Paid Speech in our Classrooms

Todd Manzi
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Posted: Mar 09, 2006 12:05 AM

Jay Bennish is a teacher who collects paychecks for teaching Colorado high school students about geography.  Here is a sample from one of Bennish’s classes:

“Do you see how this economic system [capitalism] is at odds with humanity?  At odds with caring and compassion?  It is at odds with human rights.  Anytime you have a system that’s designed to procure profit, when profit is the bottom motive, money, that means money is going to become more important potentially than what?  Safety, human lives, etcetera.”

According to Tustin Amole, Public Information Officer for the Cherry Creek School District, the above statement and the other Bennish statements captured on tape by one of his students are within the context of the geography class.  The main issue the school district has with Bennish is that he didn’t provide balance by presenting an opposing point of view.

Apparently, it’s acceptable in the Cherry Creek School District for a geography teacher to use 20 minutes of class time for a left wing, fanatically whacko, socialist diatribe, providing he has made arrangements for Ann Coulter to tell the class what she thinks of communism.  Isn’t public education great?

Here’s a better idea.  Spend the forty minutes in geography class teaching kids about geography.  Then set up an after-school debate to watch Coulter clean the teacher’s clock.

Bennish has hired David Lane as his attorney and takes the position that he should be able to say anything he wants in class.  In an interview with the CBS affiliate in Denver, Lane said, “No action should be taken against someone who is exercising their rights under the First Amendment.”

According to Lane’s logic, when the receptionist of his law firm answers the phone, she should be able to express the opinion that all of the attorneys there are incompetent and then provide the caller with phone numbers of better counsel.

Sane people, on the other hand, would think that since Lane and his firm are paying the receptionist, she does not have free speech to answer the phones anyway she wants.  Sane people realize the receptionist should be fired if she doesn’t answer the phones exactly as her boss directs.  She is not free to speak, she is paid to speak.

The same is true for Bennish.  He is paid by taxpayers to teach geography.  He can do whatever he wants with his own time, but in the classroom, he should refrain from telling his students that Al-Qaeda didn’t think they were killing innocent people, but that they were attacking legitimate military targets.  How on earth does he know what Al-Qaeda thinks?  Even if the school district invites a terrorist to come into class and give balance--the correct interpretation of what they are thinking--the taxpayers might prefer class time be used to prepare students for geography tests.

Bennish’s First Amendment right prevents our government from prosecuting him when he compares Bush to Hitler.  It does not protect him, or any other employee, from keeping their job when they say something their employer does not like.

Who determines what a teacher can and cannot say?  Many teachers like Bennish think it should be the teacher.  The school districts think it should be them.  Lawyers and teachers unions think it is the teacher.  How about the taxpayer?  Isn’t there a reasonable expectation that the tax dollars funneled to government schools are not used for propaganda against the capitalist system that generated them?

The Constitution provides no authority for the Federal Government to subsidize education.  I think the Department of Education is unconstitutional.  How would the education establishment react if teachers started teaching their classes my opinion?

What Bennish said about capitalism and Al-Qaeda has been spiked by the national mainstream media.  Sean Allen, the student who recorded Bennish, indicated he has received emails from others aware of teachers doing the same thing Bennish did.  We will never hear about those teachers, because the mainstream media is not interested in this story.

On the Today Show, Bennish said, “My job as a teacher is to challenge students to think critically about issues that are affecting our world and our society.”

Many parents might think Bennish’s job is to teach their children geography.

After the Today Show appearance, the AP filed a dispatch that might as well have been a press release issued by Bennish and his attorney.  Too bad the AP doesn’t think its job is to challenge taxpayers to think critically about the way their money is being spent by the public school system.