Thursday, April 24, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Christian school criticized over dinosaur test

GREENVILLE, S.C. — It was labeled “4th grade science quiz. Dinosaurs: Genesis and the Gospel.”

Eighteen questions. The first four were true or false.

The earth is billions of years old. A lopsided pencil mark circled false.

Dinosaurs lived millions of years ago, another circle: false.

It went on from there, testing students on the beginning of the world according to creationism, the belief that the literal interpretation of the first book of the Bible explains it all. Both were marked correct.

Before long, the quiz was posted on the social news website Reddit, unleashing a firestorm of criticism on Blue Ridge Christian Academy, a tiny private Christian school in northern Greenville County.

In what board chair Joy Hartsell says shows God is at work in the world, the controversy may be what saves the school from closing.

About six weeks ago, parents were told that the school would close May 31 because the founder and major donor would no longer make up the loss in operating expenses, said Diana Baker, the director.

“We may have found the path to get the money,” Hartsell said Friday.

So far, about $10,000 toward the $200,000 needed to stay open next fall has been received and more checks arrive in the mail every day, Baker said.

In addition, dozens of people have called, emailed or written letters to school officials, critics and supporters alike. One Christian organization in town sent Baker flowers.

More than 3,600 posts about the test have been made on Reddit, most of them harshly critical.

“I went to a school like this in South Carolina. Now I’m a college professor who spends his days trying to undo the damage this rubbish has done,” said one poster.

Another: “I feel bad for this kid once he goes anywhere public and expresses this belief and is ridiculed.”

School leaders were called child abusers, brainwashers and ignorant. One person said they wanted to chop off Baker’s head while another said they hoped the teacher would die a horrible death.

Such angry posts caused Baker to call the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office to let officials know what was going on, just in case. A deputy in uniform was on campus recently when the school staged its spring festival.

Blue Ridge Christian Academy sits on 30 acres of what was once pastureland on State Highway 101 with a commanding view of Glassy Mountain.

Jill and E.J. Bird founded the school nine years ago after they moved from Connecticut to a home at the Cliffs. He was recently named interim chief financial officer of Sears Canada Inc., according to the company.

Baker said the Birds had kept the school afloat since its founding, making up annual shortfalls of as much as $500,000.

The school carries $2.8 million in debt, Baker said. It has about 150 students in grade kindergarten through 12.

The original Reddit post was made by a friend of a parent whose child is in the fourth grade at the academy. Pher Reinman, a stagehand and photographer who grew up in Greer, said he posted it thinking, “people will get a kick out of this.”

He said the reaction surprised him.

“I think it’s opened a lot of people’s eyes,” he said. “They are entitled to their beliefs but it’s incredibly wrong. It definitely didn’t happen like this.”

The original post did not name the school, but it didn’t take too much deduction once someone said a small Christian school north of Greer, S.C., to find out it was Blue Ridge.

Baker said she learned about it from a board member whose son, a senior, saw something about the controversy on Facebook. The board member asked if this was Blue Ridge. Baker checked with the teacher, who confirmed she gave the test after students watched a DVD produced by Answers in Genesis, which promotes the idea that the Bible states clearly that God created the world in six days, not in a process of evolution extending through millions of years. Ken Ham, the founder of Answers in Genesis, also runs the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky.

“This was one slice of one day in our curriculum,” Baker said. “Our school is so much bigger than this. They have unfairly judged what we’re all about.”

Baker said the school teaches all subjects from a Biblical perspective but does not require that students or parents all believe the same thing.

“You can have space for people to disagree,” she said. “We are teaching kids how to think. Part of what we do in every class is to teach kids to articulate what they believe.”

She said students are taught that evolution is a theory. Secular textbooks are used in the older grades, she said.

“Our students are well versed,” said Hartsell, who has three children in the school. “They know evolution. The big bang theory. They are taught what the world believes. We believe the Bible and we teach from that context.”

The school is accredited and the teachers have high academic standards, Baker said. This year’s senior class — eight students in all — are a diverse group who are going on to public and private colleges and studying such disciplines as pre-medicine, missions and education.

Some of the school’s recent financial support has been generated by Ham’s retelling of the controversy on his blog, which within a short period had 70,000 hits, Baker said. His usual number is about 3,000, she said.

Ham visited the school while in the Upstate recently to speak at a convention.

Baker said she did not seek to find out which parent gave out the quiz and in fact doesn’t want to know.

There are 11 children in the school’s one fourth-grade class.

“We want to deal in kindness and unity,” she said. “On the things we disagree with we deal with each other in love and mercy and grace.”

Hartsell said she hopes to announce soon that the school will remain open.

“We have a lot of faith in a big and gracious God,” Baker said.

Reinman said: “Unintended consequences of bringing their shenanigans to light, but I don’t care. I live in California now.”

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

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Discussion | 1 comment

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  • The SugarJarJune 02, 2013 - 4:22 pm

    This might be a good example of why the issue of what kids should be learning should not be left solely with the parents. The example in the article would be better taught as an adjunct to what is taught in school. Maybe it could be taught in the church Sunday school or at home for those who wish to do this to their children.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
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