Saturday, January 17, 2009

Freshwater like a College Professor

The following testimony took place between 1:22 P.M. and 1:49 P.M. on 1/16/09.

Brian Gastin, English teacher at Mount Vernon High School, was brought as a witness for the defense in the Freshwater termination hearings.

Two of Gastin’s children were in John Freshwater’s class. According to Gastin, his children had no complaints about Freshwater. Just the opposite. They had praise for Freshwater.

One of Gastin’s children, Cory, is now a junior at Mount Vernon Nazarene University. Cory told his dad that the way the professors at college make the students think is like the way Freshwater taught. “I sit and listen to my professors in college—it sounds a lot like sitting in Freshwater’s class,” Gastin said his son told him.

While in Freshwater’s class, Gastin’s son had the Tesla coil used on him. The device tickled, Gastin said Corry told him. Gastin never heard from his son any word that the device had harmed him.

Gastin never saw Freshwater teach from the Bible, but the only teaching in Freshwater’s classroom that he has seen is when he would walk by the classroom. The times that Gastin was in Freshwater’s classroom for student/teacher conferences, Gastin reported never seeing a Bible on Freshwater’s desk.

Gastin brought to the hearing the Bible that he keeps in his own classroom. “It’s old like me,” Gastin said. It is a Faith, Parkers edition, large print. Gastin said that he puts the Bible where he happens to be when break ends, or lunch ends. He has sometimes left it out where students could see it.

(Community members gather for prayer outside the Mount Vernon Middle School, August 4, 2008.)

In addition to his personal Bible, Gastin brought a plaque that he keeps in his classroom. It shows a painting of Jesus. The plaque, which was willed to him by his grandparents, has been with him 25 years. Gastin said that he keeps it behind his desk, down on the floor and tilted towards him. It reminds him of his grandparents and of what they did and what he wants to be like.

The painting on the plaque is of a scene where Jesus is knocking on a door. “He did not say as I kick the door in,” Gastin said. “He said as I stand at the door and knock.”

No one has given him parameters of how to deal with religion in the classroom, Gastin said. Students would ask questions about Easter when it was that time of year. Gastin said that he would explain to them that that holiday had different names for different people.

Gastin said that he has seen four or five other teachers with Bibles at the school.

Kelly Hamilton asked Gastin about his knowledge of the Colin Powell/Bush poster. Gastin said the poster came out following the 911 attacks. He remembers seeing the poster in one of the school’s hallways. Gastin said the copy he had in his classroom probably came from a student.

The poster is no longer in Gastin’s classroom. A school administrator was in the classroom and asked him if there was anything in the room that would be a problem or that she needed to look at, Gastin said. The administrator suggested that Gastin cut the Bible verse off (James 5:16) that was printed along the top of the poster, and keep the rest of the poster, Gastin said. She did not order him to take any action on the poster.

Gastin said it was his own choice to take the poster down. The poster was old, was not staying up well, and with the upcoming change of President, it was outdated, Gastin said. That and he would rather take the whole thing down instead of compromising and taking the Bible verse off it, Gastin said.

Under cross examination by David Millstone, attorney for the school board, Gastin said, “I didn’t sense any concern on her part” that there was a religious verse on the poster.

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