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Hayashi Interview Provides Teachable Moment

During a visit to Sacramento, Castro Valley High School student journalists and their teacher attempted to interview the assemblywoman on her shoplifting case.

Kids love field trips and this one proved more memorable than most. Strange as it was, an interview with Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi produced interesting lessons for all involved.

Four journalism students and I visited Sacramento on Feb. 1 for a California Newspaper Publishers Association event. Our group heard from the Legislature’s top Democrats and Republicans before splitting up to meet with our own districts’ lawmakers.

For us, that meant Hayashi, an . Carrying some $2,450 worth of unpurchased merchandise, .

Hayashi greeted us warmly when we arrived but looked more nervous than the kids once she saw their notebooks.

“Sorry, what are we doing now?” she asked uneasily.

I was surprised she agreed to meet our school’s young journalists because, as far as I know, she has declined media interviews since her arrest and subsequent conviction. A spokesman said . Her attorney later said . If true, that should mitigate some of the public’s heavy criticism but the about her ability to serve in the Legislature.

Together the kids and I wrote questions that we hoped would lead her to share more about this. Yet the prospect of an interview seemed to take her by surprise, making me wonder if she realized her staff had arranged a meeting with not just students, but student journalists.

Rather than take the kids’ questions, she pointed the conversation elsewhere.  “Why don’t you tell me a little bit about yourselves?” she asked. The students obliged. As if we were old friends, she later asked me, “So what have you been up to?”

Hayashi did eventually speak about her laudable legislation to protect student athletes from concussions and another pending bill to improve the first aid training of school coaches. Then an aide insisted she end our 20-minute meeting with most of our questions unanswered and the shoplifting and health issues completely untouched. On our way out the door, she scolded us for taking pictures and recording the interview without permission.

Though odd and incomplete, the interview was quite a teachable moment for the kids, who learned to write polite but challenging questions and got practice conversing with a source more elusive than their fellow students or teachers.

Perhaps the meeting should be a learning experience for Hayashi, too. Most people have no wish to publicly air their embarrassments but public figures give up most of their privacy along these lines when they assume high office. Hayashi’s service in the Legislature has been honorable and distinguished, but the public will have a hard time even remembering that until she puts the unanswered questions about her case to rest.

Sometimes my job involves policing much smaller scandals like secret texting and homework copying. When confronted, many kids refuse to come clean but those who do earn trust and feel better.

Hayashi might find the public remarkably forgiving if she spoke publicly and honestly about her case and health. Doing so would set an example for the countless others who, though rarely caught, commit crimes at least as serious. It might even make Hayashi feel better about herself. I hope she clears the air for her constituents’ sake and for her own. Until that happens, she’s going to face audiences more critical than high school honor students.

Matt Johanson is a Castro Valley High School teacher and local author. For more information on him and his published works, visit mattjohanson.com.

Tim Holmes February 11, 2012 at 04:11 AM
Mr. Clark I think you are being unfair to the journalism students, teachers, and community leaders, at least to come to those conclusions based on this article. Mary Hayashi is a very skilled politician, I wouldn't be surprised if she were able to manipulate the situation with professional journalists just as well. From the description given in the article, there was little opportunity to accomplish their journalism without a serious confrontation, and while that IS the role of journalism in some circumstances, that doesn't make it appropriate for this circumstance and these journalists.
Darryl Ray February 11, 2012 at 03:57 PM
I agree with you Tim. To equate Mary Hayashi's actions with those of the students and teacher is not fair or correct. A confontation would not have made this a "teachable moment". Learning from it did.
Dan Walters February 11, 2012 at 04:06 PM
You're right, Tim. The best and most seasoned political journalists have not gotten a good interview with her. These students acted professionally. Mary owes us answers... and, I hope she chooses to speak candidly with the students at some time soon.
Thomas Clarke February 11, 2012 at 07:53 PM
Tim, Darryl, Dan you have done an excellent job of expressing exactly what the lost opportunity is. The Teachable Moment, which I applauded Maria for, was that the Moment was Lost, Missed and you have all applauded the efforts of the students, teachers and staff for just showing up and not really doing anything. You all are phoning in the work without really doing it. The Teachable Moment is that there was a chance to do something no one else has done yet and it did not happen. The reasons for failure were mediocre planning, simplistic preparation and no real committment to journalism. The work and the effort is what a C student is awarded. Must average. Applauding average is what is wrong with our schools, our government and our communities. Being average is what has produced our mediocre performance in all areas. We should all be united in our joint pursuit of excellence at all that we do. So far there is no teaching moments that I have seen here, other than a significant effort on the part of the Apologists to do an excellent job of praising mediocrity and acceptance of the status quo and center of the bell curve.
Stephanie September 25, 2012 at 05:30 AM
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