Teacher Jay Bennish, American Hero, suspended for urging students to think critically.

Sun 5 Mar 2006

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Secondly, I have many dear friends who are Americans.   I do not support those who would harm America.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Vicious criticism

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

Some of the few voices of support for Mr Bennish came from David Drucker, an expatriate American, Bush-regime refugee, now living in Canada, and World Prout Assembly, Teacher caught in Bush ‘rant’.

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:

——————
Update:  Wed 26 Apr 06
Some of my original comments have been picked up by

14 Responses to “Teacher Jay Bennish, American Hero, suspended for urging students to think critically.”

  1. El Presidente Says:

    In the interest of fostering debate, Slapstick Politics posted all the local links available to provide anyone interested an insight into what was going on in Mr. Bennish’s class, and what the media was reporting, including the supportive students who rallied in support of their teacher.
    Once again, this is not a question of freedom of speech. Mr. Bennish can hold any views he wants, but passing them off as legitimate lecture points while offering the rather lame “I’m not saying this exactly, but. . .” defense, hardly qualifies as furthering debate or encouraging critical thinking. And why are leftist criticisms always considered “critical thinking” while any other point of view is somehow less than that? If Mr. Bennish truly desired to educate his students, rather than indoctrinate them, he would give the reasoning for his rant. What is his thought process regarding his opinions? Instead he offers his thoughts without any critical analysis, any opposing views, or encouraging anything remotely resembling “critical thinking.”
    I have taught at the college level, to classes full of freshman history students, most with fully formed points of view ready to challenge me and each other on legitimate topics of debate. I had my own point of view, but upon asking my students at the end of the semester what side of the debate I appeared to be on, several argued that I was on their side (roughly viewed as either being liberal or conservative). This should be the outcome in any class, where students can not clearly discern just where their teacher stood on any one issue. Play devil’s advocate, and in the interest of learning the opposition’s point of view, learn why they think as they do. That would make a good education, not simply one-sidedly indoctrinating students because a teacher fails, chooses not to, or simply isn’t intellectually rigorous enough to deal with the other side.

  2. MikeFitz Says:

    I’ve had a number of responses over the past few hours, some with a high standard of debate, others not so… Some contributors have confirmed their e-mail addresses, some I’m still waiting on.
    I’ll be releasing comments in the next few hours. Please be patient and thanks to those who contributed.
    –Mike

  3. Will Jones Says:

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-5137581991288263801&q=loose+change

    Any true American who watches the above, free video will recognize the fact that Bush committed 9/11 the same as his grandfather’s client, Adolf Hitler(Google “Prescott Thyssen Auschwitz”), committed the Reichstag Fire.

    Inarguably, Bush is Hitler-redux. Those near him, or serving him - other than truly innocent dupes(?) - are transparently part of the “real anti-Christ” identified by Thomas Jefferson in his unsent letter to Samuel Kercheval.

    Schoolteacher Jay Bennish is simply putting forward thoughts that any who claim spiritual descent from the Jeffersonian Whig Founders of the United States of America should have been realizing right after they heard GHW Bush’s public, “mystically” claimed “inability” to recall his whereabouts upon hearing of President Kennedy’s assassination: W’s only “qualification” for office.

    Death for Treason

    —————
    EDIT by MikeFitz: Not entirely sure I can agree with this.  Especially the part about wishing “Death” upon others.

    I watched the video linked to above.  Whatever message it is trying to deliver is unfortunately clouded by its tone which smacks of “conspiracy theory” to me.

    However, Will was kind enough to confirm his supplied e-mail address, so I am happy to have his comment posted.

    – Mike

  4. MikeFitz Says:

    I note that Will Jones’ comment also appears at South(west)paw: Bennish the Menace which itself is worth a read.
    – Mike

  5. Julie O. Says:

    El Presidente makes the argument that Jay Bennish is passing off his own views as lecture points. The problem is, we don’t know that Jay Bennish actually does hold those views. It seems to me that there is very little opinion which can be attributed to Bennish himself.

    He states directly that he thought Bush’s SOTU had the tone of a Hitler speech. I think that is the only time he truly shares his own opinion.

    There are other times he seems to share his opinions, like that the U.S. is the most violent nation on Earth. But those are actually facts that may be disputed (a more accurate and fair statement may have been “The U.S., considered by many to be the greatest democracy on Earth, is one of the most violent nations on Earth).

    He suggests by implication what he *may* think, if you jump to conclusions — like that the Iraq war may have been started mainly for profit, or that capitalism may be inhumane. But those, if the context of the entire class were known, may actually be opinions of others which he passes on. He was talking about Venezuela when the recording started. Could he have been referring to why people like Hugo Chavez would urge the world to transcend capitalism?

    Other opinions he shared, such as that the United States and Israel are terrorists, are definitely attributed to others.

    What is always left out when Bennish is being castigated for indoctrinating students and not fostering critical thinking is the fact that the students were expected to research, analyze, and dissect everything said in class, and write a paper or make an oral argument for extra credit.

  6. Jeff Martin Says:

    As a teacher I can tell you I am exquisitely proud of Mr. Bennish. All those who would have him toe the party line can go get their own teaching certificate, give up their cushy Halliburton $150 k deskjob and go teach—say what they gotta say—anyone who criticizes him is just a poor sport. They say “get over it” when Democrats or anyone else questions the veracity of either of the last 2 “elections”, but they can’t get over the fact that we still have the right to speak out, complain or otherwise state our opinions about bush in whatever fashion we deem satisfactory.

