John Freshwater is an 8th grade science teacher in Mount Vernon, Ohio. He’s one of those self-hating scientists that embraces Intelligent Design. In 2003, the school district told him to stop teaching ID in the classroom and he refused- but kept his job. He did remove most of the visible religious materials in his classroom but then gave his students the assignment of watching the movie Expelled with directions to “explain why it is important to examine this objectively and not let bias affect your observations.” Clearly, a slap in the face to the school board that had just warned him. But he remained employed.
But his refusal to back down on teaching Intelligent Design is merely a fireable offense. His other actions should put him in jail.
The above device is the BD-10A High Frequency Generator. It is used in science classrooms to ionize contained gases to make them an identifiable color (a really fun lab in normal situations). The tip of this device can put out up to 50,000 volts. There is a warning on the product that says “Never touch or come in contact with the high voltage output of this device”. Which would seem like obvious advice.
Mr. Freshwater, however, decided to apply the device to the skin of several of his eighth grade students. He asked for classroom volunteers who wanted to see how the device worked. Without warning the children that it was going to be used on them and be painful, he pressed it to their skin and left a painful welt behind. A mother complained to the school after her son’s welt kept him awake all night in pain. Another parent complained about their child’s injury. The school’s principal had a word with Freshwater, telling him to lock up or remove the device and asked him to stop using it on students. The principal wrote a letter saying that Freshwater had been warned but said it would stay out of the teacher’s file if he refrained from using the Generator on any more students.
Why wasn’t Freshwater immediately fired? Why weren’t the police and Children Services called for an independent investigation?
That’s because school officials didn’t think Freshwater intended to harm the students, said schools Superintendent Stephen Short.
“We believe the equipment was not used in an acceptable manner,” he said. “We didn’t think it had criminal implications.”
Not until April — four months after the boy’s parents complained — did Short speak with an employee of Knox County Children Services, Philemond said.
She would not name the student out of concern that he could be treated badly because of his parents’ complaint.
Short said that in an informal conversation with a Children Services employee, he said he didn’t think Freshwater had intended to hurt anyone and the employee said the agency wouldn’t investigate such an incident.
I’ve taken dozens of science classes in my life and no teacher ever taught how an electric device worked by using it on the students. The owner of the company that sells the Generator told the Columbus Dispatch that the output of the device on a human would be similar to the static shock you could get from a doorknob after walking across the carpet. Except that doesn’t leave a welt. And even if it were true that the voltage was that low- you shouldn’t run any voltage through a 13 year old. It is rather disturbing that such a thing needs to be said.
The parents of one of the “branded” students are now suing Freshwater and the school board. The suit addresses Freshwater’s refusal to back off of the Intelligent Design teaching method when he had been warned and the branding. Really, the ID aspect of this case is the least troubling. He should certainly lose his job since he clearly defied the wishes of his bosses and violated the civil rights of his students. But there should be a criminal action taken against him regarding the branding. He had to have known that the Generator would cause at least minor pain to the students he used it on. This man shouldn’t be allowed around children in a classroom setting again.
Update: John Freshwater was fired today after the school board voted unanimously against him. He can challenge the decision in a hearing and plans to. Being fired seems like a slap on the wrist considering his actions. I would still hope some kind of legal action is taken against him that keeps him out of future classrooms.
Update 2: I originally refrained from mentioning that he burned crosses into the arms of the students because, at the time of writing, it wasn’t clear whether that design was intentional. But it was clearly a cross and Freshwater told students the could get a cross (the “default” design) or something else.