Saturday, March 04, 2006

Aurora, indeed!

Aurora is the name for the ancient Roman goddess of the dawn, identified by the Greeks with the goddess Eos. Aurora is also the name of a city in central Colorado, near Denver, where, yesterday, more than 100 high school students staged a walk- out to protest their school's decision to place a social studies teacher on leave while they investigate remarks he made, in class, about President Bush's State of the Union Address. The teacher, Jay Bennish, who has taught at Overland High School for five years, is alleged to have made remarks in which he compared Bush to Adolph Hitler.

Administrators at Overland are now looking into whether Bennish violated a school policy requiring 'balancing viewpoints in the classroom," as the Associated Press reports. How did school officials find out about this history teacher's commentary? Evidently, a sophomore in his class recorded a little under a half hour of the discussion, which took place in early February, then went home and played the tape for his father who reported the teacher to the principal.

What the Cherry Creek School District needs to investigate, in my opinion, is whether or not a student has the right to tape record their teacher's lectures, then turn around and present those tapes to school administrators, as well as the devastating effect this dangerous obstruction to freedom of expression can have on educators, as well as students, nationwide whether in high school, or university lectures.

What a chilling statement about our times when educators have to worry about being taped by students, and having disciplinary action taken against them when "controversial" statements are made. Controversy, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder, and if we allow this threat to classroom discourse to go unchallenged, future generations of teachers may find themselves in the same situation, ironically, for expressing the opposite point of view.

In a field which is already woefully underpopulated, underpaid, underappreciated, and underrespected, will we take away the one incentive to become an educator, the ability to inspire a level of discussion that may offend some, but stimulate others to think, and challenge authority, as well as the arbiters of the status quo.

As recent revelations about the reclassification of 50,000 documents by the National Archives, as well as all the current Freedom of Information lawsuits in progress, egregiously demonstrate, we've pretty much kissed off freedom of information, in this country, and must now ask whether we're also killing off freedom of thought. Are, at worst, hyperbolic, purple analogies between our sitting president and Il Fuhrer made by a history teacher, no less, to be subjected to that kind of scrutiny and censorship? Aren't our educational institutions supposed to be sanctuaries for ideas, as well as for the free expression of thought, or are they to be manacled by the growing trend of governmental intrusion, and terror-mania?

Kudos to more than 100 students for refusing to turn the lights out on education, and educators, in a small town named for the goddess of Dawn, Aurora, Colorado yesterday. We can only hope reason will not be held hostage, and that this precedent-setting case will result in legislation precluding students from taping in-class discussions, and using those recordings against educators again.