T Nation

Jay Bennish Comments


#1

This story is starting to get a lot of traction.

What do you think?

Teacher on leave after comments

District cites policy requiring balanced views in classroom

By Tillie Fong, Rocky Mountain News
March 2, 2006

An Overland High School geography teacher was put on leave Wednesday while Cherry Creek Schools investigates whether he violated district policy that requires balanced viewpoints in the classroom.
Jay Bennish, who teaches 10th grade world geography, is being investigated for making biased, anti-President Bush comments in class during a discussion of the State of the Union speech last month.

"These are serious allegations and we're very concerned about it," said Tustin Amole, spokeswoman for Cherry Creek Schools. "This does not reflect the type of teaching that we want to see in Cherry Creek school district."

Bennish could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.

On Feb. 1, Bennish, who has been at Overland High School since the fall of 2000, had a discussion in his class about the State of the Union address.

Sean Allen, a student in the class, taped the discussion, in which Bennish made a number of unfavorable comments about Bush that upset Allen's father.

"He said that some people may compare (Bush) to Hitler," Amole said.

The school district did not learn about Bennish's lecture until last Wednesday, when it received an e-mail about it from an out-of-state person who had seen an online column on it written by Walter Williams on www.townhall.com, Amole said. That same day, Allen's father also called the principal of Overland High School to complain about the teacher, and the complaint was forwarded to the district, which began its investigation.

"After listening to the tape, it's evident the comments in the class were inappropriate," Amole said. "There were not adequate opportunities for opposing points of view."

Allen's father apparently gave a copy of the taped discussion to KOA radio host Mike Rosen, who did a show on the subject Wednesday.

Since then, a number of parents have called the school about Bennish's remarks, both in support and in opposition.

Amole said that Bennish told school officials he had received threats as a result of the controversy.

Amole said that the ensuing brouhaha over Bennish's lecture has become disruptive to the school, which led to Bennish's being put on leave Wednesday.

"We felt it was better for all concerned if he was out of class," she said. "This is not a punishment at this point."

In the meantime, the district is investigating whether Bennish violated its policy on teaching about controversial and sensitive subjects, and has reminded teachers about the policy. "We do want teachers to express their opinions, but to put that in context and to provide opposing points of view," Amole said. "All discussion must be fair and balanced."

District officials have been talking to Bennish and his students as part of the investigation.

"We want to find out all the facts, what other students have to say about it, whether there have been other incidents," Amole said.

Amole said the district hopes to complete its investigation of Bennish this week.

Apparently, this is not the first time he has been in hot water over comments made in class, according to Amole.

A few years ago, another student complained about remarks Bennish made in class. In that case, Bennish met with the parent and the school principal, and the issue was resolved without district intervention.

Amole could not provide details Wednesday of the earlier incident, but said the district encourages students and parents to voice their concerns.


#2

My bottom line is that he's a freaking geography teacher. Why in the hell is he wasting so much class time rambling on about Bush? I wonder if he includes the rants in his lesson plans.


#3

Hard to say without more information, like what was said, etc.

My high school teachers were quiet about their political views...I can't actually remember any of them actually talking about it. I would have like school more if they had talked about politics, but it bores most high school kids.

I just don't know. How many teachers make pro-Bush comments? Who knows. If thats the school's policy, and its public education, then the guy has to go along with what they say. All high schools are censored pretty heavily...although I don't like it


#4

Here is a link. Scroll to the bottom to listen to the taped comments he made.

http://www.9news.com/acm_news.aspx?OSGNAME=KUSA&IKOBJECTID=b8298706-0abe-421a-0116-75e16c449518&TEMPLATEID=0c76dce6-ac1f-02d8-0047-c589c01ca7bf


#5

Being a teacher and department head, I would fire this teacher immediately and at once. He was hired to teach Geography and is using his position as a lectern for his politics.

If he wants to rant such nonsense, let him get a spot on Air(head) America.


#6

We're discussing this issue in one of my education classes right now.

A girl in our class has a mother that is an educator at the school in question, and I went to a school in the same district as this one (just fyi).

