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The Monarch Times

The Monarch Times

Bens Leaves Classroom After Controversy

A widely circulated meme of Bens.

Mt. Eden English teacher Henry Bens was placed on leave as of February 27 after allegedly requiring students to read an anti-Semitic text and performing the Hitler salute in class.

“You may have recently heard some concerning media reports about the alleged use of anti-semitic materials by one of our HUSD teachers. Please know that we are equally disturbed about the allegations and have launched an investigation on this matter,” wrote Chien Wu-Fernandez, the Interim Superintendent on February 26 in a community update after media coverage and numerous complaints from teachers and students.

Teachers reported concerns over the anti-Semitic document and circulated anti-Semitic speech in mid-December, but administrators said no action could be taken unless students voice similar concerns, according to English teacher Leah Talbott.

Students and teachers objected to Bens’ use of “The Hidden Tyranny” by Ben Freedman. The subtitle reads, “The Issue that Dwarfs All Other Issues, the Satanic Power which Promotes and Directs Chaos in Order to Lay Low All Civilization in Preparation for a Well-outlined Plan for World Dictatorship.”

“These texts are known as blood libel, they are academically defined as such, and morally repugnant,” English teacher Matt Denton said. “That text, if you dropped it on the ground, anyone could pick it up, read it, and walk away with a historically incorrect, hateful, poisonous, and easy-to-understand idea. I liken it to detailed instructions on how to 3D print guns or on how to make a tasteless poison.”

In a conversation between English teacher Heather Eastwood and Assistant Principal George Mitsopoulos, Mitsopoulos expressed that Bens is protected by academic freedom, a scholar’s freedom to express ideas without risk of official interference or professional disadvantage. However, California Education Codes 201 and 220 prohibit discrimination and demand public school officials “respond to acts of hate violence and bias-related incidents in an urgent manner.” The Monarch Times emailed Mitsopoulos three times for a comment but got no reply.

During the anti-Semitic lesson, Bens told students to highlight “seven masters of deception,” according to sophomore Andy Soriano, a student from Bens’ class.

“I didn’t think that was the type of stuff I’d learn in English 10. The way he was teaching it, it felt like he was shoving his opinion down your throat,” said Soriano. “[Bens’] whole teaching style was revolved around, ‘Oh this is the truth, this is what you’ve been lied to about… and you should be angry about it.’”

Bens used “The Hidden Tyranny” as an introductory text to Night, a memoir written by a Holocaust survivor and a Nobel laureate. According to students, his reason for using “The Hidden Tyranny” was to “remove the blindfold,” the guiding principle of his teaching.

The Monarch Times emailed Bens on April 6 for a comment but received no response.

Bens has allegedly brought controversial topics into the classroom. In a recording supplied by one of his students, Bens encourages students to talk about controversial topics and to “disagree without being disagreeable.” Bens’ openness led him to produce scenarios that led several sophomore students in Bens’ class feeling uncomfortable, including Myldret Vazquez-Bejar and Jolene Sa.

“Initially I was caught off guard. Why is a grown man, not to mention a teacher, saying such things? And then I was disgusted and disturbed,” said Sa. Sa and at least one other student transferred out of Bens’ class.

In another recording, Bens offers an opportunity for Hitler to explain himself: “If I was alive during Hitler’s time, I would have an interview with him. I would let him share his view.”

After media outlets shared the incident, the issue becamewidely discussed in classrooms. Most students opposed the use of “The Hidden Tyranny” and hate speech in class, though Bens has defenders. Memes with hashtags “heaintdonothin” and “freedomofspeech” began circulating on social media platforms. Students have reposted, “WE STAND WITH BENS.”

In the wake of the scandal, at least two teachers expressed apprehension about teaching the Holocaust. “I’m worried about teaching the Holocaust, which I’ve never been worried about in my career,” said social science teacher Steven Elliott, who is Jewish. He andother teachers have considered leaving Mt. Eden.

The Monarch Times requested an interview with Principal Monique Walton by email on March 3, 11, and 17 and asked her for information in-person on March 10. She did not reply but spoke to the Hayward Unified School District Board of Education on March 8. “We realize that there are some events that have happened at our school that has significantly impacted our community, the Jewish community, and the city as a whole. I come here tonight to ask for support, to ask for love, grace, and forgiveness,” she said.

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About the Contributor
Kaylyn Nguyen, Editor-in-Chief
Hi! I’m Kaylyn Nguyen, founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Monarch Times. I started The Monarch Times to provide a source of information for students and bring the Mt. Eden and Hayward community closer together. Outside of writing, I’m involved in various clubs and enjoy photography, reading, and playing video games. Please look forward to more content from The Monarch Times for years to come!  
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