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Fighting back

Christian public school teachers go to court, and scientists quietly advance intelligent design

Fighting back

RESISTING: Friedrichs

Golden state warriors

by Mary Jackson

Buena Parks, Calif., teacher Rebecca Friedrichs is married to a college professor and has a long list of family members who are educators, including her husband’s 96-year-old aunt who once taught in a Minnesota one-room schoolhouse. Even as her love for teaching runs deep, Friedrichs, 47, has voiced concern over her union’s one-sided politicking, its resistance to education reform—and its forced membership dues.

Friedrichs’ union, the California Teachers Association (CTA), is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year with TV advertisements that feature teachers heralding its small beginnings. But today, the labor group is arguably the state’s single most powerful special interest group. Some call it California’s “fourth executive branch” for its sway over candidates, ballot measures, and lobbying. State legislators and voters have mostly protected the CTA—leading Friedrichs and a small group of teachers and parents to implore the court to loosen its firm grip on Golden State politics. 

As the middle child with four siblings, Friedrichs was “always the outspoken one.” In her 25 years with the Savanna School District, she has watched the CTA spend millions to fund numerous ballot measures and candidates that run contrary to her Christian beliefs: “They use the face, the reputation, and the trust of teachers to pass their agenda—and they’re allowed to make us pay for that agenda.” For three years, she advocated as a secretary and site representative for her local union, which she calls “a lesson in futility.” Then, last fall she put signs in her yard, picketed, and wrote op-ed pieces to support a ballot measure that would prohibit the CTA’s political spending—but the labor group spent over $20 million to defeat the proposal. 

Now, Friedrichs and nine other California teachers and the Christian Educators Association International (CEAI) have filed a federal lawsuit against the CTA and its affiliates, the National Education Association (NEA) and 10 local teachers unions. The plaintiffs hope a judge will allow them the choice of whether to join and pay dues to the unions, effectively making California a “right-to-work” state. 

In 2011, teacher dues and fees yielded the CTA more than $178 million in revenue. Additionally, its influence is written into the California constitution: More than two decades ago, voters passed an initiative guaranteeing about 40 percent of the state’s annual budget goes to public schools. With 325,000 members and a firm grip on the state budget, the CTA shelled out over $210 million in political contributions and lobbying expenses from 2000 to 2009—nearly twice that of the next largest spender, the Service Employees International Union, according to a state study. 

The CTA has funded a wide array of causes unrelated to education, from pro-abortion and pro-gay campaigns to implementing the state’s single-payer healthcare system. In the past decade, the CTA spent 89 percent of its revenue on ballot initiatives, 10 percent to help Democrats, and less than 1 percent to Republicans, according to the website followthemoney.org. Meanwhile, it has closely guarded a set of hard-won tenure rules and seniority protections for teachers. It routinely stifles attempts by education groups to improve teacher quality and introduce school vouchers. 

But California lags near the bottom in quality public education, competing with Mississippi and Washington, D.C. Some blame the CTA for funneling money to liberal causes instead of education and obstructing most reform efforts, both in the legislature and at the polls. Friedrichs is one of a handful of teachers and parents who are hoping courts will deliver an even playing field—even if it means taking on the CTA, the biggest fish in the 50-state pond. 

In January, the California Supreme Court will hear a different case brought by nine students and their parents from districts around the state. The suit, sponsored by the national nonprofit Students Matter, challenges the state’s tenure laws that allow wide protections for teachers after only 18 months on the job and make it difficult to fire those who are ineffective. 

“Parents in California should not have to worry every year that their children could be assigned to teachers who deny them the learning opportunities they deserve,” parent Laurie Campbell said in a press statement. Another parent, Jose Macias, said a second-grade Los Angeles teacher berated his daughter and told her she needed a special education program: “No child ... deserves to go through that,” Macias told the Los Angeles Times. The daughter is now a high-performing seventh-grader.  

Last year, the CTA strongly opposed a state Senate bill that would have sped up the dismissal process of the most criminal cases. The bill, drafted in response to the Miramonte Elementary School scandal (a teacher charged with sexually molesting 23 students), never made it past committee. Legislation “isn’t coming, so these students and parents feel compelled to go the courts,” said Enrique Monagas, an attorney representing the plaintiffs: “I hope when we win this case, legislators across the country see that the courts defend the fundamental right of children to quality education.” 

