.

    Translation: He is teaching creationism.

    And that sure looks like a cross to me. In fact, it looks like repeated burn marks.

    He should have been fired for the branding, but he was actually fired for encouraging debate.

    Debates between science vs. religion might be fun, but not in a high school course.

    The school board’s deal was basically: If you want to be a teacher, do not hold any opinions, do not debate or encourage discourse with your students. Your job is to get your students to memorize the approved textbook.

    Are you sure you’re an athiest cause you sound like a Creationist to me. Just saying that the above paragraph hits all the right points a Creationist would make. Not only that it is wrong. Engage in dicussions, debates, etc. What isn’t allowed, IN A SCIENCE COURSE, is debates, discussions, or preaching on religious views.

  55. Treating typical newspaper readers as if they had no particular knowledge — of anything –is usually a wise course, Zmanner.
    I just wonder if you’ve ever had to fit 18 lines of type into a 14-line space five minutes after deadline.
    “An extra sentence or two”? Wait, you already answered my question.

  56. As long as we’re talking about newspapers, here’s a fun little off-topic item from the Dallas Morning News yesterday:
    http://cityhallblog.dallasnews.com/archives/2008/07/dallas-county-meeting-turns-ra.html

  57. “I just wonder if you’ve ever had to fit 18 lines of type into a 14-line space five minutes after deadline.”

    Um, yeah, plenty of times. See: Even just the word “temporarily” would have helped if space was such a huge concern.

    I don’t think you’re the only newspaper guy/gal at this rodeo.

  58. I’ve lost count of how many performance reviews I’ve had that started with the phrase “With the exception of the cross-burning episode, Jennifer’s doing a great job.”

    If you learned a little self-control, you might get a raise once in a while.

    Au contraire, her boss wants her to learn to burn crosses better.

    I don’t know if nuns are into the cross-branding fad…

    Don’t be silly. Catholic school nuns can burn flesh with a stern stare. They keep their “science devices” to themselves.

    Assignment for first day of class in Public Relations: finish the sentence “With the exception of the cross-burning…” in a way that reflects well on the subject of the sentence.

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