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(Part 5 of several. Start here.)

kirkAfter dropping a note to my son’s high school principal about some apparent shenanigans in the boy’s science class, I flipped open my communicator to check in with the Mother Ship — a.k.a. the National Center for Science Education. Do this sooner in the process, do it later, but do it. NCSE has seen it all.

I started with a brief summary of events (as if they hadn’t already been following along on the blog, which of course they had), then asked four questions. Within an hour, I had a reply from NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch. He confirmed that I have “been handling the situation very well indeed.”

The backs of my wrists snapped to my hips, and I did a preen-and-strut around my office, head pistoning, uh huh, uh huh, uh huh. An important ritual, not to be skipped.

My first question: Is it reasonable to insist on seeing the overheads my son was referring to?

The request to see the overheads is reasonable, he said. “It still makes sense, I think, for you to pursue the overheads, to put the teacher on notice that he can’t ignore a reasonable request like that.” He added that union restrictions might protect the teacher in this situation. Georgia teachers are not unionized (with mostly unfortunate results, from what this husband of a teacher has seen, oy!), so that is not an issue here.

He then added a point I would not have considered: If the overheads were downloaded from somewhere (as opposed to self-prepared), they might be subject to a district policy which requires review and approval of supplementary materials. He suggested I check with Connor. (I did — Connor said the overheads were “very homemade.”)

I spent some time on the district and state DOE websites and was unable to find a specific policy regarding parents’ rights to see classroom materials. Such a thing would be helpful, so without going into the current unpleasantness, I’ve dropped a note to the area superintendent asking if such a policy is in place.

Second question: What should I expect by way of report from the principal?

Not a lot, as it turns out. “You probably can’t expect much in the way of a report from the principal, who doesn’t have much incentive to share information with you (and is probably constrained by law, to some extent, in what he can share about employee discipline, in any case). In the absence of evidence for a sustained and serious attempt at undermining the integrity of science education on the teacher’s part, it probably isn’t worth insisting.”

Question #3: Does the fact that the course was not biology make a difference?

Hell (or words to that effect) no, Glenn said. “If Connor’s home ec teacher said the same thing, you’d still be right to be concerned! Moreover, general physical science courses are typically the first (or early) in a sequence of science courses, where ideally the latter courses build on the earlier courses; if the physical science teacher is miseducating students about the nature of science, he is impeding their ability to learn in their later courses (as well as in college science courses).”

Excellent point. I had been inclined to cut Taylor if not a lot of slack, at least more than I would someone showing ignorance in his own specialization. But Glenn is right to note that the damage done to the science sequence is arguably even greater because it can pre-fit students with a warped lens.

And finally: The teacher is now on notice, and the principal knows who to watch and why. Do you consider that a sufficient resolution in this case?

“As noted above, there’s a bit more that you could do, if you were so inclined…But in the absence of evidence of a sustained and serious attempt at undermining the integrity of science education on the teacher’s part, I think that what you’ve done is enough.”

If I encounter this again, there are a few things I will do differently. I’ll cover those next time in the post-mortem. But it’s helpful to hear from folks who’ve seen this kind of thing from every possible angle that I’ve done all right.

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Dale McGowan is the author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies. He holds a BA in evolutionary anthropology and a PhD in music.