Sunday, July 12, 2009

Martin Cothran: Logic in Defense of the Irrational

Over at opinio loqui, Martin Cothran waved his hand and spawned from the primordial ooze a delightful Darwinian reverie that equates public school folks to caged apes – at least, those folks who may consider the prior creationist views of one of the state’s finalists for education commissioner to be an issue worth mentioning.

It's a fun read. But it is also a total twistifycation of the facts that does some amount of disservice to both the Rev Dr Dennis Cheek, and those who believe that a finalist’s background - in total - is important in determining who is best qualified to become Kentucky’s next commissioner.

Channeling Jane Goodall, Cothran alludes to his experiences among those lower life forms known as “Kentuckians.” He asks:

Is Dennis Cheek fit enough to survive the vetting process for education commissioner?
It’s a good question - one that applies equally to all four finalists. Although for some reason, Cothran seems only concerned with Cheek.

Cothran acknowledges Cheek’s academic prowess, and correctly remarks that he,

once wrote a paper that questioned the evidence for whether human beings evolved from apes.
That’s part of what Cheek said. The other part was,

The Scriptural view, that man and these other creatures were created separately, is fully as much in accord with the evidence, and is more credible on other grounds.
Is that worth mentioning?

To be clear, Cheek’s current position is very different – about 180 degrees. He told KSN&C,

I concur fully with the very well-reasoned and well-articulated opinion of the judge in [Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District in [Pennsylvania] that these positions have not led to anything yet that qualifies as science. Deciding precisely what is or is not science is admittedly a bit hard to pin down fully since the demarcation arguments regarding science are still quite robust among professional philosophers of science. The judge found that the [Intelligent Design] views are fundamentally religious (I would also add metaphysical) in nature and do not belong in the science classroom as part of the formal scientific curriculum.
Cothran calls me out saying,
Richard Day, a dominant male in the education community and the one who dug up the old creationist paper, displayed openly aggressive behavior at his blog "Kentucky School News and Commentary" in response to the revelation about what he considers Cheek's checkered past.
Flattery will get you nowhere, Martin.

Is it possible that Kentucky’s next education commissioner – if he or she maintained creationist views - might promote programs or act in ways that put the state at odds with the Constitution or established court rulings? Would the state end up wasting time and paying more money to ACLU attorneys?

The fact is we’re just now getting to know Cheek. Since the sole purpose for vetting candidates is to learn more about them, upon discovering potentially controversial views, should they have been kept secret – as a pseudo scientist might choose to do? Or does the public have a right to know and evaluate such claims for themselves before turning over the keys to the schools?

Cothran is correct to suggest,

The revelation has caused a great deal of chattering among some in the education bureaucracy who wonder why he did not divulge this to the Board of Education, which is looking into his background.
Yes, we chimps chatter. Pick fleas, too. (Small self-serving correction to Cothran’s piece: KSN&C reported its findings on July 7th. The Courier-Journal editorial ran on the 8th.)

But if it is truly “aggressive behavior” to quote someone directly then Cothran should cease publication immediately – along with all those other endangered media species.

Cothran, for example, recently exposed the fact that US Supreme Court nominee Sonya Sotomayor is an “Ivy League judge.” Was that openly aggressive behavior on Cothran’s part; a little bait to rouse up the “intellectual deletes?” Or was he just sayin’.

The fact of the matter is, if something germane showed up in the public record, whether potentially helpful or hurtful to any candidate, KSN&C would have posted it anyway. Just as was done with Barbara Erwin. Just as was done with the other finalists.

It has been, and will continue to be, KSN&C’s practice to present relevant information regardless of whether that favors or disfavors an individual. That has been true for school administrators we respect. It is true for commissioner candidates.

For example, KSN&C also posted the revelation that finalist, Michael Sentance, once became sufficiently riled up at a youth soccer game that he not only got a yellow card, and a red card, but whatever color he got when he was suspended for the balance of the season. You want dominant male? I give you Michael Sentance.

But there are a couple of differences. Sentance immediately acknowledged his mistake, took full responsibility and served his suspension. He followed that up by returning to coaching and behaving himself. More to the point, sources tell KSN&C that he also alerted the board of education to the occurance in his interview - so that there would be no unpleasant surprises, misunderstandings, or potential embarrassment to the board.

So I’ll ask again:

Why didn't Cheek alert the board that he had an old paper out there that is inconsistent with his present views?

Did he roll the dice and hope his former views would not come to light? If so, why?
Having underplayed Cheeks original statement, Cothran finishes his piece by reducing Cheek’s present position to one of human descendancy from apes.

Believe what you will, but I think it is a misdeed to reduce Cheek’s nuanced considerations to some kind of slogan. Any fair researcher must acknowledge that it is not simply about apes and man to Cheek. His thoughts run much deeper than that.

But Cothran does make one troublesome observation. He rallies against “the professional education community” for its alleged “unfriendly behavior…[displayed] toward the common cultural beliefs of their students and their families.”

One supposes that the Family Foundation, for which Cothran “makes final policy decisions and manages strategy” stands ready to let us know which families are within that common culture and which are not – a luxury denied those obliged by the Constitution to serve all of the public, in all of creation’s variety.

Cothran recalls “the role Christianity has played in our nation's history” and the good old days when teacher led prayer and regular Bible readings posed no obstacle to any Protestant children whose parents chose to send them to school. Heaven forbid a Catholic family might have wanted the same consideration paid their faith. They simply were not within the common culture. After decades of frustration parochial schools went their own way. The notion of a “common culture” in this increasingly diverse nation is fast becoming a thing of the past.

Cothran closes by taking a shot at the Courier-Journal for raising (unsupported) questions about the Templeton Foundation, for which Cheek once worked, and by inferring that Cheek’s views on creationism changed due to his exposure to public education.

But Cheek says it was growth in his “own knowledge and experience in many domains” that led him to find his earlier work to be in error. He no longer finds “the views labeled young earth creationism, old earth creationism, [or] Intelligent Design … compelling theologically or scientifically.”

Cothran is an evolved man who knows he is reducing Cheek’s explanations to fit his own preferences, but it makes for a clever ending. And Martin’s a much better author when he adds humor.

On the Templeton Foundation: That topic is well outside my area of expertise, and perhaps the C-J has specific evidence to support their claims of Templeton’s cultural divisiveness that has escaped me. But a cursory glance at Templeton’s website shows a long-standing and well-balanced engagement on issues of religion and science encompassing the world’s major religions. I see no problem with that.

The first amendment to the Constitution not only forbids laws "respecting an establishment of religion" it also prohibits any infringement on the free exercise thereof. Cothran will become a better American when he understands that those rights are neither given, nor taken away, by majority rule, on a community by community basis.


Anonymous said...

As an educator in Fayette County Public Schools, I'd like to know what relationship, if any, exists between Martin Cothran and the various school superintendents in Kentucky. Does Mr. Cothran speak before school board meetings?

Is there any way you, Mr. Day, can let Kentucky school teachers know this blog exists? I think it is especially relevant to those of us who think outside the box.

Richard Day said...

I don't really know who Martin hangs with other than that he's a Danville guy, and a private school guy. He speaks broadly on certain topics but I can't say if any of those groups included the KBE.

Thanks for the compliment. And tell your friends because I don't plan to spend a penny on promotion.

Anonymous said...

M. Cothran: mix some old time neo-con rhetoric, a fundamentalist's augmentative 'style', the accountability and integrity of your typical mouthy ideologue (iow, zero) and voila! Behold the jack-ass. Haha. I'm so thankful he doesn't represent any practical thinking people. That leaves him with, at least, entertainment value.