A-List Blog: The curious case of Jay Bennish | VailDaily.com
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A-List Blog: The curious case of Jay Bennish

Alex Miller

The case of Aurora high school teacher Jay Bennish would be hilarious but for the fact that a man’s career is on the line ” not to mention some truly sacred American values.

All those flag-waving conservatives, why are they always the first to try to trample the First Amendment when they hear something they don’t like? At the same time, Bennish might have been a little more guarded in what he said to his students.

I happen to agree with the gist of what Bennish said in his classroom. I do think Bush and Hitler share some similarities (nationalistic, über-patriotic fear-mongering, for one), but that doesn’t mean I think or Bennish was trying to say Bush is also a genocidal maniac (although you might be forgiven for thinking so if you happen to be an Iraqi parent whose child was killed by a U.S. bomb). The ‘war on drugs’ is a fiasco, as is most of our foreign policy these days.

But it’s besides the point, really. Bennish is a teacher, not a columnist, and he should have been asking more questions about what his students thought rather than promulgating a lot of his own views. Whether that’s a disciplinary or even a firing offense is a decision for his employers and school board to make, not the conservative news networks or radio shows.

More than anything, the case of Jay Bennish illustrates how low we’ve sunk in the U.S. We’re so afraid of anyone on the other side hearing the wrong thing that we yelp like wounded rhinos when we hear it – and heaven forbid if our kids are in the room. Conservatives can no more bear to allow their kids exposed to anti-Bush rhetoric than liberals can endure even a discussion about classroom prayer or evolution instruction.

The middle ground, that gray area in between points of view where logic and true debate takes place, has shrunk so much that we don’t even recognize it when we see it. In the case of Jay Bennish, even if he pushed the envelope, he was teaching a valuable, American skill to his students: the power of critical thinking and issue debate. Don’t swallow everything you hear, he was saying, think about it, be critical if necessary.

When the ability of our teachers to do so is compromised or even eliminated, the land of the free as we know it will share more with places like Iran and Saudi Arabia than we could ever have imagined.

Bennish may not be a hero ” yet, but he’s no villain, either. I hope he stands firm behind what he said and sets a precedent for other teachers to believe in. It won’t be easy (just ask Ward Churchill), but the path he walks is a noble one.

Vail, Colorado


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