WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The last Global Geographic Literacy Survey, assessing the geographic knowledge of 18-24-year-olds in nine different countries -- Canada, France, Mexico, Great Britain, Japan, Italy, Sweden, Germany and the United States -- was, at best, a disappointment. It found, for example, that only 17 percent of young Americans could locate Afghanistan on a map; 29 percent could not correctly identify the Pacific Ocean; and 11 percent were unable to find the continental United States.
If high-school geography classrooms around the United States are anything like that run by "teacher" Jay Bennish, at Overland High School in Aurora, Colorado, the results are understandable. Though Bennish is charged by his school board and principal to instruct his young charges in geography, he chooses instead to use his pedagogical perch to preach hatred -- of Israel, George W. Bush and the United States.
After the State of the Union Address in January, Bennish told his students that the president's speech "sounds a lot like the things that Adolf Hitler used to say." He went on to accuse Mr. Bush of "threatening the whole planet," while describing the United States as "the most violent nation on the planet" and a country seeking to "keep the world divided."
"My job as a teacher is to challenge students to think critically about issues that are affecting our world and our society," Bennish said after his anti-American diatribe was exposed by one of his students. Apparently, "critical thinking" is more highly valued in the classroom than say, teaching the location of the Mississippi River to students who couldn't find the Mississippi River if they fell into it.
In New Jersey, "teacher" Joseph Kyle of the Parsippany-Troy Hills school district decided to put the president on the stand and hold a "war crimes trial." A student played Bush while others played his defense team. A group of five teachers sat as the "international court of justice." The president was charged with "crimes against civilian populations," as well as "inhumane treatment of prisoners." Not only did the teacher's union approve of this, it also said Kyle was completely justified.
Ann Landenberger, a "teacher" in Newfane, Vt., has "informed" her students of her support for a local resolution calling on the state's lone U.S. Congressman, "Independent" socialist Rep. Bernie Sanders, to file Articles of Impeachment against President Bush. Her salient explanation: "I can't say to my kids that what happens on the national level doesn't affect us at the local level," she said. "Would that we could all be in a cocoon, but that is not the case."
As might be expected in this age of political correctness, teachers' unions and local chapters of the ACLU have rushed to defend these "educators'" "constitutionally protected right to free speech." But this is neither educational independence nor an exercise of free speech. It is instead a gross abuse of power by adults who are subjecting children to political polemics every bit as insidious as that delivered by a commissar.
It is interesting to note that those who now proffer the most vociferous defense of these "teachers" to say what they want in the classroom are the very ones who want to ban other educators from uttering a Bible verse, challenging Darwin's theory of evolution or noting that we are "one nation under God," when pledging allegiance to our flag. Not surprisingly, the so-called mainstream media has failed to note the utter inconsistency in defending the "right" of some teachers to defame our President -- while denying the freedom of expression to other educators who profess their faith in God.
The consequence of the political-legal crossfire of America's classrooms is predictable. As shown by the Global Literacy Survey -- and dozens of other assessments -- students in public education aren't learning that which will prepare them for jobs and higher education in a highly competitive global economy. Parents who can afford to, vote with their feet. They pull their children out of these troubled schools and send them to private or religious institutions or home-school them. America's high-tech industry is constantly lobbying Washington to increase the number of visas granted to qualified immigrants -- because our schools aren't producing enough competent graduates.
There is no doubt that our children must learn "critical thinking." Before they get to politics -- shouldn't they at least know geography -- and maybe some math and science? It would be nice -- if this is to remain the home of the brave and the land of the free -- that America's students could place it on a map.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.