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MIT staff blogger Ben Jones

The Role Of A Teacher by Ben Jones

A discussion regarding recent events in a Colorado classroom.

While you guys are waiting for decisions to be released, here’s a topic that I think is worthy of discussion. Normally I don’t enter this sort of territory with my blog, but I think it’s directly relevant to your age group and the journey towards college. As you guys are among the smartest and most thoughtful high school students in the world, I’m really interested in what you have to say about this.

I’m referring to the story about the teacher in Colorado who was suspended for his remarks in the classroom. No doubt you’ve heard about it, as it is getting a lot of press – here’s one of many examples.

By asking you for your opinions on this I am taking a risk, because this thread CAN’T devolve into a left versus right political debate. It’s just not appropriate for an MIT admissions blog, and I’d have to pull it if that happened. It’s not that I’m not interested in your political views; this just isn’t the right forum in which to discuss them.

So what I’m asking you to discuss is not in regards to the political substance of the teacher’s comments. Rather, I’m curious to know what you think about his actions in terms of educating his students. Was the manner in which he got his class fired up appropriate? Do you think he was successful in helping his students to come to their own conclusions? Do you think he was trying to influence them with his own agenda or simply trying to get them thinking?

Again, this teacher was clearly left-leaning but could just as easily have been right-leaning. Therefore this is not a question of politics. It’s a discussion about teaching and what’s appropriate in the classroom.

The thing that made me angriest about this whole thing was that I kept hearing over and over again – throughout the media’s coverage of this – that “16-year-olds are so impressionable that we have to protect them from things like this.” Excuse me? Granted it’s been a few years since I was 16, but I think 16-year-olds are perfectly capable of thinking for themselves and coming to their own conclusions.

In that light, your words will speak loudest of all, so let’s hear them.

88 responses to “The Role Of A Teacher”

  1. Siddharth says:


    the guy’s job is to teach, yeah, but i dont think the actual subject matter is as important as getting the kids to use their brains, to actually THINK about topics that are relevant to their lives and the lives of all the people on Earth.

    this teacher did that. and, as he said, anybody could have disagreed with him. in fact, it would take more brainpower to DISagree with him than just to sit back, nod, and agree. SO, i think the teacher was taking a more radical position than he may really espouse, just to get these kids to disagree/use their brains.

    quite honestly, i dont see what the big deal is. he was doing his job, perhaps unconventionally, but better than some teachers i can think of.

    just my thoughts :D

  2. Fadl says:


    I personally believe that this teacher may have had good intentions but I do not believe that he went about it in the right way. Do I think that 16 year olds should be shielded from this? – Absolutely not but I believe that it is immoral for a teacher to be so biased in a classroom without equal arguing the other perspective. I believe that if the teacher had argued both sides and told the students to pick a side and support it would have been a lot better.

    Again I do not believe that he was trying to influence them but to stimulate discussion yet I believe it can be done more professionally than that.

    Thx Ben for actually taking the time to here what WE have to say. smile

  3. Saad Zaheer says:


    I think I have to agree that 16 year olds are not that impressionable in the least, I also believe that in a country like the United States people have as much freedom as to go out and say, something is wrong when its wrong. The question is not of making chauvinists out of 16 year olds, but of understanding the difference between a classroom and a dinner table. There is an immense distinction in both.

    The only problem I find in this regard is if the teacher tried to impose, in any way, his personal views over the children. Its not a matter of agreement or disagreement, but of debate and dialogue. Even in a science class when things are not as sketchy, I believe a teacher can do no more but assert whatever is written in the book and if someone disagrees he/ she does not have to whip it into the student’s mind but to encourage the student to view the matter from a different perspective. Not agreeing to anything, by which I mean literally anything, in a classroom is NOT a crime because its in such an environment that we develop our understandings and learn to agree to things if they make sense even if we dont like them. This is what education is all about; dropping our prejudices. The teacher has no role other than moderating whatever goes on in the class and ensure that no digressions occur. The teacher is NOT supposed to enforce what he thinks is right, but to encourage people to entitle themselves to their personal ideas based on reason and common sense.

    Just my two cents..

  4. Praful says:

    Yeah you are right there. 16 year olds are grown up enough to make sense of the sooo many opinions about President Bush.

    For example: President Bush says something about Osama Bin Laden, Osama has something to say about the U.S, as a 16 year old, I can understand whether its President Bush who’s right or Bin Laden’s the right guy OR maybe both being right.

    In the end it becomes a public debate where a teacher puts an opinion that the President of U.S is not a good statesman. Also there was an opinion(intentions or whatever) of that sophomore who recorded the teacher’s word and put it on air.

    So all this does not make much sense. In a democratic country like the U.S.A, I believe everyone can express his/her opinion from the teacher to the student, all they could do is develop the most educated opinion.

  5. Mahul Patel says:


    By the time we are 16, we basically young adults, and therefore many 16 year olds should be encouraged to come out with some personal ideas of what is right and what is wrong. It may be wrong for a teacher to bias him/her self to one side of a particular arguement, or even force his views onto his pupils.

    In my opinion, he should have started by conducting the lesson by posing his initial question, asked the class for their views, and played the devils advocate – encourage his students to think about different sides of the argument as they express their views.

    16 year olds SHOULD be encouraged to think about such topics. In my grammar school in London, we are encouraged to give some thought to such issues, right from the moment we attend secondary school – debating about current affairs is a strong element of both English and History curriculums. We in the 6th form are encouraged to develop our viewpoints, and every few weeks our head of year gives us a meaningful current affairs topic and asks us to debate it in a formal manner, whilst he fuels the discussion through probing our minds to explore the topic from different angles

    I agree with you completely Ben – 16 year olds are capable of thinking for themselves. They need to be exposed to things like this, and develop the ability to come to their own conclusions. We’re encouraged to in the UK, since it is an essential skill – to be able to draw conclusions for yourself based on the facts available, especially if the issues raised in such debates have effects on all of us.

    Teachers tend to teach us theories and give their views in an unbiased way. It is ultimately up to us as to how we take the knowledge we have gained, and use it to think for ourselves.


  6. Blog Lurker says:

    I do believe that it’s a teachers job to stimulate and cultivate classroom discussions and ultimately critical thinking among his charges. This may even include throwing out a controversial subject and taking one side or the other. However, after reading and hearing what was said and how it was said, I don’t think this teacher was doing anything other than subjecting his students to a diatribe that reflected his personal views on the president, capitalism and politics in general. After the fact, he made a great, and even somewhat plausible attempt at spinning the story. However, the student’s recording evidenced a deep rooted and highly visceral expression of his feelings; not a detached and analytical approach that one would expect if his “spin” was in fact reality. I don’t think the left or right has a monopoly on this type of speech; but if you put yourself out there like this teacher did, at least have the courage of your convictions to say yes thats my position if you ultimately get called on it.

  7. Reeve Dunne says:


    Being from CO I still don’t actually know much about this, but I agree that 16 year olds are basically capable of thinking for themselves. I think that if the teacher successfully got his students fired up than he was doing his job if their fired up they’ll learn weather they like what he said or not. Granted I think he should probably say that it was his opinion, but I think it is great especially if he got his class fired up then led it into a class wide discussion. Teenagers can think for themselves (at least being one I hope they can) and something like this is great if it prompts them too.


  8. Nick says:

    The teacher claimed that his target was to make students think. There is no doubt that he managed to do so. In my opinion, the issue here is whether he could have achieved this in a different and less controversial way. Quoting from ABC news:

    “I’m not in any way implying that you should agree with me,” he said. “What I’m trying to get you to do is to think, right, about these issues more in depth.”

    If his target was to actually get students to think, he could definitely achieve it by simply imposing questions and hence fuelling a debate only between students. Probably he wouldn’t have had to deal with this if he stated his opinion outside the classroom. Personally I wouldn’t mind if my teacher expressed his political opinions during class, but I would expect that doing so, especially if they concerned controversial issues, would fuel many reactions.

  9. Phil says:

    I might be wrong, but I also think that 16 year olds, like anyone else, can easily swayed by radical/passionate opinions around him/her. Some may indeed come to their own conclusions through careful investigations of their own original opinions, but I think many overlook the fact that also some blindly follow join the bandwagon without much consideration. Of course, that doesn’t mean that they need to be “shielded,” but when a teacher says something that “biased,” it will undoubtedly have some effect of imposing opinions.

