More on the teacher accused of insulting religion in his class

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 threatd 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 worshipping or denying God.

Not so Dr. Corbett. If you’d like better examples of the crudity of Corbett’s discourse, crudity that is an insult to the Christian religion and that has nothing to do with scholarly discourse about the nature of religion, you only need to check out the allegations in the actual complaint against him.

For example, in the full quote alluded to in the LA Times article, he basically calls religious people ill-informed idiots: “How do you get the peasants to oppose something that is in their best interest? Religion. You have to have something that is irrational to counter that rational approach…. [W]hen you put on your Jesus glasses, you can’t see the truth.”

Another instance of his approach to discussing religion is to take one item of data about two different countries — their religious practices — and from that extrapolate to broad reaching conclusions about their crime rate: “People — in the industrialized world the people least likely to go to church are the Swedes. The people in the industrialized world most likely to go to church are the Americans. America has the highest crime rate of all industrialized nations, and Sweden the lowest. The next time somebody tells you religion is connected with morality, you might want to ask them about that.” It doesn’t seem to occur to him that a huge, melting pot frontier nation such as America might have developed differently from a small, entirely homogenous nation such as Sweden. A man who thinks this simplistically hardly seems fit to be a teacher, let alone an AP teacher. (Incidentally, Laer, at Cheat-Seeking Missiles, who wrote a wonderful post about the Corbett lawsuit, took the time to show the factual errors underlying this particular rant.)

Corbett also goes on lengthy rants about birth control, something that seems far removed from AP history, and that involves insulting entire American political parties: “….[C]onservatives don’t want women to avoid pregnancies. That’s interfering with God’s work. You got to stay pregnant, barefoot, and in the kitchen and have babies until your body collapses. All over the world, doesn’t matter where you go, the conservatives want control over women’s reproductive capacity. Everywhere in the world.” That’s news to me. I do know that American conservatives disapprove of out of control sexuality, believing that it is demeaning to the dignity of men and women alike, and that many of them are opposed to abortion, believing that it is destructive of the nascent life of a fetus. The only ones I know who do currently seem to advocate Corbett’s “Barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen” attitude are the Taliban but, peculiarly, their views don’t seem included in his rants.

It’s also a bit hard to see where Corbett’s view of Rush Limbaugh (“I love Rush Limbaugh. A fat, pain in the ass liar. And, boy, is he a liar”) fits into the AP History curriculum. Frankly, I also don’t see room in the curriculum for the vulgarities that roll of this man’s tongue. This is a teacher who demeans students, rather than who uplifts and educates them.

The bottom line is that teaching history and critical thinking are not skills that involve lengthy rants that take aim at specific religions and political views, let alone rants that shower students with vulgar language. Those students who have left comments saying that they felt free to disagree with him miss the point. As a public school teacher, Corbett’s job is to provide information, which can include information about doctrine or its effect on historical movements (such as the anti-Slavery movement in American history, for example, which was strongly affected by its adherents’ Christianity). It is not to shout soap box slogans that merely hark back to what were, I’m sure, his youthful days as a Marxist imbued anti-War activist.


27 Responses

  1. All,
    In reading comments here and elsewhere I find some defending this individual under the premise of his “thought-invoking” methodology. I have, in my experience, encountered exactly two teachers secure enough in their professional ability and knowledge to use this method without rancor or retaliation. One was in high school and one in college. A number of other teachers claimed to have this distance; they did not. Strangely enough, the two that did provoke thought and discussion did not use that as a selling point for their classes; only those who wanted a soap box did.
    Though I was in opposition to one (a die-hard Truman Democrat) on many social issues, we had a common line on defense and the military. The other was a social conservative with whom I argued long and hard about defense obligations to other nations. Neither class was history – one was Comparative Political Systems and the other Philosophy of Government.
    History, despite spin, is written and done. There are facts to be learned and lessons garnered. There is, however, no significant room for anti-religious bias. Religion IS history until the late 20th Century. If you pitch anti-Christian for that period you are tacitly supporting another religion (faith based system) – be it Islam, Shinto (Japanese wartime variant), Norse paganism (German wartime/National Socialist variant), or Communism (if you call Marx a “prophet” and look at his followers the model fits better than you would think).
    There is no room for obscenity or invective; the statements quoted are entirely unacceptable. The most devastating line I ever heard in an argument was delivered in a conversational tone; “Is it better to spend lives, time, and treasure across the ocean or wait for the enemy to make you spend it in your land?” (It was a discussion about WWII, strangely omniscient of my view on the conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan today).
    Enough of history lessons; lines were crossed and steps have been taken. Notably the “gotcha” lawsuit argument is not as potent as some infer; the family stated they will not seek damages if the teacher is removed. That doesn’t sound like a money thing to me.
    SGT Dave
    “The greatest trick the Devil ever performed was convincing men he did not exist.”

