Tuesday, March 14, 2006


Republican Thought Police, On Patrol In Colorado

Johnson: Teachers who dare are taught a political lesson

March 11, 2006

The foolishness these past weeks over classroom comments by Overland High School geography teacher Jay Bennish was never about the children.

It was barely about indoctrination, or about presenting both sides of an issue.

No, folks, the Jay Bennish affair was all about politics. It was all about retribution for the young man's prompting his advanced-placement students to take a long and critical look at the actions of the Bush administration.

I fairly laughed at the way the apologists for the noncritically thinking Republicans nearly swallowed their neckties because Jay Bennish dared compare the president to Hitler.

It was all a setup - from the way sophomore Sean Allen recorded his teacher, to the way he and his dad forwarded it to a conservative columnist, and then to talk-radio host Mike Rosen. If they didn't like it, how about just expressing their outrage to Cherry Creek Schools administrators?

In 2006 America, if you're a teacher and you blast George W. Bush and his policies - and they have you on tape! - fully expect Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly and the governor of Colorado to come for your backside.

No matter that in that very same classroom on the same day you fully challenged your students to rebut your position, to prod them into thinking critically for themselves about what you have said, an exercise that clearly is not in vogue in America among adults these days.

No, criticize current administration policies and they're going to label you an American leftist, or pinko, or some kind of communist or revolutionary terrorist.

Here is how you know the supposed Jay Bennish outrage was nothing but partisan hand-wringing: In the Colorado state Senate on Thursday, a bill was introduced that would let school districts fire teachers who fail to present both sides of an issue. Forget, for a second, how such a thing would be enforced.

And guess the political party affiliation of the two senators who introduced that nonsense.

Here is everything you need to know about the Jay Bennish affair: Come Monday, he will once again walk into his classroom. And his students - perhaps with the exception of one - will cheer wildly.

And as we flail about, nationally and locally, over Jay Bennish, another Colorado teacher is being sent packing for yet more stupid, nonsensical reasons.

What happened to Tresa Waggoner, a Bennett School District music teacher, ought to sound a shrill alarm for every teacher in America.

Her supposed sin was introducing her first-, second- and third-grade students to opera by showing them a bit of Faust, a staple from the school library.

She showed a clip of the video last fall to teach the children about bass and tenor voices, the use of props and "trouser roles" in opera ahead of an upcoming Opera Colorado performance in Bennett.

Superintendent George Sauter on Thursday told her she would remain on paid leave of absence until her contract runs out in August and would not be allowed to return to the classroom.

On Friday, Tresa Waggoner was brokenhearted.

She taught some 500 kids in the Bennett district, from high schoolers to first-graders. She is a gospel recording artist. She loves music. She loves sharing that love with children even more.

"I would never hurt a child," she said.

A lot of people say Bennett, a town of 2,500 about 25 miles east of Denver, is just an oddball little burg, citing last year's debate there over whether Mormons are actually Christians. The Mormons, it seems, were building a temple in nearby Strasburg.

But Tresa Waggoner, in an interview, did not blame the town. At a Feb. 16 school board meeting, more than 53 people appeared in her support, compared with only six who opposed her, she said.

Bennett, she said, has been wonderful to her.

Some folks think the real reason Waggoner became a target was more because of the school's Christmas play than her playing 12 minutes of Faust.

Karen Grossiant, who resigned as Bennett mayor after Tresa Waggoner was placed on leave - saying it was "the last straw" - acknowledged as much.

The true problem: Waggoner did not put Christian songs in the play. This outraged some townsfolk. She had to go.

"I did the same concert a week later in my own church with Christian songs," Tresa Waggoner said. "But in a public school, you really can't do that.

"I was told by some that the school for the last 30 years did Christmas music. They were outraged. But they never came to me."

They "hung me out to dry," she said.

What she will do next, she doesn't know. The district is paying her through August, which she says is a waste of taxpayers' money, considering they are also paying the substitute who is replacing her.

"I don't know if I will ever be able to get another teaching job," Tresa Waggoner said. "I'm taking it day by day.

"I still want to teach. I think that is what God put me on this earth to do. I am a good teacher. I know there is a place for me."

These things are rarely about the children.

Bill Johnson's column appears Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Call him at 303-892-2763 or e-mail him at johnsonw@RockyMountainNews.com.

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