Out of place… teachers

This is a guest post by Jessica Ahlquist. Jessica is a Junior at Cranston High School West.

As my last blog post for Friendly Atheist, I wanted to write about my experiences in 7th grade with a creationist teacher who was actively teaching intelligent design in the classroom.

His name was Mr. Gamba and he was the technology teacher at my middle school, Western Hills. On my first day of class, I was super excited (because I’m cool like that). Anyway, that first day he started to teach us about “OOPARTS” or “out of place artifacts.” As a curious, nerdy, 12 year old with no idea that her teacher was preaching lies, I was extremely interested.

He showed us a “flawless crystal skull” and Egyptian hieroglyphs of airplanes. At one point, he actually said something along the lines of, “it really makes you question what they teach you in your history and sciences classes, doesn’t it?”

I ran through the door from school that day freaking out with excitement to show my dad what I had learned. I gave him my notes and as he looked them over, his face fell. In fact, he looked angry. We went online and we googled more OOPARTS because my homework assignment was to research and print up an article about an out of place artifact to share with the class the next day.

As we looked, my dad started to get angrier. He said “Jess, this guy is a young-Earther.” I stared at him blankly, not knowing what he was talking about. He said, “He’s trying to teach you guys religious lies about the age of the Earth.”
At that point, I felt really betrayed. I had liked Mr. Gamba and his class. I found OOPARTS to be very fascinating. It felt like Santa Clause all over again. I really hate being lied to.

So my father called him. He called and asked him quite frankly if he was a Creationist. Guess what? He said yes. He tried to defend his preaching by saying that the curriculum allowed for some wiggle room.

That. Is. Bullshit.

And when I look back on it now, I feel really angry about it. How dare he? How dare he lie to impressionable children and contradict the good science being taught in real science classes? How dare he get a teaching degree and get paid with taxpayer money to teach their kids his own religious mumbo jumbo? How DARE he ignore and violate the Constitution to preach his own unscientific beliefs?

It really disgusts me. I want Mr. Gamba told that he must either teach real science and technology, or not be allowed to teach in a public school. You can’t spew pseudo-science in a public school classroom. End of story.

So you’re probably wondering: has he stopped since my dad talked to him? No. According to my little cousin, he’s still at it, teaching his lies. It just goes to show how backwards this country is, and in particular, the education. Think about all of the kids who have ever had dear Mr. Gamba as a teacher, but no smart father at home. Think about how many students have gone through his class and ate the lies right up. One guy, in one school, can do a lot of damage. Imagine all the damage all of the fake teachers in the country and world are doing. They’re targeting kids, those creepers.

I don’t tell this story to make everyone feel sad and hopeless. I’m trying to express a need for support of the education in this country and really the whole world. I see awareness as the first step in progress.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • JulietEcho

    That was (and is) incredibly brazen of him.  Your former school must be in pretty sorry shape if the administration (which *has* to be aware of this) allows him to feed students such blatant, unscientific propaganda.  

    Our teacher straight-out told us that he believed that the big bang theory and the theory of evolution were legit, but that he believed that God guided the processes.  He was very much of the “you-should-know-about-creationist-and-scientific-beliefs-and-pick-for-yourself school. Tiny, rural, conservative school district (and the fact that he was a well loved coach for several school sports teams) = no consequences.

    But I doubt that even my old high school would have allowed Mr. Gamba’s nonsense in the classroom.  This is the kind of case that needs the threat of a smack down lawsuit.

  • Anonymous

    That was very well written.

  • MLS

    Why didn’t your dad sue the school?

  • Justin Miyundees

    This is exactly why I homeschool. A lot of people do so to indoctrinate- I do so to prevent indoctrination.

    This school needs a hefty lawsuit. Lies masquerading as science. It’s like teaching kids finger painting for calculus.

    In fact, post where I can donate to sue. I’m good for a couple hundred. FFRF? Who will squeeze this idiot out?

  • http://www.facebook.com/Hikari.Pop Crystal Jenae Hollis

    Egyptian hieroglyphs out of airplanes? I remember watching about it on the history channel about the possibility of aliens giving humans the know-how. This is the first I’ve heard about this idea linked to creationist. Unfortunately there will be teachers who feel its their duty to tell children their beliefs because they think they’re right. I’m not sure how many of you are republicans or tea partiers, but I had an economics teacher who would pretty much preach to the class about tea party ideology. At least most of us were 18 since it is a senior level class and we were capable of arguing back. Imagine 12 year olds being taught to hate the government and the President. 

