Thursday, June 10, 2010

John Freshwater Testifies About ‘Truckload’ of Information

The following testimony took place 12:54 p.m.—4:01 p.m. on 6/03/10; 9:17 a.m.—4:36 p.m. on 6/04/10; and 9:53 a.m.—12:07 p.m. on 6/07/10.

A letter from an anonymous tipster back in January resulted in the discovery of what John Freshwater described as a “truckload” of stuff from his classroom.

The longest exhibit in the hearing came from that batch of stuff—7,242 pages.

Freshwater said that the information from that storage room provides a better understanding of what he taught at Mount Vernon Middle School.

(Freshwater examines items from his classroom.)

Anonymous tipster and the “black bag”

Freshwater received the first letter, through the mail, from the anonymous tipster on January 14, 2010. Freshwater said that on February 2 he received a message on his voice mail that said there was something he might be interested in near a trashcan at the school’s ballpark.

(See previous article for related video and documents: “Photographs of Missing Evidence — John Freshwater Addresses School Board.” )

Over 400 pages of material were found in the “black bag” left by the anonymous person. (This was the same bag that Freshwater had used in 2003 to store items regarding his curriculum proposal “Objective Origins Science Policy.” ) In the hearing, Freshwater went through the stack item by item. He testified that in the stack was:

• A document related to his 2003 proposal that has handwritten notes in the margins. Nowhere on the document does it say that he wants to teach Creationism or intelligent design.

• A copy of the school’s controversial issues policy.

• A letter dated May 26, 2003 from a parent of one of his students. The letter sounds like the person understands that he wants to teach more about evolution.

• A letter, not written by him, that says the 2003 Science Curriculum Committee brought up their perception of his religious beliefs during a committee meeting.

• A piece of “hate mail” that says he should go teach at Bob Jones University.

• A letter-to-the-editor written by Richard Hoppe. There is a note written on it by another person who probably gave him the newspaper clipping.

• The notes he took to the school board meeting in 2003. Part of the notes mention critically analyzing aspects of evolution.

• A letter from then superintendent Jeff Maley. He had asked Maley if he could tape record the conversation with the Science Curriculum Committee. In this letter it looks like Maley is suggesting that he not do that because it would inhibit conversation.

• A letter related to No Child Left Behind.

• A letter from the National Center for Science Education. The NCSE tries to defend the teaching of evolution in schools.

• A copy of a page from the NCSE website that says people can call or write them for advice.

• An article by Rick Santorum in a science teacher’s magazine.

• One of his quizzes. The quiz covers Charles Darwin and also the Big Bang. The material is in line with the academic content standards and is not oriented toward Creationism or ID.

• A document that directed him in 2002 to block his classroom windows that faced the hall. This is the reason that he placed the “Good Thinking and Ten Commandments” book covers over the windows. When he and his attorney R. Kelly Hamilton went through his classroom stuff previously they did not find this document. The instructions do not say what type of covering to use—he obtained the covers from the administrative office.

(The book covers Freshwater used to meet a security directive to cover interior windows.)

• A document about Darwin’s theory of evolution—there is nothing in it about Creationism, ID or the Bible.

• A document from a publisher about a 150 million-year-old fossil of a dinosaur.

• A document on the scientific method.

• A letter to Marcy Rinehart, WNZR director, about his 2003 proposal. In the letter he says that the issue is not about religion and that he does not want to take evolution out of the curriculum.

• A couple of the permission slips for Fellowship of Christian Athletes that he created. The school administration had stated that permission slips would need to be used but did not provide any—so he created the slips.

• A poster created by the FCA club.

• A “curriculum map” that was used after 2004 that included the teaching of the periodic table of elements. This provides counter evidence to the school board’s resolution that stated he was not supposed to be teaching the periodic table of elements.

He also said that there were materials in the bag that had been in the classroom when he inherited the room.

Freshwater said that if the anonymous person had not left the bag he would be hampered in offering his defense—the items contain clarifying information regarding the charges made against him.

The Mount Vernon News article “Anonymous source leads to ‘black bag’ find,” by Samantha Scoles, includes a response from the school board’s attorney regarding the black bag find.

Truckload of stuff

After Freshwater testified about the items in the black bag, his attorney began presenting the items found in the storage room at the school district’s central office.

Freshwater said that there was enough stuff to fill-up the back of a regular size pickup truck and that it took approximately five days to review all of it. Of the 50,000 pages of materials, Freshwater said he requested that the school provide copies of over 11,000 pages.

Other people’s materials were mingled in with his classroom content, Freshwater said. Those other people included students and the teacher that used to have his position. He noted that he did have some of his items stored in what the teachers called the “rat hole” that had open access.

Freshwater said that there were discrepancies in the labeling and dating of the 16 boxes of stuff. As an example, a box labeled “11” has a shipping label on it that shows the school received the cardboard box on or after November 13, 2008. However, there is also handwriting on it that says “2 of 2 ROOM 215 8-12-08.”

