Several weeks ago, I wrote about Overland High School teacher Jay Bennish’s indoctrination of his geography class. In commenting on President Bush’s State of the Union address, he told his 10th-graders: "Sounds a lot like the things Adolf Hitler used to say." "Bush is threatening the whole planet." "[The] U.S. wants to keep the world divided." Then he asks his class, "Who is probably the most violent nation on the planet?" and then shouts "The United States!"
After that tirade, which included many other anti-American remarks, he gave the students the "definition" of capitalism — telling them that "capitalism is at odds with humanity, at odds with caring and compassion and at odds with human rights."
After public exposure by my column and Denver talk-show host Mike Rosen’s radio interview with 16-year-old Sean Allen, who recorded Bennish’s comments, and his dad, Jeff Allen, the Cherry Creek School District placed Mr. Bennish on administrative leave. The indoctrination story became nationwide news after being picked up by major media and talk radio. The overwhelming response, including that of Colorado’s governor, Bill Owens, to Bennish’s classroom tirade has been disgust.
Last Friday, Dr. Monte Moses, Cherry Creek School District superintendent, announced that their investigation of Jay Bennish’s remarks and complaints against him were complete and he’ll be allowed to return to teaching at Overland High School. Dr. Moses did make a mealy-mouthed statement that the teacher’s "practice and deportment need growth and refinement."
Like a few others who have defended Jay Bennish, Dr. Moses talked about academic freedom and First Amendment guarantees. Others have criticized and even threatened Sean Allen for recording and making the teacher’s comments public. The issue is neither academic freedom and free speech nor public exposure of the teacher’s comments.
It’s academic and intellectual dishonesty when a teacher, who is supposed to be teaching geography, uses his classroom to indoctrinate relatively uninformed teenagers. Recording the teacher’s comments broke neither school policy nor Colorado law. But more importantly, I believe that what teachers say in class should be subject to parental and public scrutiny.
I’ve taught economics for 37 years. I encourage students to record my lectures. Moreover, I tell them that the class deals with positive economics and if they hear me make a statement appearing to be an opinion, without saying so, they are to raise their hands and say, "Professor Williams, we didn’t take this class to be indoctrinated with your personal opinions passed off as economic theory; that’s academic dishonesty." I also tell them that if I ever preface a comment with, "In my opinion," they can stop taking notes because my opinion is irrelevant to economic theory.
I’ve received numerous letters from all over our country saying that indoctrination at Overland High School is by no means unique. It’s widespread, and much of it is anti-American. Where the indoctrination is not anti-American, it’s an attack on family values and traditional standards of decency. The unique aspect of the Overland High School affair is the hard, undeniable recorded evidence. Without it, teachers and administrators might have lied, denied or misrepresented what was said. After all, it would be the word of a teenager against an adult professional. Today’s microtechnology, might be just what the doctor ordered to put a stop to teachers using their position to indoctrinate our youth.
Preaching instead of teaching might go a long way toward explaining why in civics, math, reading, writing and geography, nearly a quarter of all students leave high school with academic skills that are "Below Basic," the category the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) uses for students unable to display even partial mastery of knowledge and skills fundamental for proficient work at their grade level. In science, 47 percent leave high school with skills Below Basic, and in American history, it’s 57 percent. I’d like for Jay Bennish’s supporters to explain how his indoctrination will help that.