Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Religious Views in the Classrooms

A new story has just come out about a Christian graduate student in Georgia being threatened with expulsion. I can't seem to find a good source on the story (hence the linking to Fox) because there's a few important questions that all the media outlets seem to forget to ask, and really, they're the important ones.

The story, as it's being told, is that the student, Jennifer Keeton, is working to be a school counselor, but due to her Christian views that discriminate against gays, she's being told to go through an extra remediation program. The question is, is this legitimate school practice for a failure on her part to comply to the American Counseling Association's code of ethics or is this a case of violation of free speech and religious freedoms?

As I'm seeing it, this is very close to another question that I've had to consider quite often: What should a science teacher/program do with students that are Creationists? Generally the answer to that question boils down to two main parts.

The first part is that, in order to receive a degree, students must show mastery of the material regardless of their beliefs. If I posed a test question on the age of the Earth, saying "I believe it's 6,000 years old" doesn't cut it. In the context of the subject, it's wrong. Students can't be stopped from holding that opinion or even expressing it at the appropriate time, but it can't be used as an excuse to not show that the student has learned the appropriate material. So the first question that needs to be asked (that no media outlet seems to), is whether or not Jennifer has been successfully completing assignments that demonstrate the understanding of the material, or whether she's simply responding with belief statements.

The second question is whether or not she's disrupting class time to argue her beliefs. In my teaching, the age of the Earth is a frequent topic. There's no way to get around it. If the first time I mentioned it a student wanted to voice their beliefs, I might spend some time exploring it, but after that, it's been covered and, unless there's something new and relevant to add, it's a closed topic. If a student continued to argue every time the topic was mentioned, then absolutely, they should be removed from the class. And if that class was a core requirement for their degree, then likely, this would mean the program as well.

Thus, if a student is demonstrating mastery of the material, remaining appropriate in class, and only voicing beliefs at appropriate times, then there should be absolutely no reason to deny them a grade or a degree.

So is Jennifer doing this? The video interview here makes me somewhat suspicious that she is. There, she says,
I have, on a few occasions, shared my biblical convictions and views in assignments, in class discussions, and with other students.
Furthermore, in the Motion for Preliminary Injunction, it is made apparent that Jennifer has been trying to push for the acceptance "conversion therapy" among other students. This would clearly violate both of the questions I'd asked; Doing this shows that she has rejected class curriculum and doing so attempts to undermine the other students education with a "therapy" that studies have shown to be ineffective and quite often dangerous. She makes it clear that she cannot affirm a homosexual lifestyle which would compromise her qualifications as a counselor. Clearly, this was something she'd intended to take with her to her chosen profession, thereby making her wholly unfit. As such, there's absolutely no way she should receive a degree certifying that she is.

Sadly, as is often the case, I think Jennifer is likely to win this lawsuit because the school handled the events poorly by insisting (and then not insisting, and then insisting again, then not insisting....) that she change her base views instead of demonstrating the ability to address them in an appropriate manner and not advocate disproven methods.

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