As it stands, California’s “agency shop” law allows teachers to opt out of about 30 percent of the union’s mandatory dues that are deemed “political.” But even nonunion members are required to pay annual dues up to $1,000 for the union’s “collective bargaining” expenses. These expenses include, for example, the CTA’s annual gay and lesbian conference this November and its monthly magazine, The California Educator, which features voting guides and other political messages.

Teachers can become “religious objectors” through a tedious application process. If approved, they can send dues to a union-OKed charity.

Eight was  

too much

Friedrichs cites California’s Proposition 8 as “a real wake-up call” for teachers. An NPR analysis of state data shows that the majority of public school teachers financially supported the 2008 ballot measure affirming traditional marriage. But the CTA gave $1.25 million to oppose it, running commercials with teachers disavowing the proposal. 

During that time, CEAI’s Finn Laursen said his Ohio-based organization had to set up an extra phone line to funnel calls from its 700 California members. The CEAI, which offers spiritual and legal guidance to 7,000 public school teachers nationwide, hears most frequently from teachers in California and other blue states with strong teachers unions. Laursen says, “Their voices are the loudest. They are fed up with the fact that they are forced to support causes that violate their personal convictions.” —M.J.

Homeschool rising

by Elise Grafe

With all the educational bad news around, the growth of homeschooling continues to be good news for the vast majority of an estimated 2 million children who learn at home, a number that has doubled in the past decade. Among the beneficiaries: New Mexico’s Kyle Garcia and his parents, Scott and Rose Garcia.

Kyle’s older brother thrived in public school, but Kyle did not. He loved learning and exploring new ideas—from the time he was little, he’d kept a notebook filled with drawings of his new inventions—but public school wasn’t challenging him academically. Scott Garcia, who worked from home as an architect and artist, was willing to become Kyle’s primary teacher: Father and son shared the same love for design. They worked and learned together, and Kyle is now pursuing his college degree in engineering.

As the number of homeschoolers has grown, so has the diversity. Almost one-fourth of homeschooling families are members of minority groups. The stereotypical homeschooling family has many children, but in reality 58 percent have three or fewer. Children in single-parent homes now represent 11 percent of homeschoolers, and come from all income levels. Reasons for homeschooling vary enormously: Some are religious, some have to do with lifestyle (wanting to spend more time outdoors or traveling), some are related to the arts or to particular cultural heritages.

Brenda and Pete Cummings homeschooled two children in the 1990s and are now homeschooling two more. They chose to homeschool as a way of building good relationships in their family and helping their kids develop a solid Christian foundation. Brenda Cummings said she appreciates the ability to develop her children’s unique strengths: Her daughter Hallie loves working with children and has been able to work with younger kids as part of her middle-school curriculum.

The Cummings have experienced the changes brought about by homeschooling’s increased popularity. When Brenda Cummings told people she was homeschooling twenty years ago, they asked her, “What is that?” Now when she tells people she homeschools, they usually say they wish they had done the same with their children. When she taught her first two kids, she had little homeschool community. Today, her family is part of a 300-member homeschool co-op. Ten or 20 years ago, Cummings had difficulty finding great materials, but now much more is available.

Homeschooling was illegal in the United States for most of the twentieth century. Starting in the mid-1960s, advocates—primarily Christian parents—started pushing for the right to teach their own children. State by state, they gained the right. By 1993, every state had legalized home education—but it isn’t free. Some homeschoolers want to be exempt from paying the portion of property taxes allocated to schools, yet others worry about opening the door for more regulation by state or local school districts.

ID incognito—for now

by Angela Lu and Daniel James Devine in Seattle

It shouldn’t raise a ruckus for a state university to hire an astronomer. Especially one who helped discover two extrasolar planets, published 76 peer-reviewed papers, and discovered the “Galactic Habitable Zone,” the concept that only certain regions of galaxies are likely capable of supporting life.

But when Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., hired astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez in June, the Freedom From Religion Foundation warned the school’s “reputation is on the line.” Jerry Coyne, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago, told a Muncie paper Ball State “should start hiring scientists who will teach real science and not religious apologetics.”