Anway, its important to note that:

  1. Bennish had parents SIGN OFF on a waver stating that he would be bringing political views into the course.

  2. The class in question is an advanced geography course. I took a class similar to this in high school called "Advanced Placement Human Geography". This class is not geography in the traditional sense of physical landmarks, cities, countries, ect. Rather, it is about human interactions on the global scale, cultural conflicts, and how these relate to physical geography. If Bennish's class was similar to this, then there is no question that politics SHOULD BE incorporated into the curriculum.

  3. Bennish, during his lecture, stated that he was not forcing his opinions on the students, but rather presenting a different viewpoint and asking the students to question things and form THEIR OWN opinions. Its assinine to believe that simply because a teacher presents a radical opinion that his students will automatically adopt his viewpoint.

These three factors taken together suggest that Bennish should not be fired "immediately" as the poster above me rashly stated. His actions do require an investigation into the curriculum being presented and his methods of teaching, yet firing a teacher without due investigation is childish. Bennish was on the Today show today, and he presented his case with clarity, intellect, and poise - all in all, he was very convincing.

I believe that given the advanced level of the students, such a topic could spark good debate and reflection, allowing the student's to express their opinions about a subject that they undoubtedly are passionate about. Fostering this type of academic environment is imperative to creating thoughtful, literate citizens. However, such devisive topics should be tempered with the viewpoint of the "other side" (which Bennish claims to present during his lectures).


#7

FUCK...I just heard the audiotape of the "lecture" that Bennish gave.

LET ME SAY THAT MY ABOVE POST IS NOW IRRELEVANT. I did not realize the extent to which this nutjob took his poitical propaganda. This wasn't a lecture that sought to discuss student's perspectives on the issues he raised. It was a FUCKIN DIATRIBE.

This guy is a fuckin lunatic. If I was in that class I would have raised my hand and told him to SHUT THE FUCK UP.

I was under the impression that he was attempting to foster discussion. Obviously, I was wrong. This is wrong, and he should be fired.


#8

Do you really think students who disagree with Bennish are free to openly debate with him in the class without fear of the consequences? It would be great if that were true, but listening to his ramblings I really doubt it is.


#9

Some legal analysis from 1st Amendment professor David Bernstein:

http://volokh.com/archives/archive_2006_02_26-2006_03_04.shtml#1141331570

[David Bernstein, March 2, 2006 at 3:32pm]

Public High School Teacher Suspended for Left-Wing Political Rants:

Via Drudge, I learn that a high school teacher in Denver has been suspended pending an investigation into remarks he made during class that were recorded by one of his students. According to the Denver Post ( http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_3560566 ),

[i]teacher Jay Bennish described capitalism as a system "at odds with human rights." He also said there were "eerie similarities" between what Bush said during his Jan. 28 State of the Union address and "things that Adolf Hitler used to say.[/i]

Can Bennish constitutionally be penalized for presenting one-sided political rants to his class? Yes, I believe he can, and, to the extent he was departing from the assigned curriculum, or violating school policy in presenting only one side of an issue, likely should.

It so happens I've recently written about a similar issue [in a forthcoming book review in the Northwestern University Law Review], whether public schools in the 1950s had the authority to exclude Communist teachers from teaching social studies.

[i]An important background assumption is that the very existence of public schools means that the government will to some degree be inculcating values into minor students. Simply by choosing curriculum, textbooks, and engaging in other functions inherent in the education process, the government will inevitably be making value-laden choices that will dictate what students learn about various social, moral, and political issues.... It is hard to disagree with Redish?s conclusion that since public schools will inevitably inculcate values, the government has a right to ensure that the teachers it employs are "with the program." But perhaps one lesson of the McCarthy era controversy over employment of Communist public school teachers is that government-run schools create inherent First Amendment problems. Any solution that leaves the government in charge of dictating curriculum, much less directly teaching values, seems second-best from a First Amendment perspective given that, as Redish acknowledges, "the public school educational system is an authoritarian operation." The government's subsidy of certain points of views by teaching them in public schools serves as the equivalent of an implicit tax on competing perspectives, a method for government to get around the prohibition on directly taxing ideas that the government wishes to discourage. To preserve a fair, non-statist, marketplace of ideas, the government, if it must fund education, should simply provide vouchers and let parents decide which values they wish their children to be exposed to. Redish argues that "there is little doubt that a democratic society cannot function effectively absent an effective system of public education," but he does not explain why such a system must be run by, as opposed to simply funded by, the government.[/i]

