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Teacher who compared Bush to Hitler wanted class to 'think'
Scripps Howard News Service


March 07, 2006

DENVER - Jay Bennish made it clear what he hoped to accomplish in the classroom when he applied for a job with Cherry Creek schools 5 1/2 years ago.

"My primary objectives as a teacher," he wrote on his job application, "are to encourage the students to think for themselves, to critically analyze the world in which they live in order to create a more democratic society."

Bennish, 28, now finds himself at the center of an ongoing philosophical storm, one that revolves around the question of whether he tried to get students to think for themselves or whether he tried to think for them.



On paid leave, he took his case Tuesday to the Today show in New York City, where he is scheduled to appear even as the school district continues its investigation into a recorded 21-minute, 40-second segment of his class last month in which he compared President Bush to Adolf Hitler, called the war in Iraq an illegal invasion and questioned U.S. foreign and drug policies.

He called the United States the most violent nation on Earth and asked students if they could see that capitalism was "at odds with humanity, at odds with caring and compassion ... at odds with human rights?"

That recording, made during a world geography class, sparked a furor on talk radio and led to the district's investigation.

Bennish is scheduled to meet with district administrators, presumably to learn whether he will be disciplined, at noon Wednesday, said his attorney, David Lane.

District policy requires teachers to present opposing views when tackling controversial subjects.

Lane has said that Bennish did that and contended that the recording of one section of one class does not fairly characterize his teaching.

Jeff Allen, the father of the sophomore who recorded Bennish's lecture, reiterated Monday that he does not want the teacher fired.

"I think they should put him back in class, make sure he is clear on the district policy on presenting both points and let him know what curriculum is acceptable and what is not. Period." he said.

Gov. Bill Owens was critical of Bennish Monday during an appearance on The Mike Rosen Show on KOA-AM (850).

"This is a high school," Owens said. "You assume that many of these students are fairly naive when it comes to public policy and they deserve to have both sides presented."

Bennish's job application, dated Aug. 24, 2000, was released Monday by the Cherry Creek School District in response to an open records request from the Rocky Mountain News.

According to the application, Bennish earned a bachelor's degree in history and social studies from Northern Arizona University in the summer of 2000. He majored in extended history with an emphasis in Latin America.

He did his student teaching at Flagstaff, Ariz., High School during the 1999-2000 school year.

The job application included a dozen questions that asked Bennish to describe his philosophies, his classroom rules, his thoughts on responding to complaints.

At one point, he wrote, "students are encouraged to speak their mind, and discussions, along with teacher and class evaluations, are administered several times a semester."

Asked to describe how he would decide what should be taught in class, Bennish wrote: "First, the required state and school curriculum must be met. Diversity of curriculum is vital, especially for a history class. Multicultural education is necessary, in a diverse and complex society. Students must be exposed to a holistic and objective view of history."

Asked how he would handle a situation where a parent complained about what he was teaching, he said he would seek the parent's input, apologize and "try to explain how I am not trying to make the students think a certain way, but rather providing as many perspectives to the students as possible."

Finally, he was asked what he would most want in life if there were no restrictions on him.

He said he would remain a teacher.

"I feel it is paramount to give back to our community, in an effort to better society, the world, and to make a more free and democratic environment," he said.


Contact Kevin Vaughan of the Rocky Mountain News
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Scripps Howard News Service,

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Ketchikan, Alaska