    Nevertheless, I agree that the teacher was crossing no lines when he intended to make the students “think” more deeply about these issues. It is enlightening to escape the prejudices we all naturally have and test a new perspective. However, it seems to me that he grossly overlooked the other side of the issue: what are the pros? Furthermore, the analogy to Hitler seems a bit gratuitous and only provocative in nature – a more personal attack on the character, not his/her actions.

    In all honesty, I think most of us aren’t qualified to perfectly understand a character and his/her actions, so thus it seems proper to withhold any “radical” judgments till you’re pretty darn sure. I just say this because I observe many radical students on both sides yelling their throats about issues without even really taking the time to investigate and understand all its underlying meanings.

    Overall, I believe the teacher’s intentions were academically fit, yet his way of going about it was a bit unnecessary.

  10. wak says:


    Basing my opinion on the newspaper article, I believe that the teacher was just trying to carry out a mature conversation with people whom he believed would throw in their ideas and agree/disgree with equal passion. I believe that if the teacher had maintained a neutral tone, he would have never been able to develop the “fire” he wanted to build in these students. High school students are adults and should be able to handle a point of view completely different from their own – tolerating other’s opinions is one the characteristics of a civilised society.

  11. Ben says:

    These are awesome posts, guys, thank you! I hope others will add to this thread as well – the points being made are excellent.

    (It’s also nice to see a thread staying on topic after the last one sortof derailed wink

  12. Fadl says:

    Thx Ben for the encouragement!

    Wak I just have to disagree with you. I do not believe that the teacher had to ‘fire up’ the discussion himself. He could have passionately argued both sides and then let the students ‘fire up’ the discussion. That way he retains a neutral stance and does not cause any student to feel that his own teacher is an ‘opponent’. However I do agree that the teacher meant no harm and that it has blown out of proportion. smile( Hope there are no hard feelings wak these are just my opinions) smile

  13. Anonymous says:

    Every teacher on this earth is biased. The only question is to what extent that bias should be incorporated into the teaching curriculum. Personally, I’ve heard teachers say things much more provocative than this, and although it may have offended some students, people have the right to express their own opinions.

  14. YeSeul says:

    Hey Ben,

    As a teenager myself, I think the teenagers have the ability to think for themselves but I also believe that students are still easily impressionable. If we weren’t, how would the advertisement indsutry survive? In fact, I think that most-if not all-humans and the decisions they make are derived from their environment, including what they think. But ultimately, it is an individual’s job to weed out bias or thwart themselves from jumping on the bandwagon. As for this particular incident, I don’t believe that the teacher’s comments were propaganda. Rather, I do believe the teacher’s intentions were for academic purposes. Can we really fault a person for conveying his/her perspective on an issue?

  15. Tom Gwinn says:

    Ben, I agree that sixteen-year-olds are not as impressionable as the media is conveying. That being said, I do not feel that the teacher’s behavior was appropriate for the classroom–from listening to the tape as well as reading the transcript of the recording it seems apparent to me that the teacher views his opinion as “right” instead of just as an opinion. Yes, he does say that it is his opinion and that the students shouldn’t necessarily agree with him, but he acts otherwise. Instead of posing neutral questions, many of his questions imply a correct answer (loaded questions). Instead of asking for the students

  16. Saad Zaheer says:

    I agree.. the ideal teacher does not exist and such incidents as this one are not rare, sadly enough the issue has been brought to light only because it involves something really sensitive and political. This does speak of preferential treatment on our part but more importantly it has given us a chance to investigate the very basics of what a classroom is all about.

    I hope the direction in which this case goes teaches us a better lesson than ‘just’ keeping quiet about the US government in front of 16 year olds.

  17. I think the whole story relates well to the Dead Poets Society. Personally, I find it interesting to have debates on the subjects that teachers go into outside of their class curriculum because it gives students a chance to speak freely and say what they want. I think it is ridiculous when parents start to go into the whole “16-year-olds cannot think for themselves” thing.

  18. Mike's Mom says:

    A parent chimes in:

    I have really enjoyed reading these posts, and I am so impressed by the degree of intelligence you all brought to this discussion. I’m interested, though…Do you think this story would have gotten national press if the teacher in question compared President Bush to some ‘other ‘ villainous world figure? Mussolini, Stalin? Or do you think we have developed some kind of knee-jerk reaction to ‘hot’ words. The name Hitler certainly evokes strong emotion. I’m just wondering…..

  19. Lipei says:

    As a student in AP US and Comparative Politics, my teacher frequently presents her own opinions into the argument. Obviously, her remarks have never been as incendiary as the Colorado teacher’s but they have been left-leaning or right-leaning depending on the issue.

    My class appreciates her knowledge.

    I believe that the maturity of students to new knowledge and opinions plays huge role in how they feel when teachers voice personal opinions. Many parents feel that children’s minds are easily malleable, but they forget how they learned as a child. Learning is based on acquiring as many educational experiences as possible in order to correctly and firmly formulate one’s own attitude and opinion. Without these diverse wealths of knowledge, children will never be able to develop into dynamic persons. Instead, we will have extremely partisan (liberal or conservative) individuals.

    By introducing responsible debate, teachers allow students to develop their own style of analysis and thought which in turn produces adults with a set of dynamic political beliefs. This dynamic set allows Americans to unpolarize the current political climate and work for the better of this entire nation.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Everyone has a right to his or her opinion. And seriously, my teachers say worse things than that. Get over it. Why doesn’t society address what’s important instead of picking on these stupid cases because they’re scandalous and make for good news articles? Furthermore, President Bush isn’t, hmm… Lincoln or FDR or Teddy Roosevelt, to say the least, and there’s no denying that.

    Lastly, this was in a class for AP students. At that level, nobody is so mindless as to take someone’s opinion without giving it a good second thought.

  21. Sarah says:

    Reeve, I’m from Colorado too. Where do you live? I’m in FC. Anyway, I think that the teacher perhaps didn’t choose the best way to get the students talking, but I don’t think that he should be punished or anything. My government teacher makes jokes all the time about TX and I love texas. I’m not going to record him saying these things. Of course he never says anything quite as inflammatory as Bush is like Hitler. But I think that the media needs to present the context the discussion was in before we pass judgement. Plus, I don’t really understand what politics had to do with Geography (he was teaching geo.). On another note I think that the student was wrong in recording him bc in that kids interview he just looked like he wanted the attention, but that’s just my opinion.

  22. Steven Lu says:

    I don’t believe that teacher was wrong. Last year, I had a US History teacher that was so far to the right that he would almost certainly fall off the end of any political spectrum. And of course, he was strongly pro-Bush, and there were lots of great debates in that class. In my opinion, being anti-Bush is just the same thing. As long as he wasn’t using very strong language, it should inspire debate and not stop it. Children are impressionable, but 16-year-olds are old enough to have formed their own opinions; therefore, extreme views should refine those opinions and not set them.

  23. Daphne says:

    16 year olds have a pretty defined idea of what their political views are. Heck, I know 12 year olds who have set political views (and keep them for the rest of their lives). Sure, politics is quite different in Puerto Rico, but that’s just part of it.

    Besides, I doubt 16 year olds are going to follow a teacher’s opinion simply because he is an adult because they are “in a rebellious state”. Teenagers are not mindless beings. They will not change their views, but they might think them over, which is what the teacher intended.

    People today take in information without analyzing it and that is one of the saddest things in today’s society. It leads to no mental growth and is proof that there is a lack of intellectual curiosity. Asking kids to THINK is in no way a crime. Knowledge is power. The fact that they are making such a big deal out of someone’s opinion is absurd.

  24. Daphne says:

    16 year olds have a pretty defined idea of what their political views are. Heck, I know 12 year olds who have set political views (and keep them for the rest of their lives). Sure, politics is quite different in Puerto Rico, but that’s just part of it.

    Besides, I doubt 16 year olds are going to follow a teacher’s opinion simply because he is an adult because they are “in a rebellious state”. Teenagers are not mindless beings. They will not change their views, but they might think them over, which is what the teacher intended.

    People today take in information without analyzing it and that is one of the saddest things in today’s society. It leads to no mental growth and is proof that there is a lack of intellectual curiosity. Asking kids to THINK is in no way a crime. Knowledge is power.

  25. Mahul Patel says:

    Mike’s Mom – I agree with you that the name “Hitler” does evoke a lot of emotion primarily in the Jewish community, as does the name David Irving in Europe today (Note: Irving was a Brit who denied Hitler’s knowledge of the Holocaust, and is now serving a prison sentence in Austria) I think that comparing Bush to Mussolini might have had a similar effect – Remember that Mussolini was an ally of Hitler in WW2.

