When creationism is taught in public schools, we often blame it on problematic state laws or textbooks published by fundamentalist ministries. But in plenty of cases, individual teachers work to indoctrinate students through creationist teachings – even if their bosses don’t approve.
Such was the case of Anquinette Jones, a freshman biology teacher at Henry W. Grady High School in Atlanta. In May, Jones showed her class a PowerPoint presentation that included a creationist cartoon that didn’t simply undermine sound science – it also disparaged LGBT people.
The cartoon depicts two castles shooting cannon balls at each other. One castle is labeled “Creationism (Christ).” The other is labeled “Evolution (Satan).” The “Evolution” castle features a number of balloons attached to it with words like “abortion,” “homosexuality” and “racism” written on them. It also flies a flag that reads “Humanism.”
The message here is far from subtle: If you support evolution (or are gay), then you are siding with Satan. It’s an offensive message to be sure, but it could be taught in a sectarian private school; it has no place in a public school where all students should feel welcome.
Fortunately, such overtly fundamentalist propaganda did not go unnoticed. The crude cartoon offended a lot of students, and they began talking about it. Soon Grady High’s student newspaper, The Southerner, picked up the story. Although the school year is over, the matter recently leaked out to newspapers and media websites.
“[I] have gay parents, and [the cartoon] said that evolution caused homosexuality and it implied that to be negative, so I was pretty offended by it,” freshman Seraphina Cooley told the newspaper.
Another student interviewed by The Southerner said Jones often interjected creationism into her classes and refused to discuss evolution.
“She always had random comments about [creationism],” freshman Lily Soto said. “If someone would ask if we were going to learn evolution, she was like, ‘No, I don’t teach that.’”
At least one parent, Robin Rosen, pulled her child out of Jones’ class after one semester as a result of lessons like the offensive cartoon.
“I was offended, but more shocked and disturbed that a teacher in [Atlanta public schools] could get away with putting that in a classroom,” Rosen said. “Offended is probably the wrong word at this point; it is very troubling to me that a teacher who is in a position of influence over children in a public school can put something up [like the cartoon].”
Given the obvious constitutional problems stemming from Jones’ curriculum, Atlanta Public Schools (APS) decided to remove the PowerPoint presentation from a file-sharing database for teachers to which it had been posted.
“It appears that this science lesson plan was not properly vetted prior to being uploaded to the district’s SharePoint website last summer,” a district spokeswoman told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “When the district learned of the PowerPoint presentation and worksheet that is in question, the lesson and supporting documents were reviewed, and they were immediately removed. The district is currently reviewing the vetting process for all lesson plans prior to uploading them for instruction. In addition, the curriculum coordinators will review lesson plans with teachers as part of their pre-planning session later this month.”
As for Jones, once word of the cartoon got out she reportedly did not take it well. Jones declined comment to the Journal-Constitution, but one of her students said she vented to her class.
“She had a 10-minute rant,” freshman Griffin Ricker said. “She yelled and said, ‘This is on the APS website, and it was certified.’”
While it’s good that the creationist cartoon was removed from the APS database, and Jones faced some public rebuke, the school district needs to do more. Jones must be formally reprimanded for pushing creationism in defiance of both a U.S. Supreme Court decision and the U.S. Constitution.
APS must also monitor Jones closely to make sure she doesn’t try to sneak more fundamentalism into her classroom. Individual public school teachers are simply not permitted to evangelize in class.
Public school biology students are there to learn sound science. They are not there to receive the opinions of creationists like Jones. If Jones can’t – or won’t – do her job, Grady High may soon be in need of a new freshman biology teacher.