  7. Dave Blaine Says:

    There is a lot going on here; there are many issues disturbing Americans and the world alike. To try to confine it to the actual issues, it seems that a responsible teacher should play devils advocate and pose discomforting questions to a class long indoctrinated with a one sided view of current world events. There is more going on in politics than meets the eye. To deny it is moronic. Who spends millions of dollars of their own money plus hundreds of millions in contributions to secure a temporary position paying only a few hundred thousand dollars back? Only someone who knows that they can affect the legal and social structure of a nation in their own favor, in ways that will repay those millions by one thousand fold. And who thinks that when anyone, a teacher, a journalist, who has no vested interest (read “their own money tied up”) will be allowed to challenge the system and get away with it? But there is hope. The American voters have a say.
    That is why the Republicans have just gone against the president’s wishes in the Dubai port deal, because they fear their constiutents anger worse than the rath of a lame duck president, even when that president belongs to their own party. An ignorant voter is the politicans best friend. A voter who believes what he is told by politicans, via a biased and bought off press, is the politicans best friend. The worst enemy of a politician is the voter who has been taught by people like Bennish, taught to examine ALL sides of an issue and think independently, analytically. God save Jay Bennish, the United States of America and the rest of the world.

  8. Welcome back, Mr Bennish « MikeFitz with overflow bit set… Says:

    […] When Mr Bennish was first suspended, (Background and my earlier opinion…) I was truly shocked and frightened by the vehemence of the attacks on Mr Bennish.  There were hundreds of blog posts with thousands of negative comments.  Negative to positive responses ran at about 20 in 1. […]

  9. John Slater Says:

    I’m a 24 year old graduate student from TN. Every teacher I’ve had since high school has brought politics to the classroom. I pay for an education, not to hear a teachers’ opinions on politics. Teachers should stick to teaching about whatever subject they are hired to teach. A lot of teachers have wasted my time (and money) during class complaining about conservative/republican politics. People are acting like this guy is some kind of hero; that without him or people like him kids couldn’t think for themselves. I think for myself, and I’m beginning to think that the medio and liberals are trying to target children just like tobacco companies. Filling their heads with stuff like our President is like Hitler? Our President hasn’t killed 6,000,000 Jews, in fact I think he’s probably saved the lives of a million. If anything compare Sadam to Hitler.

  10. MikeFitz Says:

    John, Thanks for your comments. [Privately, Mr Slater advises that he was studying “english”.] I agree, there’s probably little place for politics in the course you have paid to study. You have a right to be outraged.

    However, in Mr Bennish’s case, political discussion was clearly part of the course. Here’s an extract from the course description which was signed by both parents and students at the commencement of the course:

    “Important themes include: population, religion, human rights, notions of development and underdevelopment, impact of colonialism historically and currently, sustainability, impacts of modernization on developing countries, globalization of economy and culture, political and international conflict, cultural diversity, and global environmental concerns. To that end, a deeper understanding of current events from a historical and geographical perspective is imperative. Thus, timely issues and events in the news will be tied into the overall framework of the course.”

    I have listened to the tape and all I heard was a teacher enthusiastically doing his job. He deserves the hero tag for that plus the unwarranted criticism he has suffered.

    Also, no problems with the Saddam-Hitler comparison.

    Cheers, Mike

  11. Al Ramahi Says:

    Mr. Bennish is, by far, the best teacher I’ve heard lecture. People always try to stay away from politics, which only makes them ignorant when it comes to history and politics. Mr. Bennish gives the right, true and only understanding of the whole situation in the world! Personally, I wish i had such a teacher when i was younger!

  12. brucecarson2008 Says:

    You frankly are way off the mark.

    Until then, America will never be able to negotiate a middle ground, and never be able to end the war on terror.

    Really? Actually, 9/11, and the war on terror started because of America’s support for Israel and the presence of American troops in the middle east (to topple Saddam). So what is the middle ground? What does Al Qaeda demand of us. They think Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel is a betrayal. So the “middle ground” you propose to find would involve declaring war on Israel. Otherwise the only other way to end the war on terror would be to kill all terrorists. Therefore, ending the war on terror is not realistically feasible until the other side changes their demands.

    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.

    Waste the planets resources on war? The US military accounts for a tiny portion of resource consumption. If anything this point is neither here nor there and is absurd ontop of it. Schools in the US focus constantly on environmental issues.

    Anyway, Jay Bennish was short on facts and heavy on opinion. Much of what he said, for example the US having more nuclear weapons, is factually incorrect. That you think someone who is either ignorant or lying is an “American Hero” says a lot.

  13. MikeFitz Says:

    Bruce, this article and these events happened in early 2006. And you are still having trouble “finding the middle ground”?

    Can you not see that “the middle ground” is somewhere between the US’s current unflinching support for Israel and your inflamatory “declare war on Israel”?

    Sadly, since 2006, very little has changed in places like Iraq - except the bodycount.

  14. BruceCarson2008 Says:

    Sure, I can see how that would be a compromise. But Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda do not see pulling out of Iraq and Afghanistan as an acceptable middle ground, nor do they see the US merely being friends with Israel as acceptable. For them, any relationship with Israel outside of condemnation and hostility is unacceptable. So what you think of as a middle ground which might “end the war on terror” is for them a radical position not far from the very conditions which for them justified the attack of 9/11. It’s so obvious but none the less worth remembering, when 9/11 happened we were in neither Afghanistan nor Iraq.

    By the way, I totally oppose the war in Iraq, and I think in Afghanistan we should have sent in a small contingent of special forces and simply killed Al Qaeda while leaving the Taliban intact. I’m just questioning the notion that there is a reasonable middle ground which would cause the “war on terror” to end.

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