This Friday is no exception.
In case you haven't heard, a teacher at Overland High School in Aurora, Colorado has been disciplined for allegedly comparing George W. Bush to Adolph Hitler in front of his students.
One of the students taped the remarks, and showed the tape to his dad. His dad didn't like what he saw and heard, and complained to the school principle. The teacher, Jay Bennish, has been put on leave while school district administrators determine whether he violated a policy requiring balanced viewpoints in the classroom.
Yesterday, roughly 150 students walked out of class to protest Bennish's suspension. One student held a sign that read "Honk if you like free speech."
This morning, Bennish filed a lawsuit against the Aurora school district.
The kid who made the tape and showed it to his dad is thinking of changing schools for fear of reprisals.
I've only seen snippets of the tape on television. Nothing the teacher said sounded all that offensive to me. But Bush and Hitler are two of my all time least favorite political leaders, so hearing someone compare them doesn’t ruffle my feathers.
The controversy began on February 1st, the day after Mister Bush's State of the Union address. That a high school teacher might lead a class discussion on a major speech given by the president of the United States the night before hardly seems surprising or inappropriate.
The closest I've come to finding a transcript of the classroom discussion is in a report from ABC News.
"Who is probably the single most violent nation on planet Earth?" Bennish asked his class. "The United States of America."
Yeah, that's an incendiary sounding statement to be making in a classroom, especially in a public school in a state that's about as blue as a strawberry. But is it a true statement?
America is, after all, the only nation in history that used a nuclear weapon on a civilian population, not once, but twice. Were those acts of violence necessary and justified? Having mulled that question over for decades, I come down on the side that says yes, they were, given the circumstances in which they were committed. But necessity and justification are separate issues from whether the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombings were two of the most violent acts of war ever conducted by a "civilized" nation.
So I'd say Bennish was stating an uncomfortable but accurate fact. We don't want teachers doing things like that?
As to the Bush-Hitler comparison:
"I'm not saying that Bush and Hitler are exactly the same, obviously they're not," Bennish said. "But there are some eerie similarities to the tones that they use."
Anybody who knows a fiddlers fundament about political tactics and rhetoric is acutely aware that Bush's and Hitler's tones are eerily similar, even though the two leaders are obviously not exactly the same.
So where's the problem?
Was Bennish somehow trying to brainwash his students, to sway them to his political point of view?
"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."
Trying to get his students to think about issues in depth. How dare a high school teacher have the unmitigated arrogance to attempt a thing like that!
The radical right would like to see the American education system limited to teaching of the "3 Rs," which would reduce all learning to rote memorization of spelling, archaic grammar rules, and arcane math equations.
I happen to agree that our public school systems are weak in teaching basic skills. I wish I had a penny for every time I've handed a dollar and a nickel to a convenience store clerk to pay for an 85-cent candy bar and heard "That's too much."
But even the simplest human mind is much more than a computer hard drive. Higher brain functions go far beyond the storage of facts and formulas. Memorizing multiplication tables won't teach anyone how to get along with family, friends, co-workers and customers, or how to discriminate between self-respect and bigotry, or how to tell when they're being brainwashed by people who want their votes.
Perception and Reality
We don't have a fraction of the context necessary to draw accurate judgments regarding the Overland High School controversy. For all we know, the dad of the kid who taped the classroom discussion could Adolph Coors class Colorado conservative Bush supporter who overacted to what he thinks he saw. Conversely, teacher Jay Bennish might be a card-carrying member of al Qaeda who's been covertly assigned to corrupt the minds of America's teenagers.
But I'm guessing the former is more likely than the latter.
And the fact that 150 high school students risked expulsion and other discipline by walking out of class to support their teacher might be a significant clue as to where the reality of the situation lies.
Earlier today, I caught a few seconds of a cable news shouting contest on the high school Hitler controversy. The guy on the right, purple faced and bellowing, labeled Jay Bennish with epithets like "pink-o communist."
Who does sound "eerily similar" to?
You knew that Prescott Bush, Dubya's grandfather, did business with the Nazis, right? While U.S. troops were fighting in Europe during World War II, some of Prescott's companies were seized under the Trading with the Enemy Act because they were fronts for German industrialist and Hitler financier Fritz Thyssen. A regular Milo Minderbender, old Prescott was.
How about them acorns?