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My teacher failed me because my paper opposed the idea of a higher power, can he do this?

My AP English teacher assigned the class to write an argumentative on the existence of God. He is a very religious man, and a prominent pastor in the community. Out of the thirty kids in my class I was the only one who wrote my paper opposing the existence of God.
Now I may not be the best writer in the world, but I know I had a good paper. I spent about an hour each night for three weeks working on it, and many of the kids in my class wrote it the night before.

When I asked him why he failed my paper he said that he thought my opinion was wrong, and that I should try to search within myself to find why I doubt the inevitable.
What can I do about this? Should I visit the principal and say something, or just take the grade? Also was it appropriate for him to assign this topic at a public school, because I though there were laws about religion in school?

Thank you.

Posted: November 28th 2009

George Locke

Your teacher believes in a god, so he doesn’t accept any argument against its existence, but that doesn’t explain your grade. Not accepting an argument is different from believing an argument is incoherent or poorly rendered, which would be valid reasons for the F you received. The only reason your teacher has for giving you an F is his religious conviction. He is effectively demanding that you convert in order to get a good grade in the course. This is manifestly unconstitutional.

Posted: November 30th 2009

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flagellant www

First of all: good for you! In expressing your opinions when you are asked for them, even if you knew they would not be welcome, you are merely exerting your right to freedom of expression. Had your teacher sought the answer he clearly wanted so much, he should, instead, have set a paper on pandering to his prejudices; you would have known what to do then, wouldn’t you?

When you are asked to write a paper about a particular topic, it should be marked on the merits of the argument put forward, not whether any particular person – the marker least of all – agrees with what is said. It isn’t as though you argued that the World is flat, is it?

Academic work should consist of carefully-gathered information, backed up with scholarly references, expressed in a sound argument: it isn’t by massaging the prejudices of a marker that one is successful; it is by putting forward tenable arguments supported by facts.

If you are so sure that you have met these criteria, you have good grounds for an appeal against the mark, in particular for the criteria used to assess your work: '…. he said that he thought my opinion was wrong, and that I should try to search within myself…’ This seems to be irrelevant to any aspect to learning English in a public school.

I wonder if the marked paper was returned to you. If not, I think it reasonable to ask that it should be given you so that you can have it marked independently. You ought to be prepared for your paper to 'disappear’, perhaps along with those of the other pupils if you make an issue of the matter. This would mean that you might have to argue for the whole class assignment to be reset and, perhaps, marked elsewhere.

I cannot suggest any formal method of proceeding with an appeal. If you feel able to stand the strain, I wish you luck. Remember that your Constitution gives you freedom from religion as well as freedom of religion. You are quite right to question the right of your English teacher to set such a contentious title, and you are justified in being irritated. You will get some useful information from other contributors to this panel. I wish you well.

Posted: November 30th 2009

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logicel

You seem to have a very good handle on why your teacher failed you (and he actually gave you his religiously biased reason why he did!) He sounds like a meddling bully who probably thinks he has a right to do your thinking for you.

It is up to you to decide whether to take the grade or initiate a fight against not only the actual grade, but against the assignment itself. And if you decide to do the latter, then, yes, the principal is the first place to start.

Try to get support before you do confront the principal—get another teacher, a parent, fellow student, or trusted other person to accompany you. If you can’t, you still can go by yourself. If the principal sides with the bullying teacher, then get help from an outside source. You can start by registering your complaint here.

Inform the principal that you are obtaining assistance outside the school to help you in your fighting not only the grade, but the assignment itself. Why did not this ridiculous and biased teacher not assign an argumentative on the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

I am taking AP to mean Advanced Placement so I would consider that it is an important grade. English class? Boy, that god-soaked pastor has a lot of nerve.

If all else fails, make sure you tell that pastor creep that his failing you has added more support to your atheist stance as it shows to what harmful and punishing degrees a faith head is willing to go.

Posted: November 29th 2009

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bitbutter www

Assuming that you live in the US, you should probably contact the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) to see what can be done about the way you’re being discriminated against at your school.

At http://www.aclu.org there’s a select box on the right hand side of the page labeled “Find your local ACLU affiliate”. If you select your state there, you’ll find the contact details of your nearest branch.

Posted: November 28th 2009

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