    Had the teacher merely asked students to discuss elements of Bush’s war on terror which COULD compare the Hitler’s tactics in WW2 (e.g.: lack of justification for war, treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo, alleged methods of torture/interrogation, etc.) INSTEAD of comparing Hitler to Bush straight up, this could have been a more constructive debate – it probes a student’s mind, causing him/her to consider the pros and cons of the motion, and draw their individual conclusions.

    I’m with Tom Gwinn (above) on the issue of neutrality – if teachers fuel the debate in an unbiased manner, pupils are more able to analyse a subject and draw their own conclusions – through considering a fair amount of viewpoints for and against the issues at hand.

  26. Christina says:

    Wow! These are some AWESOME comments. I am thoroughly impressed by everyone’s intelligent expressions of opinion.

  27. Let me give a simple example from my personal life. An English teacher of mine has a habit of lambasting the Pakistan’s President whenever she comes to class. In the beginning, like Christina, I was the only child who used to defend them. I used to get through my own opinion. Needless to say, my teacher was not very kind to it. I have a queer habit. Unless I am logically proved wrong, I never back down from my opinion. I rarely form an opinion as I have a habit of weighing pros and cons of anything and everything from a very young age but when I do form an opinion than I am always willing to defend it. Because of this debate, in the eyes of this particular teacher, I fell from the status of a teacher’s pet to only devil in class but it did served a purpose. As time passed more and more students converted to my camp and what used to be a heated debate between my teacher and me, turned into a class discussion and eventually I formed a “Musharraf is cool” society in school. {Musharraf is Pakistan’s President}. Now I don’t say he is the best guy on block. Neither do I believe that all his policies are right but trust me whether he is a drunk or not I really don’t care.

    Bottom line is if a teacher tries to impose her view on her pupils then all one has to do is to stand up against it a fight. A 16 year old is not a young toddler who needs to be spoon fed, he hears, reads and definitely forms opinions.

    This said even though a teacher should introduce such topics in class but should present them in a logical and unbiased manner. Saying anything with such force is not the right plan to use as it only creates more rebels than converts. Ironically, this argument agrees with what the Ca teacher is saying in her lawsuit. If she would have been a little more logical, I would have had no problems with her opinions. Every one has the right to form and present his/her own opinion.

  28. Shikhar says:

    Well I dont know what that kids problem was..I think the teacher has the right to express himself,in any case…I mean its USA thats what its famous for..right of expression…No big deal..wonder how people get time for such matters..

    I am liking Prez Bush these days coz of his interest towards India…and well i am only 17 but i have been saying it for 4 years what he said now…India and USA are natural allies…

  29. Siddharth says:

    Oh, whatever! Teachers are people, too, they’re allowed to have opinions and express them and make mistakes, too. Stop being so hard on them, pay them better salaries, and just maybe we might get more of the awesome kind of teacher and less of the sucky.

    and about the grades thing, check this out: in my term paper this year i compared bush’s wiretapping to hitler’s nazi regime. the teacher who graded it was the Head of the local chapter of the Republican Women’s association. THE HEAD! yet i received the second-highest grades on my term paper, and she told the whole class that mine was written on the graduate level…. and i’ve done lots of “controversial” stuff in lots of my papers for lots of different classes, and i STILL haven’t been marked down for including my opposing opinions. argue the point, back it up with evidence/logic, no worries!

    so the whole thing about the teacher being in charge of the kids’ grades and the teacher always grading down if u disagree? doesnt happen. and even if it does, what’s more important to you, grades or standing up and saying what you believe in? sounds like somebody needs to fix their priorities. i’d rather have a society of low scorers than a society of wimps or suckups. “Oh, I’ll just go along, because I want a bloody good grade to show mommy and daddy.” <– WIMP!

    and the same thing happened again in english this year with the project about owen meany. im not going to go into the details now just because i have to pack for my trip to california. yeah, i might have been a little harsh earlier on, im kind of pissed at myself that i put the packing off for so long…..

    all is well :D

    good to know other ppl’s opinions :D

  30. another Mom says:

    Obviously, any kid with the intellectual hot stuff to apply to MIT is able to evaluate his/her teachers’ hot buttons and biases. They all have them; some show them more than others.

    I can understand why that kid taped the class. It may be standard practice for him — he may even have a learning disability, and this is part of the system he has worked out to keep up.

    I have to wonder, however, at why he took this to a radio station. If he was concerned about the teacher, wouldn’t have it been more appropriate to take it to the school authorities? But perhaps he did, and did not feel he got a satisfactory response. If he did not go to the administration first, then I would have to assume he was trying to make trouble.

    MIT applicants, I suspect, are a lot better at evaluating other people’s opinions than the average 16 year old. Certainly most kids that age that I know parrot their parents expressed views. Unless there is a LOT of discussion over the dining room table, with both sides represented, kids that age would, on the whole, rather not think for themselves on these things.

    In short, as a parent, I wouldn’t have gotten upset about this, myself. I might have suggested to the teacher that discretion might be better served by toning it down, but mostly I would be happy that somebody got the kids to think. After all, it was right after the S of the U speech; everyone had opinions that day.

  31. Lily says:

    I love stuff like this. I didn’t read any other people’s comments so I wouldn’t get influenced before I typed my bit, so I apologize for any redundancy and because I am rushing, the underdevelopment of my ideas — but I will definitely read the rest after I am finished here.

    The best teachers are those who can incite debate; who can make the real world relevant to the classroom. That is exactly what this teacher did. In my experience, I have had many teachers who were willing to exhibit their views, and argue with the class. In fact, these same teachers would show their disappointment if anybody did not argue the opposite point. The key point here is to separate the content from the intention – I only hope the law can do so.

    Interestingly, a few weeks ago I also read an article about a transgender teacher from NJ. She was an elementary school teacher, and parents became extremely concerned so the school board had to ‘reconsider’. They ruled in favor of the teacher, citing that her ability to teach was not changed in any way by her sex change. There are some parents still infuriated by this decision, asking how they are supposed to explain the teacher’s name that contrasts to her physical characteristics. What does this have to do with Colorado? Teachers have a profound place in society, because they have the ability to influence the future. In history, all dictatorships persecuted teachers that were not under governmental control because teachers were the key to their future power. So what is the role of a teacher? I believe the role of a teacher is to make their students see the other side, and leave them with more questions than answers.

  32. Tom Gwinn says:

    To those of you responding in favor of the teacher, have you read the transcript or heard the tape? I am not trying to be sarcastic, I just want to know.

  33. Tom Gwinn says:

    In addition to what I said above, I don’t get quotes like “The best teachers are those who can incite debate; who can make the real world relevant to the classroom. That is exactly what this teacher did.”

    There wasn’t much debate going on… only one kid spoke (the one recording) and he was “corrected” repeatedly by the teacher.

  34. AM says:

    All teachers have opinions and biases. Frankly, at least this teacher said outright that this was his personal opinion and that his students didn’t have to believe him. In life, you have to be able to process many different opinions or versions of the truth in order to ascertain what you believe to be true. By expressing a controversial opinion, this teacher exposed his students to the type of situation they will face in real life.

  35. Fadl says:

    After listening to the tape I realized that if the teacher was trying to promote a discussion he was doing a terribly poor job. His intentions were probably good but instead of letting the class discuss the topic he just kept on talking and talking. I however do not believe that the student needed to have recorded the teacher and made such a big deal unless he had already tried to talk with the teacher and the headmaster. All in all I think that the teacher was wrong in doing what he did but I do believe that it has been blown out of proportion.

  36. Drew says:

    As an individual who has had the opportunity and the honor to debate topics with my teachers over the last couple years, especially now in my senior year, I feel that the teacher has the right to share his opinions with his students and to invite debate about it. The comment as to the fact that only one student appeared to debate might be the truth, but at the same time it was the one student that had the courage to express his own opinions, possibly not because he believed in them but because he felt he would make the teacher suffer for his. The teachers that I respect the most, are those that have made their views known, and tell things as they see them, but often times, during class is not the opportune time for such occurences.

    Not being there, and not knowing the real circumstances of the time I am not one to say whether what occurred was correct or not, but I will say that if these debates interfered with the students learning the curriculum then I do see his actions as interfering with his profession and obligation to teach. Otherwise I can see how they could really inspire students to learn and explore the different sides of the arguement to find the facts for themselves.

  37. I don’t know, i really hate to pass judgement on a teacher if I do not know them, and in this case the best I could find of the speech was a 4 minute “clip”, which really just showed a small bit of his lecture. (anyone have a good link?)

    That said, despite the onesided nature of the teachers arguement, it seemed like the teacher was not trying to silence student opposition. Rather, it seemed like at some points the teacher was having a dialogue with his students.

