Thursday, January 20, 2011

Christian Astronomer Settles Lawsuit Over Discrimination Claim‏

Anti-Christian bigotry

An astronomy professor who sued the University of Kentucky after claiming he lost out on a top job because of his Christian beliefs reached a settlement Tuesday with the school.

The university agreed to pay $125,000 to Martin Gaskell in exchange for dropping a federal religious discrimination suit he filed in Lexington in 2009. A trial was set for next month.

Gaskell claimed he was passed over to be director of UK’s MacAdam Student Observatory because of his religion and statements that were perceived to be critical of evolution.

Court records showed Gaskell was a front-runner for the job, but some professors called him “something close to a creationist” and “potentially evangelical” in interoffice e-mails to other university scientists.

“We never thought from the start that everybody at UK was some sort of anti-religious bigot,” said Frank Manion, Gaskell’s attorney. “However, what I do think this case disclosed is a kind of endemic, almost knee-jerk reaction in academia towards people, especially scientists, of a strong religious faith.”

A statement from University of Kentucky counsel Barbara Jones Tuesday said the school’s “hiring processes were and are fundamentally sound and were followed in this case.” The university does not admit any wrongdoing.

“This successful resolution precludes what would have been a lengthy trial that, ultimately, would not have served anyone’s best interests,” Jones said in the statement.

Gaskell has said he is not “creationist,” or someone who believes the Bible’s origin story puts the age of the universe at a few thousand years. He also said his views on evolution are in line with biological science.

After applying for the job in 2007, Gaskell said he learned from a friend at UK that professors had discussed his purported religious views. E-mails turned over as evidence in the case showed that university scientists wondered if Gaskell’s faith would interfere with the job, which included public outreach and education.

One astrophysics professor at UK told department chair Michael Cavagnero in an e-mail that hiring Gaskell would be a “huge public relations mistake.”

Gaskell referred questions from a reporter Tuesday to Manion, a Kentucky lawyer with the American Center for Law & Justice, which focuses on religious freedom cases

Manion said documents and e-mail communications turned over by UK in the case showed strong evidence of religious bias, including a professor who surmised that Gaskell was “potentially evangelical.”

“The fact that somebody could say that without realizing the implications, speaks volumes,” Manion said. “Because all you have to do is substitute any other label – potentially Jewish, potentially Muslim. Nobody would say that.”

Gaskell is currently working as a research fellow in the astronomy department at the University of Texas.


Victory for common sense as history and geography lessons go back to basics in British schools

History and geography lessons are to go back to basics, with children expected to learn about key figures and facts as part of an overhaul of the curriculum. Education Secretary Michael Gove, who is launching his review today, has pledged to undo Labour’s ‘profound mistakes’ and restore ‘academic rigour’ to the classroom.

He said the curriculum was not fit for purpose after Labour stripped out the need for youngsters to learn any key facts in history, geography, English and music.

In 2007, Labour cut key historical figures such as Winston Churchill from a list of figures recommended for teaching to allow teachers more flexibility. At present, the only historical figures in the entire secondary history curriculum are William Wilberforce, the architect of the abolition of the slave trade, and Olaudah Equiano, a freed slave whose autobiography helped persuade MPs to ban slavery.

The secondary geography curriculum does not mention a single country apart from the UK or any continents, rivers, oceans, mountains or cities. It does, however, mention the European Union and global warming.

And the secondary music curriculum fails to mention a single composer, musician or piece of music.

At the same time Labour made the curriculum ‘overly prescriptive’, increasing the secondary curriculum to 281 pages, compared with 52 pages in Finland – a country with world leading education standards.

Mr Gove said Labour’s attack on the curriculum had led to England ‘plummeting in international league tables and widening the gap between rich and poor’. The curriculum would be slimmed down to cover the only ‘essential knowledge’ children need, he added. The Coalition argues that there should be a core knowledge that pupils should have to take their place as ‘educated members of society’.

It means that as well as learning about key historical figures in history lessons, English classes could focus on great British writers like Dickens and Austen.

However teachers’ unions did not welcome the announcement. Chris Keates, of the NASUWT, said: ‘Teachers want another curriculum review like a hole in the head. ‘This is a pointless review when ministers have already determined that children should have a 1950s-style curriculum.’


British school science 'undermined by poor teachers and laboratories', say MPs

Hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren are failing to study science to a high standard after being turned off the subject by poor teachers and unsafe laboratories, according to MPs. Just 20 per cent of pupils in England took separate GCSEs in biology, chemistry and physics last year because of key failures in secondary education, it was claimed.

The Commons public accounts committee said reforms introduced by the last Government had led to a rise in the status of school science but warned that lessons were still dogged by “slow progress” in vital areas.

In a report published today, the cross-party group said there were not enough new teachers with “strong subject knowledge” in science and maths entering the profession.

The Department for Education is currently falling short of targets to ensure that at least a quarter of science teachers have a degree in physics and almost all mathematics lessons are taught by specialist maths teachers, the report warned.

MPs also said there was evidence that science facilities were “unsatisfactory and even unsafe” in up to a quarter of secondary schools but the Government has abandoned targets for improving crumbing laboratories.

Margaret Hodge, the committee’s Labour chairman, said: “There has been an impressive increase in the availability and take up of GCSE triple science; and, at the same time, attainment in maths, biology, chemistry and physics at this level has improved. “But the picture is far from rosy. Many pupils are still not offered triple science as an option, and those living in areas of high deprivation are most likely to be missing out.”

She added: “We need a coherent national approach to ensure that the key success factors – such as GCSE triple science, specialist teachers, good quality science facilities, good careers advice and programmes to increase take-up and achievement – are available throughout the country, especially in the most disadvantaged communities.”

The report – “Educating the Next Generation of Scientists” – said the number of teenagers in England taking separate GCSEs in biology, chemistry and physics had increased by 150 per cent between 2004 and 2009.

More students are also opting to take A-level chemistry and physics in the sixth-form.

But the report warned that many pupils who could benefit from rigorous courses in the subject were “still missing out”.

Only 20 per cent of pupils took GCSEs in all three sciences last summer, MPs said. Almost a third of secondary schools – usually in poor areas – failed to even offer pupils the option of taking separate sciences, meaning they were far less likely to study them beyond the age of 16.

The report also warned that pupils were let down by poor advice about science and maths-based carers in some schools.

MPs recommended that ministers order an audit of schools to plug gaps in the number of secondaries failing to offer separate science GCSEs and consider fresh measures to increase the number of students opting to train as science and maths teachers.

Despite a cut in the amount of money set aside for school buildings, the committee also said an urgent review of science facilities should be carried out to update unsafe labs.


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