March 14, 2006

Jay Bennish, Post Script

Bennish returns to class.

Coverage of Jay Bennish's rant and subsequent publicity frenzy became not only a story of local significance, but one that spread across the country, as opposing sides took up their positions lamenting, criticizing, or praising either the teacher or the student, Sean Allen.

Some of the positive response at this blog included kudos for presenting the story as it unfolded in the media, with updates and links, rather than commentary and editorials. Some were critical, accusing this blog of hypocrisy, and others were curious about whether there was something other than proximity which made this story a priority for this blog. Here's the explanation. . .

As a teaching assistant earning a Master's degree in History from the University of Colorado at Boulder (home of the one and only, Ward Churchill), one of the duties assigned when assisting a professor with introductory classes, where students often number in the hundreds, is to conduct and lead a recitation, along with the professor's lectures. For a three hour class, that translates into a 50 minute session once a week, where students are quizzed, engage in discussion, and ask clarifying questions about the lectures or the assigned readings. The job of the TA is to answer questions, handle assignments, do some or all of the grading, and conduct the students in discussions over the material. As this class was U.S. History from 1865 to present it was certain that potential topics for discussion (race relations, immigration, economic systems, war, societal upheaval, etc.) could be prickly subjects for some of the students, but certainly important and in need of further exploration. Engaging the students, moderating their comments, and providing a structured context are the prime objectives. Needless to say, this is what Bennish should have been doing. . .

In my experience, the professor had come up with a rather unique (and in my opinion quite clever) way of getting the students to think about history by applying a method of breaking down a view of history into one of two categories: being a praiser, or a critic. To avoid the connection of this to a conservative/liberal breakdown, each student was asked to look at a particular historical event or topic and decide whether they would generally praise--approve of, agree, or generally withhold assignment of blame--or criticize (the opposite). One might use the example of the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II. Because examples like this do not generally lead to an ideological division, class discussion was kept within bounds. Over time though, the student was confronted with scenario asking whether or not they would be a praiser or critic of America's economic system. A praiser would appreciate capitalism's benefits while acknowledging its inability to be a panacea for the world's problems; a critic would view capitalism in much the same way as Mr. Bennish--out of touch and "at odds" with humanity.

Over the course of the semester I was repeatedly asked for my position. Instead, I offered to play devil's advocate if the majority of the class had taken only one of the two positions, or during review sessions for the exams, would ask all students regardless of their own position, how would they argue for the other viewpoint. Perhaps my own debate training had prepared and actually prompted such a method for presenting material. Though the parallel with a high school geography class is inexact, the methods implemented can surely cross over.

I did not avoid giving my opinion for the sake of appearing "neutral", "unbiased", or "objective". The entire class (some 400+ students) had a good laugh when the professor told them that the eight TA's were completely unbiased and would not tell them how to think or vote (it was the spring of 2004). At the end of the semester, I asked both of my classes, each with 35 students, if I was a praiser or critic, conservative or liberal. One third thought I was conservative, the other liberal, and the rest thought a bit of both. This story is anecdotal, and must be taken on faith, but I believe this is what motivated me to post so furiously on the subject. Bennish should not be condemned for his viewpoints, just his presentation of material. If he could give a balanced view, not of opposing rants but of substantive differences of opinion, then his student would be better served, as I hope my students were. At CU several professors of a decidedly liberal bent were also capable of presenting the opposing view, or constructively dealing with students who disagreed with them. Some, like Ward Churchill, were not.

Hopefully by bringing to light those like Bennish who would preach rather than teach, students, their families, and the public will become more aware of the travesty of denying education to the next generation by telling them what, not how, to think.

Expose the Left Malkin Discusses Bennish’s Reinstatement On The Factor (VIDEO)
Expose the Left Gabler Serves As Apologist for Bennish, Blames Student (VIDEO)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for that post. Like you, I felt very strongly about this case (I used to teach college-level classes, too - mostly engineering and physics).

What convinced me that Bennish was not teaching the kids to think critically was when he asked what is probably the most violent country in the world. When one student answered, "We are," Bennish' reply was, "Yes, the United States!" It was an affirmation to a canned reply.

If I were teaching that class, my reaction would have been, "Why do you think so?" That would have made the student think through his answer instead of just giving an answer he thought his teacher expected. That would also have given the other students a chance to rebut him. THEN there might have been a productive class discussion.

After listening to the entire rant, my conclusion was that he was just a very bad teacher. I'm not sure how I feel about the school board giving him a pass in this. I would probably have made the case that this guy is not teaching the kids what they need to know and should not be allowed to stay. On the other hand, firing him would probably have opened all sorts of problems for teachers around the country. So maybe it was the right decision after all.

Tue Mar 14, 09:33:00 AM  

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