Sunday, March 12, 2006


The purpose of my title is simple. In 1987, Judge Robert Bork was nominated by Ronald Reagan for the Supreme Court. His nomination was soundly defeated by the Senate in a well organized process that media and legal types today describe as being “borked”.

I see a new term on the horizon for educators based on the Sean Allen-Jay Bennish debacle. Educators, watch out! You could get “ambinnished” at any time. You probably already have been----you just don’t know it…yet.

The gap is widening everyday between those who are tech savvy and those who aren’t. Every type of device today records audio and video images, takes pictures, emails instantly and brings the meaning of ‘it’s a small, small world’ into much tighter focus.

Even though I teach at the elementary level I’ve had students record me, I’ve had pictures taken of me with and without my knowledge, and I’ve been recorded by parents at conferences with and without my knowledge. Accept it. ‘1984’ is here and it isn’t going away anytime soon.

If you haven’t read a transcript of the tape do so now here from Michelle Malkin’s blog In my opinion Mr. Bennish comes off extremely pompous and seems to enjoy the fact that he has a captive audience. He begins with a roll call of conspiracies the U.S. is committing in other countries around the world while students take down prepared notes that are probably necessary for the unit. He refers to the definition of capitalism which from the tape appears to be textbook generated and then adds the following personal comment

“…when you’re looking at this definition, where does it say anything about capitalism in an economic system that will provide everyone in the world with the basic needs that they need? Is that a part of this system? Do you see how this economic system is at odds with humanity? At odds with comparing and compassion? It’s at odds with human rights.”

I hope Mr. Bennish knows it is not the job of an economic system to provide for citizens. I'm hoping that this is just another inept way he is attempting to elicit comments. It is the citizen’s job to use the economic system to provide for themselves. John Smith had the right idea at Jamestown. “Those who don’t work, don’t eat.” Instead of providing his personal opinions here he could have provide students with a two-columned chart or Venn diagram and let them list compare socialism and capitalism. At one point Bennish tells students to condense the definitions if they need to and to remember he “took them straight out of the book.” Huh? Which parts? the part about profit or the part about providing basic needs?

Another section of the “lecture” has gotten a lot of press. Bennish comments on the President’s recent State of the Union address by stating,

“He started off his speech talking about how America should be the country that dominates the world. That we have been blessed essentially by God to have the most civilized, most advanced, best system and that it is our duty as Americans to use the military to go out in the world and make the whole world like us. Sounds a lot like the things that Adolph Hitler used to say.
We’re the only ones who are right. Everyone else is backwards. And it’s 0ur job to conquer the world and make sure they live just like we want them to. Now, I’m not saying that Bush and Hitler are exactly the same. Obviously, they are not. Ok. But there are some eerie similarities to the tones that they use. Very, very “ethnocentric”. We’re right. You’re all wrong.

In his State of the Union address, Bush does not get down to the nitty-gritty of foreign policy until his fourth paragraph. See the transcript of Mr. Bush’s speech here. He actually started off the speech remembering the passing of Coretta Scott King and her sacrifice and commitment to equal rights across the world.

I’m sorry. I reread the entire speech. I don’t see anything that can compare to Hitler except for Binnish’s own rant. It sounds shrill and one-sided. Wouldn’t a more appropriate way to motivate the students have been to insert a discussion here about colonialism/imperialism and talk above the beginnings of our foreign policy with the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt and his “big stick” and “Great White Fleet.”

Another section has Bennish asking, “Who is probably the single-most violent
nation on planet earth?” Students mindlessly respond, “We are.” It would seem that they have answered this question before.

Listen up…I am all for academic freedom. We are given a set curriculum with guidelines and boundaries that we are contracted to stay within. What we do within those boundaries is the creative side of teaching. I want to give Bennish the benefit of the doubt. We all know from our yearly evaluations that one twenty minute block of time is simply that…taken out of context it can misinterpreted in so many different ways but delving deeper into the actual transcript Bennish isn’t using academic freedom. He is indoctrinating. What really worries me is even at 15 most students don’t have enough knowledge of the real world to participate in an open discussion that Bennish is attempting to elicit. I would be worried if he was my team member or if he was my child’s teacher.

