US teacher in trouble over comments in Swedish film

A Swedish television documentary has landed a North Carolina school teacher in hot water for politically-biased comments she made to her students.

US teacher in trouble over comments in Swedish film

Fifth grade teacher Diantha Harris was one of several Americans interviewed for the Sveriges Television documentary Från Bill till Barack (‘From Bill to Barack’), which aired on Swedish public television just days before the election.

The film was made by Swedish journalists Folke Rydén and Bengt Norborg, who travelled to the United States last autumn to film a documentary on US politics.

The trip including visits with several families the journalists had met while filming an earlier documentary ahead of the 1992 presidential election.

In a sequence during which Harris discusses the 2008 US presidential campaign with her class, she asks a girl who has expressed her support for Republican-nominee John McCain to speak out because the girl’s father serves in the military.

When the girl offers no response, Harris chimes in.

“It’s a senseless war,” she says.

“And by the way, Kathy, the person you are picking for president said that our troops will stay in Iraq for another 100 years if they need to.”

After being posted on the YouTube video-sharing website, the sequence caught the attention of conservative bloggers, who criticized the teacher’s statements.

A blog about Islamic extremism, The Tundra Tabloids, said Harris “willingly browbeat and belittled a student in class for her choice of a presidential candidate.”

Harris’s boss, Cumberland County Schools’ superintendent William Harrison also expressed his concern over the exchange she had with her student.

“I was shocked when I saw the clip of an interaction between a Cumberland County Schools teacher and her students as posted on YouTube. While neutral discussion of the political process is appropriate, at no time, particularly with elementary students, should a teacher infuse his/her political views into the discussion,” he said in a statement, adding that he has launched an investigation into the matter.

“Personnel laws prevent me from releasing information regarding individual employees and personnel action taken. I can assure you that upon completion of the investigation, I will take appropriate action,” he added.

According to the Citizen-Times newspaper, Harris said the sequence was heavily edited.

She added that she didn’t mean to advocate for one candidate or the other, but was merely responding to a request from Rydén and Norborg to discuss politics in the classroom.

Rydén said the sequence hadn’t required much editing, but also defended Harris’s comments, believing they had been “exaggerated” by McCain supporters who are frustrated at the results of the election.

“They have kind of interpreted the situation in a very evil way,” he told the Citizen-Times.

“Our feeling on Mrs. Harris is that she had a very special relationship with her students.”

Rydén said the exchange about keeping troops in Iraq for 100 years was simply an ploy used to provoke debate which “everyone knows is a joke”.

“I think her students know that as well. But if you want to, of course you can interpret the situation in a way that is not favourable for her, for the teacher, and I think that is what you are seeing,” said Rydén.

Rydén nevertheless believes that Harris, while being an excellent teacher, was somewhat caught up in the excitement generated by Obama’s candidacy and couldn’t help getting “carried away with the extraordinary feeling that Barack Obama is so important to the country”.

See the video clip below:

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ANALYSIS: Why Sweden’s Greens are happy despite losing big in EU vote

If all you had to go on were pictures from the Green Party's Sunday night event in Stockholm, you'd think they were the victors of the European election rather than one of the parties that lost the most votes.

ANALYSIS: Why Sweden's Greens are happy despite losing big in EU vote
Green party spokesman Per Bolund, top EU candidate Alice Bah Kuhnke, spokeswoman Isabella Lövin and Pär Holmgren, second EU candidate celebrate on Sunday. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT
While its sister parties in Germany, France, Ireland, Denmark, Finland, Austria, and the UK made historic gains, the Swedish Green Party lost half of its four MEPs after its share of the vote plummeted from 15.2 percent to 11.4 percent.
Although it wasn't alone – Sweden's Liberals and Feminist Initiative both lost more votes than the Greens did, and it did remain the country's fourth biggest party in Europe – the “Greta effect” achieved in many other countries could not be as clearly seen in the home of the Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg.
But on Sunday night, the party's charismatic lead candidate Alice Bah Kuhnke was grinning from ear to ear, and the party posted a message on Twitter thanking supporters and boasting of the 11.4 percent. 
Top EU candidate Alice Bah Kuhnke celebrates her election as an MEP. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT
What's going on? 
Arguably, it's because the Sweden's Greens are actually a step ahead of their sister parties. The party had its own green wave in the 2014 European elections, when it soared by 4.1 points. 
European Election ANALYSIS: Six key takeaways from Sweden's vote
Months later it entered national government for the first time as the junior partner in coalition with the Social Democrats and the painful concessions it was forced to make over the next four years left it with only 4.41 percent in September's election, just a whisker over the four percent threshold to enter parliament. 
“It's obvious that they are very happy,” Roger Hildingsson, a Lund University researcher specializing in green politics, told The Local. “The rule of thumb is that the Green Party doubles its result in the national elections in the European elections, so this is a lot better than that. They were afraid of a much lower result.” 
The party achieved a lot in power, doubling Sweden's environmental spending, driving through a flight tax, subsidies for electric bikes and low-emission cars, a new climate law, and a proposal that tripled the cost of European emissions allowances.
But it also made painful concessions, breaking a key promise to close down Vattenfall's coal mines in Germany and backing a tightening of Swedish refugee and immigration policy that lost it half of its members. 
Former Green Party spokesperson Åsa Romson nears tears as she announced a tightening of refugee policy. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT
The party has also faced other parties competing for the same space, with the Centre Party and Liberal Parties positioning themselves as economically liberal greens, and the Left Party competing on the more radical green turf.  
There was also the breakaway Vändpunkt (Turning Point) party formed by longtime Green Party figure Carl Schlyter after he left the party in protest at the January Agreement struck with the Centre and Liberal parties. 
“As far as I understand from the Green Party they have been nervous as to what extent they will be challenged by Vändpunkt,” Hildingsson said.
In the end Vändpunkt pulled in only a fraction of a percentage, ending up humiliatingly lumped together in the 0.7 percent of “other parties”. 
“I think this will give the party some kind of self-confidence that they are back on track and attractive to voters concerned by climate change. That they might have come out of their crisis.” 
Carl Schlyter at the February press conference announcing the launch of his new party. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT
Hildingsson said that the result could also strengthen the party in negotiations, both within Sweden's ruling coalition and in Europe, where its two mandates are now part of a block with a potential kingmaker role. 
“When the agreement was made in January, the Green Party was definitely the weakest partner, with this result they can maybe argue with more confidence,” he said of Sweden's coalition.  
The European situation very much depended, he said, on negotiations with the Social Democrats or centre-right European People's Party in the European parliament. 
“It could be sufficient for them [the centre parties] to strike an agreement with Alde [the Liberal group], so in that sense they could jump the Greens,” he warned. “But on the other hand I think they are concerned that there is some popular concern about climate change.”
The question, he said, was to how radical a programme of action on climate change the mainstream parties of the centre-left or centre-right might be willing to agree. 
“If this green wave is a result of stark concerns that we need to act now, rapidly, transforming our societies, that speaks in favour of a more radical position,” he said. “On the other hand, the room for pushing very radical positions might be limited, because the green group aren't alone in the middle.”