Here’s a personal development goal if you’re a teacher in 2020: Endeavor to make it so that your name doesn’t end up in the newspaper.
I may not be that old (or at least I tell myself that) but I’m old enough to remember when the only reason a teacher made it into our local rag was if they’d won some sort of service award or were being quoted in some piece about the school board meeting.
Maybe they were one of those hip teachers who’d managed to work technology into their curriculum, hooking up an Apple II in their classroom for programming lessons. (OK — I really am that old.)
Then came Mary Kay Letourneau and things took a turn. Local journalism has since been decimated and no one is going to be covering a service award anymore.
Sometimes a media outlet picks up a story about some teacher doing something interesting in the classroom or launching some kind of anti-bullying campaign, but these days, what usually gets teachers into the media these days is one of three things: 1) When a teacher has had an untoward relationship with a student. 2) When a teacher has been intoxicated in the classroom. 3) When there’s a story about technology in the classroom. Not necessarily being used by the teachers, but being used to record them and their rants.
At least in the case of Connor Seaman, it was the last of those things that got his name in the media. Thank goodness, because the first two things end in charges.
At least for a while, however, Seaman had better hope he keeps his job at Kopachuck Middle School in Gig Harbor, Washington, because the first thing that’s going to come up on any Google search for Seaman is going to be a video of him lecturing a middle school student about why he couldn’t pick Donald Trump as a hero and explaining that Trump supports “racist” policies.
The video was first reported by Jason Rantz, one of the hosts at KTTH-AM in Seattle. Seaman, a language arts teacher at the school, assigned the hero project to his eighth-grade class, asking them to cite sources.
After the unnamed 13-year-old picked Trump as his hero, in part because of his policies on immigration and on building a border wall, Seaman kept him after their socially distanced video class for a chat. This went as expected.
“Like we kind of talked about the wall thing. So, like, I mostly know about this because of my own research,” Seaman said. “There’s only, like, along of the wall that’s been built, has mostly just been replacing old wall that was already there.”
“I mean, it wasn’t really a wall. It was kind of like a fence, you know?” the student said.
“But it’s still a barrier. The promise was to make a wall all along the border, and only like, 100 miles, I think, is the number out of the 3,000 total miles has actual structures,” Seaman replied.
So about that citing sources bit, Customs and Border Protection says 371 miles of fencing has been built — and while fact-checkers have pointed out much of this is replacing old barriers, what’s there has been effective.
The student cited the White House’s numbers on the matter. As for the sources for Seaman’s claims, they remain very much .
That said, citing the White House as your only proper source is problematic, which would be a good reason to maybe talk to a student about what the aims of the assignment were — which is a decent point. I didn’t see the original presentation in its entirety, but what I saw — relatively quickly, in fact — is that this wasn’t why Seaman kept him after class for a talk.
“Why is it heroic to make a wall to keep out immigrants?” he asked.
Seaman compared it to jaywalking. The student pushed back, arguing it was a serious issue.
“Right. But why is that important though?” Seaman responded. “So, like, for example, like, let’s say, because jaywalking is illegal, let’s say I were to do a task force that cost billions of dollars to stop jaywalking once and for all type thing. Is that, like, you see the kind of point I’m trying to get at right here?”
When he said no, Seaman asked “what would be a bigger accomplishment: lowering murder rates or lowering illegal border crossing?”
“Because, like, that is a more adverse effect on people like, how does it affect you that someone is crossing the border illegally?”
“I don’t know if you know this, but actually immigrants who cross illegally, they perform crimes at a lower rate than U.S. citizens do,” Seaman said.
The student was seen on video mouthing that the teacher is wrong — and, actually, the student is probably more right than the teacher.
“While Seaman is generally citing various research, what’s unsaid is that police generally do not ask or record citizenship of suspects,” Rantz noted.
“Using Seaman’s comparison, if an illegal immigrant is a serial jaywalker, it’s not reported as an illegal immigrant jaywalking, but just a person jaywalking.”
Eventually, Seaman implied the student was being a racist: “So if you’re going to introduce bullet points, you kind of have to back up with why that’s heroic, because there’s a lot of people who would argue that it’s not heroic and it’s actually — a lot of the rhetoric that has been said has been very racist,” he said.
When pushed on what he said, Seaman referred to Trump’s first speech as a Republican presidential candidate, in which he implied many border-crossers are “rapists” and “murderers.”
“It’s pretty racial language, so a lot of people would argue that it’s actually creating a lot of racist tensions by saying that,” Seaman said.
The school returned a mixed verdict, which would ordinarily be OK: The student should have worked harder on his project, and Seaman shouldn’t have lectured him on his political beliefs.
“The comment that the teacher tried to convince the student he was wrong for supporting President Trump’s immigration policy is not accurate,” Peninsula School District spokeswoman Aimee Gordon told Rantz. “The student and teacher spoke about immigration policy in the context of providing evidence for why President Trump is a hero. The teacher’s intent was to encourage the student to use more than one source (whitehouse.gov) for his assignment.”
However, Gordon conceded that the “part of their conversation became more political in nature.”
“When speaking with the parents, the principal shared that the teacher should have stuck more closely to the assignment objectives for using multiple sources and not as much on using immigration policy as an example.”
Should we forget about this? Should we thank the fact that Zoom classes made it possible to record this encounter easily? Move on and assume everyone’s learned their lesson?
There are reasons to suggest otherwise.
First, it’s worth noting that the student’s mother said the school warned her that recording the student’s interaction with the teacher was illegal and that they shouldn’t go public with what had happened. Gordon only disputed this somewhat.
“If the party being taped has an expectation of privacy, which in this case the teacher would have had that expectation, it is illegal,” she said.
“The principal mentioned to the parents that recording a person without their knowledge is illegal, but did not say anything about not sharing the recording. The principal described the situation as a teachable moment and encouraged the family to speak with their child, as students are taught digital citizenship and that you must ask someone’s permission before recording someone.”
Except first, the teacher had no expectation of privacy here. He may have been in a private conversation with a student, but one which a parent could have been observing. Even then, it’s curious how the student is the one being taught “digital citizenship” when the school could be seen as threatening a whistleblower.
Second, this isn’t the first time something like this has happened. In Gloucester, Massachusetts, 12-year-old Jackson Cody talked about how how his teacher ridiculed him in front of his class for raising his hand to say he supported Trump.
“I raised my hand fully and a few kids were going to raise their hands but then they heard the teacher say to me, ‘Oh Mr. Jackson I thought I liked you.’ She proceeded to ask why I support a racist and a pedophile,” Jackson told WBZ-TV earlier this month.
According to WHDH-TV, the class then allegedly proceeded to verbally bully him, with the teacher doing nothing to stop it.
In that case, at least, the teacher and school fully apologized and the staff underwent training to deal with sensitive situations like politics. And no one, last I heard, was lectured about their digital citizenship and told they might be breaking the law by coming forward.
No, Connor Seaman is no Mary Kay Letourneau by any stretch of the imagination and were there a less lukewarm apology, I’d feel bad about putting this higher up in his Google search results than it already is.
On the other hand, neither he nor the school wants to talk about this — and in the latter case, the district was willing to insinuate a crime might be involved in order to stop dissemination of a video in which one of their teachers essentially called a student “racist” for picking Donald Trump as his hero.
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