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D128: LHS Teacher Teaching Creationism, 'Remediable Behavior'

District 128 board members voted to retain Beau Schaefer, who taught creationism in a biology class.

Beau Schaefer, a Libertyville High School science teacher who has taught creationism in his biology class for at least four years, will keep his job despite the fact that according to the U.S. Supreme Court, this violates students’ first amendment rights.

The decision comes after conversations between LHS administrators and Schaefer, and a vote by the school board. (Watch the video here.)

After discussions during an executive session at Tuesday night’s school board meeting, the board voted 5-0 to let Schaefer retain his position.

“This is remediable behavior,” District 128 Superintendent Prentiss Lea said in a prepared statement before the executive session at Tuesday’s meeting.

Board members Judy Sugarman and Marsha Oberreider were absent from the meeting.

Whether or not Schaefer violated students’ 1st Amendment rights by teaching or referencing creationism was not the issue for Lea and the school board, according to his statement. In 1987, the Supreme Court ruled that creationism could not be taught alongside evolution in public school science classes.

“Regardless of our professional or personal opinions, there is no gray area in these court cases, and D128 must and will, live within the boundaries of the court rulings,” said Lea in his statement.

Creationism in Quiz

The issue first came to light when Rob Sherman, an atheist advocate, appeared at February's school board meeting asking board members to look into whether or not Schaefer had been teaching creationism to his students.

At the time, Sherman said he had been contacted by several parents and had a copy of a quiz that Schaefer had given to his students. The quiz asked students to compare and contrast different aspects of evolution and creationism.

The quiz, Sherman and other parents believe, leads students to think that creationism is a scientific theory. Duncan Millar, a parent whose 14-year-old daughter is in Schaefer’s class, said his daughter was devastated by what she learned in the class.

“She walked away with the belief that evolution is a theory and the creationism makes sense—this from a science class,” Millar said.

Parents, students, and residents of surrounding communities on both sides of the creationism versus evolution discussion appeared at the meeting to express their views on the subject.

Community Members Outraged

Luke Wojciechowski, a 2005 graduate of Vernon Hills High School, said he was dismayed to hear that that creationism was taught in his former school district.

“Imagine where our world would be if we taught alchemy along with chemistry, phrenology along with neurology, astrology along with astronomy, or if physics was explained in terms of God’s will or magic; simply because we want to present our children with both sides of the argument,” he said.

Millar said his daughter, along with other students in Schaefer’s classes, was brainwashed by Schaefer.

“The first thing we said to our daughter is that what you choose to believe in is your business,” Millar said. 

He urged the school board to consider the damage done to students by being co-taught both ideas.

“I will be outraged if they retain him. He shouldn’t be allowed to teach,” he said while waiting to hear the decision by board members about Schaefer’s fate.

Millar said his family is ‘mulling over their options’ about schooling for his daughter. School officials has told Millar that they will pay for a private science tutor to make up for the lapse in evolution education, but it would have to be on her own time, outside of school. 

Evelyn Gauger, a senior at Vernon Hills High School came to the meeting with her mother, Lisanne Lombardo. Gauger wanted to attend the meeting because although she is not directly involved, she has friends who attend LHS and feels strongly about evolution. They are atheists who come from religious backgrounds.

“I don’t believe public dollars should be spent on teaching creationism. I believe in science. Creationism should not take up time in a science class,” Lombardo said.

Gauger nodded her head as Lombardo spoke.

“Creationism should be taught at home, at places of worship, and religious schools,” Gauger said.

Supporters: Sharing Ideas

Schaefer has taught at the high school for 22 years. His supporters say learning about both ideas helps better prepare them for life. Although teaching creationism in a public high school goes against the Illinois State Standards for Science, a few told school board members that they should consider the idea of allowing creationism in the curriculum.

"[Schaefer] brought up the idea of the debate, but he never taught any of the points. He never pressured us to believe any one way or the other,” said sophomore Brian Holzer.

Su and Marc Miller, who live in the Grayslake School District, attended the meeting because they ‘firmly believe in the issue.’

“The first Congress appropriated money to make Bibles the main text taught in schools,” they said.

Past President of District 128 Kenneth Eichelberger said he has known Beau Schaeffer since he was a child and believes Schaeffer had the students’ best interests at heart.

“It’s healthy to hear both parts of the issue and discuss them with their parents,” he said.

