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Jan 30 2006, the Monday after President Bush’s State of the Union address; Colorado teacher Jay Bennish discussed the speech with his 10th grade geography class. He disagreed with many of the President’s sentiments and encouraged the students to think critically and consider some alternative points of view.
One of the students, Sean Allen, entered into the discussion and recorded it on his MP3 player. Sean later went public with the recording (available here), criticizing his teacher on a number of radio and TV programs.
In the last few days, the blogosphere has "lit up" with criticism of Jay Bennish who has now been suspended pending an investigation.
I have some comments on these events, but I should preface my remarks with the following:
- Firstly, I am a proud Australian. I am proud of the relationship between the US and Australia. I fully supported the deployment of Australian troops to Afghanistan to defeat the Taliban. I fully supported the deployment of Australian troops to Iraq to topple Saddam and halt the production of WMDs. I am not a Jihadi.
- Secondly, I have many dear friends who are Americans. I do not support those who would harm America.
- Thirdly, my business and my livelihood are built on services which depend on sales of the products of a major US corporation. I am not a Communist.
- Finally, I am proud to have raised three sons with inquiring minds. I am happy when they agree with me, but I am happier when they disagree with me and can put their case cogently. I support freedom of speech and democracy.
Different people, different values, different opinions
The first three points above establish my background, but it’s the final point which is most relevant in this case. We humans will always have different opinions because we place different values on the factors which form our opinion. When choosing transport, some of us might value style and choose a black car; some might value safety and choose an "air-sea rescue yellow" car; others might value the environment and choose public transport.
My sons will sometimes disagree with me because their experiences and values are sometimes different to mine.
Different experiences will give us different values. When we express our opinions, we advertise our values.
Sean Allen did the right thing going to the media and opening up this debate. Good strong public debate is one of the freedoms we all fight to protect.
However, I was saddened to see the bitterness in the criticism of Jay Bennish by others. The charge was led by Michelle Malkin, Unhinged Teacher Caught on Tape. At least Michelle was kind enough to transcribe Sean Allen’s recording (the whole, crazy screed - her words) into her blog.
Jay was given similar treatment at
- Slapstick Politics, Indoctrination Not Education in the Classroom
- The Political Dogs, More Teacher Bashing
It appears to me that many Americans are so intent on shooting this messenger, that they have missed his message entirely. Until students can think critically about other opinions, based on other sets of values, they are condemned to never being able to understand, negotiate or resolve conflict. The US government now finds itself in this position. It is unable to negotiate or resolve conflict.
I also fear the damage being done by Mr Bennish’s detractors to America’s reputation overseas. I say to my American friends, “Guys, your government is leading us all up a dark alley. Stop and look around before we all end up in a new Dark Ages.”
Rightly or wrongly, much of the world views Americans as Terrorists
Bennish: If you were Palestinians, who are the real terrorists? The Israelis, who fire missiles that they purchased from the United States government into Palestinian neighborhoods and refugees and maybe kill a terrorist, but also kill innocent women and children. And when you shoot a missile into Pakistan to quote-unquote kill a known terrorist, and we just killed 75 people that have nothing to do with al Qaeda, as far as they’re concerned, we’re the terrorists. We’ve attacked them on their soil with the intention of killing their innocent people.
Until Americans and their political leaders accept that they (the Palestinians, Pakistanis and many in the Arab world) hold this honest belief based on their experience and values, America will never understand why this belief is held. (I suspect very few of Mr Bennish’s detractors understand why the Palestinians at their first democratic election, chose Hamas.)
Until then, America will never be able to negotiate a middle ground, and never be able to end the war on terror.
Until then, the West will continue to waste this planet’s resources on an unwinnable war instead of building the schools and hospitals which would finally change the world’s opinion of America.
Until then, young Americans will continue to lose their lives. (I saw the 2000 crosses on Santa Monica beach last October. How many more since then?)
Until then, every missile, every bullet, the foot-fall of every GI’s boot just reinforces the belief that Americans are terrorists and strengthens the Jihadis’ resolve.
Until then, I pray that more American Heroes like Jay Bennish shine their beacons in the darkness.
– Mike Fitzsimon
Update: Mon 06 Mar 06
There’s still a lot of negative people out there. A Technorati search for “Jay Bennish” will show about 10 negatives for each positive.
Some of the enlightened glimmers of hope include:
- Mia Culpa: The war on free thinkers
- South(west)paw: Bennish the Menace
- They Get Letters: Bennish Links.Â This post includes links to many other pro-Bennish posts. [ed: Author Julie O lives in Colorado and is quite close to this topic. She is doing a lot of the heavy lifting in support of Mr Bennish. See her blog, They Get Letters, for more recent updates.]
- Press Action: The Bashing of Bennish by Rosemarie Jackowski.
Update: Wed 26 Apr 06
Some of my original comments have been picked up by