Once There Was a Teacher Who Taught Geography

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: Mar 02, 2006 9:31 AM

But it was a different kind of geography than his students were used to. Instead of teaching where countries and their capitals are located, this teacher taught which countries were the worst and which world leaders could most appropriately be compared to Hitler.

His students were initially surprised to find that the worst nation in the world is the United States and the most Hitlerian leader is President Bush. That didn't sound exactly right. At first.

But then, students noticed that this new geography was very anti-establishment and incendiary, and being teenagers, they decided that was very cool. They decided that Mr. Bennish, like, spoke to them, you know? Like, he treated them like adults and totally communicated with them on a personal level. He was passionate-- they could tell because he even cussed in class sometimes. He had long hair, which clearly meant he wasn't just some staid, cultural-norm-observing professor like the rest of these pedagogical squares.

They also noticed all you had to do was vocally agree with him to get a decent grade, and that was way easier than the work other teachers gave.

One day, a student came along who disagreed with Mr. Bennish's rantings. He didn't think the new geography was geography at all, so he taped the teacher and played the tape for his dad. His dad didn't think it was geography either, and reported Mr. Bennish to administrators. When he didn't get a response, he took the tape of Mr. Bennish to a local radio station.

The uproar over the tape caused the school to put Mr. Bennish on leave while they evaluated the efficacy of his new teaching methods. Mr. Bennish's students got very angry and morally indignant over what they perceived as censorship of their teacher's unorthodox views. Well, ok, they didn't really get angry or morally indignant.

What they did do is see their easy As in Evil American Hegemony 101 disappearing like so much of that funny-smelling smoke they saw at that really cool protest Mr. Bennish took them to last year. This made them angry at the student who taped Mr. Bennish. So, they decided, if they weren't going to get the easy As they had planned on, they were at least going to get a day off of school out of this.

So, they walked out. Mr. Bennish had taught them about the sit-ins he used to organize in college, but a sit-in would require staying at school. No, a walk-out was a much better idea because it would get them home to their XBox 360s as quickly as possible while still giving them the appearance of very concerned and enlightened young citizens.

It was a perfect plan. They would get to skip school while being lauded as committed, intellectual champions of academic freedom. They'd never had it so good. No wonder Mr. Bennish didn't actually teach them any geography or make them do work, they thought to themselves. Why teach or go to school when copping out on responsibilities under the guise of principled moral stands can make you so popular?!?!

As they walked off school grounds toward a Burger King lunch and a full day in front of HBO, they realized Mr. Bennish had indeed, taught them the greatest lesson of all.

***

In my experience, high school kids hate their parents and teachers and love their friends. Their parents and teachers force them to honor their responsibilities and fulfill their potential. Their teenage friends often allow and even laud abdication of responsibilities and squandering of potential.

When a teacher is beloved in the way Mr. Bennish apparently is, one must consider the possibility that it's because he acts more like a teenager than a teacher. In Mr. Bennish's case, I think that's more than a possibility.