  2. By “gotcha” I didn’t mean “out for money” but that I didn’t know if solutions were sought prior to filing a law suit.

    Reading the complaint it says specifically that it was known that other people had complained and that nothing was done.

    I’m not at all surprised and will admit that I’d expect absolutely nothing to be done unless it was forced because that’s how schools work.

    A Christian kid shouldn’t have to listen to how Christians are bad, bad, bad, any more than a girl should have to endure being told she can’t understand Math or a boy sit for being told that men are naturally criminals or minority students told that they are violent (hah! there’s a reason for low crime in Sweden that you’d never hear in his class) or atheist kids have to listen to how they’re going to hell or Jewish kids how Jews killed Jesus or…

    Someone in one of the comment threads called it “Socratic”. My daughter’s school does the “Socratic” thing but it’s a separate event, carefully planned and controlled to encourage students to consider ideas and learn to question and defend them. It is not, even remotely, teachers spouting their ideological and religious beliefs (beliefs about religion are religious beliefs, no?) to a captive audience.

    And young people, even teens who I believe are every bit as *smart* as they will ever be, have little experience defending their views or debating. I tell my daughter, just because someone doesn’t know how to explain why they think what they think or support it, it doesn’t mean they’re wrong. It just means they can’t argue their point well. Being able to “logically” dominate a classroom of 17 year olds is not impressive.

    It’s probably easier, actually, than logically dominating an 8 year old because a 17 year old is starting to understand that they *ought* to be able to logically support their opinions and for many small children logic need not apply.

  3. There’s a very simple solution to this. Make up some letterhead calling yourself the American Islamic Relations Committee or something and write to the local school board demanding that this infidel be fired for denigrating religion. He’ll be gone before lunchtime.

  4. Thanks, Synova.
    I like your argument; I know a lot about systemic inertia (I’m a military type).
    On a side note about crime and Sweden; a friend is writing a paper on another factor that makes a lot of people cringe when talking about crime. It has to do with impersonal (actions against an unknown or little known person) and personal (close relation or co-worker) driven crimes. This factor that many social construct adherents hate?
    The weather. Yep, property crime (vandalism, robbery, house-breaking, and car theft primarily) are at their height when there is good weather. Notably so is mugging and non- and short term- acquaintance sexual assault (including rape). When there is bad weather you have a rise in murder, known-assialant assault, and known-assailant sexual assault.
    The reasons are simple – and frightening. In good weather people get out and about. Criminals hate the bad weather like everyone else. In bad weather tempers flare and there is nowhere to go to relieve the pressure. Individuals are trapped by mother nature with their abusers. The later crimes are underreported. This means that the already skewed statistics regarding Sweden could be even further off. Notably, areas of high population density and mass-transit do not hold as closely to these models, unless you factor in the transit stations and multiple-family buildings (apartment complexes) as “fair weather” areas. Then the numbers fit, more or less.
    All in all it was an interesting paper to read; as soon as my friend publishes it I will provide a link to his research and the background studies.
    Just some food for thought,

    SGT Dave
    “They never protest in the rain; only on sunny days.”

  5. […] [Discuss this article with Bookworm over at Bookworm Room…] Share Article Dr. James Corbett, anti-Christian, Christianity, Americans, America, Sweden, conservatives, Taliban, Rush Limbaugh    Sphere: Related Content Trackback URL […]

  6. Not an enthusiast of the Socratic method. None of the teachers I’ve ever met in a great number of trips through school turned out to be Socrates – and far too many of them responded to a question with a question because they didn’t have an answer. Way too many intellectually lazy people hide behind it.

    It’s nice someone wants to sue this guy I suppose, but it’ll be a waste of money: I’m sure he’s a fully paid up union member. Given the work rules that teachers have managed to negotiate (if that’s the word) for themselves, about the only chance to fire him would be if he were caught disemboweling Barbara Boxer with a salad fork on the capitol steps in Sacramento at high noon. Otherwise, he’s a good little NEA finger puppet, and they’ll protect him – and does anyone seriously doubt they’ll succeed in protecting him?

