Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Mt. Vernon Heats Up

The trial of John Freshwater has polarized the town of Mt. Vernon, Ohio. According to a story in the Chicago Tribune:

"There's a battle of ideology going on here," said Don Matolyak, pastor of Trinity Worship Center and a Freshwater supporter. "I believe the ultimate issue is the Bible on the desk."

No way, argues Beth Murdock, who runs a downtown bakery. "This makes us look like a bunch of hicks, and that's not what this is," Murdock said.

"I don't think he meant to burn anybody. He got some bad counsel to make this all about the Bible and God. All he needed to do was say he was sorry, but he wouldn't do that," Murdock said.

There have now been suggestions that the "cross-branding" was, in fact, not on purpose:

The alleged branding occurred last December during a classroom science experiment. Freshwater was using an electrostatic device common in science classroom demonstrations. Science teachers at the school say they have used the device for many years to identify the color of gases.

Freshwater told investigators, according to an independent probe, that students often ask if they could touch the device, which carries high voltage but low current. On that day, several students volunteered, including one unidentified child whose parents complained that the crosslike mark left a "burn that remained on their child's arm for three or four weeks," the report said. The parents are suing Freshwater and the school system.

It reminds me of the old Vorlon addage: "Understanding is a three edged sword: There is your side, their side, and the truth" I wonder if we will know it in the end.


  1. Even Panda's Thumb is saying they don't think he did the branding involuntarily. Apparently kids have been volunteering to get zapped in his classes for years. I guess the main complaint is that he agreed to it even though it goes against manufacturer warnings and common sense.

    On a related note I'll offer a mea culpa that I accepted the notion of involuntary branding pretty uncritically. Bad form.

  2. I am afraid that I did as well. The sad thing is that I could envision it happening. Now, of course, the dismissal hinges on what he taught. That will be thornier.

  3. There are actually four basic charges in the report of the independent investigators:\

    1. The misuse of the Tesla coil to mark students' skin. I agree that he meant no harm, but rather displayed very bad judgment.

    2. Inappropriate behavior as faculty monitor of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, exemplified by a 'healing' ceremony held at one meeting.

    3. Teaching creationism after he had been explicitly denied permission to do so as early as 2003. Parents of several of his students have provided materials in evidence of this.

    4. Insubordination in the matter of religious displays in his room.

  4. That is a great summation of the arguments. Thanks. It is interesting that, if shown to be true, those four counts could cost him his job and yet he seems to garner the support of a large number of townspeople.

  5. Well, in fact, he doesn't have the support of a large number of local townspeople. A good part of the crowd at the Board meeting Aug 4 was from out of the district, called in by Freshwater's pastor from various churches in central Ohio. I counted cars from four non-local counties and two out of state cars in the parking lot. Most of his local support comes from his own congregation and a couple of other small fundamentalist churches in the area. My judgment is that the 'silent' majority in the district supports the board's action.

    At the meeting several parents, a biology professor, an IT executive (self-described as "a committed Christian from a fundamentalist tradition"), and a former coach in the area and a student all spoke in support of the Board's action. And maybe 50 or more people in the audience were in support.

  6. Interesting. Thanks for correcting my impression. The news stories led me to believe that support was widespread for Mr. Freshwater. Being on the scene really helps. Thanks.