    I’d like to think that teachers should be given the benefit of the doubt in these cases. Highschool students are grown up (mostly) and can think for themselves (the student w/ the recorder didnt seem to have a problem stating his opinions).

    In my view this would have been wrong if students could not interject; they could, so I dont see any problem exists. As for previous parent complaints, parents like to complain about a lot of things (if you know someone personally who teaches you’d know).

  38. Sixteen year olds — impressionable? It’s hard to make tenth- and eleventh-graders pay attention to anything other than their own lives! Regardless of my beliefs or whether he was playing devil’s advocate or telling the truth about his actual views, the controversial statement was good — in that it encouraged people to disagree, or to qualify, or to agree. The people at fault here are the people who failed to realize that they had the right to just say “i think you’re just full of it” to the teacher — he encouraged them to disagree!

  39. C Minh says:

    Great topic, great posts!

    I am a victim of the work of teacher trying to put things into the head of kids. Well, it is a problem in the education of Vietnam. I will try to describe an average student where I live. In Science subjects, in order to pass the graduation exam with perfect score, it is neccessary to learn everything so careful so that if the test is timed to be 120 min, you can do it in 60 min. In subjects like history, literature, the important thing is that you can write down everything in the book, with the idea of the author. New idea –> bum –> insufficient time or low mark. The one who give the exam won’t care what is taught, but what is in the book, only one set of book for the whole country. In the class, the book is the king, the teacher is the queen and the students are slaves.

    Teacher want to teach something new –> be criticized, or be considered bad teacher, for their student would fall the exam. The student want to think something new –> low marks. In the end no one want to risk their life, so everything is going on and on. That is the student life.

    I was a lucky guy. My high school was a bit special, as the school was a part of a university. As teacher are proffesor from the university, they don’t really care much (or maybe don’t know much) about the standard of an average teacher. They taught what they want(As a result student from my school won’t do perfect at national graduation exam, and sometimes it was the “cream of the cream”s do very bad). Anyway, I got free from the book, but still not free from the teacher ^^. It was an unforgetable memory, about my literature teacher in the final year. He was indeed a good teacher with broad knowledge, I learned from him a lot, but he also like to put his idea on us too. Many time I got my idea but tt was no way I could find enough logic to win him. He would put out any opposite idea from the class. But I had my revenge in final. He give us a topic and I write in the opposite his lecture. The result is wonderful. My writing was the first that he read and he got so dissapointed with it that he delay reading the others’ for 1 month. But he did gave me good mark as he said ” Anyway it was an idea!!”

    Such abnormal thing usually got me into the trouble and the result is I rarely got full marks. But after all, I can still keep my madness and imagination alive (^,^) ha ha ha.

    Sorry for this crazy post.


  40. Drew says:

    As to the overlying question: What is the role of a teacher? To me, a good teacher does not simply dish out information, but instead makes the student want to learn and provides them with the tools to teach themselves. A teacher should be able to explain a concept and be willing to do so, but I do not feel that they must stand in front of the class and describe it for days on end. They should encourage discussion and be truthful to their students, and they can present their personal views, as long as they don’t test on them or punish those that disagree

  41. Mich Mom says:

    I agree with Mike’s Mom. Hitler is a hot button figure that evokes emotional responses. There are other hot button words in our American Culture that evoke strong responses. I suspect that any academic use of the “N” word by a white male teacher, if it was taped and played on the radio would not only lead to his firing, but he would get very little community support, unlike our Colorado teacher. Let’s face it, there are some topics, some views that we as a Nation are unwilling to discuss or certainly have our children listen to. We are all still way too impressionable.

  42. Christina says:

    Here’s the link for anyone who wants to listen to the lecture; I just found it.

    Scroll to the bottom and listen.

  43. Mushal says:

    I personally don

  44. Ben,

    Debates are very common to classroom and are the living proves that all people think in different ways and disagree with each other on a particular subject. The geography teacher has the right to express his personal opinion about any political issue. America is a country based on tolerance and freedom. The fact that he was presenting a controversial topic for debate in class and taking a radical position should not be a reason for suspension. However, the way he did it was not the appropriate for a debate. First of all, he should have presented both side of the argument even though he is left-leaning. He should have also been tolerant with the right-leaning students at his class and aware that he might have been insulting their beliefs with these provocative statements. He did not pretend all students to share his position but his mistake was to omit the other perspective of the area under discussion with the same passion.

    I do think that 16-year-old students should not be shield from topics like this. Teenage is time to explore and analyze. We have to know all viewpoints in order to get to the truth. The student who recorded that tape was not tolerant either. He should have analyzed his teacher comments not send them to a local radio and if he did not agree with that comments then he should just have raised his hand and started debating. What was he pretending by making public? Is he not tolerant enough to accept that his geography teacher has a left-leaning position?

  45. I have just read the complete transcript and I cannot believe it. My viewpoint have completely changed! I understand now why this student taped all these. They were talking about this during 4 weeks and actually he was the only one who answer or denied his teacher statements which did have a very radical view.

  46. A Student says:

    Frankly, given the competitiveness of college admissions, I beleive that a lot of students are intimidated into believing that they can not speak with free will in a high school class. A lot of students are consumed with trying to make the best possible grade for the class to boost their grades. In a perfect world, there would be no grade point averages, no SAT scores, etc. Teaching would be exactly what it is supposed to be-helping students learn to be critical thinkers!

  47. zoogies says:

    I live in Massachusetts, and have had my fair share of teachers who injected bias into every class. I thought they were some of the coolest teachers I had, even though I don’t agree with their biases, and looking back, I think some of the impressions they left were really horrible. I really admire the teachers who go to all lengths to leave their personal opinions of politics out of the classroom – you have to allow room for the opposite viewpoint to thrive, and when you present information in a fashion that suggests that the opposite viewpoint is wrong, it’s hard.

    It’s also hard to find a sensible position when everyone in your class blindly hates the president, save for a select few, who blindly love him.

    But you learn to live with it. The teachers who have been blatantly biased…I can’t imagine them being fired for it, and would oppose any movement to do so. In fact, it’s part inspiration to read up on more literature when I find something said in the classroom that I disagree with, to either solidify or overturn my stance.

    What Mr. Bennish said – “Who is probably the single most violent nation on planet Earth? The US of A” … doesn’t strike me as particularly controversial. I would argue it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if one of my own history teachers said that, and wouldn’t go record it and send it to a radio station.

    The Hitler comments are a little more inappropriate, although this is ameliorated somewhat by his telling the class “I’m not in any way implying that you should agree with me.” I would, again, contest this point greatly, and I think it’s rather low of a teacher to say – but it does not merit firing.

    I am not convinced that Mr. Bennish has a diabolical, brainwashing agenda behind him. I really don’t think that’s the case at all. And I doubt he’ll make such comments again. Now, this self-righteous sophomore with the recording – HE seems to be much more dubiously motivated than the teacher.

    It’s important, as a teacher, to remain unbiased, but when he acknowledged the fact that not everyone would or should agree with his opinions…I don’t see why we’re all getting worked up.

    I would however disagree with you, Ben, on your comments of 16-year-olds being impressionable. I’m not quite 16 yet, but I don’t feel this indignant need to defend the individual maturity of kids my age. The spectrum of 16-year-olds is enormous, and you can’t blanketly apply “impressionable” and “non-impressionable” to us so much as you can blanketly apply “inappropriate” to biased comments from teachers. And further, when you aren’t well-informed about a subject – and most of us aren’t, at 16, though we may often think we are – well, what the teacher has to say can affect your opinion considerably. I know I’m constantly reshaping my views on things based on what I learn, read, and hear.

  48. I do not know if it is appropriate to discuss it here but I want to quote one of his comments:

    “Why are we fumigating coca crops in Bolivia and Peru if we’re not trying to control other parts of the world. Who buys cocaine? Not Bolivians. Not Peruvians. Americans! Ok. Why are we destroying the farmers’ lives when we’re the ones that consume that good”

    I am Peruvian and here people are very grateful about American help in this issue. According to national statistics about 90% of the national coca crops are used to process cocaine. Only 10% is used for medical purposes. This 10% is registered by the government and is considered legal. The other 90% of the crops are inside the Amazon jungle which makes it very difficult to find and control. The teacher is totally wrong when he stated that Peruvian and Bolivian cocaine is only used by American people. Here in Peru there are many problems with cocaine production and consumption especially in low social status groups. Cocaine is the major factor for violence (assaults, murders) in my country. By eradicating these crops, the government is trying to eradicate also the many consequences of cocaine, and this affects to all countries where cocaine is illegally send, one of these countries is US.

