March 7, 2006
An MP3 Player for the Teacher
Colorado high-school sophomore Sean Allen couldn't convince his
father that his geography teacher was as over-the-top as he contended.
So Allen taped one of his teacher's rants on his MP3 player. Too
bad for Jay Bennish: His 20-minute lecture ended up on talk radio.
on Mike Rosen's show, Bennish said Bush talks like Hitler: "I'm
not saying that Bush and Hitler are exactly the same," but
that the two share "eerie similarities." Peruvians and
Iranians arguably have "a right to bomb North Carolina"
because the state grows tobacco. On Sept. 11, 2001, al-Qaida operatives
were "attacking legitimate targets, people who have blood
on their hands, as far as they're concerned." Oh, and capitalism
violates "human rights."
Creek School District placed Bennish on paid administrative leave
as it investigates whether the teacher failed to provide a balanced
look at the issues. They won't find balance. I listened to the
rant, and what I heard was a semi-educated self-impressed petty
tyrant using the classroom as a soapbox, secure in the knowledge
that a bunch of teenagers couldn't out-argue him. Still, I hope
the district allows Bennish to return to the classroom.
spokesperson Tustin Amole expects an announcement on Bennish's
fate today or Wednesday.) The school district policy sounds reasonable.
The school board recognizes, "Each teacher has the right
and the obligation to teach about controversial issues."
The district also notes the teacher's obligation to present various
views on issues. And, "Although he has the right to express
his own viewpoints, he does not have the right to indoctrinate
students to his views."
is, there is no good way to enforce that policy. The line between
passionate argument and indoctrination is a thin divide. When
I was a kid, some of my best teachers were highly opinionated.
They didn't necessarily provide balance when they talked about
literature or history, but they did provide passion, and that
fired up their students.
In an age
when many teens mainly are absorbed with going to the mall and
text messaging, it's better to have a teacher who instills passion
-- Amole tells me Bennish is a "passionate" teacher
-- than a teacher who provokes yawns. Do I see this episode as
a typical educrat romp -- with a liberal teacher forcing his ideology
down the throats of students, willing or not? Yes, but any rule
used to silence Bennish can and will be used against another teacher
who is actually informative. It can and will be used against conservative
So let Bennish
back in the classroom. Even Allen's parents don't want to see
the teacher fired. They want the district to admonish Bennish,
and they want Bennish to learn a lesson.
in time, Bennish will grow into a teacher who appreciates geography
-- and social studies, which he also teaches -- to the extent
that he can get excited about topics, even if they don't readily
pass through his heavy filter of America-hating.
In the meantime,
he's likely to educate a small army of future conservatives. A
few years ago, I heard from a teacher whose class was reading
Sophocles' "Antigone." He had assigned his students
to write about how the play's characters -- and my columns --
dealt in "false dichotomies."
I was enraged.
First, my column is not in the league of Sophocles. More important
to me: It was clear this teacher did not appreciate or understand
a jewel of Western literature -- if he did, he would have stuck
to the play. False dichotomies? Please. That's academese for:
I don't understand it.
least it beats being compared to Hitler.
2006 Creators Syndicate