    So save your money, folks, and plan on reaping what you’ve sown. The man is a fool, but he’s a professional fool, and he’s been at it long enough to have earned tenure – and untouchability – as a fully paid-up fool.

  7. That’s a very jaded comment, jj — and, sadly, one that’s absolutely right. I’ve never forgotten the teacher at my junior high school, long, long ago, who got a free pass for a series of increasingly vile antisemitic remarks, but who was finally “called to account” for physically attacking a student and then throwing a movie projector (those were the days) out the window. Because he was a good unionista, “called to account” meant that he was put on fully paid leave, a situation that was going on for 4 years when I lost track of him. In other words, four years of taxpayer sponsored vacation for that dreadful, sick man.

    As for the Socratic method, I went to one of the top law schools, which boasted some of America’s top law professors. Of them, only one fully understood the Socratic method, using a series of questions to lead us inexorably to the point of the lesson. The rest of the professors just kept haranguing us with meaningless questions, which was very irritating, to say the least.

  8. At least you found one…

    We could have a talk about how law is not taught in this country (yes, that is what I wrote) – but that’s for another thread.

  9. There is some irony in the thought that Christians now want school house Atheists to be better Relativists!

  10. As a former history teacher (I still teach but a different subject) it was ingrained in me NEVER to allow my personal political/cultural views to enter a discussion in class, even when asked by students. In addition, when covering “controversial” topics, it was essential to cover both (or more) sides of the issue.

    This situation is a no-brainer — Corbett is WAY out of line. I am, however, wary of using a lawsuit as a first line of recourse. When the student (and attorney) who filed the suit were asked by O’Reilly the other night if they had approached the teacher and/or administration first, the answer was “no.” This is wrong, IMO. More often than not, the situation will be resolved then and there. If satisfaction is not evident to Farnan (the student), THEN initiate the lawsuit.

    Also, it’s amazing — and troubling — the line of defense used by those who support Corbett. “Academic freedom!” they cry. “Censorship!” Baloney. If Corbett had said everything he said but spoke favorably of religion, the ACLU would be on his arse faster than flies on caca. If Corbett was in a college classroom, he’d enjoy more academic freedom, BTW. But he’s in a public HS.

  11. Hey,. Book, we’re going up against each other at Watcher this week … could be interesting. Good luck, oh thoughtful one. You always make me feel a bit trivial …

  12. […] More on the Teacher Accused of Insulting Religion in His Class Bookworm Room […]

  13. The teacher was out of line, but it’s interesting to read what the Plaintiffs included in the Complaint. Much of it is appropriate. That’s not to defend the teacher, but only to point out that it’s interesting how sensitive “some people” can be when the shoe is on the other foot.

  14. It’s also a comment on the nature of complaints. When you write a complaint, you throw in everything even vaguely related to the issue, because, in theory, it’s a one shot deal. When the litigation ends, the res judicata doctrine says that you can no longer litigate anything that can or should have been tried in the original case. So, you don’t take chances, but err on the side of caution by placing everything before the court.

  15. the res judicata hehe. Like the Res Publica.

  16. This is about a high school sophomore who had enough. He was done listening to Christian bashing and an anti-Christian view given by a teacher who saw his opinion as gospel.

    Now, (lawsuit or not) it has brought national attention to the fact that anti-Christian rants are many times more acceptable in public places than any mention of Jesus.

    You can choose to run with the crowd laughing and taunting Jesus (and his followers) or seek Him who is the truth.

    Please consider visiting Bloggers For Chad Farnan … lawsuit or not.

  17. […] OTHER BLOGS: Unhinged Teacher Bashing Christianity High School Teacher Attacks Christianity Offensive Statement Regarding Christianity in the Classroom! Bookwork Room: More on the teacher accused of insulting religion in his class […]

  18. […] 3. “More on the Teacher Accused of Insulting Religion in His Class” by Bookworm Room […]

    Mass/energy never disappear ever were ever here!
    With nothing to ‘create’, a “so-called “Creator-God” is an impossible superfluous nonentity! J.H. © 5/8/07