I go on to argue that so long as we live in a second-best world with public schools, government authorities have the right to dictate to teachers what to teach, and to punish those teachers who refuse to comply. I conclude, however, that teachers should only be excluded or punished based on what they actually say in class, not based on their background beliefs:

[i]the implications of allowing school authorities to choose teachers based on how their personal beliefs may affect their teaching are too troubling: May libertarians be forbidden from teaching history courses, because they may be tempted to undermine the statist assumptions so often embedded in public school social studies and history curricula? Can fundamentalist Christians and Jews be prohibited from teaching biology, on the grounds that they may try to undermine the teaching of evolution? Can committed Catholics be prohibited from teaching "health" classes on the grounds that the may try to avoid discussing contraception and abortion, as required by the curriculum? Can conservative Christians be banned from teaching in general, because their views on the morality of homosexuality may lead them to discriminate against gay students?[/i]

In short, a public school teacher shouldn't be punished for his background beliefs, though arugably it's constitutional to deny someone a teaching job based on those beliefs (no Klan members teaching a race relations course). But a teacher can be punished for what he says in class.

UPDATE: I've listened to the recording of the class, and this guy is a serious left-wing cliche machine (including some comments on the Drug War I agree with!). If I didn't know better, I'd think it was a satire.


#10

I don't necessarily agree with what Bennish said. Yet I take issue with the way in which it was presented. Rather than attempting to create discussion about the issue he raises, he simply talks AT the class, never asking the class, "So what do you guys think about all of this?", and then allowing the students to interject. At one point in time he cuts a student off midsentence so he can say "in actuality" what happened. This whole thing was a fuckin joke. The classroom presented a convenient forum for him to spew his propoganda.

The whole "lecture" was about him and his beliefs. I'm surprised he would be this stupid, because as an education student, we are constantly told to be aware of the shitstorms that can erupt over the things we say in a classroom.


#11

I was going to say they're making a big deal about nothing, until I heard the tape. Calling this propaganda is giving him too much credit. He sounds more like a talk show host than a teacher; firing him is a little extreme, but he should definitely be made to teach the lesson plan rather than be allowed to spend the class ranting. After a warning or two fire his ass.


#12

Iron Game-

Man I was about to tell you to listen to the tape until I read your follow up post.

I agree. I don't think he was teaching as much as preaching too his class. Teaching both sides would be a 180 degree shift from what her was doing.

I think it is important that this stuff gets exposed to the clear light of day. Let people make their own decisions.

When I was in High School I was taught by Jesuits. We referred to them as "God's Special Forces". I don't ever remember these guys putting any sort of bias on us. Not even religion. Everything was tempered by "you need to learn about this and make your own mind up". The only clear bias was personal responsibility and conviction.


#13

It's not really fair to compare Bush to Hitler -- after all Hitler actually served in combat.


Enforcing a Nazi curriculum on schools depended on the teachers delivering it. All teachers had to be vetted by local Nazi officials. Any teacher considered disloyal was sacked. Many attended classes during school holidays in which the Nazi curriculum was spelled out and 97% of all teachers joined the Nazi Teachers' Association.

All teachers had to be careful about what they said as children were encouraged to inform the authorities if a teacher said something that did not fit in with the Nazi's curriculum for schools.
http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/Nazis_Education.htm


http://www.ifilm.com/ifilmdetail/2684709

http://www.ifilm.com/ifilmdetail/2408800

Gotta love irony..... if only squatting were this easy.

"How fortunate for governments that the people they administer don't think."
~ Adolf Hitler


#14

I bet you're feeling especially smug.

Heres the deal - most of take issue NOT with the comparision of Bush to Hitler, but rather the METHOD in which his opinions were delivered.

When divisive political views are disseminted in the classroom students should be given the opportunity to learn about the "other side", as well as respond and reflect on what the teacher is saying.


#15

Can you imagine that?

A public school teacher and member of the teachers union making negative comments about President Bush.

It's just so hard to believe.


#16

Ditto to that from another school administrator and teacher!


