The Patriotic Voice

pictures by Lana

Talk radio, earlier this month, locally and nationally, had been in an uproar for a couple weeks, because of one teacher and one student: Jay Bennish and Sean Allen, the emotions of which had run high to highest vitriol and to the lowest of the bigoted haters.The controversy spewed through over the air waves on whether the teacher had the right to “banshee” an overtly bias political opinion to the “young” impressionable minds (they are high school students). In other words, when Jay Bennish, the teacher, in a seemingly endless tirade, in his high school geography, although, there is a question whether or not, if it was an advanced placement, or a simple elective high school curriculum course, have the right to use free speech. At any rate, the young idealistic teacher skewered the United States foreign policy, past and present, and likened George W. Bush, with over used Adolph Hitler comparison. His tirade began, in which some say, due to the prompting of his student Sean Allen, while the class writing down definitions from the blackboard.

This all began, when the topic of the State of the Union address came up. In the middle of his “instruction” trying to “illustrate” the folly of the United States government foreign policy error, he became animated, or at least his voice on the MP3 recording did.

This is how it began; Sean Allen recorded his teacher, Mr. Bennish, as he taught the Advance Placement Geography course, for the purpose of “studying notes,” at least that is what Sean says, as his teacher began to foment; and, now his teacher’s MP3 recorded voice echoes in the ears of conservatives. Sean and his father brought this teacher’s escapade to financial guru, sometime columnist, and fill in for Rush Limbaugh—Walt Williams—eyebrows rose but hardly a voice murmured.

Apparently, as this story was being posted on Mr. Williams’ website, Sean and his father were also in discussion with Mike Rosen, a local talk show host here in Denver, columnist, and also a sometime fill in for Rush, and they brought their MP3 recording to him.

A furor erupted, as Rosen serendipitously played sound bites of the “liberal” teacher’s rants. The disdain from Mike—and the folly from the other conservative hosts emanated with venomous glee.

Some said, and I paraphrase,

• “This is why we need vouchers!”
• “This is what we mean about the educational system!”
• “Liberal teachers indoctrinating our kids!”
• “Subversives!”

And then the hate and intolerance really began, one Jon Caldara, another local talk show host in Denver, advocated for Jay Bennish’s termination, never the mind the procedures to oust this “hater of America”. But he alas, Jon Caldara, surrendered to the fact that, it would not happen because of the apparent “corruption” of the educational system. Condemning the minutia of the educational system, the administrators, from the principal on up, in sweeping shrill emotionalism of apocalyptical dimensions. “He should be fired!” Jon Caldara emoted because of Jay Bennish’s overt disdain for capitalism (which is not a crime by the way) and politics. Caldara continued “The fact that these kids,” meaning high school students “are captive,” to “this teachers’ vitriol is abominable!” No doubt, this is partially true, because of the requirement of law.

However, a child is only captive if the parents allow them to be. In this go-go fast-paced world, parents are far too busy playing the role of keeping up with the “Joneses” than paying attention to what is going on in their own child’s school, PTA, or school board or with their own child for that matter (see the Columbine example). It is far too easy to blame the fanatic, than face our own capitulation, tolerance, and acceptance of values, in which we find divergent views from our own.

So, when the “conservative” attack jocks underscore the “miserable state of education” it fulfilled our a need to prostrate not only our own guilt—but also “enable” the continuation of the source of the distress and demonization.

The immaturity and imbalance of Mr. Bennish reminded the extremists, the conservative radio jocks of the right; correction, the shrill voice of the right that, they feel there is an indifference to their own inequity and inadequacy, and they felt, or “perceive” a lack of control of their child’s own interests.

The problem with this perception, however, is that the first educator of the child is the parent. Oh yes, there are Jay Bennish type teachers in school system, but it is the parent who has twenty four hour access, if they wanted to “indoctrinate” their own children of the legacy they wish to forward (see Pastor Fred Phelps of Kansas). And, if the child is lucky they have the quality “ideal” parents of Rob and Laura Petrie (The Dick Van Dyke show), or Howard and Marion Cunningham (Happy Days), or even the parents from the Cosby Show. It is the parents, some would say, responsibility, duty to teach their child discernment, or at least guidance to good judgment (before stepping a foot in school) so that they can understand the difference between right and wrong, and understand to some degree between to opine—and fact.

Picture by Lana

Fact, Mr. Bennish failure was and is his inability to see beyond his own intolerance—and to present a non-bias perspective of political discourse of American politics, in that, as his duty as an instructor is not be moralist or advocacy for or against a particular forum. In the case of Sean Allen, failure to foresee the consequences of his own actions (as a teenager one would expect him to know a little about this). For instance, he was repored as saying, Sean that is, “He did not expect the reaction from the media attention that received.” Hmm? Okay. An interesting comment, in that, this is from a young adult who wants to be a stand-up comic. His failure to see the brush fire of the moment only emphasizes his “turning in” of an “American hater,” “a liberal,” a “left wing nut” would not only explode but also implode on to him as well. Moreover, it seems particularly naïve with the present day environment of the “war culture” that Sean, and at least his parents, must have surely thought such a reaction to occur.