Mary Ann Phillips March 23, 2011 at 03:33 PM
Clearly, there IS a very vehement debate about the validity of creationism, and the students in Mr. Schaefer's class have learned an extremely valuable lesson: be able to defend your position. From Brian Holzer's statements, it is clear that Mr. Schaefer was presenting the controversy in a manner that encouraged students to analyze and reflect on their own beliefs: isn't this what we strive for? To teach our kids to think for themselves? I would prefer to listen to what the students have to say, than to whatever distortions or hyperbolic version of the issue are presented by Rob Sherman, who does not live in the community and does not have children at LHS. Unlike Mr. Sherman, I have one son at LHS and another going to LHS next year. I am grateful that LHS critically and thoroughly examined this issue and retained Mr. Schaefer. He is an excellent and thoughtful teacher.
Bonnie Quirke March 23, 2011 at 03:48 PM
Kudos to Mary Ann Pilllips. Three of my children graducated from LHS. I commend a teacher, who allows students to think for themselves. Isn't teaching all about critical thinking. Going as far back as Socrates, who taught by asking questions, and provoking the thought processes of his students. Hasn't that tradition carried on to the Rabbinical way? And don't they still use that method today? There is a distinct difference between education and brainwashing. Mr. Sherman, the atheist got his way in squelching critical thinking. And we wonder why American school children are so academically below other nations.
AJ Petto March 23, 2011 at 07:15 PM
It is not critical thinking to have a student misunderstand what makes an idea scientific. That is what this teacher did, and that it why the teacher's behavior needs to be "remediated". It would be critical thinking IF the teacher presented creationism as a sociocultural idea or part of a political movement in the context of a lesson about why people do not accept the ideas of the scientific community. It would be critical thinking if the teacher contrasted creationism with contemporary scientific practice as a way to illustrate what constitutes a scientific discipline or a scientific theory (evolution) and what does not (creationism). However, any presentation that even suggested that creationism is a valid scientific alternative to evolution is not critical thinking--- it is wishful thinking; it is no less than malfeasance for a science teacher, it is certainly unethical, and it may go to the extent of malpractice. And look around, Bonnie, the nations that are ahead of us academically around the world have the LOWEST rates of acceptance of creationism.
AJ Petto March 23, 2011 at 07:24 PM
Exploring controversies is a great tool in the classroom ... except for one thing: THIS debate is NOT going on among scientists, so it is not a SCIENTIFIC controversy. The continuing "controversy" about evolution is that it seems to contradict the religious positions of SOME denominations and the personal beliefs of some citizens. That does not make it a scientific controversy, but a cultural one, and that is the only educationally defensible way to "teach the controversy". It is one thing to defend one's position, but it is another thing to recognize when there is scientific evidence to support claims of scientific validity. Mary Ann points out the key problem: "encouraging students to analyze and reflect their own beliefs". What is the problem with this? It is that the scientific models and theories we teach in school are not about personal beliefs; they are about cause-and-effect relationships in the natural world. Scientific models are accepted because they work to help us solve problems in the world. Creationism has failed that test repeatedly. Schaefer may be thoughtful, but this action falls far short of "excellence" since it appears to mislead students into thinking that creationism is a valid scientific position. This will not prepare these students for future success in university or in careers related to science; that is the tragedy.
2011 March 24, 2011 at 06:41 AM
Creationist parents said, "“It’s healthy to hear both parts of the issue and discuss them with their parents.” This is very irresponsible. After violating the 1st Amendment Rights of the students, some parents still claim it is correct for the teacher to do so. Shame on you, creationist parents.
Betsey Riedl March 24, 2011 at 01:26 PM
Most of the people who spoke during the public forum part of the meeting were not from Libertyville. There was a pastor from Grayslake and a student from Mundelein High School. In fact, most of the people who attended the meeting were not from the district. Why, Ms. Phillips, are you only questioning the presence of Rob Sherman? Like I said in my article, the United States Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that creationism cannot be taught in biology classes in public schools. And you're right - it's better for students to learn different sides of an argument before making up their own minds. It's too bad that many adults don't do the same thing. Mr. Sherman did not distort anything. He simply brought the matter to the attention of the school board after the information was presented to him. Were you at that meeting? I was. He spoke for three minutes and was cordial to everyone. Don't think I'm backing Mr. Sherman. I'm only trying to objectively point out the facts that people aren't aware of or seem to have forgotten. And don't forget, Superintendent Lea said in the meeting that the teacher was at fault.
Bonnie Quirke March 24, 2011 at 02:01 PM