Freshwater said that it’s confusing as to why there is a handwritten date on a box that hadn’t even arrived yet.

Freshwater said that he has the impression that someone was trying to set him up, that people took items and added items.

Freshwater testified that in the collection of stuff from the storage room there was:

• A poster titled “Culture America: African Americans.” He had this hanging up in his classroom during February.

• A poster titled “Spoken from the heart” that shows images of hearts with quotes within the hearts. Does not see anything religious about this poster.

• A sheet about hissing cockroaches.

• A document about “science in the news” that was used as an extra credit assignment. Would sometimes give the assignment, when he saw that a student’s grades were low. Was not giving them the grade but instead was making them work for it.

• A poster titled “Winners vs. Losers.” Was from a book on wrestling and was intended to emphasize positive character traits.

• A paper that lists videos that he requested the librarian retrieve from another town’s library. The document is from the mid nineties. The videos are not religious.

• A page from the book Professional Reference for Teachers that recommends doing something similar to what he did so that absent students could still get handouts: he had a shelf in which he stored the handouts and that the students could access.

• A lab book that is labeled for the high school level. He was given this book by the school. He received books from many sources including parents and other teachers.

• A document labeled “scientific method.” He understands that topic to be the primary thing that he needs to teach as a science teacher.

• An agenda for the middle school from August 25, 2004 that lists “Channel 1” as the first item during homeroom time. In order for the school to receive free TVs, the students were required to watch a set number of hours of “Channel 1” each school year. Topics covered on “Channel 1” included religion and homosexuality. There were advertisements within the programming. When he was teaching health class, he found the Snickers candy bar ads to be counterproductive.

• A document labeled “The Chemistry of Chili Peppers.” Along with it is a copy request for 33 copies. This is an example of the kind of handout that he would have students turn back in to conserve paper.

• A “Channel 1” video that has a handwritten list on the outside detailing its contents: “DNA: Life Controller;” “Reproduction: Designer Babies;” “The Science of Cloning;” “The Ethics of Cloning;” “Organic Evolution: In the Beginning. Darwin Naturally. Factoring In Mendel. The Meiotic Mix. The Population Picture. Mutation and all that.” (Click her to view “Organic Evolution” video clips.)

• A poster of Albert Einstein with a speech balloon that says, “I like science, Mr. Freshwater.”

• A copy of the Ohio Achievement Test scores for his 2007-2008 classes. The average for his five classes was a score of 415.2. (The state average was 407 and the school average was 413.) Zachary Dennis scored very well on the OAT.

• Notes taken by Kerri Mahan. Mahan would sit in on his classes and take notes so that she could use it for her class. The notes are about volcanoes.

• A document about scientists only knowing the “most likely solution” to a given problem. It is a resource related to one of his textbooks. The project that he would do with students involved having them try to identify a particular animal by providing the students with bones and other clues. He would encourage the students to come up with their best answer. In order to show how science really works, he would end the project without giving them a definitive answer.

• A picture of young Joseph Barone looking happy. The first time that he found out that Barone had a problem with his class was in the hearing.

• A classroom seating chart that would have helped him earlier on in his defense. Sometimes he has trouble remembering who was in each of his classes and where they sat.

• A document dated July 21, 2008 that lists his students’ grades. He was already suspended by that date. Somebody else placed the document with the items.

• A document about radiometric dating.

• A three-hole punched document that looks like an email. Believes someone else placed it among his stuff because he does not three-hole punch documents.

• A document about the geological time scale. The document says that the age of the earth is 4.6 billion years old. This is what he would teach in his science class.

• A document titled “Mr. Freshwater’s suggested sites for Science Research Reports.” There is no religious website promoted on the list.

• A document about balancing equations from Jeff George. Would not be surprised to find materials from that teacher with his stuff.

• A training announcement from Mount Vernon Nazarene University dated 2003 that lists Dave Daubenmire. In 2003 or 2004 he attended a workshop taught by Daubenmire on the topic of religion and the classroom. What he learned in that class collaborated what he learned from the book Finding Common Ground. (Click here to go a website where you can download a free electronic copy of the book.)

Freshwater said that for the record he does not want to review every last item from his classroom.

“Reaching for the Sky”

The school board’s exhibit number 91—an article titled “Reaching for the Sky”—was, interestingly, found among Freshwater’s classroom stuff already labeled as “Bd 91.”

Attorney Hamilton asked Freshwater if he’d had the foresight to know that someday the document would become an exhibit—and that it would be number 91.

Freshwater answered that he’d not had that foresight.

Hamilton went through a serious of questions on this topic, seemingly puzzled as to who could possibly have written that on the document.

The school board’s attorney David Millstone eventually interrupted and said that he would stipulate that it was his own handwriting that was on the document.