    In his comment quoted, he implies that all American people consume cocaine, which is not true. He talked about destroying farmers but there are no farmers. These coca crops owners are real slave holders. They kidnap people and force them to farm their crops. The real farmers are these 10% registered as legal coca farmers and fumigations never affect them.

  49. IMO, the teacher did nothing wrong.

    The points which he spoke on _are_ thought-provoking. I do not think that 16 year old guys should be protected from such viewpoints. I think that such incidents encourage students to think and in fact, help them formulate their own informed opinions, rather than bias their minds.

  50. zoogies says:

    After reading the transcripts again, I have to say he was pretty domineering in his responses, and that allegations of not giving the opposing viewpoint opportunity to thrive are pretty much spot on. Again, I wouldn’t fire a guy like that for it, but it’s not exactly teaching I would condone…their call, I would hope that however this goes, it won’t set a precedent, though thanks to the national media attention, it probably will.

  51. Ok. He did nothing wrong by speaking. I think he shouldn’t have been suspended for talking this controversial issue but he was really giving some wrong ideas to students. I can keep quoting many unclear facts in his comments.

  52. Anonymous says:

    I should keep up with the news. Or should I?

  53. “After reading the transcripts again, I have to say he was pretty domineering in his responses, and that allegations of not giving the opposing viewpoint opportunity to thrive are pretty much spot on”

    I was very surprised too. First I only read the article but after reading the transcript and listening to the tape some of my ideas changed.

  54. Nabeel says:

    I personally think that it was part of the education process. the debate actually teaches the students that they are old enough to have their own views and opinions and should be able to justify them. and more importantly they should not always expect to come across like-minded people in life. this was one such example in which the teacher presented his controversial views, but then again life is full of similar stuff. i think he was doing the right thing to teach his class how to handle such situations and make sure that their voice is heard.

    sadly the reaction to this was not the best; rather it resulted in one of the worst possible situations. and this shows that the students were mentally immature and clearly needed to be educated in this regard, as it is obvious that had a similar situation arised in their practical life, the result would have been a total disaster!

  55. Hi Ben,

    This is my 1st post to you. The thing is, teachers should show the way to apply logic & help students come to their own conclusion. Personally I do support Mr. Bush for what he is doing (It’s because you have to think about own safety before thinking of others & of course Mr. Bush has got a point to embrace economical supremacy of the United States)… that’s my own view.

    In democracy, one can express him & can try to reasonably manipulate others to follow what he is following. But as a teacher, one should not express his results of thoughts or life or whatsoever to his students. He should only try to demonstrate the path to help marking out own results. I think the MIT motto shows the same thing, Mind & Hand…

    Mind, the place of debate & Hand, the tool to mark out results & apply them.

    I think a teacher must only show the way, present the facts & data, but should not illustrate his own view to dominate over the students’ mind. But in this very situation, the teacher had to come up with his view, so I think the accusation is rather improper.

    ….. & did I mention this, Thanks for the question.

  56. Anonymous says:

    whatever happened to freedom of speech- so much for a democracy!

  57. Sarah says:

    Wow, I just listened to the whole tape. That was not a discussion to incite debate, that was an obviously leftists teachers twenty minute rant on how America was bad. To start with, that had nothing to do with geography aside from mentioning the names of other countries. The only teaching he did was have the kids copy down some definition he had copied out of the dictionary. As to the question of whether or not he influenced the other kids just listen to the tape. During the part where he’s asking the taper how he knows something (or something along those lines) you can hear other kids echo the teacher in the background. I totally change my mind that the taper was trying to get attention. Every response he had for the teacher was countered with a question that had little to do with the question. I’m not saying that the teacher is wrong because he was saying liberal things. I’m saying that he was wrong because he was saying one-sided extreme things. On a lighter note, I think it’s funny that people once thought a high school teacher sucking a condom through his nose was bad. My AP comp and lit teacher was friends with him in college and said he could snort a whole burrito (cut up of course). He almost got a job at my school, but is now making skis somewhere in Europe instead.

  58. Link0612 says:

    I understand that the teacher wanted to get the students thinking, but he could have been much more professional about the topic. Teachers should act more as objective moderators in discussion, in my opinion. It’s not an instructor’s role to take a side on a political issue; it’s the instructor’s role to teach the facts and let the students decide for themselves. When a teacher gives opinions just as easily as facts, students, especially uninformed students, can get confused.

    Also, students may feel awkward in a classroom being taught by someone with opposing political beliefs who shares his or her ideologies so freely.

  59. Stacey says:

    I agree with Sarah… After you read the news articles, it seems like the teacher talked for a few minutes about the US’s policies and such.

    However, after listening to the entire tape through, this was _not_ intended to spark debate. Not once did the teacher pause to ask what the students thought. His tone of voice stayed defensive and even angry throughout the entire lecture, not conducive to discussion. Sure, he said it was all just his opinion, at the very end, but there were clearly no opportunies for rebuttal. As a teacher, his lectures should pertain to the subject material and be conducive to dissention. This was neither.

  60. Arka says:

    First of all to some extend I agree with others that the teacher should be praised to show up the guts to communicate with the students as what she thought to be right. As from the article in the ABC news it

  61. SpeckJr says:

    Ben: First off, I want to thank you for giving all of us this opportunity. Even in an AP class tomorrow, I’d never get the chance to debate the ethics of a real-world issue with dozens of the brightest minds around. I would never see more than two or three people who even care enough to speak up. So, thank you.

    Furthermore, you made it very clear that this was not an MIT admissions-related blog and not a leftist versus rightist FFA. Among the MIT applicants, I don’t really think you have to worry about blind-sided name-calling. You definitely have my support to put in any more of these little bubbles of contemplation.

    So, here are my sayings on the subject. I don’t think the real question is about the proper teaching technique, but rather about the morality of the incident that happened in CO. I’ve read all the comments, listened to the tape, and formed many of my own opinions on the subject of P.Bush. Yet, I largely support neither the teacher, nor the student in this case. I’ll try to break up the different arguments by subject.

    On the suspension or firing of the teacher:

    Absolutely not. The school and/or school board has no legal right to take the actions they did. That teacher has a legal contract with the school and the school board as an employee of a division of the local government. Given that contract, the school/board can not suspend/fire a teacher on the whim based upon opinions. There are only a few areas in which a teacher can be fired: commission of a felony according to the local, state or national laws and regulations; violation of the school’s code of teacher conduct (which typically includes a statement about conduct unbecoming a teacher); or a direct failure to preform the duties to which they have been assigned.

    The first is obvious. The second (in regards to “teacher conduct”) is applicable only insofar as the actions of said teacher have physically or mentally harmed a student or prevented a student from being able to learn the material.(nothing stopped the student from ignoring an obnoxious teacher, as many do, and reading the material at home) The last point refers to the material which every teacher is required to cover. There is no way in which one day’s lecture, or even one week’s lecture, could possibly throw out the whole semester. What the school board did was clearly a violation of the teacher’s human rights. And lemme tell ya..I would fight for human rights all the way. This is a man’s job…his love and his life…its what buys him food every night. You cant steal that because you dont like his views.

    The teacher: inciting debate vs. pushing an agenda

    EVERY HUMAN BEING IS BIASED. Scientific fact. Cannot be denied. That being said, I know for a fact that the teacher was in fact, to some degree, pushing his own agenda. But the same is true of all teachers..all people. I’ve read several different views on how to teach, and it seems like the general idea is that a teacher should be able to incite a thoughtful, provocative discussion within a group of students, in which each student is interested and driven intrinsically to back up his or her own view, while being as neutral as possible to prevent giving either side unjustified weight. The whole point of a debate is for each person to be able to rationally prove to themselves that their position is correct or incorrect. Despite any bias a teacher may provide, relying on “well, he agrees and he’s a teacher” simply isn’t rational. There are too many variables to be able to draw anything more than a correlation. What’s to say that your AP [high school] teacher knows jack about international diplomacy in third world countries. Even moreso, what’s to say that his or her age-old beliefs aren’t being intrinsically bias and clouding up what that teacher logically knows is right. In this light, it is in the best interest of all, and the teacher’s responsibility, to avoid as much bias as possible.

