Due to overwhelming popular demand, I thought I would respond to a couple commenters from my previous post on the gigantic Jay Bennish flap, and shed a little more light on the whole topic. When a story erupts and spreads through the media – old & new – as fast as this one has, the caution needs to be made that we don’t make hasty judgments that outstrip the evidence we have. Furthermore, we should promote a healthy, moderate, and reasonable tone to the debate. No one I have seen is calling for violence to be done against any of the parties involved, and that should hold for both supporters of Bennish and for those like me who admire the smart and courageous 16-year-old Sean Allen.
That being said, I think some judgments can be made in light of the extended and unedited nature of the recording (which has been played on every conservative radio talk show I observed today). Specifically, the following can be stated:
1. Bennish inappropriately used class time in his February 1 class to talk about topics unrelated to world geography.
2. Bennish inappropriately presented only one side – the extreme Marxist Left – in his far-ranging discussions about President Bush, Iraq, Israel & Palestine, capitalism, and American history.
3. Bennish’s use of historical facts and argument was highly selective and unbalanced, and in some cases, egregiously false.
4. There is no reason to believe from the evidence available that – at this point – Bennish should be fired. The school district is to be commended for promptly conducting an investigation into the affair. The more transparency officials use in the process, the more accountable they will show to the concerned parents and taxpayers, the more likely they are to arrive at a just and satisfying solution.
5. To the extent that the recording of Bennish has opened eyes to an uncomfortable look at one element of what can easily happen in the current public education system structure, it has been a remarkably sound and healthy development. Issues of teacher tenure, accountability, and parental choice should all be looked at more carefully. Underlying the whole story is the question: to whom is the school system accountable? The current monopoly bends the knee to the interest groups – namely, the teachers union – far more than to the parents. More choice and competition are needed in the system to loosen the monopoly and make the system more accountable to those who pay the taxes and send their children to be educated in the classrooms of Jay Bennish and others. Remember, my friends, that the education authorities have an incentive to do justice in this case as long as the rock has been lifted and a bright light shines on their activities. Without a systematic reform, those incentives will quickly disappear.
6. Those making accusations about the motives of Sean Allen have provided no evidence to substantiate their claims. Let’s stick to discussing the facts in evidence. Local radio talk shows have talked to other former Bennish students who credibly stated that the substance of the recording was fairly typical of his teaching. These facts at least demonstrate that the justification for an investigation was legitimate.
We all therefore should encourage a thorough, fair, and transparent investigation of the Bennish case. One point of careful consideration will be the official Cherry Creek School District policy on “Teaching About Controversial/Sensitive Issues.” Free Republic has reprinted Bennish’s class syllabus for the Internet-reading community to examine (HT: Hugh Hewitt). Having heard the classroom presentation and having read the policy and syllabus, we can have an informed discussion and debate.
Most importantly, though, it can’t be stated too many times that no more than one class, school, or district will have been improved – and that for a short time – until we implement broader and more meaningful reforms to the education system that promote choice and competition.
A very telling thing to look for: responses from the Colorado Education Association or the local Cherry Creek Education Association, the bargaining teachers union for Overland High School and the Cherry Creek School District, staunch defenders of the status quo and opponents of the kinds of reform I have highlighted.
Update: Mike Rosen reports that Bennish is not a member of CEA, and therefore the union will not be representing the teacher in this case.