Princehouse testifies in Freshwater hearing

Princehouse testifies in Freshwater hearing
By Pamela Schehl - Mount Vernon News - 1/10/2009 - original
MOUNT VERNONDr. Patricia Princehouse, lecturer in philosophy and evolutionary biology at Case Western Reserve University, was Friday’s sole witness in the contract termination hearing for John Freshwater.

Princehouse gave a detailed analysis of handouts Freshwater has given his students over the years. Some of the topics involved include giraffes, woodpeckers, dragons and dinosaurs.

Princehouse, who received her Ph.D. from Harvard University, said she was asked to examine the material with regard to its content and relevance to a science classroom, and to form an opinion as to the material’s potential effect on science students.

Using a PowerPoint presentation to illustrate her conclusions, Princehouse said these worksheets are not serious attempts to teach science and that the source of many of these sheets are from a creationist Web site.

Regarding the woodpecker assignment, one of her points dealt with the format of the work assigned. Since it was a follow-along-with-the-lecture-and-fill-in-the-blanks activity, Princehouse said it was not an analytic exercise that promotes independent thought, as science should be.

She also discussed what she said were inaccuracies in the worksheet information. She said it — and the other worksheets she examined — seemed to have disinformation, and did not appear to be a serious attempt to teach science. She attributed the material to a creationist Web site called allaboutgod, and one called answersingenesis, which she said is “beautifully done.” She said the worksheet and others of its ilk would be damaging to science education. She said they also seem to “promote some Christian views and demote other Christian views.”

Speaking to a question on the worksheet about I.D. (intelligent design), Princehouse said, “Science deals with the laws of nature. An intelligent designer is a theological concept, not a scientific one.”

She believes the effect of the worksheet would be damage to students’ understanding of how science is conducted. Referencing the other handouts as well, Princehouse said, “This is not how science is conducted. ... Material such as this are inappropriate in a science class and teaches students to disregard basic chemistry and standard physics. ... Scientific theory deals with natural causes, not spiritual ones.”

Princehouse gave a detailed rebuttal of the handout Survival of the Fakest and the book from which it was taken, Icons of Evolution. She said “Icons” was full of fraudulent representations of material in science textbooks. Talking about topics such as mutation, embryology, natural selection, Darwin’s tree of life, genetics, homology, convergence, the law of thermodynamics and evolutionary biology, Princehouse opined that the “Fakest” was specifically designed to steer students away from science and into religion.

Princehouse also gave a presentation titled The Evolution of Creationism, in which she traced the history of the movement, discussed the different types of creationism and how creationism relates to intelligent design.

Upon cross-examination by Freshwater lawyer Kelly Hamilton, Princehouse said it is necessary to recognize and admit a personal bias in order to have a rational discussion. As that relates to science class, though, she said one also needs to remember that students are not required to believe the material but learn it. She said the focus should always be on the scientific content.

Concerning the origins of the earth and man, Hamilton asked whether in America there is a conflict between religious factions and scientific factions. “Some religious factions think so,” she replied. She said there is actually more debate between different religious views than between religious and scientific viewpoints.

Hamilton also questioned Princehouse as to her experiences with eighth-graders, her knowledge of concrete and abstract ways of thinking, and whether the context in which Freshwater was using the materials would affect her opinion of the appropriateness of their content. She said it would not.

“Do you believe the giraffe, woodpecker, dinosaur and dragon handouts are religious in nature?” asked Hamilton.


“To attack evolution?”

“To discourage people from taking evolution seriously.”

There was no redirect by Millstone and the hearing was adjourned until 9 a.m., Wednesday, Jan. 14.