    After listening to the tape, that concept was clearly not on this teacher’s mind. He did not give respect to other student’s comments that way that he should have. On the other hand, we cannot assume that he took as much time to think about his discussion as we are now. The “shockingly extreme” technique, while good at inciting response, is unimaginably biased; yet it is the way in which many of our teachers, in fact many of us, have been taught to get ourselves or others thinking. I assert that he had the good intention of starting a debate. He meant to show students what he thought was a clearer way of looking at modern politics. He probably assumed that the students would be better off if they could come to understand where these extreme views were coming from, which caused him to limit the way in which he would allow his views to be questioned. He overstepped what most would call the boundaries, but he is not required to give a perfectly equal debate forum. The law does not require that he provide an unbiased look at both sides, because doing so would be physically impossible. He is only human.

    On the impressionability of 16-yr-olds:

    This subject is primarily a psychological one. I have had the opportunity to take a psychology course from a life-long psychology professor who happens to be the smartest woman I’ve ever met. Human beings are vastly impressionable at any age. What is the role of a teacher anyway?..Ben, what is the goal of an MIT professor? To change the way in which a student looks at the world? To change his or her views, or to instill them more fervently. The sole goal of a teacher is to leave an impression. I think that most of you are confusing a conscious ability to reason with an ability to not be swayed by our environment. Humans, from birth until death, with always seek and reflect role models. You all must understand that being placed in that environment is clearly going to have a profound impact on any student, any listener, anyone.

    The real problem is not that 16-year olds are so much more impressionable that 22 year olds hoping to get their bachelor’s from MIT, but that a high school teaching environment is a direct projection of the state. Any learning that goes on in K-12, as mandated by the government, represents that government. At that level, a student subconsciously feels that the material in class is coming from the state. We’ve all felt it. “Why do I have to be here?!” We feel like sometimes the state is just feeding us words from books. When a representative of that state feeds us something that the state does not endorse, without that clear distinction, we get confused. The idea should be that, since 16 year olds are capable of logical reasoning, a teacher should be able to subvert themselves to the level of a student and argue his or her views amongst the class. In the impressionistic manner of this case, the way in which the teacher presented the material was clearly out of line for the state. He should be corrected, not destroyed.

    My rant may seem harsh. I recently saw one of my teacher’s career’s destroyed for unjust overreactions…he killed himself. I’m a humanist and I believe in doing everything we can to correct people’s faults, not simply throwing them away. I was going to make a comment about how much I hate Bush, but it seems pointless now. I really hope that the world can come to grow and get over these stupid little things..worry about what really matters..people and the world we live in.

  62. SpeckJr says:

    btw..Ben, I apologize….I sincerely hope that your eyes dont give out trying to get through that 1,325 word

    1,311 minutes until decisions!

  63. SpeckJr says:

    heh.. i mean 13,551

  64. jcombs says:

    I attend a school whose entire history department in grades 7 through 12 is of the “completely right” orientation. While this is to be expected at a Catholic school, I find it disturbing that students will be fed a steady diet of the same viewpoint (not an issue of right or left here) for 6 years of school.

    I’m not so concerned about bias affecting the kids who stay up on current events and form opinions for themselves, rather, I am concerned that the bias will affect the lazy and slothful, who obligingly accept whatever the teacher says about politics. These are generally the same students who go on to not vote, but surely some of them will vote, and vote on the basis of the opinions of these teachers.

    This year the problem has been particularily acute for me in my AP Euro class, where the teacher is about as far to the right as Klemens von Metternich. She shoots down opposing views, thereby cutting off dissenting opinion, as us fickle teens are more concerned with our grades than with our beliefs.

    In order for a teacher to safely introduce political opinion into the classroom, he must specify what is being said as opinion and what is being said as fact. If a teacher wants to raise an opinion in class, I have no problem with that, rather, when the opinion is cleverly disguised as fact the teacher is stepping outside the boundaries of his influence.

    This was long smile

    -Joe Combs

  65. I have one thing to point out – intent is different from action. When one communicates, he can intend to do something, but his actions conveys a totally different message. The teacher’s intent was good, but his actions did not serve the purpose with his audience. That is why his attempts at ingniting a debate failed, because even though he wanted to spark a fruitful discussion in class, his repeated ‘censuring’ of one student with opposing views gradually numbed the others into thinking that debating *against* the teacher would go nowhere. The only alternative is to agree, which then eliminates debate from the entire classroom.

    This is where I admire those teachers, like my General Paper teacher, who can spark off discussions in class without herself imposing her own views. These are the teachers that can seriously consider another person’s viewpoint and find logic in it too, rather than quickly dismissing it as faulty because it opposes her own view. These teachers are the examples that we need in classrooms which handle debatable topics (such as English/History/Government/Literature, and of course some Science topics too!).

    That said, I’ve seen really great posts here! Loved reading them!

  66. I talk to the teachers at my school everyday about how the education system is failing. Students sleeping in class, worrying more about a grade than a lesson, sports being the center of high school rather than academics.

    Something is really wrong with the way education goes in this country. Obviously, I am only speaking from my experience – but look around at what teens everywhere are getting into… it becomes apparent THINKING is a last priority.

    Point – a teacher trying something new is great. Making students riled wakes them up. Making them feel a little uncomfortable is ok – that’s life. A student that doesn’t know the facts can’t argue; he or she has to look them up. They have to think. They have t debate. They draw conclusions.

    Keep students in a bubble memorizing processes and you get adult workers. Push them, pull them, make them think – and you’re left with adults that are thinkers and shakers.

    A teacher has one job – it’s not to teach facts (a book can do that), it’s not to teach manners or appropriate behavior (parents should do that), and it’s not to tech conformity (society does an ample job of that) – a teacher’s job is to make people use their brains. He did it. More than many teachers are doing. Well done, in my opinion.

    -Andrew D. Anderson

  67. The general concensus appears to be that sixteen year olds are not as impressionable as the media portrays them. I neither agree nor disagree, as it’s really a matter of spectrums and social psychology.

    The teenage years are generally a time of exploration, in many ways. One of these areas of exploration is politics. There are some who blindly accept their parents’ views, others who examine all sides and think through everything through before making any commitment, and still others who sponge up what their teachers say because teachers are there to teach, and not just their subject. Certainly there are other groups of teens who ignore politics or cleave to some other group, but the subject at hand is impressionability in terms of instructors.

    I am sure that this teacher’s intent, whether or not he actually agreed with what he was spouting nonwithstanding, was to encourage his students to think. Nevertheless, there will inevitably be someone in his classroom that will take everything literally. The students who recorded his remarks are probably either that or the sort who like to terrorize authority figures.

    Now, while I encourage thought in any form, I feel extremism is unneccessary in most situations. As I am not familiar with the classroom setting at that particular Colorado school, I do not feel comfortable judging the appropriateness of the teacher’s claims. Certainly a comparison between Bush and Hitler is fraught with controversy, but the impression I was under is that he encouraged his students to make equally extreme rebuttles. It seems to me, though, that it would have been especially apt if this particular commentary had been saved to be used in conjunction with a lesson on buzz words and loaded language.

  68. Catherine says:

    You know, we’re really not as stupid as to take everything our teachers say at face value and for granted. I know of teachers in my school who routinely pit the left against the right in their classes because it makes for “good” class discussion. While I personally don’t think that that’s the best way to approach it, I do think that debate and getting kids to actually think is valuable. Furthermore, as America is a country of free speech, I fail to see how comparing Bush to Hitler is so incredibly controversial. Political cartoons and pundits have made worse comparisons on both sides. I’m fairly certain that most people have, by now, seen the political cartoon of Muhammed with a bomb as a turban that sparked riots all over the other side of the world. I don’t think it’s possible to “shield” people from different opinions and I don’t think it’s healthy either.

  69. Christina says:

    Almost every teacher at my high school despises the president. I know this because they tell us so.

    Now, you see, there was a point in time where I felt teachers lambasted Bush for the sake of playing devil’s advocate. Unfortunately, I have found this not to be true in most cases.

    Maybe it is at other schools and with other teachers; I have no idea the general dynamics of this particular class or teacher. HOWEVER, in my classes, teachers go on and on expressing their democratic viewpoints in a manner that berates Bush and then follow up by either making fun of or brushing off any response a lone student gives.

    I say a “lone student” because I am almost always the only student that can’t stand when an authority figure (in this case, a teacher) gets in front of the class and barks about a controversial issue…and thus I am the only student that responds controversially.

    Most students (myself included, a decent number of times) do not feel up to arguing with a teacher and so while the teacher continues ranting on about the president and his decisions, the students nod their heads in agreement and that is the end of that.

    The fact is, while 16 year olds may not be incredibly impressionable, most are not as politically or linguistically sophisticated as their teacher is and thus shy away from getting into heated arguments in fear of sounding like an idiot.