The problem? Gonzalez, a Christian, believes in intelligent design (ID), the scientific theory that nature displays evidence of having been designed by a mind. In 2004, as a professor at Iowa State University, Gonzalez co-authored The Privileged Planet, a book that argued the Earth is ideally situated to support life and gives humans an optimal vantage point to study the universe.

The book ultimately cost Gonzalez his job. After a group of atheists complained, Iowa State denied his application for tenure, even though his credentials were impeccable and he had never taught ID in class. In July, his new employer, Ball State president Jo Ann Gora, sent all faculty a terse reminder that intelligent design was “a religious belief and not a scientific theory. Therefore, intelligent design is not appropriate content for science courses.”

Gonzalez has some candid advice for ID proponents who want to work in academia: “Don’t discuss your ID views publicly. If you have an idea for an ID research project, do it in your spare time.”

Yet discrimination isn’t stopping the ID movement: In the past 12 years, more than 800 scientists have signed the “Dissent from Darwinism” statement, publicly acknowledging their skepticism that the complexity of life emerged from random mutations and natural selection. Many more have heeded Gonzalez’s advice in keeping their views to themselves for the sake of their careers.

Fresh faces are rising in the ranks: This summer, 45 students, scientists, teachers, and professors from around the world attended a closed-door seminar held by the Discovery Institute, an ID think tank in Seattle. They sat under the teaching of Gonzalez and other leading proponents of ID to learn the scientific evidence of intelligent design and the social impact of Darwinism. Despite risking discrimination and career roadblocks, the attendees are passionate about what they see as clear evidence of design in nature. For many of the American attendees, their biggest struggle is figuring out how to advocate intelligent design in hostile schools, universities, and labs without short-circuiting their careers in the process.

To protect the identities of some attendees, WORLD agreed to use pseudonyms (designated with an asterisk).

Biologist Isaac Watson* squirmed on a couch for five minutes before agreeing how he could be described in print: He’s a 20-something graduate of a secular university on the East Coast who holds a Ph.D. in the biological sciences, and he said, “The minute I associate myself with the ID movement I’m crossing a kind of point of no return, in terms of career advancement.” 

Watson is on the verge of a lifelong dream: He loved animals as a child and remembers hoping in sixth grade to become a scientist one day. He grew up in the church learning about the Genesis creation account and, even before high school, doubted Darwinian evolution could explain the origin of species.

After studying biology at a university that preaches Darwinism, Watson’s doubts haven’t gone away. For one, neo-Darwinian theory has led scientists to wrong conclusions, such as the assumption DNA segments with unknown functions are leftover evolutionary “junk.” Yet, Watson says, an ID proponent examining those segments would predict, “Well, if a designer created this, it probably has functionality”—and recent discoveries indicate most “junk” DNA has some biochemical function.

Watson is trying to decide how to promote intelligent design while avoiding what he calls a “career execution.” If the academic world knew he was pro-ID, his name might be informally blacklisted, preventing him from publishing in scientific journals. Watson is considering keeping his views hidden until his science credentials are established—by earning tenure, for example. He’s not sure when that will be.

Plant Breeder Randy Potter* works at a state university in the Midwest and makes his living tromping through fields, selecting plants with desirable traits, harvesting and planting their seeds, and raising new plants with those traits. Through this process of conventional breeding, he might be able to increase or decrease the height of a crop, or even increase its yield.

Is that Darwinian evolution in action? No, says Potter: “I have a goal in mind.” The selection in this case involves intelligence–his own. He notes that Darwin said evolution proceeded “without any intelligence, [but that’s] a leap. … It’s not like I can turn a wheat plant into a corn plant.”

Although Potter is in his 50s and already holds a Ph.D. in plant breeding, he’s finishing up a master’s in science and religion at Biola University. He wants to teach others about intelligent design, as he’s already done at his Baptist church, and perhaps organize ID conferences.

For those outside the science field, secrecy about their beliefs is less necessary. Joshua Jones, a government major and economics minor at Houston Baptist University, sees ID as an important part of his future–as a politician. His focus is the impact that science, especially the materialistic ideas of Darwinism, has on public policy, from abortion to education to euthanasia.