During such times, any contrarian opinions are “nuked” and considered treasonous even the messenger is shot. Sean—was the messenger. He might have been held up as the “hero of the day,” (for the right—anyway) but the political opposition will and sees him as a Judas and need to dissemble his voice. This is also true of Mr. Bennish as well; forever the two are tied together.

And then, there are Sean Allen’s parents and their failure to follow the rules, which is also a damning factor: accusations of failing to follow the chain of command only sullies their son’s “apparent” hero of the culture war of the moment (at least for the right anyway). And, the presumption of the father that the political fray would not dare touch his son in vile threats and repudiations was naïve, at the least. Sean Allen seemed far better equipped to handle the recriminations than his own parents (a masterful spin doctor he was). Ultimately, Sean Allen’s parents’ failure was their inability to protect, to participate, and to anticipate as well as counsel their own message for their son. Yes, the mother is a democrat, “a liberal,” and tried to defend her son aptly, while the father is a conservative, a conservative republican, and a party that stands for the “truth” (humph).

One other point, by participate I mean that the parents of Sean Allen, their own son seemed to make better choices than themselves. When listening to the MP3 recording Sean challenged his teacher, and critically thought out his questions. He seemed, Sean, to understand, at the least, perceptively, that the differing perspectives are essential to discourse. The question is, however, how much of this was his doing or his parents guidance, their overwrought emotionalism of Jan Bennish (or his father’s actually) rants seem to refute their credibility, and how much of this desire by Sean is to seek out fame.

And then there is the hypersensitive right and left shrills, and what my musings are really about: the patriotic voice. Lost in translation, in all the screaming, accusations, and finger pointing is the fact: the voice of dissent is drowned, demonized, and demoralized. To disavow one’s “obligation” as Roy Rappaport, the anthropologist from the University of Michigan might have said, to go against the ritual of “acceptance and conformity” to the hegemonic society (the majority of masses) is a betrayal of patriotism, God, and country—not necessarily in that order. To subvert any ideal of the majority is considered treasonous—and in this country, un-American. What is fascinating, however, is the “cognitive dissonance” that is America.

A country, the United States, born of individuality, of revolution, of independence—and pursuit of happiness—liberty that is, and yet our desire to suffocate, obscure, delineate—and yes, to destroy a differing perspective that is a necessary to our “free spirit.” Essentially, one must obey the “current” version of the “truth”; after all, truth is subjective; truth is what is defined by the hegemony, and the ritual of the moment. If it is in a “state of war” certain rules and principals are inviolate—and never to be “breached” (Rappaport) by the individual. If they do, these voices of dissent, condemnation to them with all the dispersion of Hell, “For they must have succumbed to an agent of madness; they are imbalanced and insane.” Needless to say, the damning of this individual is counter to our revolutionary past.

In the past, to dissent was one’s duty and meant to bring argumentation and rationality to the majority; the minority was a tempering a hand. This also is what means to be an American, or so we were told as children. But the conditions of war change the voice of dissent; it condemns it; it is not allowed. The concern, now with this war, is that this is not a “traditional” war being executed. The ending is ineffable, and the days of battlefield follies and traditional nation-states are gone. The hubris of “manned” terror-nations now reigns; and, to have a possible incredulous voice of dissent is to mean cowardice in the face of national pride. In spite of this conservatism, even liberals seem to desire (and have been relegated) to the formation of “acceptance” and “conformity” in order not to appear un-American, unpatriotic, and unworthy of citizenship—so in the early days of 9/11 they capitulated.

Now, the far left and right play politics and certainly betray the people they represent. Their disingenuousness and selfishness of gamesmanship that play into to the smallness of fear. Nevertheless, despite all these vessels and roads of separation, there is still time to set the course of conservation and pragmatism. This nation needs to return course of civility, and in spite of itself, it needs to “break” the “obligation” of the war mentally paranoia. Certainly discern, argue, dissent, and have well thought out rationality, but to be lost in emotionalism—no. After all, it is just another day in paradise, and this country is the tocsin and the beacon of humanities hope….


3 Responses to “The Patriotic Voice”

  1. angel Says:

    The techer has a right to free speech but I think he shouldn’t do it in the classroom.

  2. Cat Says:

    I think there is a huge issue with our journalism practices and this example really heightens my opinions of it.

    Yes, we have free speech and should be able to say what we want — but there are also standards that teachers are to live up to, or should work to live up to. A teacher cannot say what religion they are in a class but they can spout off their political preferences? I think there’s a fine line here that was crossed and I always had teachers that would try their best to view both sides and have us do the same as students…not giving their own opinions unless asked.

    Now, this student might’ve done just that and ‘asked’ but it seems the teacher wasn’t happy with “this is what I think” and ending it there. Apparently he wanted to teach a complete class on it after being asked.

    I just feel there were lines crossed, on both sides, and that it’s been blown up via the media as usual.

  3. Jetting Through Life Says:

    I didn’t hear about this story in the news… Very interesting and I too, agree with Angel.


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