By Janene Dubbeld
He grew up in Virginia – Fairfax County to be exact. Times were tough and money was scarce, but born into his heart and mind was a voracious love of science. As he entered his high school days, it was a chemistry teacher who began powerfully affecting the life of Bill Fagan.
The economic structure of Bill’s home made his hope of a college education seemingly non-existent. As high school graduation approached, his dad confirmed the fact. College was “simply too costly.” It appeared Bill’s public study had come to an end.
When the news reached the ears of chemistry teacher Bob Horn, he was compelled to action. He was well aware of Bill’s desire to be a research chemist. He recognized Bill’s potential, knew he was college material, and cared about what happened in his future. He took it upon himself to do everything in his power to make this dream become a reality. He began by talking with Bill’s father, and convinced him Bill had to go to college.
So, in the fall of 1955, Bill enrolled in Hampden-Sydney College in Hampden-Sydney, Va. This college carries with it a rather unique history. Its first graduating class came before America declared its independence – making the school literally older than the country.
While in his sophomore year of college, Bill realized his first dream was not to be his last. Through a series of events he was becoming aware that a “research chemist” was not what he was cut out to be. However, his love for the sciences was still intact.
During this questioning time in his life, a group called the Baptist Student Union was having a convention in Lynchburg. While attending this convention on a Sunday morning Bill prayed, “God, I can’t do chemistry; what should I do?” God gave him one name, “Bob Horn.”
When Bill went home to visit, he took a trip back to his high school. There, he found his former chemistry teacher, confiding in him that he no longer desired to be a “research chemist” but a chemistry teacher. Horn’s immediate response was concise and truthful. He replied, “You’ll never be rich.”
Bill graduated college in 1959, and immediately became involved as a science educator – right there in Fairfax County. It is interesting to note that Fairfax County never had a chemistry opening, but Bill – now, Mr. Fagan to his students — was willing to serve where needed. The first three years as an educator he taught eighth and ninth grade science. Then, another door opened, and for the following 15 years he ran the school planetarium. An opportunity followed for him to teach high school physics, and for the next 16 years, Bill Fagan spent his days impacting young people in that area of study.
As a Christian educator, working in the public arena, he experienced some interesting developments. God certainly used his life in many ways – both seen and unseen.
“During the decade when Madalyn Murray O’Hair won her court case banning religion from public schools, I began my 33 year teaching career in the Fairfax County Public Schools,” Fagan stated. “At first, the administration’s response was one of anger and defiance, but as more and more school districts faced legal challenges our leadership knuckled under and became more compliant, at least outwardly.”
His first confrontation with the system came when, as a planetarium teacher, he created a Christmas program concerning the star of Bethlehem. Before he could offer to show the program to anyone, he was required to present it to seven Jewish lawyers for their acceptance. Then, it was reviewed by 12 Christian pastors and priests. “When they approved my work, I was allowed to show the program to several thousand people over the next 10 years,” he said.
Then, he became a physics teacher and managed to stay out of trouble for a few years. One year while teaching a class of gifted students Fagan inadvertently stepped over the legal line. “In Fairfax County, every teacher is given a very detailed written curriculum for the teaching assignment they have,” Fagan explained. “In the physics guide there is no mention of the ‘Big Bang’ theory, so I wasn’t expected to teach it. This class literally begged me to take just one day to briefly explain my view of the theory.”
He started with the popular view of what the universe is like today and what it is doing and then moved backward through time to deal with the formation of stars and planets and galaxies. “Assuming the universe is currently expanding, we traced the motion back to the beginning when all matter was compressed into one small sphere,” he said.
At that point, a student by the name of Jim Koan asked him, “Then what made it explode?”
Without considering the effect his words would have, Fagan answered: “And God said, let there be light.”
The next morning there were 12 letters waiting for him when he arrived at school. Four of the letters were not signed. “They politely and forcibly reminded me that there were some topics that no teacher in a public school should ever touch,” he said. “The other eight were signed. In essence they expressed pleasure in knowing that some teachers would dare speak the truth.”
When the word spread concerning this incident, Fagan was approached by several students. They were led by the young man who had asked the question, and the request was that he allow them to meet in his classroom for Bible study each week. “I never lead the discussions, but over 20 students met for prayer and fellowship in my room for the next six years,” he said.
Jim Koan II, the student who asked the question, is now the superintendent of Phoenix Christian United Schools, in Phoenix, Arizona.
Here’s what Koan had to say about the impact his former physics teacher, and after-school Bible-club sponsor, had on his life.
“Mr. Fagan, in the late 1970s, was my first exposure to a scientist who also had a faith in Jesus Christ,” Koan stated. “He set for me the example of a believer who confidently held to his belief in God and faith in Jesus Christ while at the same time pursuing knowledge as revealed in this world through science. I also remember, from Mr. Fagan, being exposed to the vast cosmos (in our school planetarium) as evidence of a Creator far more powerful and more creative than we could ever imagine.”
Koan said Bill Fagan was a good and moral teacher — and more. “He spoke of his religious beliefs honestly, when asked, and respected all students; there was safety in his class. I remember feeling like it was a place of refuge,” Koan stated.
And now that former student is the superintendent of a Christian school with three campuses and more than 570 students. “The foundation of integrating faith and learning, which was laid down in Mr. Fagan’s high school science class, now bears fruit in the next generation of leaders who in our school are learning and applying a Biblical world and life view,” Koan stated. “Thank you, Mr. Fagan, for setting me on this path so long ago.”
Incredible, isn’t it? Only eternity will reveal the effects of how Bill Fagan’s years of teaching continue to travel on, and on, and on.
Teachers – one more reason to keep on teaching! Parents – one more reason to care who teaches your children! All of us – one more reason for us to do our part and ensure that the impressionable minds of our kids will be affected by Christian educators. One more inspiring reason to IMPACT!
When asked what advice he would have for the educators of today, Fagan responded with a grin, “teach in a Christian School.”
Then, he stated, “Seriously – you are going to be hampered in what you can express and say in public schools, but it doesn’t mean you will be totally hindered.”
He went on to offer this advice, “Treat everyone as you would expect everyone to be treated. When superiors mess up – don’t hold grudges.”
And when asked where he would teach today, if he were starting again Fagan replied: “Sciences – still today. And, now that I have gotten to know PCA (Parkway Christian Academy in Roanoke, Va.), I really would like the opportunity of teaching in a Christian school.”
Thirty-three years of teaching equals 33 years of IMPACT!
God’s Gift of Life = IMPACT. From Bob Horn, to Bill Fagan, to Jim Koan — to many, many more.
Volume 3 Issue 1 - The Renewanation Review