Jones sees the far-reaching consequences of a Darwinian worldview: If man is merely made of matter and controlled by natural selection, then the greatest good is the survival of the fittest and the destruction of the weak. These ideas have led to eugenics in Nazi Germany and forced sterilization in the United States.

Jones believes this is why Christians should be in politics: “Christianity gives us that strong moral foundation from which to operate and even which to find consensus. People go around talking about human rights, but especially in a Darwinian context there’s no real reason … for human rights outside of natural law and a lawgiver.”

Even as Jones speaks up in class, his poise and delivery are reminiscent of a politician. He realizes that people may disagree with his beliefs, but his first priority is to pursue truth: “Maybe it’s because I’m young, but I’m ready to take on that fight. I’m kind of an idealist in that sense as an intellectual person, I’m committed to consistency. I could never turn my back on what is true just because of persecution.”

James Lopez, a senior at the California State University of Northridge, is also open about his belief in intelligent design. He says he works hard to stay at the top of his class, give solid reasons for the existence of God, and point out the scientific evidence for intelligent design: His fellow students “haven’t really experienced a logical version of the Christian faith,” so instead of telling his classmates to just believe what the Bible says, he questions them about their own presuppositions.

For instance in astronomy class, the professor assigned students to do a presentation on the origin of an element. Lopez chose iron and explained to the class how it was more likely that God created the element than the element resulted from exploding planets. “There I was in the middle of the big class reading Genesis 1:1 and the whole class was silent.” He said most students haven’t thought through origin-of-life questions, and instead mainly believe whatever their professors say.

In his free time, Lopez posts images with thought-provoking facts on Instagram and debates atheists in the comments section. 

Mark Dunn,* an adjunct astronomy professor at a community college in a Rocky Mountain state, wants to influence the younger generation’s view of science and design. Since he works at a publicly funded institution, he has to be subtle. As he teaches students about white dwarf stars, spiral galaxies, black holes, and the solar system, he introduces them to fine-tuning, the idea that Earth is ideally suited to support life and allow humans to study the stars.

Standing in front of his class, Dunn, an Anglican in his 50s, will explain to students that the Earth’s unusual atmosphere is transparent to radio waves and visible light, but blocks other wavelengths that can be harmful. He will then ask, “Isn’t it interesting that the only two transparent windows in the atmosphere allow us to see the heavens and hear the heavens?”

Design the seas

While the major controversy over evolution and Intelligent Design has concentrated in the United States, other countries are jumping into the discussion as well, so the Discovery Institute seminar included students from Africa, Asia, South America, and Europe.

Wearing a bright, flowing dress, 28-year-old Jediadah Chilufya of Lusaka, Zambia, quickly typed notes on her cracked tablet as science philosopher Stephen Meyer spoke. A teaching assistant of microbiology at the University of Zambia, she wasn’t just learning: She was preparing for a lecture on ID she’d give at the university once she returned home.

She was surprised to hear of the persecution American scientists faced, as Zambia encourages open dialogue. Christians make up 87 percent of the population, and while some professors are atheists, they like students to debate over evolution and religion. In one class, her Christian professor pointed to the diversity of microorganisms and said, “This obviously shows that despite all these harmful effects bacteria can have, God made us in a way that we don’t just die to extinction.”

Chilufya first heard about ID last year from her uncle, who had previously attended the Discovery Institute seminar. Excited to see how science helped reinforce her Christian beliefs, she started an Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) club at her university where students gather to discuss the origins of life.

As Chilufya applies to a master’s program in microbiology, she is weighing what type of research she could do that would point to design. For instance, after hearing Gonzalez speak about fine-tuning, she’s thinking about studying microorganisms that live in extreme places and how they were designed to survive those environments.

“Right now there’s no threat in just speaking your view [in Zambia],” Chilufya said. “I’m not sure about 10 years from now, but I’m just thinking we should enjoy it while it lasts.”

When Ali Demir* of Turkey was 12, he wondered about the origins of life and started reading scientific and religious books in Turkish. It wasn’t until he learned English in college that he found an ID-related article on the internet. He spent hours reading articles and books, and watching YouTube talks of the leading ID proponents: Michael Behe, Stephen Meyer, Richard Sternberg.