    Few people realize the extent of the reach, influence and overwhelming power of religion! Nor do many people have any idea as to the enormity of the Vatican’s financial resources! Very likely, the Vatican is the wealthiest entity by a factor of 100 that the world has ever seen. And its tax-free status, weekly and “willed” donations of millions, when added to income from all its many worldwide investments, positions those who control that fabulous bottomless pool of wealth as the world’s most influential lobbyist or purchaser! This may be one of the reasons the Pledge of Allegiance was plagiarized and altered from “one nation indivisible” to the bigoted “one nation (divided) under God.” And why 100 senators disgraced our country and themselves by reciting the religious pledge on the steps of the senate and before television beamed to the entire world! The time has come to discredit the outrageous assertions by the Ponzi-racketeering charlatans who promote the plague-like mind destroying disease religion that survives by warping the minds of innocent children and fools, robbing them of their candy and toy money, and enslaving them to a life as shills who help perpetuate the criminal religion schemes. “Secular humanists,” “non-believers” and other sane and rational people know that no proof survives the fairytales of a magician named Jesus or his magic miracles, nor is there any proof whatsoever that there is or ever was a supreme creator God! Yet this and other lies are used to perpetuate their rotten scheme religion. People who live in the “real” world refuse to accept silly lies, fairy tales and farce as fact, whether it be about “Santa Claus” “The Tooth Fairy,” “Donald Duck,” a “Jesus” or a “Creator God.” Nor should they be lumped with or considered analogous with a gang of thieving, lying, mind-warping pedophiles who use a how-to manual of pornography, pillorying, stoning to death and other forms of outright bigotry, for their weekly stimulus to more proselytizing. The senators who said that fallacious rendition of our once great Pledge of Allegiance shall be remembered as the promoters of a criminal enterprise and the abettors or cohorts of a bunch of thieving slavers who invade every phase of society with their lying assertions that “our country was founded as a Christian nation.
    Their plagiarism of our once great Pledge of Allegiance, their repeated attempts to force their “Godism” on all schoolchildren, and their ever increasing use of all forms of media and gimmicks to mesmerize, indoctrinate and bludgeon American people with their outrageous, endless efforts to dominate us all with a “Theocratic” form of government renders them heinous felonious criminals!
    And the likes of George W. Bush and his ilk, by giving millions of dollars to faith-based groups, is bidding them “Godspeed!”
    Beginning is never found but keep an ear to the ground. Accept the word of a friend there’s no beginning or end.
    Religion’s pollution is no solution for Darwin’s Evolution. Natures origin for instance is ceaselessness Existence. The worst form of child abuse is warping of the mind! J.H. © 8/29/06



  20. […] Offensive Statement Regarding Christianity in the Classroom! Bookwork Room: More on the teacher accused of insulting religion in his class ParentDish: Teacher pushes religious views; student sues Berlin Wall Between Church and State: H.S. […]

  21. everyone is so biased against him. If u actually took his class and met him in person, hes the most awsome thing ever. He is so real and full of truth, not giving in to hiding and bigotry. All the media you have read is biased. Last year when there was a rally for him at school, 95% of the people were with him, all loving students, current and past. Out of all the teachers i ever had so far, he is the greatest, and i mean that.

  22. James Corbett: Teachers must challenge myths
    While dangerous to do so, it is vital in getting students to think for themselves.
    Teacher at Capistrano Valley High School. A federal judge ruled recently that Corbett violated the First Amendment’s establishment clause by disparaging Creationism.
    Comments 0 | Recommend 0

    Over 2,000 years ago Socrates faced a court for refusing to recognize the gods acknowledged by the state, importing strange divinities and corrupting the young. The judges sent Socrates to his death. He accepted the sentence of the court and committed suicide by drinking a cup of hemlock.

    The only virtue for Socrates was “knowledge.” He reached it by questioning the most deeply held beliefs of his students by which I mean all of Athens and ultimately all of us. What troubled the Athenians about Socrates, however, was not listed in the charges. His crime was that he prompted people to think.

    His provocations exposed the Athenians’ shallowness of belief and mindless deference to myth. Socrates was judged because he was successful in provoking his students “examine their lives.” [his words]Those who guard the myths must try and strike down any who teach young people to think and question, because myths often shrink in the light of reason, draining power from those in authority who benefit from belief.

