|He made me want to do more than what I really ever wanted to do.|
On June 2, 1997, 31-year-old New York City schoolteacher Jonathan Levin was tied up and murdered in his apartment. The slaying sparked debate among educators about student-teacher relationships: Levin was a beloved teacher at his Bronx high school, known for buying books and meals for his students; his accused assailant, 19-year-old Corey Arthur, was a former student whom Levin had befriended. Though Arthur denied killing Levin, he admitted to being in the apartment at the time and was convicted of first-degree murder this fall. In December, he was sentenced to 25 years to life by a judge who called his crime “callous, narcissistic, and sadistic."Before the sentencing, CBS’ Lesley Stahl interviewed Arthur on 60 Minutes and asked about his relationship with Levin.
Arthur: He was more than just a teacher to me. You know what I mean? He was like--he made me want to do more than what I really ever wanted to do. . . . He was a white teacher, but he understood me being a black kid from the ghetto. It’s like I didn’t have to explain things to him, step by step by step.
Stahl: . . . He sounds like a great teacher.
Arthur: He is a great teacher, ‘cause . . .
Stahl: He was a great teacher.
Arthur: Well, I still say he is, because even though he died, and it’s a tragic way he died, he’s still teaching. He’s still teaching me to this day.
Stahl: (voice-over) Corey says the first book Levin gave him, Black Boy, by Richard Wright, was the first book he ever read.
Arthur: I would--I mean, I wouldn’t rather not come to school than not have his homework. Not because I felt any repercussions. It’s because I felt that I let him down. . . .
Stahl: Is the message of what happened to Jonathan Levin that it is dangerous for a teacher to reach out?
Arthur: If this is a possibility, or a variable, of what can happen, I would say yes, it is. I mean, I think that a lot of kids would benefit more if teachers reached out like he did it. But then, if this could be a result of it, I would say, by all means no, don’t do it.
A version of this article appeared in the February 01, 1999 edition of Teacher as Guilty