  • http://silveroutlinedwindow.wordpress.com/ Shannon

    Great post!

  • http://www.facebook.com/GammaGrace Lindsay Kreis

    Did anyone make a real complaint? Yeah, your dad called, but didn’t anyone else get riled up?

  • A Little Caustic Agnostic

    Jessica, I am so sorry you had to put up with that.  Unfortunately, young teens, and confused older teens seem to be a good target for those looking to convert others to their point of view.  As a teen a church from Cranston started an afterschool classroom “discussion group” followed by prayer circle with the youth pastor at a local fast food restaurant.  They advertised in the school as having debates.  I went to one out of curiousity….  after bringing up dinosaurs I was never invited back.  Go figure.  But it is an incident that has stuck with me as well.  The group in no way shape or form belonged in the school.  Meeting at McD’s? Fine.  Creepy but whatever.  We are bombarded by religion everywhere.  If I choose to put my children in public school I want them to have a neutral education.  I want them to know about Darwin.  I definately don’t want them handed religious paperwork in the halls or hearing it in the classrooms.

  • Christophe Thill

    Teaching creationism would be bad enough. But ancient astronauts stuff ? Why not Bigfoot and Area 51 while he was at it ? Was the school’s real name Von Däniken Middle School ?

  • Tim Hence

    Who cares?We live somewhere in the middle and have no real clue what was in the beginning or will be in the end. Everything that we can say of the beginning of the earth is pseudo-scientific, half-lie and for sure incomplete. And does it hurt to hold on to different views? Don’t think so, I therefore don’t understand your ‘anger’.

    • http://twitter.com/gordongoblin Gordon

      We are not in the middle between fact and myth. We actually know a lot that isn’t “pseudo-scientific, half-lie and for sure incomplete”

      The fact that there’s more to know doesn’t put us on the same level as the people who wrote the bible.

      • Tim Hence

        Of course, we know very much. But not where the earth really comes from (+how) and where it’ll go. While thinking of it a bit now.. i think that is what should be told in schools. The scientific approach (‘this is merely a theory’ as Darwin wrote in the preface of the origin of species) and the possible religious approaches (there are people who believe there is a god and that god made the earth somehow).
        Like others said over here: No child deserves to be lied to. But equally importent: No child should be told only 1 story when there’s 10 around. And than let them figure out what becomes their truth.

        What do you mean with that knowing more doesn’t put us on the same level as the people who wrote the bible Gordon?

        • Christophe Thill

          Also :
          - There are people who think there is a god, but he didn’t make the world.
          - There are people who think there are several gods, and one of them made the world.
          - There are people who think there are several gods, and two or more of them made the world.
          - There are people who think there are several gods, but none of them made the world.

          Yes, all this should be taught. In a class about religions.

        • ACN

          What do you mean with that knowing more doesn’t put us on the same level as the people who wrote the bible Gordon?

          Because, as Asimov so eloquently put it:

          When people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.

          We actually know with high precision how old the Earth is.  The YEC model is so out there it’s not even wrong. It doesn’t understand the issue coherently enough to get a seat at the table.

        • http://www.facebook.com/billyup Jesse Jones

          /sigh
           You misunderstand the definition of a scientific theory. Let me copy and paste something for you.
          A Theory is : a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world; an
          organized system of ACCEPTED KNOWLEDGE that applies in a variety of
          circumstances to explain a specific set of phenomena; “theories can
          incorporate FACTS and laws and tested hypotheses”; “true in FACT and
          theory”

          On another note, what if your child (whether you have one or not) came home and told you, “If I stand on the top of a building and jump off the side, I will float there. That is what I believe now, it’s my truth.” Would you go tell him/her to have fun or would you try and explain gravity to them?

        • Anonymous

          Jeez… they’re really coming out of the woodwork today. The above comment is especially dishonest. There may be ten stories, but only one is supported by evidence and reason. The other nine are religious dogma and do not belong in the science classroom. I always find it incredibly dishonest when cretinists create a religious and political (but not scientific) controversy out of whole cloth and then turn around and say “I demand that you teach this controversy that I just pulled out of thin air.” Two theories deserve equal time ONLY if they are of equal merit. Cretinism isn’t even a theory. As Wolfgang Pauli would say, it’s not even wrong.

