One public school education against God

Comment would be obvious, so I’ll just offer you the news:

A San Juan Capistrano high school student and his parents filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday alleging that his history teacher violated his constitutional rights by making “highly inappropriate” and offensive statements in class regarding Christianity.

James Corbett, who teaches Advanced Placement European history at Capistrano Valley High School, consistently “demonstrates a sense of hostility toward religion,” causing Christian students to “feel ostracized and treated as second-class citizens,” according to the lawsuit filed in federal district court in Santa Ana by Chad Farnan, 16, and his parents, Bill and Teresa.

The lawsuit contends, among other things, that Corbett told students during class that “when you put on your Jesus glasses, you can’t see the truth”; said that religion is not “connected with morality”; compared Christians to “Muslim fundamentalists” who want women to “stay pregnant, barefoot, and in the kitchen and have babies until your body collapses”; and suggested that churchgoers are more likely to commit rape and murder.

Corbett did not return a call for comment. Capistrano Valley High School Principal Tom Ressler described Corbett as a “solid” teacher who has been with the Capistrano Unified School District for more than 15 years. Ressler said Corbett’s class was popular among Advanced Placement students and has a high pass rate.

“It’s really premature to say anything about this,” he said of the allegations. “People can make allegations all they want; we have to see the reality and context of what was said.”

Teresa Farnan said her suspicions were aroused on the first day of school when her son — a sophomore honors student required to take Corbett’s class for college admission — asked her whether America was founded on Christian values, which he said his teacher had denied.

“He had learned in the eighth grade that our country was founded by persecuted Christians,” said the mother, who describes her family as nondenominational Christian, “so I sent him to school with a tape recorder.”

During the next two months, Chad Farnan said, he taped Corbett’s lectures with the recorder in plain sight on his backpack.

“I’m not sure whether he saw me,” the student said. “He’s against Christianity and bashes it all the time. He’s been indoctrinating us and not teaching the class; we don’t need to be hearing his political views during school time when we should be learning.”

Eventually the Farnans contacted Advocates for Faith and Freedom, a nonprofit organization based in Murrieta dedicated to “protecting religious liberty,” a spokeswoman said.

The group filed the lawsuit on the family’s behalf, attorney Jennifer Monk said, because it believed Corbett’s behavior violated the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution.

“The teacher is a representative of the state and the Constitution requires government neutrality toward religion,” she said. “This teacher’s conduct and words clearly show he is hostile toward religion and is indoctrinating these kids, who are a captive audience.”

The lawsuit — based entirely on Corbett’s comments during one Oct. 19 class that the Farnans describe as typical — asks that the teacher be removed from the classroom. “We will not seek damages if the teacher is removed,” Monk said.

Chad Farnan, who attended Corbett’s class until the lawsuit was filed, said Wednesday that he would remain in school but stay out of the class until the matter is settled.


21 Responses

  1. […] and political (something it’s hard to imagine happening considering where they started), the teachers get increasingly aggressive in promoting viewpoints inconsistent with public […]

  2. My only issue is that the article doesn’t seem to say if the family tried to take action by talking to the principal or school board first or if the student ever objected in class.

    On principle I tend to think “gotcha” lawsuits should only happen after action isn’t taken on a local level.

    Granted, I’m not sure how that would work. If the teacher behaves for classes with that student only then nothing is gained and in my experience nothing is resolved on the local school level until, for example, another teacher has a child in the class and the other teacher makes the complaints.

  3. i am also a former student of Dr. Corbett’s and i absolutely hated him as a teacher! he was comepletely biased and extremem in everything. he told us that god doesnt exist and that if we believe in him we are fools! you cant do this in public school! he would basically tell you what to think and anyone who disagreed was too imtimidated by his aggression to speak up! i hope he goes down!


  4. This reminds me of the Jews for and Jews against Jesus argument in Israel:

  5. As a history teacher and a parent, I view Mr. Corbett (won’t dignify him with the honorific “doctor”) with contempt. No AP class allows time for soapbox rants, unless the content is to suffer. No time for “provacative” discussions exists in the fast-paced curriculum. If passing rates are high at that school, it’s a credit to the fine students, not the boob pounding his shoe on the podium — wait, that was some other athiest dictator. Had my child the misfortune of finding himself in that man’s class, I’d have switched schools and taken his ADA monies elsewhere. Teachers have an obligation, a duty to present thought-provoking information that is relevant to the topic. I don’t believe Corbett understands his topic well enough to limit his peculiar opinions to the realm of just that: opinions. This indicates that he is a terribly frightened little man who uses the bully pulpit of the classroom to marginalize a fairly large segment of his student population and put parents and their children on the defensive. And we mustn’t forget that he teachers’ union is also in the wings to silence administrative involvement. Many may complain that this lawsuit bypassed internal means of lodging complaints, but I feel safe in asserting that Corbett cannot be touched through any other means. Unfortunately, the tide is increasingly against the other side of the establishment clause – you can’t denigrate the free practice of religion. Yes, Virginia, it’s bad to preach to school kids that any particular religion is good — all acknowledge that this is professional suicide. No one is willing to insist the opposite is true as well — it’s bad to preach to school kids that no religion is good. For the sake of future Capo college bound sophomores, I, too hope Corbett finds another assignment.

