(The link is gone, and I don't know where to find another. Sorry. Crooks and Liars doesn't even have it.)
Lauer: And Jay Bennish is here for his first interview. Mr. Bennish, good to see you, good morning.
Bennish: Good morning.
Lauer: You should say right off the bat, I know you think that this one particular excerpt of this lesson, this lecture, has been played over and over again, and perhaps it's been taken out of context, because this was a much longer discussion, a 50 minute class. But do you understand why there's an uproar over this?
Bennish: Sure, of course. I mean I think it's only natural, especially the way it's been presented, uh, that people are going to be upset. And this country is a lively democracy. And people are entitled to their various opinions.
Lauer: Is it being presented incorrectly?
Bennish: In my opinion, yes.
Lauer: Alright, give me your side, then, before I play the tape.
Bennish: Well, the first thing I'd like to do is just say thank you so much to all of the students, and my family and friends who've been so supportive to me over these past couple of weeks. It really means a lot to me to see the overwhelming students, the overwhelming number of students come out and, to my defense.
Lauer: And yet, you're sitting here as a guy who's on paid leave, so obviously the school board is investigating this closely. They wanna know if you violated school policy on presenting balanced viewpoints, and even intimidating students. Let me play the tape and then we can talk about it on the other side.
[Graphic and audio]: ... it is our duty as Americans to use the military to go out into the world and make the whole world like us. Sounds a lot like the things that Adolf Hitler use to say.We're the only ones who are right. Everyone else is backwards. And it's our job to conquer the world and make sure they live just like we want them to. Now, I'm not saying that Bush and Hitler are exactly the same. Obviously, they are not. Ok. But there are some eerie similarities to the tones that they use.
Lauer: Again, that's one portion of a much larger discussion, but you don't make statements like that without looking for a reaction. The reaction you got, is it what you expected?
Bennish: From the students, yes. From the national media and the attention from people all over the country, obviously not. You know, my job as a teacher is to challenge students to think critically about issues that are affecting our world and our society. And, you know, the process of cognitive dissonance is one way to activate their minds, and to get them to think about these various things.
Lauer: Is that role, to take on that role as a teacher, to get students to think, should teachers, in your opinion, be allowed to say anything? Pure freedom of speech?
Bennish: I certainly think there could be some constraints to what teachers would say, but everything that was discussed in the class fits within the curriculum of the class. My class syllabus clearly outlines all of the material that will be covered, this is signed by parents, this is registered with the school, it's been approved by the school...
Lauer: Had you gotten complaints from students, had parents called saying my student's not comfortable with some of the messages you're delivering in class?
Bennish: No, I have not, and, you know, like you said, and I would like to reiterate that this is twenty minutes...most people aren't listening to the entire tape ... And this is twenty minutes out of a 50 minute calss, and the rest of the class provides the balance.
Lauer: The family here, the student's family, didn't go to the school board with this tape.
Bennish: They never contacted me, and they have still never contacted me with any type of concerns.
Lauer: They basically shopped it around to conservative media outlets, and when they finally released it to one it created an uproar. And on the tape you can hear Sean Allen asking you questions that seem to be egging you on a little bit. Do you feel you were set up?
Bennish: Well, you know, the lecture initially was an introduction to world geography and we were covering very stereotypical terms, like mental mapping and cultural landscapes and I was receiving questions from Sean as well as from other students trying to get me to respond to the State of the Union Address that was the night before, and I explained to the students that, in the case of the State of the Union, this is applicable to a world geography class, because for many people around the world this speech might impact their lives moreso than the speeches that their own leaders give.
Lauer: And after the portion that we heard you did say something else, and, in fairness, I want to play that portion as well.
[graphic & audio] Bennish: I'm not in any way implying that you should agree with me. I don't even know if I'm necessarily taking a position. But what I'm trying to get you to do is to think about these issues more in depth, and not just take things from the surface. And I'm glad you asked all your questions because they're good, legitimate questions. And hopefully that allows other people to think about some of those things, too.
Lauer: So after comparing Bush and loosely to Hitler and questioning the legality of the war in Iraq, and stating the U.S. is one of the most violent nations on Earth, is that enough of a disclaimer, in your opinion?
Bennish: Well, like I said, this is a small section of one class. You know, my job as a social studies teacher is to argue alternative perspectives and viewpoints so that students are aware of those point of views. They do not necessarily reflect my own views, they are simply thrown out there to encourage critical thought so that students are aware that those views do exist in the world, and that they can then contemplate them and decide to make up their own mind. And I would like to reiterate also that all of my students are encouraged to take those types of things and go home, reflect on that, and look at other current events and eget extra credit regardless of what their viewpoints are.
Lauer: Let me just make a point that Sean Allen's family now says they didn't want to get you fired, they don't want you fired. Do you think you'll be reinstated, and would you welcome Sean Allen back into your class if you are?
Bennish: Of course I would. Like you heard me say on the tape, until this all happened, I really thought Sean was asking good questions and that allowed other students to hear that particular viewpoint, and it just adds to the whole dynamic of the critical thought that was taking place.
Lauer: Jay Bennish. Jay, good to have you here, thanks very much.
See also:Bennish TranscriptMore Bennish LinksBennish & School Administrators