#17

Exactly. I had a socialist/communist history teacher in HS.

He was probably the best history teacher I ever had.

The big difference is we had actual discussions in class and not the crap Bennish pulled. Bennish is a bad teacher reagardless of his politics and should be fired.

If my kids had a right wing nutjob I would want him out too.

Discussion of the issues is good. What Bennish the exact wrong way to do it.

And he looks like a jackass.


#18

Another opinion from a teacher:

This guy should be discipline for, at the very least, being an unimaginative lunkhead.

Was I the only who, when they heard this, immediately thought of the internet rule about "The first person to compare someone to Hitler loses?"

I had both conservative and liberal teachers in high school and college. Mostly, the only way you could ferret out their views was to see what they emphasized or ignored.

Sometimes I have political discussions with my class. I prefer to not force my opinions on the kids, rather to act as a moderator to keep the discussion going and on track. Hell, I've even occasionally played Devil's Advocate and supported the current administration. (Of course, I needed a long shower after that...)


#19

Maybe a little smug.

This conversation sort of reminds me of that Dave Chappelle sketch where he plays "Clayton Bigsby" a blind white supremacist who doesn't realize he's black.
http://www.thatvideosite.com/view/1290.html

I understand perfectly that everyone thinks the teacher is only giving one side of a political view -- the "liberal" side. Of course the only part they play over and over again of a 20 min or so recording on the news is his reference to Hitler, so don't kid yourself into thinking that isn't a major part of what this is all about.

He stresses many times that he wants his students to think more critically about the current issues and the history of the conflict.

The "other side" of the issue that everyone insists is missing from his lecture is that bin Laden and his 19 hijackers attacked the US out of the blue because they hated freedom and democracy. The US "the good guys" in turn of course had to save the world from the evil enemies of freedom by removing Saddam and turning Iraq into a democracy. Of course the other "victim", Israel, needs our protection because they're a helpless sitting duck and everyone around them hates them and wants to attack them for "no good reason" when all they're trying to do is mind their own business.

Are there really, truly people who don't know that story yet?

The advantage that we have over the Germans from the 30's is THEIR history. The disadvantage is that our kids are much dumber.....

Literacy of College Graduates Is on Decline
Washington Post
December 25, 2005
"It's appalling -- it's really astounding," said Michael Gorman, president of the American Library Association and a librarian at California State University at Fresno. "Only 31 percent of college graduates can read a complex book and extrapolate from it."

The test measures how well adults comprehend basic instructions and tasks through reading -- such as computing costs per ounce of food items, comparing viewpoints on two editorials and reading prescription labels. Only 41 percent of graduate students tested in 2003 could be classified as "proficient" in prose -- reading and understanding information in short texts -- down 10 percentage points since 1992. Of college graduates, only 31 percent were classified as proficient -- compared with 40 percent in 1992.


Bruin Alumni Association Targets 'Radical' Faculty
January 17th, 2006
"Do you have a professor who just can't stop talking about President Bush, about the war in Iraq, about the Republican Party, or any other ideological issue that has nothing to do with the class subject matter? It doesn't matter whether this is a past class, or your class for this coming winter quarter. If you help UCLAProfs.com expose the professor, we'll pay you for your work. Full, detailed lecture notes, all professor-distributed materials, and full tape recordings of every class session, for one class: $100."
http://www.capitolweekly.net/news/article.html?article_id=434

Strong arming not only teachers but judges too.
Sandra Day O'Connor warns of the "beginnings" of dictatorship
O'Connor observed that there have been a lot of suggestions lately for so-called judicial reforms, recommendations for the massive impeachment of judges, stripping the courts of jurisdiction and cutting judicial budgets to punish offending judges. Any of these might be debatable, she said, as long as they are not retaliation for decisions that political leaders disagree with.
http://rawstory.com/news/2006/Retired_Supreme_Court_Justice_hits_attacks_0310.html

This is hardly a time to be politically correct.


#20

But he never allows them to do so (by allowing the class to partake in an open-forum discussion).

I see what you're saying though. To be perfectly honest, I despise the Bush administration. Yet a SOPHOMORE
GEOGRAPHY class is no place to have a teacher delivering a diatribe against Bush's foreign policy.