Dr. James Corbett teaches Advanced Placement European History at Capistrano High School. Even his detractors admit that Corbett is a truly great teacher, and the Advanced Placement scores of his students confirm their opinion. Corbett's philosophy is simple:
"The only virtue for Socrates was "knowledge." He reached it by questioning the most deeply held beliefs of his students by which I mean all of Athens and ultimately all of us. What troubled the Athenians about Socrates, however, was not listed in the charges. His crime was that he prompted people to think. ... Every teacher who makes a student think takes the risk that he will be attacked by parents and others who see themselves as guardians of cherished political and religious myth."Corbett goes on to explain how all students who sign up for his class know what they're getting into – they sign a paper saying the class is going to be provocative, their parents receive a letter, and they know from their fellow students. In fact, that's why many of them select Dr. Corbett's class: it's the best.
Apparently Chad Farnan, an average student who admitted that he hadn't even been doing his assignments, was fine with Corbett's study of European history, until they got to Christianity's role in that history. So Chad took a tape recorder to class (which is a violation of California law), and recorded a few two- to five-second snippets of Corbett's history lessons. Here are the gems:
"How do you get the peasants to oppose something that is in their best interest? Religion. You have to have something that is irrational to counter that rational approach."On the face of it, these comments would seem to violate the First Amendment of the constitution. If these kids came to class every day and that was all they heard, it would certainly be a case of a state-sponsored religious agenda.
"When you put on your Jesus glasses, you can’t see the truth."
"Conservatives don’t want women to avoid pregnancies – that’s interfering with God’s work."
"Religion is ‘not connected with morality."
But that's the way anything looks when taken out of context. The question is not whether Corbett may have uttered a few provocative sentences here and there. The question is, what was the whole conversation? Did Corbett single out Christianity, or did he apply the same caustic critical eye to all topics?
Any great educator challenges our beliefs. The question is not whether Dr. James Corbett challenged the Christians, it's whether he challenged everyone equally.
Perhaps more important is how this reflects on Christianity. If student Chad Farnan's faith can't stand up to the scrutiny of a high-school teacher, he must not have very much faith.