Monday, March 27, 2006

Two teachers weigh in on classroom opinions

Earlier this month (March, 2006) Cherry Creek School District Geography teacher Jay Bennish (former Seaholm High School student) was caught on tape ranting against the president, capitalism, and the war on Iraq. I don't want to rehash what he said, but I do want to examine his defense for his actions:
"My job as a teacher is to challenge students to think critically about issues that are affecting our world and our society. My job as a social studies teacher is to argue alternative perspectives and viewpoints so that students are aware of those points of view. They do not necessarily reflect my own views. They are simply thrown out there to encourage critical thought"
Anyone who read or heard what he said knows Mr. Bennish's lecture was many things, but critical thought or the Socratic Method is none of them. More interesting is Mr. Bennish's idea of what his job is. Teaching geography, which is what the class proposed to be, is only what simple minded parents would expect. His real job, supported by the Cherry Creek School District superintendent is challenging students to think critically. Even if it were, I prefer Professor Thomas Sowell's approach (from OpinionJournal - Featured Article:
"In his 2000 memoir, 'A Personal Odyssey,' he relates an episode in which some students approached him after taking his graduate seminar on Marxian theory. They expressed appreciation for the course but added, 'We still don't know what your opinion is on Marxism.' He took it as an unintended compliment.

'My job was to teach them economics, not teach them what I happen to believe,' says Mr. Sowell, who adds that efforts by some today to counterbalance the prevailing liberalism in academia with more right-wing instructors is not only an exercise in futility but a disservice to students. 'Even if you succeed in propagandizing the students while they're students, it doesn't tell you much [about how they'll turn out]. I suspect that over half [of the conservatives at the Hoover Institution] were on the left in their 20s. More important, though, let's assume for the sake of argument that, whatever you're propagandizing them with on the left or right, every conclusion you teach them is correct. It's only a matter of time before all those conclusions are obsolete because entirely different issues are going to arise over the lifetimes of these students. And so, if you haven't taught them how to weigh one argument against another, you haven't taught them anything.'" (emphasis mine)
Mind you, Professor Sowell's students are a at least six years more mature and presumably more capable of critical thought than Mr. Bennish's 10th grade, but that didn't change the curriculum.

I'm no fan of Marxism. Nor am I a fan of classroom indoctrination masquerading behind the pretenses of academic freedom or free speech--I care little who the teacher may be. Mr. Bennish is being paid to teach a curriculum. If he wants to exercise his free speech rights he has plenty of opportunity outside the classroom. Perhaps he'll start a blog?

1 comment:

  1. After reading the teacher's rant, and that's the most polite word for it, I'm left wondering what exactly he was teaching. From my own interaction with teachers, I have found that they often confuse their ideology with education. Maybe, as you say, he should start a blog. But then, the captive audience of a classroom is so much more satisfying.