    • Anonymous

      The Young Earth Creationist idea of Earth’s origins is just wrong.  It’s indefensible.  Teachers shouldn’t be preaching its tenets any more than they should be preaching astrology.

    • http://sprengdentag.wordpress.com/ lost control

      *facepalm*

    • Charon

      Just because you have no real clue what happened or will happen doesn’t mean all of us are in the same situation. Some of us understand science.

      How the Earth formed and what will eventually happen to it are well understood, in the context of thoroughly established science. The way to deal with ignorance is to learn something, not to try to reduce everyone else to your level.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeremy-Moss/562982174 Jeremy Moss

    I work in a Catholic high school in New Zealand. I teach science and physics, with a special emphasis (although, and because, it’s not in the curriculum at the levels I teach) on astronomy.

    I am also an atheist, and I’ve been that way since *after* I started teaching there. I started working there as a deist (that is, I thought a god/s started everything, but natural processes have been at work since The Beginning). I became an atheist after researching the Bible, creationism (which two of the teachers there — religious education teachers — are), and all the other myths, and after hearing a lot of the other teachers working there spout incredibly inane things in the name of their god.

    I have no qualms at all about telling my students (they range in age from 13 to 18) the truth as science sees it. I have no problem telling them that I’m an atheist, and a lot of them are too, a surprising number in fact.

    I’m careful about which teachers (and, to a certain extent, which parents) know I’m an atheist, because I know the connotations it has for certain people, but I also believe very strongly that it’s important to have integrity in one’s own beliefs. Teachers like the ones outlined in this post should be deregistered as science teachers. I would never go into a religion studies class and tell the students how I felt about it (unless they asked, and then I’d be discreet about it, while telling them the truth). I don’t think I have the right. I’m not trained in theology or Xian mythology, and it doesn’t sound like this guy is trained very well in science.

    The thought that a person in such a trusted and respected position as this could be peddling such rubbish is outrageous. I hope he’s no longer teaching.

    No child deserves to be lied to.

    Just my $0.02.

  • Anonymous

    Out of place artifacts.  The one that springs to mind are the sketches of a kind of helicopter made by Leonardo DaVinci.  Not actually out of time but certainly ahead of time.  Another is the gear in the Antikythera mechanism but again this is merely ahead of it’s time.  Products of science and reason rather than myths used to fool people.

  • Anonymous

    Out of place artifacts.  The one that springs to mind are the sketches of a kind of helicopter made by Leonardo DaVinci.  Not actually out of time but certainly ahead of time.  Another is the gear in the Antikythera mechanism but again this is merely ahead of it’s time.  Products of science and reason rather than myths used to fool people.

  • Gene

    In your story you went in with a willingness to hear something new and were excited to learn.  You didn’t know what your dad was talking about when he used the word “young earther.”  What I find sad is that you assume that science and creation are incompatible, and therefore it angers you that someone “lied” to you.  Because of your atheism you presuppose that the idea of Intelligent Design is incompatible with “good science being taught in real science classes.”  This is arbitrary as I could just as easily say the opposite (evolution is junk science).
     
    If we took a course in law and the teacher taught that murder was actually ok in the United States, we would know he was lying outright because we know what the law clearly states.  With the creation vs evolution debate it’s not that simple, especially for a 12 year old.  I hope that Mr. Gamba did teach good science, obviously that’s what he is there to do.  Good science would stick to good evidence and discard faulty evidence.  As a matter of course, the supposed faulty evidence (in your case, the OOPARTS) needs to be observed as to get a good idea of its legitamacy.  There will be good and bad teachers.  We have no control over which we get.  You and I would be good science students by carefully studying the claims of both sides before simply calling the other names (Young Earther) and dismissing their view as wrong.

    • ACN

      Intelligent Design is not good science. It is junk science garbage created by YECs to smuggle in their ludicrous views. This isn’t because I’m an atheist. It’s because the claims of YEC/IDers are UTTERLY unsupported, and do not explain anything in a coherent manner. 

      Your 2nd paragraph makes even less sense. Actual scientists, historians, and archaeologists have already examined all of the OOPARTS garbage and discarded it. It is not reasonable to expect middle schoolers to re-invent the scientific wheel anytime they want to learn about something. 

    • Arcan

      And after we’ve studied the claims and shown “Young-Earthers” to be wrong? We should keep our minds so open that our brains fall out?

