Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Good Teacher. . . Bad Teacher, Part II

Jay Bennish, the Colorado teacher suspended a few days ago after one of his students released tapes of one of his, uh, lectures, was on the Today Show this morning (the Transcript is here, if you’re interested). Bennish’s case touched a nerve on the left and right of the blogosphere. On the left, there are cries of silencing free speech in education and stifling classroom dissent of elected officials; and on the right, there are complaints of yet another lefty ranting away unhinged. But in touching a nerve like this, the story drifted away from what should be the most important issue in the matter: what is the role of a teacher in secondary (ie high school) education?

Well, as eduwonk so deftly put it, a public high school teacher’s role is largely what the local schoolboard says it is. Thus, if Mr Bennish, in his zeal to condemn all things free market and inherently American had drifted too far afield from the approved syllabus of his World Geography class, then there is indeed something to answer for.

The issue brought up in Wilsonizer’s previous post, however, is what listeners were unable to determine via the tape provided by Bennish’s student: is Bennish attempting to stimulate critical thinking with his statements and leading questions (as captured on the 20 minute tape), or are his rants intended to indoctrinate his class to a desired political orthodoxy? Without listening to successive classes or reviewing the syllabus reading list, all of the opining bystanders of thew world will never get to the heart of the matter. The Colorado school board will, however.
Regardless of what happens in this case (and I hope that it is handled as fairly and professionally as possible, with no politics whatsoever involved in the outcome), let's hope that any class in this Colorado district dealing with complex sociopolitical issues has pretty broad readings as part of the curriculum (sorry kids, reading IS important!).

Post Script: Bennish’s comparison of President Bush to Hitler reminded me of something blogger Mickey Kaus wrote when Senator Durbin compared U.S. soldiers to the Gestapo a few months back: "There is a Hitler rule for politicians, that you should never compare anyone to the Nazis, however apt the comparison may be. " Maybe Mr Bennish should have heeded this advice.

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