During the Seattle seminar Demir looked starstruck eating meals and playing Frisbee with his heroes. “I feel like I’m in YouTube!” he exclaimed. He said he knew Behe’s lecture by heart, as he’s watched his videos over and over again.

Demir can’t tell any of his fellow college students in Turkey why he visited Seattle this summer. While 99 percent of Turkey–including Demir–is Muslim, academia is largely controlled by atheists because most religious leaders do not engage in scientific topics. Ali said he couldn’t even tell his professors that he is a Muslim, much less a proponent of ID.

Demir’s goal is to keep his beliefs quiet until he’s tested the scientific evidence for ID himself and becomes a professor. Once he is in that position of authority, people will take his ideas seriously even if they disagree: “I’ll continue asking these kinds of questions probably all my life because in my humble opinion it’s more important and interesting than any other topic, our origin is more important than any other thing.”

Andreas Müller* of Switzerland said he would probably be shunned by academics in his country if they knew about his belief in ID. As a boy, he saw airplanes and engines and wanted to know how they worked. Now in his 20s, he’s finishing a master’s degree in biotechnology and thinking of pursuing a doctorate in the same field, perhaps at a U.S. university.

Biotechnology, he says, is about building new systems from existing ones—like taking an insecticidal gene from a bacterium and adding it to the genome of a crop. But he doesn’t think scientists will ever be able to build sophisticated biological machinery like the ones that already exist in nature. For instance the flagellum, the spinning whiplike structure some cells use to propel themselves, involves multiple protein parts working in harmony.

“It looks like a motor, like an onboard motor from a boat,” Müller said. “If one of these single proteins doesn’t work, the whole thing doesn’t work.” According to the lingo of intelligent design, the flagellum is “irreducibly complex.”

At school, Müller generally keeps his thoughts about intelligent design to himself. He’s still questioning which career route to take. Option 1: Be open about intelligent design from the start, and take whatever limited job openings he can find. Option 2: Keep quiet about ID until his career credentials are established firmly enough to withstand withering criticism. Option 3: Never say anything, and simply use his science career for the betterment of humanity.

“I think one day I will have to reveal it. When I’m 60 or 70,” he laughs. “Or when I’m dying. … One of those heroic sentences when you’re dying: ‘I was pro-ID! And I don’t regret it!’”—A.L. & D.J.D.

Hanging

in there

by Samantha Gilman

Despite restrictions public schools place on what teachers can say, many Christians find ways to demonstrate their faith.

Kristin Silecchia, 24, tackled her first full-time teaching experience last year at Davis Middle School in Hillsdale, Mich. A Christian, she approached discipline in her class of 25 fifth-graders by always remembering Christ’s forgiveness: “I try to start each day as a new day, especially if there was a behavior issue the previous day. They are going to make mistakes and I need to forgive them just as I’ve been forgiven.”

When Silecchia hears a student swear or talk about inappropriate things, she takes a moment to step back and think of how to implement grace: “I think about what would be the best way to talk to them rather than just going up to them and scolding them for saying that.”

After the Sandy Hook school shooting last December, about a third of the students in Hillsdale teacher Liz Youngman’s high-school math class were absent, and the ones in class were agitated. One said, “One of the crazy people from the school is going to come and shoot us all.”

Youngman discussed with her students the importance of believing in a life after death. She did not tell them to believe in God, but asked: If you don’t believe in something after this life, “‘does it matter if you are a good person or a bad person? If you just die and get buried in the end, what does it matter?’ Kids really seemed to respond to that.”

Carol Haviland was a special education teacher in Hillsdale for 35 years, and has been substitute teaching for the past 10. Her middle-school classes of about 15 “educationally impaired” and “learning disabled” students stayed with her for three straight years: “They were more like family, and you can say anything to family once you know them well.”

As a Christian working in the public schools, Haviland knows the restrictions placed on teachers: “It really is doom and gloom, except there are ways you can not abandon your principles and still teach.” When she substituted for a sixth-grade class many years ago, one girl told her, “I’m an atheist.” Haviland stayed in touch with and prayed for the girl, who is now a junior in college and recently professed faith in Christ.