Perhaps everyone should remember the full title of Darwin's book upon which the theory of evolution was based. The title is" ON THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES BY MEANS OF NATURAL SELECTION OR THE PRESERVATION OF FAVOURED RACES IN THE STRUGGLE FOR LIFE. We have only two theories on the origins of human life-neither can be proved scientifically. So perhaps neither should be taught. "
Tim Froehlig March 24, 2011 at 02:07 PM
Bonnie - I am lucky because my parents always gave me the choice to attend church if I desired without forcing me to. My school district in Glenview as a child also taught me evolution as a theory. One of the greatest parts about my parents and upbringing was that I was encouraged, but not forced, to be educated about all of these topics, then allowed to formulate my own beliefs and decisions based upon all the available information. All kids should be as lucky as I was to have a family that was as understanding as mine - parents who also encouraged me without pushing to learn about all of these things, while giving me the freedom to formulate my own thoughts, opinions and beliefs. And teaching me to respect the opinions and beliefs of others at the same time.
AJ Petto March 24, 2011 at 03:08 PM
Sorry, Bonnie, but you are wrong about this: "We have only two theories on the origins of human life ...": Creationism is not a "theory"; it is a religious belief. Furthermore, it is a SPECIFIC religious belief. If you count biblical creationism as a "theory", then why not Hundi or Muslim creationism, or the creation beliefs of Native Americans, Africans, Indigenous Peoples of Australia, the Arctic, South America, Polynesia, the Buddhists, the Jains .... and EVERYBODY? If one is "scientific", then they all are. But I would be willing to bet it would not sit well with you to teach these along with --- or even instead of --- the biblical version accepted by only SOME Christians as an alternative to a scientific explanation. However, they are not --- none of them. Your second mistake: "Neither can be proved scientifically" is a half-truth. Modern science does not PROVE its ideas in the sense that it claims them as Truth! It PROVES them in the older sense of putting them to the test (as in "the exception proves the rule"). What science CAN do is give proof that an idea is wrong; and this is the scientific conclusion about the ideas that arise from strict biblical creationism as a scientific theory: the earth is NOT 10,000 years old, there were not separate creations for all living things, there was not a worldwide flood that destroyed all living things, and so on.
AJ Petto March 24, 2011 at 03:14 PM
Third mistake: "Darwin's book upon which the theory of evolution was based" has 2 errors. (1) Evolution as a theory was around before Darwin; what his book did was shown how natural processes that we can observe might contribute to the history and diversity of life. He gave us a model that we could use in scientific study; (2) The Origin is not a sacred scripture, so much of evolutionary science in the past 150+ years is an extension of Darwin's models, even introducing some things that Darwin could not or did not imagine. Modern evolutionary science is only partly Darwinian. But just because Darwin said it and wrote it in a book does not make it right, according to science; it has to be tested against observations in the real world. THAT is what makes it scientific.
Bonnie Quirke March 24, 2011 at 03:29 PM
A.J. Neither theory of the origins of human life can be proved. To prove something scientifically using the scientific method one must do repeated experiments under controlled circumstances.How does one repeat the Origin of human life?
AJ Petto March 24, 2011 at 04:00 PM
Bonnie: I know that this is something that someone taught you in school, but it is wrong. There is no "THE" scientific method. What you are referring to is something that describes laboratory experiments only --- and only SOME laboratory experiments. Would you argue that the moon does not go around the earth and that the earth and moon together do not go around the sun just because we have not done repeated experiments under controlled conditions? If not, then what repeated experiments under what controlled conditions did we do to prove this? In the other sciences (things we cannot do in the lab) our "experiments" are to make specific predictions about what we should observe in the natural world if our theories are true, and then to go and look. And if the observation does not contradict the prediction and we can do this repeatedly and reliably, then we accept it as correct. So, we can be sure that the moon has an influence on the tides because we can observe this effect over and over again --- reliably, consistently, repeatedly. And because of Newton's Laws of Gravitation, we have a scientific explanation. But no LAB experiment is going to prove (in your sense of the word) that the moon's gravity is affecting the earth's tides. So, experimentation is only one path to scientific knowledge; and it does not lead to all realms of scientific knowledge.
Sandi M March 24, 2011 at 04:15 PM
It never fails to amaze me that proponents of teaching creationism speak as if there are only "two sides" -- evolution, and their Christian belief. First, creationism isn't the "other side" of anything. It is a belief system held by a narrow segment of a single religion. But if , for the sake of argument, children should be hearing other points of view on how life on earth came to be in its current form, then where are all the "other, other sides," such as Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, and on and on, through hundreds of different religious beliefs? Why is it always only Christian bible-based creationism? Just once I would like a teach-creationism (or intelligent design) proponent to acknowledge this question and answer it. I confidently predict that will never happen because, in fact, they are not really interested in balance. They only want to muddy scientific waters with a very big religious stick.