Hamilton replied that he didn’t actually need Millstone to stipulate that.

In addition to the handwriting that says “Bd 91,” the document contained some handwritten notes along the top of the first page that gives some details about the Genesis story of the Tower of Babel. Freshwater testified December 30, 2009 that he did not write the notes that are on the top of the document.

The article was written by Billy Goodman and published in 1988 in Science World, a publication that Freshwater said the school purchased. The beginning of the article includes a quote from someone who says that “ego” is involved in the building of tall structures. The person quoted then goes on to compare modern ego to that of the ego of those who built the Tower of Babel. The bulk of the article deals with the subject of modern tall towers and how they are constructed.

When Freshwater and his attorney were able to review the storage room full of stuff, earlier this year, they found multiple copies of the article. Those copies—except for the one that was already labeled “Bd 91”—did not contain the writing at the top.

There were materials related to the article found in the storage room. After examining the various transparencies and documents, Freshwater said that none of the materials on that topic contained the Biblical references handwritten across the school board’s exhibit.

(An old test that is an example of what Freshwater taught his students on the topic of building tall towers.)

Freshwater told that his students would spend about three days working on building their own towers. He would provide them each with 150 straws to use. The students’ projects were tested based on how much weight they could hold. The height of the towers was also factored into the results.

Freshwater said that the students had a lot of fun with the project.

Further reflection

One of the documents presented previously by the school board’s attorney was a “Multiple Intelligences Survey” created in 1999 by Walter McKenzie. Of the 90 questions on the survey, one of the questions asked if religion was important to the person taking the survey.

Freshwater testified at the time that he did not create the survey and had not used it.

After further reflection, and seeing the document again, Freshwater said that he does recognize the survey. He said it was used on the first day of school by the group of teachers designated as “Team 8-1,” of which he was a part.

The survey was not used to find out the students’ religious preferences, Freshwater said.

Freshwater said that based on what a colleague of his said the survey is still being used to this day.

Another document presented previously by the school board’s attorney was one titled “Science Student Data Sheet.” The form asks for the student’s contact information. It also has questions such as “What was the most important concept that you learned in science last year?” and “What are your hobbies?”

There are no questions of a religious nature on the form.

When Freshwater previously testified, he did not acknowledge using this form.

Attorney Hamilton brought the subject up again by asking if Freshwater had a better recollection now that he has reviewed the contents of his classroom.

Freshwater explained that while the form has his name printed at the top he did not create the form. It was, he said, used at the beginning of the school year as a team effort with the other teachers to collect student information.

The very last question on the form is a short creative writing assignment: “CREATIVE WRITING: Write a paragraph describing what this object is, how and where it formed, what are its physical properties. Do not worry about the spelling or grammar, just get your thoughts down on paper.”

While the students were working on filling out the form, the “object,” a fossil, was passed around the room.

One of Freshwater’s students, Zachary Dennis, included in his creative writing that the fossil of a trilobite was stepped on by a human.

Freshwater said that scientifically it is not possible for a human to step on a trilobite because humans and trilobites are from two different time periods. He agreed that students have said that the fossil looks like it was stepped on.

Additional statements by Freshwater:

• Spoke several times with former school board member Steve Hughes. Secretly audio recorded two of those conversations. Hughes, an attorney, gave his understanding that the insurance industry as a general strategy tries to “starve them out, to postpone the case, make it last as long as possible.” Hughes told him that if the school board wants to fire someone based on insubordination that “it still has to be refusing to obey a legitimate and reasonable order.”

• When he previously testified that he had “pitched” stuff from his classroom he was referring to physically tossing the stuff into a trashcan in his barn. The items were stored there until his attorney requested the items. The only items that were actually given to the garbage man were twenty or thirty “Chinese letters” that had lain on the top and were water damaged.

• An email from a school librarian, to him, ends with Psalms 93:4. (The email was brought as an exhibit by Millstone.) Expects that this would be a concern to school administration. Did see other emails from people within the school that included Bible verses.

• Another email from a school librarian, to him, ends with a quote about there being many different sides to an issue. (The email was brought as an exhibit by Millstone.)

• The school, for many years, had an “Advisory Period” which dealt with moral and patriotic topics. Can still deal with those topics in conjunction with “Channel 1” time.

• His personal Bible is missing. This is the same Bible that he kept on his classroom desk and that he has been with him for most of the hearing. The last time that he had the Bible was in the hearing room.

Freshwater said that he has been in the witness chair for over fifty-five hours and that it would be easy to catch him up on a detail. He has been asked to testify over a large portion of his teaching career. He said that when he was teaching he never thought that he would need to take notes so that he could speak about his teaching career with absolute precision.

Coverage of Freshwater’s previous testimony:

“John Freshwater: Investigation Didn’t Follow Contract”

“Missing Evidence in John Freshwater Hearing”

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