Friday, December 2, 2011

Right Wing Watch does ‘a quick Google search’

The liberal website posted an article Wednesday by Kyle Mantyla critical of the quality of American historian David Barton’s research. To support the criticism, Mantyla offered up information from what he acknowledged was “a quick Google search.”

The search concerned information about fired Mount Vernon Middle School teacher John Freshwater, who was a guest on Barton’s radio program

After Mantyle offered up what he presented as counter-evidence to information presented on Barton’s program, Mantyle concluded by saying, “Barton's success is largely rooted in the fact that his intended audience generally doesn't question anything he says or bother to check to see if his claims are accurate or true, and this is just the latest example of how he uses that power to routinely mislead them in order to create false narratives that support his own political and religious agenda.”

What, then, was presented on Barton’s program that was so terrible? As Mantyle put it, “Freshwater was portrayed simply as a man who has been relentlessly persecuted because of his Christian faith.”

Based on “a quick Google search” Mantyle said that “Freshwater was actually fired for allegedly burning a cross onto the arms of two of his students and using his classroom to teach creationism, attack gays, and promote his religion.”

However, if someone listens to the full program instead of just the short clip that Mantyle includes, one will discover that Freshwater does acknowledge that multiple accusations were lobbed at him after he refused to remove his personal Bible from off his classroom desk.

Although it may be true that “a quick Google search reveals dozens of articles reporting” the claim of the alleged burning as a reason for Freshwater’s firing, such a claim is not supported by the primary source documents: The school board did not include that unsubstantiated allegation in their list of reasons for firing the teacher.

In the program, Freshwater does address the “Creationism” allegation: “I teach what I call a ‘robust’ evolution. I showed the evidence for evolution, and I showed evidence that was opposed to evolution. […] I stayed neutral on it and let the kids make a decision on it.” (Editor’s note: The Mount Vernon Board of Education did not state that Freshwater directly taught Creationism, but, instead, that he taught “evidence both for and against evolution” and that the “‘evidence’ against evolution was based, in large part, upon Christian religious principals of Creationism and Intelligent Design.”)

Although the school board’s reasons for the firing did include, as Mantyle mentions, the allegation that Freshwater made remarks about homosexuality to his class, that allegation itself is not supported by the relevant school records: The lone witness who testified to having heard the remarks was, according to school records, not in Freshwater’s classroom.

It is true that the school board claimed Freshwater included his religious beliefs in his teaching. That characterization by the board, however, was their summary statement of the issues involving evolution and the alleged remarks about homosexuality.

Next time, Right Wing Watch, do more than “a quick Google search.”

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