Discourse

WATCH: Middle school teacher harasses student for writing that Trump is his hero

What is most shocking about the video showing a middle-school teacher telling his 13-year-old language arts students that Trump sucks is not his anti-Trump stance, but his overbearing moralism.
Libby Emmons
Libby Emmons Brooklyn, NY

What is most shocking about the video Jason Rantz shared showing a middle-school teacher telling his 13-year-old language arts students that Trump sucks is not his anti-Trump stance, but his overbearing moralism.

The teacher, Connor Seaman, keeps the boy after virtual class to talk about the student's paper on Trump. The assignment, given to the kids in Seaman's Kopachuck Middle School language arts class, was to write about who your hero is and "provide multiple sources to explain your reasoning" behind that person being your hero.

Seems simple enough. Only this student picked Donald Trump, said Trump was a hero because of his border wall, and also used only one source—The White House website. So whatever you may think of Seaman the teacher, it also seems like the student didn't quite fulfill the terms of the assignment, as he didn't use multiple sources.

Seamen behaved as though there were only one right answer to whether not Trump is a hero, or even a worthwhile guy. But the entire point of the exercise was not a referendum on Trump, but the students' ability to do the work. Trump was just the example the kid was using to show that he could write a compelling paper, and from the critiques of it, it sounded like so far he has not done so.

But instead of using Trump as a way to teach, Seamen got all involved in the paper's content, when what he should have been focussing on nearly entirely was structure and method.

To Seaman, I would say: Go ahead and talk to the kid, to the whole class, about current events. Hear what kid's have to say, get them to argue their own points, and then get them to argue the other side. Pick any topic you think will get them going, and maybe it's Trump. But Trump isn't the lesson, and neither are his policies. The lesson is how to think, how to find sources, how to research, and how to write.

When I was that age I was asked to write about my favourite monarch. I chose the Hatshepsut and was then disappointed to discover that the research on this erased pharoah was scant. That's just not the case when researching Trump. There's his own words, plus his marketing materials, which are a plenty. He even has his name on a book. There's also about 5 million words typed up on the man every day, plus the ones he tweets. Sources are not hard to find. Seamen knew that, and pointed the kid in the direction of what he believed to be a veritable source, Politifact.

Politifact, however, is one of Facebook's third-part verifiers, and while I'm sure Seamen is positive that it is authoritative, it is potentially at least in the same realm of unreliability as any of Trump's authorized words about himself.

The teacher is right about some very real things, including not to use only one source to get all your facts—do your research, investigate, see what the other guys are saying. That's definitely top advice. He tells the student he's got to back up his assertions with facts and examples, and again, this is how you should write an academic paper. The teacher is not incorrect.

The teacher talks about Trump's policies, speaking about downsides to those policies, such as immigration, or the controversial border wall. It is right for a teacher to challenge a student—that should happen, teachers should help kids hone their ideas and ability to form opinions, especially at that age, and in this case the teacher is doing the kid a solid favour.  

None of that is the problem. The problem is that the teacher is not doing any of this in a collegial way. Instead of challenging the kid, Seamen is shaming him. It seems at least like he's trying not to, but as the conversation goes on, and the student becomes more and more closed to anything the teacher could possibly say, he loses it a little, and he really has a hard time hiding his judgement.

As a society, perhaps, we expect too much from teachers. We hold them to the nobility of their profession. To teach the next generation, what could be a more essential calling? But they are not neutral, and there's no reason we should expect that they would not share personal perspectives that they have with students, after all, teachers and students get to know each other a little bit.

But you can disagree with someone respectfully, you can have diametrically opposed views to your student, or teacher, and still get along quite well. You don't have to agree with people to like them, you don't have to align politically in order to have a reasonable conversation.

Teachers should know this, and students should learn it.

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