    Because I am far from fully understanding politics and from fulling developing my political views, I have been shot down many times by teachers who simply knew more than I about a subject. I have felt like a fool for not knowing all the facts to the point where I’ve been downright sick of raising my hand to retort to avoid being shut down…once again. The point there, I believe, is NOT that I “lost” the debate because I was “wrong” but simply that I was not knowledgable enough to effectively argue the topic in my favor. Perhaps this is because all of the facts I was exposed to in class were one-sided.

    Situations also occur where students WANT to respond in certain ways to teachers but are afraid of being too “mean” or merely afraid of disagreeing with a teacher because that teacher is A TEACHER, AN ELDER, and IN CHARGE OF THE STUDENT’S GRADES. Period.

    How can this be solved?

    I had a government teacher this year who, while he was a huge liberal, did make it a point to try his best to represent the other side. When he encouraged debates with us, he concentrated on having THE STUDENTS debate and he always made an effort to argue both sides with us.

    He was not a fan of Bush and we all knew this. But did he stand in front of the class and compare our president fo Hitler? F*** no.

    Again, I don’t know the dynamics of the class, but from my point of view, unless Mr. Bennish brought in Ann Coulter to speak the other side on a weekly basis (and hey! to fire up the kids, right!?) this is absolute bullshit.

    Disclaimer: I haven’t read the other comments and I’ve been up since 5am, so please excuse the possible suckiness of the comment I am about to post that I don’t have the energy to proofread. grin

  70. Kevin says:

    I think the teacher was out of line. I come at this from a legal angle, having studied law a bit in law school 15 years ago; and as a parent of a high school student. High school teachers are not the same as college professors from a legal perspective. The main reason being, high school students are in the class room as a matter of compulsion; they are not volunteers.

    That is why college professors are given so much more “academic freedom.” No one tells you which college you must attend, nor are you compelled to attend college. However, the opposite is generally true for high school students.

    Therefore, there are more limits placed on a teacher’s speech in a compulsory education environment. Contrast that with the college setting. Because a college student is there voluntarily, they waive objections to the speech by their mere fact of choosing to attend the college.

    High school students are not given that freedom, and there are many constitutional limits that come into play, such as the high school students right of association, the high school students religious and free speech rights, as well as the minor student’s parent’s rights.

    The public schools and compulsory education should not be used as a coercive propaganda apparatus for one party’s (or teacher’s) political views, nor should it be used as a forum for promotion of a particular teacher’s religious views.

    The government has a “compelling interest” in educating our children, otherwise compulsory education would violate the 13th Amendment’s prohibition against “involuntary servitudes.”

    The Supreme Court has made an exception to the 13th Amendment in regard to compulsory education, as well as an exception to the 1st Amendment rights of students AND teachers in the high school, compulsory education setting because the very survival of our country depends upon its citizens learning certain basic skills.

    However, I do not think the government has a “compelling interest” in propagating extreme thought, even if for the alleged purpose of “teaching student’s to think.” Nor do I think the government has a “compelling interet” in provoking children to question their parents political or religious views. These students are not there volunterily, and the government is limited in what they can force students to do.

    I think there are plenty of other ways to “provoke thought” without resorting to extreme political speech. was was the case with the Colorado high school teacher.

    If we are going to force kids to attend school by force of law, (college is different) than a teacher must not be so extreme as to trample of the religious or political rights of its students and their parents.

    Save all that for collge =)

  71. Blog Lurker says:

    There are many great posts here. I would like to address one thing to those who have cited freedom of speech in defense of this teacher. While I am not talking specifically about this case, freedom of speech in a high school classroom setting is not absolute. Although I am not a lawyer and cannot cite specific case law, I do know that the courts have upheld the right of local school boards to regulate curriculums and what is taught in their schools. Many states have mandated courses(i.e. NY State Regents) that define a set curriculum for a given course and structure tests on that material at the end of the term. Teachers are not allowed to substantailly deviate from that curriculum. If they do so, it is at their own peril. Obviously a teacher discussing personal politcs in a PoliSci course would probably get more in the way of dispensation than say, a math teacher. However no teacher, in any high school setting has carte blanche to say and/or teach whatever he/she desires.

  72. l0ngL says:

    My government teacher brought this issue up a few days ago when he talked about the antiwar March Protest in San Francisco. He urged people to go if they disagree with the war. He joked and asked if anyone was recording him. This is not the only time he does things like that.

    My teacher explicitly claims himself to be a leftist. He also claims that everyone is welcome to challenge his point of view. THIS part makes me feel comfortable being in his classroom, even though I agree with most of his views. However, not a lot of people disagree and stand up and talk back, because – well – i do live in the left-leaning bay area.

    And my teacher is always cool if someone disagrees. He doesn’t act self-righteous or anything. He listens. Listening and open-mindedness are keys when it comes to topics like this.

  73. Mushal says:

    Thanks Kevin, I was hoping someone would come up with a bit about the legal side of the issue. Interesting…unfortunately I don’t know much about all the different Amendments because it isnt my country’s law:)

  74. Sarah says:

    See, my government teacher is the total opposite. He won’t tell us what political affiliation he is. He’s also very good at hiding it. I’m keeping a tally tho, and I think that he is republican, but democrat is gaining ground. He is a very good teacher and doesn’t need to bring his own opinions into the classroom. He does make fun of Bush and Quick-draw Cheney, but he says that’s just because he’s the president and he made fun of Clinton when he was president. He also makes sure that we hear both the conservative and liberal sides. Of course longL, I am sure that your teacher is very good, he doesn’t sound like he pushes his views on the student. So I guess a teacher can show some opinion, but when all he shows is his opinion, he needs to rethink his teaching methods.

  75. I admit, reading the transcript changed my view. Clearly, this teacher was on a rant, and clearly, he was not actively encouraging discussion.

    However, as an employee of an educational institution, inevitably his salary is comprised in full or in significant part of government funding. Speech, especially political speech, should be protected whether it’s from an adult to teens or vice-versa. For example, if this teacher had actively silenced debate, there would be no question that a suspension would be justified (as a punishment; full-blown *firing* would be going way too far).

    He *was* preaching. The “teach don’t preach” protesters were completely justified — in asking him to stop preaching.

    As Americans, we have the freedom of speech, and the right to equal opportunity. On the other hand, we do not have freedom from hurt feelings. Psychological damage, my butt. Taking action because someone’s ranting about politics is not psychological damage. Psychological damage is when you feel ugly because someone tells you so every day, or when someone maliciously embarrasses you in front of everyone, and you’re shunned as a result. Diatribes do not equate to verbal abuse.

    –My other $.02.

  76. Faith says:

    Perhaps this extreme is becoming trendy…my government teacher used the same tactic, comparing Bush to Hitler with the mention of repeating “the big lie.” Apparently, WMDs and Jewish control of the economy are in the same league of nonexistance. Interestingly enough, my classmates responded to the comment in many ways. One walked out, two laughed, some nodded off and others disagreed. The students who concurred with the gov teacher provided more examples to support their contention instead of rehashing what was previously said. My point? If people believe strongly in their opinions, they would (in some way, shape or form) exptress them. The 16 yr old kid stated his opinion by exposing his teacher to a public radio station, and unconciously (or conciously) fulfilled his teacher’s purpose of inciting a debate. Do I agree with either opinion/intent? No. But I do believe that both student and teacher were extreme in their actions and SHOULD NOT BE USED as a basis for implementing a newly regulated classroom policy. That would just limit creative teachers and send caution to the winds everytime a political incident occurs. These topics need to be discussed, despite the controversy surrounding them.

  77. Raza says:

    I’d like to draw your attention to a few things:

    The teacher involved says to his students that they’re not supposed to agree with him.

    He also praises the questions raised, and he even concedes that they are valid.

    The aim of the teacher is to stimulate his students to think on their own.

    I feel that the little bit of media coverage that has been given to this incident has essentially been flawed, because some of the comments of the teacher have been de-contextualized. He DOES compare the President to Hitler, but that’s not his main point in the lesson. I personally felt that had I been a student in his class, I would have easily seen the gist of the lecture to be that ‘there can always be different perspectives’ on one issue, NOT that one view is absolutely correct.

    It essentially comes down to the sort of a teacher you are. Some teachers might have tried to remain neutral and encourage the students to think. In this case, I think the teacher was trying to be deliberately provocative so that students like Allen would question him. The teacher would then try to show some flaws within the questions to allow the students to further think independently. In this, I feel he was successful and I personally would have enjoyed arguing with him, precisely because he was so provocative.