One of the aspects of this whole story that has really bothered me is that everyone that has ranted or commented on the situation says, “Well this doesn’t sound like geography class to me. We looked at maps and learned about the countries of the world.” True. My tenth grade geography class was presented in the same manner. I remember a litany of worksheets we had to complete while the teacher sat behind her desk and dared us to approach her.

Here’s what I found on the Colorado Education Deparment’s website under standards. There is a whole section for Geography which details the standards and elements for each grade level area. See the standards/objectives here. There is a two to three page explanation at the beginning of the standards and one statement jumped off the page at me. It said, “Geography has to do with asking questions and solving problems.” One of the standards for grades 9-12 states, “[students will be involved in] analyzing how different points of view and self interest play a role in conflict over territory and resources.” Hmmmm….based on that one standard I can understand why Bennish would be lecturing on some of the topics he was discussing. It would be proper to bring up our need for oil, the need of Middle East to sell their oil, and how supply and demand can lead to conflicts in the past, present and future. I understand based on the standards why he asking students to record vocabulary words such as capitalism. I can understand why he asks students if they listened to the President’s State of the Union address. It fits with the standards/requirements that Colorado has set forth. I can even understand how he would attempt to bait students with inflammatory comments to encourage debate. The standards clearly show that geography today is not mimeographed worksheets and teachers who hide behind their desks. However, the lecture/rant that Bennish delivers is extremely one-sided. He should present both sides and then allow for discussion.

Another thing that bothers me was Bennish’s attorney. Instead of going directly to the standards/objectives to defend his client he kept saying over and over “Well; the syllabus said this. The syllabus said that.” He added, “Parents knew what they were getting into. They had to sign the syllabus.” You know, it doesn’t matter what the syllabus says. I can type up anything on a syllabus You can read the syllabus for yourself here. Most of the syllabus seems in line to me including his description of the course and expected activities based on the Colorado standards. However, many people have commented that Bennish’s tone through the syllabus is overbearing, pompous, and makes him out to be as one person stated, “…quite a little despot.”

As I stated before ‘1984’ is here. Big Brother is watching one way or the other. So…where does academic responsibility end and academic freedom begin?

1 comment:

allendrury said...

I am intrigued by this post. In fact, I am intrigued and interested in much that you write on this blog. (Though I do not post as often I wish I had time for) My main concern in modern education is that we teach ‘what to think’ and not ‘how to think’ and so in that line of thinking I am very open to teachers forcing the issues in the open, and thereby encouraging debate and forcing students to ante up facts to support their conclusions.

I use my own immediate family as evidence for my reasoning. My sister has three children, all of them very bright, the oldest being valedictorian of her high school class and now working on her masters after completing her undergraduate work. Her brother is on his way to becoming valedictorian as well. They are very book smart and know what is taught to them.

But they come from an extremely conservative home both socially and politically and have no avenues to explore issues from any other perspective than those found within the prescribed thinking of the home. (And I suspect there are many like them in the country). When I talk with them during holidays I am shocked at how they can only view the world from their own limited view and have no way to evaluate the larger issues that face the rest of us. They were taught the ‘test’ but not how to reason and comprehend larger issues. Even after college my niece has tunnel vision as she only took courses that was aimed at her final degree instead of loving the idea of leaning all that college could offer. She can tell you what she believes but not ‘why’ she has those ideas. But everyone calls her ‘bright’ but sadly is not the well rounded college graduate that I would like to see come from our educational systems.

So when teachers go past what many Americans understand to be the way the world really is (due to AM talk radio and Fox News) I think they do so to serve notice to students that there is more to consider than what they may view as concrete ideas already formed. That’s education!

I understand teachers have far to many titles and duties in the classroom but the political climate today is such that ‘super educator’ may be one more they are force to wear and apply on a daily basis as well.