I was recently interviewed by OCCC’s newspaper for an article on what went down with my Biology class. I want to archive the article here, so it will stay accessible. You can find the original article at this link.

Professor put in spotlight over teaching methods

Friday, 18 June 2010 10:40
Written by Danniel Parker

OCCC part-time biology professor Michael D. Talkington has gained attention recently — both at OCCC and nationally — for his alleged teaching of creationism and has found his teaching under scrutiny.

The college’s Sciences and Math division is investigating Talkington based on one of his former student’s allegations, said Max Simmons, Science and Math dean.

Talkington denied the student’s claims.

The allegations stem from a May 27 complaint on the blog of student Bryan “Jaden” Walker at jadeneternal.wordpress.com, who alleged Talkington teaches creationism and wrong information about HIV/AIDS in his classes.

Walker said in his blog that during a lecture in spring 2010, Talkington shut the door to his classroom and handed out a sheet of paper titled, “The Origins of Life — Two Opposing Views.”

Then, he said, Talkington dismissively summarized evolution for 20 seconds but then spent five minutes discussing his belief in intelligent design or creationism instead.

According to http://www.intelligent design.org, “The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.”

Walker said he had no problem with the professor having differing opinions.

“But, to basically tell a class that evolution is wrong and creationism is right, and not teach evolution at all when it’s part of the curriculum, is pretty unprofessional,” he said.

“It really made me question the validity of everything else the professor taught afterwards.”

Walker said he finally walked out on Talkington’s class when he discussed the size of viruses, and gave inaccurate information about subjects of HIV/AIDS and abstinence.

“He used the example of the AIDS virus,” Walker said. “He said the AIDS virus was so small it could easily pass through the holes in condoms.

“Then he said, ‘So I don’t feel sorry for anyone who catches AIDS through unprotected premarital sex.’”

Talkington, who is not teaching classes this summer but said he is applying for a full-time position with the college next year, counters that he does not teach creationism nor abstinence in class but believes in intelligent design.

He said he also does not emphasize evolution to his students.

Talkington also denied covering HIV in his class but said he believes the statements Walker claimed he made are factual about the virus.

“I have things inside my mind, as a scientist and a man of faith, that prove to me that intelligent design is true,” Talkington said. “But if you ask any of my other students if I teach creationism, I’m sure they’ll tell you that I don’t.”

Talkington, a doctor of veterinary medicine who worked at Mid-America Christian University, a south Oklahoma City seminary school, said he has the freedom to highlight topics he wants in his class and not to focus on evolution.

“I believe in intelligent design,” Talkington said. “Therefore, I don’t put any time into talking about evolution. I’m allowed to choose what to emphasize. I don’t emphasize evolution. There are no test questions regarding evolution and I don’t discuss it at length.”

Talkington said he believes evolution is unrelated to biology.

“The origins of life don’t affect what we know about how life exists now,” Talkington said.

“Biology is the study of how life exists. Scientists know how life exists and everyone agrees on those issues. I don’t see how the origins of life, whether it was 10 billion or 5,000 years ago, matters in the field of biology.”

Walker’s blog caught the attention of scientists from across the country and OCCC faculty.

Walker’s allegations that the professor taught against the theory of Evolution, caused Discover Magazine blogger Phil Plait to call for action.

In his blog “Bad Astronomy,” Plait insisted readers should contact the North Central Higher Learning Commission, which accredits OCCC, to attempt to get the college’s accreditation revoked.

Later, Plait rescended his call to action, saying every school can have instructors who “sneak in their own brand of nuttiness.”

OCCC Biology professor Jullian Hilliard also expressed concern.

Hilliard was the lone faculty member to comment on Plait’s blog. He called for Talkington to be fired.

“Evolution is the single-most important theory in biology,” Hilliard said.

“Nothing makes sense in biology without the light of evolution.”

Hilliard said creationism is not a scientific theory.

“And this is not my personal opinion — it’s the opinion of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Society for the Advancement of Science,” he said.

“It’s mainstream science. And students pay their money to come here and learn science, not religion.”

Talkington, who has taught at OCCC for 17 years, said he is distressed that “this got blown out of proportion.

“I wish Mr. Walker would have just talked to me about the problem. He had every opportunity to do that,” he said.

More than one OCCC student backed Talkington, and said creationism or intelligent design should be taught in college.

James Brasseaux, who was not a student of Talkington, said he believes it should be open to interpretation whether a professor chooses to teach creationism over evolutionary theory

“I believe God did everything. I don’t how he did it, but I know he did it,” said Brasseaux, computer science major.

In the meantime, Simmons said the division will continue with its investigation.

“We will take the appropriate action when it is done,” Simmons said.

“We’ve heard from Talkington that he does not teach creationism in his class, but he does teach evolution,” Simmons said.

Simmons said if it’s found that Talkington is de-emphasizing evolution, then he is not meeting the criteria of the syllabus, and that needs to be corrected.

“The best result for Talkington is that he’ll continue to teach here,” Simmons said.

“The worst thing that could happen is that he will not be allowed to teach here.

“And there are many possibilities in between.”

Last Updated on Friday, 18 June 2010 13:58

One very important thing that I feel needs addressing, which the published copy of the article left out: There are other students that backed up my side of the story. If there weren’t, the school wouldn’t be investigating the teacher in question– which makes perfect sense. I’m really unclear as to why this was left out of the article, but it bothers me. It leads readers to believe that I’m the only one with a problem, and therefore wrong. Gotta love the media, eh? ;)