Bonnie Quirke March 24, 2011 at 05:02 PM
Sandi, "other sides"? You are calling creationism "Christian bible-based"? You mention Judaism. Where do you think Christianity gets it's Old Testament creationist ideas from? As far as Islam, they too believe in a Supreme being, who put us here .. they simply call him by another name .. aka "Allah". Now, Hindus and Buddhists have never even weighed in on the argument. If and when they do, we could consider their theory as well. The high school teacher was not teaching a religion class. He was simply teaching 2 theories that exist today. Religion was simply a byproduct of a parent and Rod Sherman's hostility toward the teacher. The Supreme Court has never weighed in on creationism vs evolution. The First Amendment relates to the separation of Church and State. And there's not enough space to go into how that amendment has been misinterpreted.
AJ Petto March 24, 2011 at 05:23 PM
Once, again, Bonnie. You are a font of misinformation. Here are 10 court cases about creationism in the schools: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/punctuated-equilibrium/2011/mar/24/1 FOUR of these are US Supreme Court Cases striking down laws that are based on the idea that creationism is an alternative scientific theory. All the rest extend this, and some, like the recent decision in Dover PA were so devastating to the creationist position that it was never appealed to the Supreme Court. The teacher was NOT teaching 2 *theories* that exist in the sciences. He was teaching one scientific theory and one religious view about the creation of the universe. Sandi's question is valid: "Why teach THIS one and not the others? They also CLAIM to be "true". And because public school teachers ARE the government, to have one such teacher promote the view of ONE religious community over that of another is exactly what is prohibited in the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. It is not about *separation* of church and state; it is about having the government telling students that one religion is right and the others are wrong. When y 5th-grade teacher led the Lord's Prayer she reprimanded us that the *right* words for the prayer were "forgive us our DEBTS" and not trespasses or sins. That is what the Establishment Clause is meant to prohibit; and that is what is happening when a teacher inserts a faith-based narrative of origins into the science classroom.
AJ Petto March 24, 2011 at 05:30 PM
For a reasonably succinct update on what evolution is --- and isn't --- I recommend this 10-minute video: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/punctuated-equilibrium/2011/mar/24/1 It may save a lot of arguing in circles.
Betsey Riedl March 24, 2011 at 06:11 PM
Bonnie, I don't understand how you can say "Mr. Sherman got his way in squelching critical thinking." It seems to me that by presenting only beliefs by one religion, Mr. Schaefer himself squelched critical thinking. He did this by presenting information that pertained to one religion. There are dozens of religions in the world. If he wanted to have a true debate, he should have had the students research every religion, including the Eastern religions and then let the students talk about it. But he couldn't do that because he was teaching a science class. I repeat, a science class. Creationism is a religious belief. It isn't science. This was the ruling in 1987, and it has stood up to many court cases. Mr. Schaefer is a very nice man, but what he did violated the first amendment rights of hundreds of students.
Chris Doing It Wrong March 24, 2011 at 06:45 PM
Hi Bonnie - You hang tight to your religious belief, it's your right. Please don't smear Islamic, Hindu, or Buddhists due to not understanding their religion very well. With the statements you made against the other religions you not only prove your detractors point, but allow your ignorance of other theologies show.
Margaret R March 24, 2011 at 07:37 PM
It is a right for people to believe whatever they want to believe. If a parent wants their child to be exposed to Creationism then that should be done in the home or at a private religious school or even a church. Imagine that, learning about God in church (I believe they still read from Genesis, right?). A teacher should know better than to teach religious views during a science class. That is neither the time, nor the correct forum. While I think that the exercise could be useful if being used to create critical thinking, I believe a better course of action would have been to include other religions within this lesson. This would not only be a valuable lesson in critical thinking and creative thinking, it would create a much more aware and well rounded student body. Perhaps we need more information from the students on how the actual lesson occurred. Apparently one student was devastated, but what about the others? Do they feel as if they have been presented 2 'scientific theories' or 2 different ways of looking at our origins?
T. Niels March 25, 2011 at 12:17 AM
