Freedom of Speech Under Attack

When World Geography teacher Jay Bennish made comments in his class the day after President Bush delivered his State of the Union address, I am sure he didn’t imagine that he was being taped by a student. Of course, that’s perfectly fine. The student shouldn’t have taken the tape to a right wing radio host, but that’s OK too. It does smack a little of Big Brotherism (telling the thought police about the thinking teacher type of thing) but we will give a pass on that. Free speech is always good, and an important part of an educational debate.

And if you look at the transcripts, that is what was happening. A teacher was expressing his views to encourage thought and debate. He states, more than once, “I’m not implying in any way that you should agree with me” and “what I’m trying to do is to get you to think.” Well, the last thing the neo-con type wants our students to do is to think anything except their ideology. And what hypocrisy! This is the same group that wants so-called ‘Intelligent Design” taught to “give students an option to think about.” You don’t give other options to science, it is what it is. Political discourse, on the other hand, depends on varying views and approaches. So, freedom of speech is under attack. I applaud the students who walked out in support of Jay Bennish, they are standing up for what is right.

And now, I see freedom of speech is under attack in New Jersey too. In another class, this one Parsippany area 12th grade politics and government class, a mock trial of President Bush was planned to determine if he was guilty of war crimes. Let me say again, a politics and government class. Exactly the venue for this type of discussion. And again, structured to enable students to learn more, not to indoctrinate them. Again, the commentary on the right jumped on them. I saw coverage of story while flipping past Faux News, the so-called “Big Story.”

The host was talking to the teacher and two students, and was anything but “fair and balanced.” She was all over them, attacking their “anti-American rhetoric.” The school has backed off and will not have a trial with a verdict, just a discussion. So the President is possibly saved the disgrace of having a group of school students declare him a war criminal. At the cost of having their freedom of speech attacked. What do we want our students to do, just talk about how good our President is doing in the world? Praise God and salute the flag? Or think for themselves? What kind of democracy do we have, if dissent is so vilified?

It may seem to some as a small matter, just high school classes, after all. Indeed, it is very important that we stand for the right of teachers and students to explore alternative ideas in class. Not alternative science, mind you. There is a marked difference. We should never become a nation of people who spy on each other for thinking differently. And we should not become cowed by the neo-cons into turning that way.

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