Parent-principal conflict not news

First, let me disclose that my wife is on the staff at Homer High School, that I have exchanged small pleasantries with Dr. Alan Gee at school functions, that I count among my closest friends several current and former Homer High School teachers, that one of my oldest and dearest friends in Alaska is a longtime Homer News staffer and that one of the Tribune’s higher-ups is an old grad school acquaintance whom I have always liked and admired. In other words: Like everyone else in a town this small, I can’t even pretend to be unbiased in my reaction to the recent rant by Hope Finkelstein (whom, to the best of my knowledge, I have never met).

That said, and with extreme deference to my journalist friends, I have to ask: Why in the world would one parent’s understandable disappointment over losing an argument with her child’s principal be something important enough for both papers to print? Was news in such short supply last week, and ink simply that plentiful?

In what possible way is an irate parent’s discomfort with the school principal’s (also understandable) decision to enforce rules already in place a matter of public interest? A team athlete slept in one morning and skipped a class and was punished for it with a slap on the extracurricular wrist: she missed one road trip. This is something the community needs to hear about?

I think we should all fully expect parents to be unreasonably and insensibly loyal to and supportive of their children. That’s what parents do. Fine. But why do I — or anyone else for that matter — need to read about it in not one but two newspapers, as though the very survival of our community depended upon this?

The complaint was couched in language that implied malfeasance or, at the least, intractability on the part of the principal. But Ms. Finkelstein’s very assertion that we expect a person in high authority to make judgment calls with nuance is the undoing of her case. Dr. Gee made a judgment call of the highest order and finest logic when he decided not to argue with an incensed parent of a child who broke a simple easy to understand rule. The fact is, a team athlete should be wherever her team is at any given moment — even if that means sitting in a class in which, according to the student’s mother, “she would not be missing much.”

I’m a teacher — yes, only part-time at the University of Alaska Anchorage, and here in Homer at Kachemak Bay Campus of the Kenai Peninsula College — and frankly, I find it insulting that a parent would suggest that any class on any day was not worth getting out of bed for.

So, between Ms. Finkelstein’s disregard for the professionalism of teachers and administrators, and our two newspapers’ willingness to give her a platform, I have to say it’s been a depressing and dreary mid-winter week here in a town that seems to be getting smaller every day.

One of the hazards of living in a lovely and close-knit small town like ours is the seductive tendency toward parochialism. Treating every mundane daily conflict as though it is momentous, or even vaguely interesting, is a sure sign of a community sliding down that narrow path.

Rich Chiappone

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