  6. I am a past student of Dr.Corbett’s and I must say this allegation Chad has against him is completely foolish. Dr.Corbett has NEVER said God doesn’t exist or that if you believe in christianity then you are a fool. What Dr.Corbett has done is given facts to the students . Students are always allowed to argue with him in class and express their viewpoints, and he will argue right back. He argues to make you think, to create a controversy, and to show you how problems with religion in the past have resurfaced today. Dr.Corbett says, “When you put on your Jesus glasses, you can’t see the truth. When anybody believes in any religion they’re inhibited by the views the religion entails and that’s all Dr.Corbett is saying. Dr.Corbett is an amazing teacher and has widened the minds of many, I hope that he wins his case because he really believes in the love of teaching.

  7. Response on Tactiful Teacher:

    I am not a student of Dr. Corbett nor never heard of him until this story emerged. I have done some light research on him to provide some limited background. I would first note that my claims are educated assumptions but assumptions nonetheless.

    First, you say it is a teachers obligation to provide “thought-provoking information” to a student. Furthermore, you say that Dr. Corbett does not do this. You say that teachers have no time to go on soapbox rants because it takes away from the fast-paced curriculum created by the College Board.

    Your educational philosophy entails that the higher a student scores on the AP test, the more educated they have become. However, ask a student what skills they gained and how much they retained from a “fast-paced curriculum” based course (I am assuming this entails the “banking concept” of education as described by Paulo Freire). I would hypothesize relatively little primarily because it is a consequent of the banking of education but also from the experience of my peers and myself. The students never felt ownership over the content they learned and it is likely to disappear. Secondly, the banking-concept of education provides for minimal “thought-provoking information.” The teachers is the giver of information and the students are the receivers of it. The students have no opportunity to give back anything to their education. As I understand, Dr. Corbett allows for discussion and disagreements provided the claims are backed up by evidence. Unfortunately or fortunately (depending on your perspective), you will run into people in which you have disagreements with. In this case, it is your responsibility to understand both sides of the argument, weight the evidence, and make a conclusion. The students in his class are able to take ownership of their education and learn skills instead of either ignoring or cowering in face of different perspectives.

    You say that there is no time for “provacative” discussions (once again, banking) but I am also assuming you believe there is no time or very limited time for discussion. As Vygotsky (considered the father of education theory; he did extensive research and his works are the basis of modern education theory) said, learning is inherently social. Taking this away makes the educational environment inherently weak. Thought “provactive” discussions are better to a students education than “thought-provoking information” banked onto the students.

    Lastly you state “For the sake of future Capo college bound sophomores, I, too hope Corbett finds another assignment.” Looking over comments to this articles on this website, an overwhelming majority have claimed Dr. Corbett a major source of education growth.

    However, I understand why one would think Dr. Corbett may be overly blatant. Like another commenter previously said, students may feel intimidated to disagree. Though I believe this student has not attempted to was unable to gather evidence to put up a disagreeing claim, Dr. Corbett should allow for a more nurturing environment to students feel safer and fee they will not be heavily criticized if their argument fails.

    I recommend the following readings if you want to better understand this argument or want a chance to improve your teaching (it does not look to hurt)
    Mind in Society (Vygotsky)
    Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Freire)

  8. […] teacher accused of insulting religion in his class Posted on December 16, 2007 by Bookworm I blogged very briefly on Friday about the lawsuit against Dr. James Corbett, who, along with his school district, is being accused […]

  9. […] 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 threat 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 worshiping or denying God. […]

  10. “As a history teacher and a parent, I view Mr. Corbett (won’t dignify him with the honorific “doctor”) with contempt. ”

