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Jay Bennish: Class Clown

I watched Matt Lauer's interview of Jay Bennish on the Today show yesterday morning, and I have to agree with Al Knight's take that Mr. Bennish's defense was less than convincing:

In his "Today" show interview, he [Bennish] presented three different explanations, none of them very satisfying. He first told host Matt Lauer that the balance could be found in the unrecorded portion of the class. That will be up to the school district to determine if that claim is true.

The other two explanations offered by Bennish are just plain silly. He said, for example, that it is his job to make a series of provocative statements so that his students can take them home and somehow "deconstruct" them and come to their own independent conclusions. Obviously, that is a very convenient and self-serving approach to education. The teacher gets off the hook for saying just about anything and the responsibility is shifted to the student. Put another way, it isn't the job of the teacher to point out that capitalism is subject to multiple layers of government regulation, it is instead up to the student to learn and incorporate that fact into his or her own thinking.

Finally, Bennish suggested that his lopsided lectures arise from his perception that his students haven't been broadly exposed to certain ideas. In other words, the students come to class reflecting a societal imbalance that needs correction. But that poses the question of how Bennish knows what societal imbalance exists and, more importantly, how he knows what "correction" is needed.

Bennish started the interview with the loopy explanation that his rant against Bush was somehow appropriate subject matter for a world geography class. He went on to cite "cognitive dissonance" as a valuable teaching method, which is a twist on the idea that teachers should be able to avoid responsibility for saying any number of outrageous things in the classroom if they merely make passing reference to an opposite point of view. Of course, nobody in their right mind would buy that argument if Bennish had been making derogatory, politically-motivated comments about blacks, women, etc. He'd be out of a job, plain and simple.

The bottom line is that Bennish wasn't presenting facts, he was pushing opinions. Teachers are a lot like journalists in the sense that there is a public trust and expectation that these people are professionals who will leave their politics at the door and stick to giving a balanced presentation of the facts. That's especially true for those charged with educating our children at the elementary and high school level of our public school system.

I don't think Bennish should be fired, but he certainly deserves a good dose of criticism for spending 20 minutes ranting and injecting his politics - irrespective of what they are - into the classrooom.