Dismal lessons of Bennishgate

By Krista Kafer krista555@msn.com Jay Bennish returned to Cherry Creek’s Overland High School after a week of paid administrative leave. For readers who have been on Mars this month and missed the big story, a summary is below. But first, a pop quiz -- what have we learned? These three things at least:

1) The indoctrination of students at Overland is complete. Students turned on their own instead of questioning the words of their teacher.

2) The First Amendment is widely misunderstood to mean that one can say anything any time without consequences. .

3) Students are being taught lies at public expense.

Before I elaborate on those dismal lessons-learned, here's the backstory. Overland gained national attention when 10th grade student Sean Allen went public with an MP3 recording of one of his geography teacher’s lectures skewering capitalism, President Bush, and America. For audio, click this. For transcript, click this. Ignored by the school’s principal, Allen and his family gave the recording to KOA radio host Mike Rosen. The spark lit a media firestorm. Bennish’s 20 minute rant was heard around the country.

Bennish, who teaches both honors geography and world history, claimed on NBC he was just trying to challenge students’ critical thinking skills. The district launched an investigation. Angry students walked out. Bennish retained Ward Churchill’s lawyer. State Education Board Member Bob Schaffer rattled the Board when he introduced a resolution stating that Bennish had "perpetrated upon his students an extreme form of economic, cultural, political and religious bias." Democrats refused to vote on it. Governor Bill Owens lauded Allen and President Bush, with characteristic modesty, defended Bennish’s right to criticize him.

Phew, what a week. In the end, the district returned Bennish to the classroom. According to her words in the Denver Post, Principal Jana Frieler appears more concerned about students’ wounded school spirit than what is being taught; “They've heard a lot of hurtful things about their school. They internalize that,” she said. Threatened by other students, the courageous young man who recorded Bennish must look for another school. The State Board remains adjourned. The cameras have turned elsewhere.

Now a closer look at what I think we've learned:

1) The indoctrination of students at Overland is complete. Students turned on their own instead of questioning the words of their teacher.

2) The First Amendment is widely misunderstood to mean that one can say anything any time without consequences. Bennish/Churchill lawyer David Lane told the press that his client “has a First Amendment right to say whatever he wants." Actually he doesn’t. The Bill of Rights merely says “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech.” This does not prevent employers from dismissing employees who have acted unprofessionally. Congress cannot, for example, enact a law to prohibit a doctor from critiquing the government’s health policy. The doctor is free to complain to friends, write an article for the newpaper, or protest in front of the capitol. If however, she launches into a tirade while conducting surgery, it is certainly within the right of her hospital to repermand her. If such unprofessionalism continues, it would be in the best interest of the patients and other staff to end her employment.

3) Students are being taught lies at public expense. Example A, Bennish says capitalism “is at odds with human rights.” He could not be more wrong. Capitalism has produced the highest standard of living. The poor live better in this country than the middle class in the some of the nations he idolizes. Capitalism is the economic system most consistent with national rights. Natural rights means I own myself, my labor, my ideas, my stuff, and my dreams. Capitalism affirms my ownership of these things and enables me to trade with you without a coersive third party taking what is mine through regulation, taxation, or confiscation.

Example B, Bennish states that “there's a lot of resentment--not just in Mexico, but across the whole world--towards America right now.” Wrong again. I’ve been to five of the seven continents in the past five years. I’ve heard time and time again how much Americans are liked and how badly people want to come here. My most recent trip was to the Middle East where I heard more of the same.

This, however, is not his greatest error. Perhaps the geography teacher doesn’t get out much. The most pernious aspect of Bennish’s lecture, Example C of the tax-subsidized classroom lies, is his moral relativism with regard to foreign policy. To him terrorism is in the eye of the beholder. What is defense for one country is aggression for another. He mentions the following instances:

Since some of the companies in the World Trade Center were “directly involved in the military-industrial complex, in supporting corrupt dictatorships in the Middle East” al Qaedo did not consider those who died in the attack innocent. The victims had “blood on their hands as far as they're concerned.” The American flag is no different from the Nazi or Confederate flag to Native Americans since “It represents the people that came and stole their land, lied, brought disease, rape, pillage, destruction, etc.” “The modern state of Israel was made… through violence and terrorism.” CIA kills “people just for the sake of killing them.”

If all force is morally equivalent then Osama Bin Laden and Winston Churchill are no different, and George W. Bush and Adolf Hitler are the same; it’s merely a matter of perception. In Bennish’s point of view, America and Israel are bullies while countries like Cuba or Iraq, which oppress their own people, are victims of force. I guess this would make sense all things being relative, but they are not. There is a right and a wrong. Sometimes force is morally justifiable. Other times it is not. America is not always right but that doesn’t mean there is no right or that man’s perception is the measure.