DeEtta Trainor has substitute-taught for 30 years at Hillsdale Middle School and High School. She is unashamed of her Christian faith: “I don’t hide my testimony under a bushel basket; it’s out there.” 

Trainor now teaches about once or twice per week: She does not preach, but when students come to her to talk about stress in their lives, she suggests that they pray and get connected to a church. Students she knows are Christian will sometimes sit and talk with her over lunch: “I had one student tell me, ‘yeah, everybody knows you’re a Christian,’ and I thought that was the best compliment.”

Megan Terasaki, who just gained her teaching credential last fall, sees her job as a relational ministry. Currently a substitute teacher in Torrance and Los Angeles school districts, Terasaki believes teachers can help point children in the right direction and teach them a lot through treating them right. She realizes, especially as a new teacher, that she can’t afford to be overt with her faith, and oftentimes her views will be unpopular—yet she hopes to be a good steward with the job that God has given her.

“A lot of students don’t have someone who loves them, so my ministry opportunity is loving my students,” Terasaki said. “It’s really investing in the kids and showing them that people do care about you. Even though you have nothing to give us, we have so much to give because of what Christ has done.”

—with reporting by Angela Lu; Samantha Gilman is a WORLD intern

Mary Jackson

Mary Jackson

Mary is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute mid-career course and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and four children. Follow Mary on Twitter @mbjackson77

Mary Jackson

Elise Grafe

Mary Jackson

Angela Lu Fulton

Angela is a senior reporter for WORLD Magazine based in Taiwan. Follow Angela on Twitter @angela818.

Mary Jackson

Daniel James Devine

Daniel is managing editor of WORLD Magazine and lives in Indiana. Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanJamDevine.

Mary Jackson

Samantha Gobba

Samantha reports on the pro-life movement for WORLD Digital.

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  • Richard H's picture
    Richard H
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 04:50 pm

    This also happened to us in Arizona.  This program was orchestrated by the Fed DOE to bypass Congress and the state legislatures and go directly to each states education department.  The legislature can kill the program by not authorizing the additional funding that will be required.  And by a separate action, the legislature can pass legislation to abandon the Statewide Longitudinal Data Base system due to privacy violations. 

  • socialworker
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 04:50 pm

    I read an article in our small town paper last night saying that Ohio's Board of Education adopted it without much fanfare or input and now the legislature is going to look at it.  There is going to be a turf war between the two because the Board of Ed. is saying that only they are qualified to approve it.  Not the  Ohio legislature who are not educators.

  • Richard H's picture
    Richard H
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 04:50 pm

    socialworkerHere are a couple interesting websites that discuss some aspects of Common Core.  The freedoms are greatly diminished with the Feds totally controlling the curriculum and testing/assessment processes.  http://www.hslda.org/commoncore/default.aspxhttp://www.utahnsagainstcommoncore.com/common-core-a-mental-health-professional-parents-perspective/ 

  • socialworker
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 04:50 pm

    If all that Richard says is true, how far away educational freedom is in the rear view mirror.

  • Richard H's picture
    Richard H
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 04:50 pm

    I am curious what Common Core is beginning to do with the few freedoms Christian teachers have left in the classroom as Common Core is now being implemented nationwide.  1.  Common Core is mandating the standards that dictate the curriculum.  The curriculum may not be changed, but the schools are allowed to add up to 15% more information to teach.  Some states have mandated some extra material to be taught.  But is the teacher now bound 100% to these mandates without adding more unless authorized from above?2.  Part of Common Core is the intrusive (violates every sense of privacy) data base created for each student and their family members to be used from pre-K through college.  Is there a contract of silence that teachers and school administrators have to sign up to in order to retain employment and use this system?3.  Testing and assessments are out of the hands of the teachers, schools, and respective state.  The testing is to be done via individual computers with Obama's Dept of Education's consortiums of public/private partnership.  Did the teachers have to sign a contract of silence to not divulge the contents of these tests and assessments?  It is highly suspected that the assessments are specifically for changing values and behaviors of students to the central government's prescribed desires (ie. cultural Marxism) via BF Skinners Operant Conditioning methodology.