My mom was a college science teacher and the only theory allowed to be taught was evolution. In fact, evolution seems to be considered by so many as fact. My children brought this up to their high school science teachers since I teach them to think for themselves. Evolution is a THEORY, not a fact. This outrage is somewhat amusing, considering how many children must have been "damaged" by learning that Pluto was a planet. Come on, everyone - you are arguing about theories, not facts!
Chi-an Chang March 25, 2011 at 02:17 AM
Libertyville High School students in Mr. Schaefer's biology class, what are your thoughts on this debate? What did you think of his reference to creationism in class? Was it okay or nay?
Chris M March 25, 2011 at 02:37 AM
T. Neils, According to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, A scientific theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment. Such fact-supported theories are not "guesses" but reliable accounts of the real world. The theory of biological evolution is more than "just a theory." It is as factual an explanation of the universe as the atomic theory of matter or the germ theory of disease. Our understanding of gravity is still a work in progress. But the phenomenon of gravity, like evolution, is an accepted fact.
Iluvcoffee March 28, 2011 at 01:56 PM
My children have had the great fortune of being students in Mr. Schaefer's classroom. Thank God Dist. 128 board members voted to keep Mr. Schaefer on staff. Without a full palate of colors, an artists work is limited...
Jay Chapel March 31, 2011 at 04:56 PM
What a joke. Given the violence, drugs, bullying, conflicting values and access to whatever pornography one chooses to search for on the internet in schools on their computers or on wi fi personal devices, schools are faced with serious, real issues. And some idiot stands up and says their children were devastated by hearing about the possibility that God created the heavens and the Earth and, apparently learned about it from a teacher? Now the school will pay for tutoring the child to offer remedial education for the lost time when such a destructive notion was mentioned? One wonders how Carmel students are able to go on in life having been exposed to such radical, soul crushing concepts. The radical elements are as usual the victims.
Bonnie Quirke March 31, 2011 at 06:08 PM
I said that I was finished and had said all that was to be said however a lady needs the last word. First of all Kuddos to Jay Chapel! Three of my children graduated from Carmel, the other 3 from Libertyville, and I haven't noticed any difference. No one is in psychiatric counseling due to the devastating idea that God created the universe. And in answer to all those who espouse the First Amendment and were appalled that a teacher would discuss 2 theories, I wonder what they think of the Libertyville High School Chorus singing at the Vatican?
AJ Petto March 31, 2011 at 07:26 PM
Sorry, Jay you (and Bonnie) are missing the point. There is science and there is not-science. Creationism is not science; therefore it does not belong in the science classroom. Period! You can call it a "theory" all you want, and that will never make it science. Creationism is a religious doctrine; and one that is not universal, but rather a specific interpretation of how to read Scripture that is accepted by only some denominations. The difference between those who espouse it and those who do not is theological, not scientific. So, what we are looking at here is a teacher who is using the public schools to promote a religious idea that is specific to particular denominations. That amounts to proselytizing; and that is unethical as well as unconstitutional. And yes, it would also apply to atheists, as the courts have done. The science classroom should be about having students learn accepted scientific material and not being subjected to the teacher's religious or anti-religious preferences. So, the real harm is that students are being misled about what is valid and accepted science. The result is to make kids ignorant; and that is the problem --- not the religious beliefs of the teacher or whether parents accept or reject the ideas that the teacher proposed. There does not seem to be any dispute of the facts here. The teacher introduced a sectarian religious doctrine into the classroom and presented it as science. That is unconstitutional AND unethical.
David March 31, 2011 at 08:46 PM
I love the intelligent and well thought debate going on here. I would just like to point out that the Choir trip to Italy and this topic have some very distinct differences. 1) The trip is not mandatory, and the students grades were not affected if they didn't attend. Mr Schaefer's class WAS mandatory, and they were tested on the subject matter. 2) Italy was chosen for it's musical history, not because the Vatican was there. The choir was invited to sing there after the trip was booked. 3) The parents and administration knew about the trip, and it's itinerary before the students left. Had they had any objections they very could have been addressed. In the case of Mr. Schaefer's class however, the school board and parents found out about it AFTER it happened. I will also say, however, that devastated is a description best left to describe the aftermath of Japan's earthquake, and not necessarily a student who has been subjected to something their parents don't want them to hear. Regardless of our personal beliefs, what Mr. Schaefer was teaching was against the rules, and the school board acted accordingly. They recognized the merits of Mr. Schaefer, yet recognized that he had made a mistake. They reprimanded him, but did not terminate him, and we should be proud that the board made a decision that upheld the constitution, yet caused the least impact on our students.

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