Thursday, March 02, 2006

Colorado Teacher Fracas

I'm sure this will achieve maximum media attention in the coming days -- teacher screw-ups are far more news worthy than teacher accomplishments -- so I thought I'd jump in while the water's still warm. A Colorado world geography teacher named Jay Bennish was taped by a 16-year-old student making statements that the U.S. was the "most violent" nation in the world, and that from the viewpoint of Native American genocide victims, the U.S. flag looks "a lot like the Nazi flag." Read it: Conservative talk shows will cite this as another example of the failure of the public school system, and symptomatic of an increasing "anti-American" groundswell. The teacher will probably have to hire a lawyer. The taping kid and his dad will appear tonight on "Hannity and that weak-ass excuse for a liberal." I imagine there will be student-led protests in support of the young, cool teacher with reactionary politics.

If this is what the guy did all day, every day, instead of teaching the standards he was hired to teach, fire him. He's probably got tenure, but fire him anyway. If the bulk of instruction consists of inflammatory comments designed to provoke reactions and embryonic critical thought, he's not doing his job.

On the other hand, if this was relatively isolated, or within the context of a broader, worthwhile aim, everyone should all calm down. The man teaches a class that could be called "where everything be at," and if some time is taken out of such a rigorous course offering to analyze current events, sheppard critical interpretations, or even provide an alternate viewpoint, well and good. Can we say with any certainty that these kids' lives, futures, and educational prospects in the field of world geography were damaged by this?

Of course, we don't really know the story. What I do know, what I've already started to hear, and what I'm sure I'll hear more of, is this outrage at an attempt by an educator to "indoctrinate." I've already heard two commentators warn of the danger of "indoctrination" in the educational process, how it has already infected our colleges and universities, and threatens to take over our high schools.

Please. [makes mouth-smacking noise so common to urban youth so as to indicate disdain]

I attended American public schools my entire life and I was heavily indoctrinated. I was indoctrinated to believe that Columbus was a visionary hero who had the courage to do what everyone doubted, making positive contributions to the lives of indigenous people in the "New World." (They got the horse! Yes!) I was indoctrinated to believe that America was provoked by both Mexico and Spain, and that the subsequent armed territorial acquisitions had nothing to do with placating an aggressive people's need for manifest destiny. I was indoctrinated to believe that Lincoln freed the slaves with a nifty speech, and they all lived pretty good on their forty acres until a bunch of rabble-rousing dudes named Martin and Malcolm had to go and make all kinds of trouble 100 years later. I was indoctrinated to believe the Cold War was a noble fight for survival against an insidious enemy whose alien views of wealth concentration would result in my the loss of my very life if they were applied on anything resembling a broad scale. I was indoctrinated to believe that American society is a meritocracy where every citizen has an equal opportunity for socioeconomic advancement and political expression.

I was indoctrinated to believe much about this nation and its place in the world that doesn't stand up to the analytic might of an above-average high school senior. And so were you.


Blogger Johanna said...

Wow. I hadn't heard about that case, but I'm with you all the way.

By the way, no idea about next year. I'm thinking about trying a different district (probably won't happen - as much as I hate to admit it, I love that school). I've got some family stuff going on so I'm putting out feelers back home. What about you? Still staying until you get to 800?

8:14 PM  
Blogger TMAO said...

800 is when I'll maybe start looking at other options, yeah. Maybe this is getting ahead of ourselves, but in terms of goal-setting, we were talking about looking at the city as a whole and seeing how we rank there. Like, are we in the top-10? (No.) Could we be there next year? (It's possible). I don't know, you don't leave when things are so good, no matter how draining the day-to-days are.

8:19 PM  
Blogger pseudostoops said...

Looks like you were right about being ahead of the curve:

You could be at 800 pretty soon, no?

8:08 AM  
Anonymous He Who Can't said...

Indocinate. Interesting choice of word, from Latin, doctrina "to learn of teach." Teaching is indoctrination, a teacher passes on all sorts of cultural and intellectual biases. Good teaching involves imparting the skill to read both the content and the bias. Was this teacher aware of his power? Is this Hannity you speak of (don't have cable) responsible with his pulpit?
I also worry about the "everything you learned is wrong" style of teaching. Most of my students have a knee-jerk "Columbus was stupid, He killed the Indians" reaction that is almost as ridiculous as the kids who say (I've heard this) that MLK Jr. freed the slaves. Take care, fellow teachers, as Tosh said, You can't blame the youth.

8:24 AM  
Blogger Caroline said...

"he who can't" (great handle) says: <<< Most of my students have a knee-jerk "Columbus was stupid, He killed the Indians" reaction >>>

This seems like a great teachable-moment scenario, though. (OK, I'm not a teacher, just a mom, so maybe I'm being naive to make it sound so easy.) I once attended a historian's lecture on Columbus that emphasized: The truth is somewhere in between; there's some good and some bad; things aren't always black and white. That seems like a very useful lesson for kids to learn in general (short of Hitler or Gandhi), and Columbus is actually a great example.

And it seems to me (OK, I'm just a mom, but my kids attend genuinely diverse urban public schools) that it's a point that could be made effectively to challenged kids who aren't focused on learning as well as to college-bound teachers' pets.

9:36 AM  
Blogger TMAO said...


Thanks for the comment. Putting latin roots aside for a minute -- these things tend to take on different meanings given our modern contexts ("discriminate," for example) -- your point is well-taken. I only wish to point out that the number of people in this country capable of debunking the myth that Columbus (for example) "killed the Indians" so far exceeds the number of people capable of debunking the myth that Columbus was a visionary hero, as to be laughable. So many will decry the evils of indoctrination without critically examining the ways in which indoctrination functions in our lives and schools everyday, but in a guise we are more comfortable with.

8:17 PM  

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