Thursday, March 02, 2006

Anti-Bush remarks land Colorado teacher a suspension

An Aurora, Colorado high school social studies teacher finds himself suspended based on a student-recorded lecture. During a class at Overland High School, teacher Jay Bennish compared GW Bush to A. Hitler. He does go on to say that he doesn't think Bush is the same as Hitler. Sean Allen, a student in the class, taped the lecture and released it. Over 100 Overland students held a demonstation today protesting the suspension.

I'm a teacher myself. I don't like to think of a fellow teacher facing the loss of his job because of what he said in the classroom. If his situation is similar to mine, he's not sitting around lighting his cigars with five dollar bills. Also, I enjoy a lot of autonomy in my classroom and I wouldn't want to advocate someone else losing some of his. On this one though, I believe Bennish pushed it beyond the bounds of what defines a balanced presentation in a high school classroom.

You can listen to Allen's tape of the lecture here. The portion of the lecture that gets Bennish in the most hot water comes in a series of quotes starting with this question: "Who is probably the single most violent nation in the world?" After a few inaudible student comments, Bennish answers the question himself or confirms a student's answer. "The United States," declares the teacher. He then goes on to equate Bush's language in the State of the Union speech to Adolf Hitler's. After interpreting Bush's words as a claim that "America should be the country that dominates the world," he rattles off a list of other examples. He then offers that "it sounds a lot like the things Adolf Hitler used to say."

After listening to the tape, my first criticism is that he is preaching a partisan interpretation of current history to his students. I'm sure most teachers do some preaching. However, I try to limit mine to subjects such as behavior. Second, it offends me personally that he would compare a president of the United States to Hitler in front of a very impressionable audience. You can hold a Bush = Hitler sign at a protest rally no matter your occupation. That's your right. But you cross the line when you use your platform as teacher to basically say the same thing to your students. Some of the world's greatest historians have never tried to claim they understand what Hitler was all about, much less compare the behavior of any postwar leader to the progenetor of one of the world's darkest moments. My impression is that Bennish is a good teacher and I hate that he's been suspended, but I'll leave the details to the folks in Aurora, CO.


Blogger sam's notes said...

An attorney on O'Reilly (radio) said the guy violated the rule of curricular context, so he's screwed himself.

Anonymous Glenn said...

This is self-inflicted on Bennish's part. Sam, I don't need to rehash my opinion of Bill Clinton with you, but I didn't ever let a student's negative comments about the Slickster get by without at least trying to play devil's advocate with him. With this guy, he only left room for give and take when the student, I assume it's Allen, questioned him near the end of the tape. As a teacher, if you present something this controversial and strident, the least you can do is present the other side of the argument.

Anonymous Brent said...

I only revealed my views to students if they said, "And what do you think?" As anti-GW as I am, I would like to see a little better balance int the class, whether from students or from the teacher. Aren't we overlooking something here. This teacher was taped without permission, using a device I assume is not permitted at school without permission. Should this student not face some sort of sanction?

Blogger Glenn said...

Brent, good question about the tape. I'm guessing the school may allow students to tape lectures. However, if Bennish knew he was being taped, he might not have delivered the lecture he did.


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