    If this comes down to whether 16 year olds can acknowledge a particular viewpoint that’s radical and quite opposed to their own, I am sure they can. There’s no reason to be offended by someone’s beliefs (esp if they say u dont have to agree with them) and if a student was actually finding the teacher’s comments quite offensive, he should have expressed him complaint to the teacher straight away. That would have made more sense. The student’s reaction, to me, seems slightly exaggerated.

    I feel that one essential quality that students need to have is the ability to question, and the quality that they can ‘dare to think’ outside conventional wisdom. In this case, if students can’t listen to an opinion and refute it if they are genuinely offended by it, then this aspect of the educational system is found wanting.

    If the teacher was being absurd, why not refute him logically? That shouldn’t be beyond 16 year olds…


  78. Update: teacher Jay Bennish has been reinstated and will return to the classroom on Monday.

  79. Ziyad says:

    Raza, I totally agree with you.

    You’re just the same old guy…same old guy.

    Anyways, back to the topic at hand. I believe that there is no harm in a teacher portraying Bush as similiar to Hitler.

    After all, we are all aware that the American school system demonises communists and other radical leftists. It is highly unfair that teachers be forced to be politically correct in the case of President Bush.

  80. Kevin says:

    Adolf Hitler: Killed six million Jews, his own fellow countryman, for the mere fact they were not Aryan. The German Jews who died in concentration camps were loyal German citizens who would have gladly fought a just war for their country. But because of Hitler’s deluded, Darwinistic views of racial superiority, he killed them and sought to rule the world, through unprovoked attacks on other countries.

    In Nazi Germany, they had the “SS” which would have never tolerated the seditious libel of the high school teacher out in Colorado. No doubt, he would have never been heard from again, if an Adolf Hitler type was the President of our country.

    Adolf Hitler was a ruthless dictator of the ilk of a Saddam Hussein who literally killed all dissent. President Bush, despite the flaws pointed out by his critics, bears no resemblance to Adolf Hitler.

    We have prisoners of war, enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay …these were people captured while engaged in combat against our troops. They are well fed …some say better fed than when they were not prisoners of war. If we released them, they would be back on the battlefield attacking our soldiers. Hitler on the other hand, brtually starved 6 million of his own countryman to death.

    Is this teacher suggesting these prisoners of war, these combatants are the equivalent of the Jews in concentration camps …German citizens, imprisoned by their own leader, because of their race and religious beliefs?

    Nazi Germany was not the victim of a 9/11 attack. The French and Great Britain had not attacked him. Saddam Hussein had not tried to assassinate Hitler

  81. Kevin says:

    I think my point is about whether the teachers claim that he was “just trying to get the students to think” (or words to that effect) is a credible claim, or if he was just saying that in an attempt to get out of trouble once he was caught. As has been said above:

    “It’s a discussion about teaching and what’s appropriate in the classroom.”

    I was merely citing historical evidence to demonstrate that the analogy or comparison of President Bush to Hitler was not appropriate because historically it is so illogical and unsupported by the facts that it could not be used as a valid learning tool …

    And therefore the teacher A) was of very low teaching ability …because he lacked the necessary logical capacity to recognize how illogical his analogy is, or B) the teachers claim that he was only trying to teach the students to think was a ruse, a smokescreen or a specious argument to conceal the fact that he was using his classroom, improperly to promote his extreme political beliefs …

    I think the teacher

  82. Mushal says:

    I wrote mine before i saw urs Ziyad and i guess it would pretty much reflect what I was thinking of at the time too…

  83. Ziyad says:

    Look, again u’re not remembering exactly what the teacher said…that some aspects of the rhethoric that both leaders use are similar…under no circumstances does the teacher say G.Bush = Hitler…

    Please don’t assume for a second that Guantanamo Bay is justified… UN reports, and various countries including Germany declare the prison to be a blatant manifestation of injustice and a contradiction of the UN human rights charter…according to the UN, the treatment of the prisoners accounts to torture in many cases…and u talk about ppl being well-fed? the rumors about desecration of religion are much more in number, i’d say…

    I’m digressing, but I guess to simply show that the teacher never used the arguments that are being attributed to him…

    Finally, it is in my opinion, absolutely not relevant that Saddam Hussein is like Hitler or not, because there is no trade off between the names involved…just because G. Bush is being compared, doesnt mean others cant be compared as well…

  84. Mushal says:

    I think it would be better to not comment on the political substance of the teacher’s comment, like Ben advised.

  85. Anonymous says:

    Good morning class. Here we are the morning

    after. We live in an unusual country I guess…Very.

    For me it was an evening where I began to realize that lies told often

    enough become facts, demagoguery … that demagoguery triumphs over

    rational discourse, religious passions over examination of objective


    But, there are some high points to this class. And I want you to think

    positively about all this. To the extent people like me worry–I don’t

    worry so much about my generation, much more about yours. And there

    are two positive points that many of you who are disappointed by the

    outcome or the probable outcome should take home with you. And the

    first is that this is a wonderful country, and anyone, anyone can

    become President of the United States. Look at your little finger, at

    the last joint of your little finger, now each one of you as an MIT

    undergraduate has more brains in the last joint of your little finger

    than the President of the United States has in his whole

    skull. Imagine that. So all of you that are native born (most of you

    are native born) all of you have a chance to become President.

    Your certainly as qualified, in fact your vastly more qualified–think

    of that. One other thing that is more comforting about all of this and

    that is the next president is gonna have to clean up the horrendous

    mess that he has made in the economy and across the world in the past

    four years. It won’t be somebody else who has to clean up the

    horrendous mess… he’ll have to do it himself. I hope that balances

    any disappointment that any of you felt with last night’s

    election. But, remember this, take it home with you, its almost as

    important as ahh, as ahh, the tobacco lecture, which is … anyone, if

    you have the right name, and some rich friends, and your tall enough, can

    become President of these United States.

    Today we’re talking about immunology.

    Prof. Weinberg MIT [11/03/2004]


    Compare and contrast.

  86. Zaira says:

    Honestly, I hate the rules that say that teachers can’t talk to students about controversial issues such as politics and religion. I grew up attending a Mexican school, and, although Mexican public education is impartial and totally separated from any religion, teachers, students, and administrators were free to share and discuss their opinions. There, I learned to understand and respect others’ beliefs, and I am sure that many of my classmates did too. I am also sure that none of us changed religion when one of my friends talked about his own, and many openly opposed our teacher’s political views.

    I could not believe it when my Biology teacher did not talk about Creationism as a possible theory to explain the origin of life. She was afraid that the school’s administration would fire her if a parent complained that she was “trying to confuse their child moral.” I’m not saying I agree with any of these theories, but, academically speaking, the Bible is as much a literary work as Darwin’s Origin of Species. We cannot expect to have tolerance in our society if we don’t have a healthy understanding of our neighbor’s opinions.

  87. Kevin says:

    I think the distinction between a college professor and a high school teacher, in terms of the student’s first amendment rights have been well spelled out above.

    In a nut shell, a high school student is a minor, not a legal adult. That is why they lack the legal “capacity” to do things such as vote, or execute an enforceable contract. (And if under the age of 16, drive a car.)

    Number two, a high school student is coerced by the government to attend school, whereas a college student is there voluntarily. If a college professor wants to misuse his or her class for the purposes of political propaganda, the student volunteers to listen to the unprofessional, personal remarks. The college student can’t be fined for truancy, as a high school student can be. If the college student doesn’t like the college professors remarks, the college student can drop the course, or if offensive enough, transfer schools, or drop out of college all together. The college student may even sue the college for breach of contract if the college professor doesn’t teach the content of the course contracted to be taught.

    However, and in contrast to the college student, a high school student, in general, has little or no recourse against a vigilante high school teacher who misuses his or her government power. high school education, by its nature, is coercive. As such, the first amendment is designed to prevent the government from coercively trampling on a citizen’s constitutional rights.

    The first words of the first amendment (of the Bill of Rights) says “Congress shall pass no law …” These words were later applied to State and local governments through what’s known as the 14th amendment “incorporation doctrine.”

    A high school teacher is a representative of the government. Students are forced by law to attend high school. The first amendment’s primary purpose is to prevent the government from “infringing” upon a citizen’s rights of free speech, free association and freedom of religion. The first amendment does not limit citizens. It limits government. The teacher is THE Government. Students are not “free” to express their rejection of a high school teacher’s ideas or propaganda, in the way that a college student is free to reject a college teachers point of view. A college student may leave, or quit. A high school student can be arrested or fined for not attending class.

    That is a HUGE difference …