15 March 2006: Teacher Freedoms

Teacher freedoms are first to go

The quote attributed to Voltaire comes to mind when thinking about the Jay Bennish Affair: “I may not agree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” Ironically, the reference isn’t in context of his classroom discussion, but that of media wingnuts demanding he be burned at the stake. The Thought Police are out in force and in drag led by Sen. Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado Springs), disguising themselves as the True Defenders of the American Republic. The issue is not so much about what Mr. Bennish says, but more of he being a heretic. In the tradition of Socrates who opted to imbibe hemlock in lieu of public execution, Jay Bennish has been the latest Exhibit A of teachers who “corrupt youth.”

Thoughtful minds look at a whole picture before drawing conclusions. With the exception of Rightist hate groups, few are likely to agree with Bennish’s analogy of Bush with Hitler, the ultimate face of evil. While George Bush may be guilty of committing impeachable misdeeds and an embarrassment to our nation, Hitler he’s not. Still, as a good teacher, Mr. Bennish has consistently made it quite clear in his classes the editorial perspective is solely his and challenges his students to go at it—research, argue, and debate—but in the end, to make up their own minds.

For that reason Mike Rosen and other rightwing talking heads decry the influence of teachers; it scares the hell out of them. They realize when they leave the airwaves they will be neither missed nor remembered. Regarding what they put out there, critical thinkers find little to take seriously; others listen to be entertained or told what and how to think. Unlike many of their close-minded elders however, the vast majority of young minds crave to be independent thinkers and thirst for the challenge passionate teachers present them. For the rigid right, that’s damn scary, even more than terrorists or hell. Imagine a citizenry that actually paid attention and refused to swallow the bull. Fox News would go off the air, Mike and cohort Rush would be on the corner hustling for change, and George Bush would be happily retired to Texas, fingering the medals he earned for his lifelong meritorious service to the country. Teachers, on the other hand, touch the hearts and minds of students, and, so, like diamonds, they are forever.

Jay Bennish made one other mistake, however, one he cannot regret since we’re guilty: He trusted all his students. No way around it though, it comes with the territory. Unconsciously sensing we can get blindsided, we throw caution to the wind and go where angels fear to tread. It’s impossible, of course, to ascertain which of the little cherubs might betray that student-teacher trust, but it’s of little concern, for we know the vast majority stand will with us—witness the heartfelt demonstration in support of Mr. B.

Despite the fact I disagree with how Sean Allen has handled the situation, I empathize with him, as sixteen-year-olds occasionally do dumb stuff. Sean needs to understand, as he might have learned in driver’s education, choices have consequences. Stepping back to decipher what this has been about however, one needs to consider several points: If Sean were feeling uncomfortable with the direction of the class, why didn’t he go, accompanied with his father, directly to Mr. B? Why did he dishonestly record the class—not for academic purposes—without being straightforward with Mr. B? Did his father put him up to this? Finally, why did Mr. Allen, as the responsible adult, choose not to take his concerns to Mr. B’s principal, but to the rightwing media? The answers, particularly to the last, sum it up.

History shows in any revolution, left or right, among the first to go are teachers. While the Right is not at the point of lining teachers up in front of the literal firing squad, it has, since the days of the Reagan Revolution, been doing so symbolically. Conservatives have been pillorying public education, haranguing about its failures, and have seen it as an ongoing, lucrative battleground. It is but a ruse to hide their real agenda—the elimination of public education so they can cut their taxes and control the curriculum and, thus, the minds of young Americans. In the end, freethinking is not to be tolerated, and the Jay Bennish Affair has been one more skirmish along the way in their cleansing of America.

From the “Dictionary of Republicanisms”: free speech zone, n. 1. pockets of the country where first-amendment rights apply, usually out of earshot of the president; 2. the area to which those who differ from the administration are confined, should they be so audacious as to wish to exercise their right of free speech (my addition: not to include public school classrooms)

Some Bulldog: Sen. Hanna (D) rightly resigned her seat, albeit under pressure, for “extorting” $1,400 from realtors in campaign contributions. Rep. Joe Stengel (R), the Tom DeLay of Colorado politics and a so-called “bulldog” about the interests of taxpayers, has merely stepped down from his post as Minority Leader. Caught with his hand in the cookie jar, he has reluctantly returned just $891 of the $23,000 he charged Colorado taxpayers for time spent beyond the call of duty, including vacation time in Hawaii. Woof.

On that note: Imagine if teachers were able to bill their districts for extra hours and days put in outside the school day. It would be a step towards earning a “livable wage.”

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