    Are you KIDDING? I seriously hope that you are, because that is simply the most ridiculous thing I have ever had the misfortune to hear. Ever. This is an intelligent man who worked hard to earn his honorable PHD and the fact that you feel the need to demean his accomplishments and his intelligence, to go as far as disrespect him with such a cheap shot, puts YOU at an infinitely lower level than anything that Farnan has accused DR. Corbett of (all of which is UNTRUE, might I add). You, a lot like Chad Farnan’s parents, have no idea what’s going on and feel the need to pass judgment on something you most obviously know absolutely NOTHING about, and then you go and act like my ten year old cousin. DR. Corbett should sue YOU for being immature and completely inane.
    Regardless, as a student currently enrolled in one of DR. Corbett’s classes, in fact the same class, even the same period as Chad, I find DR. Corbett’s lectures interesting and thought-provoking. Not once has DR. Corbett ever, ever said that you shouldn’t believe in God or that God doesn’t exist. He gives a different view on many topics, a view that many times, I for one, never would have considered. Every single thing he says is open for debate. DR. Corbett made this crystal clear the first day of school. He wants us (his students) to speak our minds and defend our opinions. Besides, we all know the only reason Chad is suing is because he was failing the class and his parents overreacted. He obviously wasn’t that insulted or whatever that lawsuit claims, otherwise he wouldn’t have been asleep during the majority of DR. Corbett’s classes, he would have been defending his belief that he feels so imperceptibly strong about.
    DR. Corbett is an excellent teacher and it would be a huge mistake to fire him (which I highly doubt the school district will do, considering how high his AP pass rate is and the fact that he is a plain old good teacher).
    Finally, I still don’t see how anyone who hasn’t been in one of his classes or at least met DR. Corbett, can honestly pass judgment on this issue at all.

    I, however, am not above insults and for the record, how someone like you, who shows NO RESPECT for other opinions every became a teacher is confounding to say the least

  11. KRC, you seem a little confused on a concept. For an AP history teacher to go on rants to teenagers about how people who believe in God are stupid and violent is exactly the same as lecturing those students to stop believing in God, or at least to stop believing in the organized faith.

    As for according him respect merely because he has a PhD, you’re young yet. I wouldn’t automatically disrespect him because of the PhD, but I’ve certainly kicked around long enough to know that the degree itself proves nothing except that he made it through a university program — and knowing university programs as I do, that may show only his tenacity or his reluctance to get a job or it may show that he has a gifted analytical brain. Certainly the material quoted from his classroom lectures shows s bigoted, vulgar, ill-informed, angry man, all of which could be entirely consistent with a degree from same, one of the major public universities.

  12. “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen”

  13. “The lawsuit contends, among other things, that Corbett […] compared Christians to “Muslim fundamentalists””

    Oh no! How dare you say Christians are evil like Muslims?

    Corbett is undoing the 10 years of Pro-Christian education in student’s previous education and maybe even teaching the students to be critical of what they are told.

  14. KRC: There is NO defense for Corbett’s comments. You only defend them b/c you AGREE with him. Nevertheless, they are WAY out of line and totally inappropriate for not only the topic of the class, but ANY class. One can only imagine your reaction if Corbett used the same vigor to speak favorably of Christianity.

    What’s pathetic is that he somehow feels so “intellectually superior” by spouting off to a bunch of HS kids. Whooooaaaaa. A PhD with 19 yrs. teaching experience vs. HS juniors and seniors. What a “tough” guy. His “arguments” that were available to the public (crime rates/religion) were so ridiculous that it’s probably no WONDER he remains in HS despite his PhD.

  15. Some PhD’s choose to spend the last years of their career teaching high school.

  16. And some PhDs get their degrees at diploma mills. So?

  17. Thank you for proving my point Hube.
    You guys are making judgments without facts. As I understand from comments of students who took the class, Dr. Corbett taught the students how to back up their claims by using facts. Some of us here could maybe learn something from his class.

  18. IEL — it’s perhaps a sign of how low educational standards have sunk that you actually believe that for Dr. Corbett to insult people is the same as teaching rational debate and allowing students to learn how to defend their positions. The man is manifestly a bully, and not a very smart one at that. Those students who agree with him or those few who are secure enough to challenge him will talk, but no one will learn in a class run by someone who makes the types of statements on record. Those are not the statements of an educated, open-minded, intelligent person — and everything else he may do or so is tainted by association with that type of mental effluvia.

  19. Perhaps a sign of lower education standards are the advent of testing such as AP tests.

    Student touched on this but look at how tactiful teacher claims to be a good teacher as he/she teachers directly towards the test. I could make this argument but there is tons of anti-testing (anti-NCLB) material written better and argued better by more knowledgeable people.

  20. IEL. Bookworm is 100% correct. There is NO excuse for using insults the way Corbett did in order to “get students to think.” If you can’t see that, all I can say is thank God you’re not teaching. (I hope!)

    Teachers that feel they must operate this way are either, as BW said, a bully, or totally insecure, and least of all, lousy instructors.

  21. Ph.D. The Ohio State University, a diploma mill with 60,000 students. I’m ashamed to have graduated from such a poorly known institution.

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