    • http://sprengdentag.wordpress.com/ lost control

      Oh crap, am I the only one with the impression that we’re getting more
      cdesign proponentsists since the move to Patheos?

      I dig Hemant and am fine with his dialogue stance but do we really have to state over and over again that ID is not fucking science? This should really have been over since 2005, dammit.

      This is so ridiculous from a European perspective. I didn’t even opt out of Religious Education after I was legally allowed to do it on my own, cause a) it was so easy b) we even learned tidbits about other faiths and c) I was curious enough to listen to it.
      I had no qualms with my RE teacher calling it Theistic Evolution and arguing it’s somehow “guided” but at least my 8 years of Biology were untainted, even though I wish we would’ve learned even more science.

      Dear USA,

      please stop coming up with ridiculous bogus “science” and stop exporting it into the EU. I’d like my niece and nephews to have a proper public education without running into cranks. We already have enough problems with upholding our education standards. And their potential descendents deserve an education, too.

      heartfelt,
      a European Godfather & atheist

      PS: sorry for coming up with Homeopathy & Antroposophy and other crap

    • Charon

      Oh, absolutely. There’s a very active debate about which is more compelling, the accumulated evidence and interlocking theories of all science, or Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

      Teach the controversy!

    • Sailor

      The problem with teachers teaching Creationism and intelligent design is not that they are religious, but that they are ignorant, and ignorance has no place in school science. Gene, here clearly believes the crap they spew and has adopted it for himself, which just shows how bad it is. With a good science education Gene would know that Intelligent design is not scientific, has not come up with a single testable hypothesis, let a lone a theory, and is scientifically a meaningless idea. He would also learn that evolution is not junk science but a  theory that stands at the very cornerstone of modern biology, with not a few but many hundreds of thousands of experiments whichhave supported Darwin’s idea, but also gone way beyond it, refining concepts and coming with the mechanisms of how it works (genetics). That is how science works. Anyone who does not understand these basic concepts should not be let loose to teach kids.

  • Lance
  • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

    I had a similar experience (about 30 years ago) but it wasn’t quite so brazen.  My public high-school physics teacher would occasionally editorialize in class that he didn’t think evolution was right and that it didn’t really happen.  My little circle of friends were incredulous about his proclamations and we would call him on it.  He was coy about what he believed if he didn’t believe in evolution.  At the time I didn’t know what to make of him.  I was an atheist but I didn’t really fully understand the religious mindset.  I just knew that a lot of people believed some very strange stuff about gods and stuff.  Anyway, besides the occasional editorializing about biology, he did mostly teach physics right from the book without any distortions or “God did it”s slipped in – although he did openly question the legitimacy of things like carbon dating in class – anything that suggested the earth was fairly old.  When I look back on it, he must have been a Young Earth creationist.  There sure were a lot of young-earth creationists students at my school. 

  • JimG

    Actually, Mr. Gamba was probably right about having “wiggle room” in the curriculum. I diligently queried my local schools, local board of education, and state board of education on what could be taught in science classes, and found that religious fanatics had struck such terror in the hearts of policymakers that the curriculum standards were deliberately written vaguely. They sounded like science, but could be reinterpreted to include ID or even YEC. In fact, they admitted to me that YEC was surely being taught as science in many schools, but they refused to check on it for fear of provoking the crazies.

  • NorDog

    I’ve just had time to give a quick scan of all this, but, do the Young Earthers use a crystal skull in their arguments?  I don’t get it.

    • ACN

      The joke is that the poster was comparing the accumulated power of science to a bad (terrible? horrific?) science fiction movie. He then uses the “teach the controversy” mantra replacing ID, a goofy religious narrative about origins, with Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull, a goofy sci-fi narrative.

      As the joke lies, beaten and bloody, at my feet, I can’t help but think it’s no longer funny :)

  • Anonymous

    Anyone in this same situation should push the issue with the principal & school board.

     I’m surprised that, from what I can tell, you let it go. If they’re being that brazen, especially after your initial call the next step would be to gather more instances, start documenting everything he says or assigns. Check the laws in your state and wear a wire if you have to.  Then, and only the 2nd half of the year or so – do you go nuclear with it to the administration, school board, lawyer, etc.

  • Rrr

    Gamba is an older form of viola, is it not? So, a little bigger than a fiddle. Does that mean he wasn’t fiddling the littler kids? Even so, a violation!


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