cross-posted from Dagblog
Twenty years ago I got my first teaching job, as one of two young English teachers hired by a little high school in greater Boston. The other new teacher was a guy named Kevin Hogan. Kevin was already a much better teacher than I was, assured while I was struggling, deft where I was stumbling, natural in the classroom in a way I wouldn't be until years later. The kids loved him. I liked and admired him. I certainly didn't feel any shame in being the second-best rookie English teacher in the building (and I was a very distant second); I was just figuring things out, and Kevin was obviously and enormously talented.
We each left that school after a couple of years, and lost touch. I eventually went to graduate school and became a college teacher. Kevin ultimately remained a high school teacher, and a coach, becoming chair of the English department at a highly regarded charter school. The last time I saw him was on his wedding day.
Over the last two days Kevin has been been publicly dragged through the mud by a scandal-monging Boston TV reporter named Mike Beaudet, who ambushed him in a parking lot during Thanksgiving week. If you want the details of the scandal, you can already find them spread humiliatingly across the internet; I'm not going to collude in Kevin's humiliation. Kevin has been suspended from his job. He is in real danger of being fired. And he will likely never find another job as a teacher. That is a sad thing, and not just for Kevin. Teaching may be the single best thing he does for the world, and the world will be much the poorer if he leaves the classroom.
Many of Kevin's students, past and present, have rallied to support him. So have some of the parents, and many readers and viewers, who are angry at Beaudet's voyeurism and at his TV station's low journalistic standards. Setting out to ruin a person is not investigative reporting, and it's not a public service. Beaudet does not pretend that Kevin has done anything remotely illegal, or that he did the things he's being shamed for while employed at the school where he teaches now. And no one pretends that it did any harm to his students or, indeed, affected them in any way. Like most students, they didn't know anything about their high school teacher's private life. But then that private life was put on TV.
Watching Beaudet ambush Kevin is sickening. There is no goal except to confront an unsuspecting person with humiliating information, on camera. They don't need an interview to report the story. What Beaudet really wants is to make some pornography: he wants to degrade another human being on camera, inviting his viewers to take pleasure from that spectacle of degradation, and to make money from it. Like porn, Beaudet's little scene dehumanizes the person on camera, strips away his dignity and invites us to see him not as a person but as an object whose sufferings we can enjoy. But at least a pornographic movie is made with the performers' consent; Beaudet doesn't do that. He has gone out to degrade and dehumanize a person who has not agreed, someone he does not allow to say no. He's just going to violate someone on camera. If it were actual pornography, it would be illegal.
It's a very hard thing to watch done to someone you like and admire. But liking and admiring them isn't even what makes it hard; the hard part is just watching it done to someone you know. The process demands that you imagine the victim as someone not quite real, someone who makes no demands on your sympathy or your shared humanity. TV wants to turn us all into sideshow freaks and sideshow gawkers, jeering and staring. But when you see that happen to someone whom you cannot forget is an actual person, it's like a kick in the stomach.
If you must watch the clip, let me say that the Kevin I know appears only for a split second, just at the start. For the rest of the ambush, once he's realized what's happening, he can only try to escape or hide. But in the instant that Beaudet approaches him, asking something that Kevin initially doesn't understand, Kevin turns toward him slightly with a warm laugh, not because Beaudet's said anything funny but because Kevin uses the laugh to put people at ease and create rapport. He's begun doing that so fast that you could miss it. Some stranger has asked Kevin a strange question; his instinct is to draw that person into a friendly exchange, and before you notice he's already started doing it. A second or two later Kevin realizes that he's being attacked, and he shuts down. But that quick initial flash of warmth is pure Kevin; it took me back twenty years. It's what makes him so easy to like. It's what makes him so good in the classroom. That's the talent that Mike Beaudet wants to push out of the schools. That's the person he doesn't want you to see at all.