    There are thousands of teachers who agree with Socrates that, “[t]he unexamined life is not worth living.” Every teacher who makes a student think takes the risk that he will be attacked by parents and others who see themselves as guardians of cherished political and religious myth. The teachers willing to take that risk should be rewarded, not punished. After the verdict, the Athenian court asked Socrates what his punishment should be. He responded that he should get free meals at the Pyrataneum, a celebration hall for Olympian athletes. Socrates went on to explain that those who passed judgment were not harming him, but rather themselves. He said, by killing him they corrupted their own souls and revealed the weakness of their own belief. A true believer does not fear that a few questions can undo years of parental teaching. Those who would “protect” students from self-examination have little faith and great fear.

    Chad Farnan, the boy who sued me, was an average student, who admitted under oath that he did not do the required reading for the class. If Chad’s lawyers, the “Advocates for Faith and Freedom,” and his parents were actually concerned with protecting the boy, why didn’t they simply come to me and ask me to explain my comments? Neither they nor the Farmans ever expressed concerns to me nor to any administrators before they came to school with attorneys and reporters in tow to drop a lawsuit on the desk of Tom Ressler, our principal. Perhaps more importantly, the Farmans were aware long before Chad took my class that I go out of my way to be provocative. Every year in July, I send a letter home to students who have signed up for my class. Chad admitted under oath that he received that letter. The letter says, in part:

    “Most days we will spend a few minutes (sometimes more) at the beginning of class discussing current events from either The Orange County Register or the L.A. Times. I may also use material from a variety of news Web sites. Discussion will be quite provocative, and focus on the ‘lessons’ of history. My goal is to have you go home with something that will provoke discussion with your parents. Students may offer any perspective without concern that anything they say will impact either my attitude toward them or their grades. I encourage a full range of views.”

    I included my home phone number and e-mail address in that letter and encouraged parents to contact me if they had any concerns. Chad admitted under oath that my lectures prompted many discussions with his parents. I might add, that in 20 years in the CUSD, I have never had a complaint filed against me, save this one.

    Every teacher in California (this was a federal case after all) now works with the knowledge that any student, at any time, and in violation of California law, can sneak a tape recorder into a classroom, record the teacher and use an out-of-context five second comment as a bludgeon to threaten, to intimidate and, ultimately, to destroy the teacher’s career and good name.

    Challenging myths is dangerous, but it is the essence of getting students to think for themselves. The Athenian judges, like some parents today, would have students accept myth without question, because myth is the foundation of their parental, political and/or religious authority. Ms. Farnan objected to my challenging the myth of the Puritans as a pious people who fled religious intolerance to found America. As Ms. Farnan sees them, the Puritans are quaint, pious people with buckles on their hats and shoes as portrayed in the national mythology, but they may also be seen as intolerant, misogynistic and homophobic religious bigots who hanged Mary Dyer, a Quaker girl, for preaching something other than Puritan doctrine and several other women for the crime of “witchcraft.”

    Questioning may make students and parents uncomfortable, but students have a right to think for themselves. It is not “bullying” to demand that students think.

    Ms. Farnan also objected to my challenge of another national myth, that the United States was founded as a “Christian” nation. There is some truth to that notion, but embracing that myth and excluding other views can be used to unfairly gain political advantage. Another view of the founding fathers can be seen in the writings of Thomas Jefferson, the man who authored the Declaration of Independence. He translated the Bible. The last words of the Jeffersonian Bible might shake Ms. Farnan’s faith: “There laid they Jesus, and rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulcher, and departed.” There was no resurrection for Jefferson, he rejected all the Biblical miracles, as contrary to reason. I doubt with his view would be called “Christian” by Ms. Farnan or anyone else. James Madison, who penned the Constitution, warned, “Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and units it for every noble enterprise, every expanded prospect.” If Jefferson and Madison were alive today, I doubt they could be elected. The guardians of the national myth would rise up and smite them as unbelievers.

    We respect the guardians and their myths at our peril because history (and science) changes and improves with knowledge, but the same force damages myth based on belief. That’s why the guardians fear the knowledge begat by questioning. For them, “knowledge” is gained in rote memory of approved truth. They chant in the school, temple, church or mosque and fool themselves into thinking they’ve acquired knowledge.

    All those teachers, and there are many of us, who understand the value of questioning sacred myths serve this nation as faithfully as other patriots. What is true will be strengthened. What is false will be destroyed, as it should be. Such teachers should be honored. There is no greater gift teachers can give to students than to teach them to think. Don’t sue them for it. Try taking them to the Pyrataneum for dinner, conversation and a cup of coffee, no hemlock.

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