When things go bad, it may be time for a gut check

When the TV trucks roll into town, I wince.

Almost invariably they’re responding to bad news. A bomb threat. A devastating fire. A protest of some kind. A teacher who’s accused of misbehavior.

Sweet Home has had too many TV trucks lately and it’s getting embarrassing.

When the reason they’re showing up is to proclaim to the world that our high school athletic director, a popular figure and coach, has been arrested and accused of sexual misconduct with a student, it’s even more disturbing. We get a sick feeling in the pit of our stomachs. We start asking questions that can’t easily be answered.

Before we plunge any deeper into this, it’s important to remember what this newspaper has printed on nearly every Public Safety Log page we’ve published over the last five years: that just because people are arrested (or cited) doesn’t mean they’re guilty. We won’t know the outcome of the case involving Kostanty Knurowski until it is resolved before a judge. But we all certainly understand that even an arrest is still a blot on Sweet Home’s reputation.

Here at the newspaper we have a pretty good sense of the current of life in our community and we’ve seen the flow of life get a little rougher over the last couple of years. Certainly, the numbers bear that up. Suicides. Crime. Multiple domestic squabbles that police respond to nearly every day. And now, two teachers arrested in just over six months, both accused of improper sexual behavior with students.

We live in tough times. Too many local residents are unemployed, which may be contributing to all that domestic strife. Our public institutions – schools and the city in particular – are dealing with serious financial shortfalls.

We were talking the other day, here in the newsroom, about how fights seem to be on the increase recently at the high school and how that didn’t happen much when we had a student resource officer, whose position was shelved in a budget cut. Wonder if there’s a connection?

During my time in Sweet Home, I’ve seen a lot of good things happen in local public schools, where many dedicated staff members put themselves on the line every day to try to help local youngsters learn to be better people. Frankly, I think Sweet Home’s schools have many positives, especially when I hear about what’s going on elsewhere. Of course the TV trucks don’t show up to report that.

As all of us who have experienced the educational process can attest, the schooling process can be rough. And in a school, where there are many personalities and many dynamics in what often already a painful process – educating people who sometimes don’t want to change – you’re not going to find perfection in any school.

But I’ve also lived long enough, and been in the news business long enough, to know that institutions and communities sometimes need some self-correction. Things get out of whack, people get sloppy, things go bad.

The fact that two teachers have been arrested in the last year on sexual misconduct charges is disturbing and we need to ask ourselves if our community needs a wake-up call.

There are a number of current or retired teachers in my own family and I was a college professor for nine years, so I know first-hand that teaching isn’t just a job. There’s significant responsibility that comes with being a teacher, especially in a small community like Sweet Home, more so than many other fields of employment.

A common saying among journalists is that doing this business the right way isn’t just a job, it’s a calling. The same is true of teaching. Or being a police officer. Or a paramedic or firefighter. Or a doctor or nurse. Or a minister or counselor. The nature of these occupations requires more than going through the motions and collecting a check, which might be enough to be successful in some jobs. Character is crucial in these fields. They require commitment to service, to principles and ethics that may not be clearly spelled out in the job description.

For teachers, serving youngsters is necessarily more than just shoving knowledge into kids’ brains. Intentionally or not, teachers also model life skills, particularly for kids who may not be getting much modeling at home.

That’s why it’s such a shock and a scandal when a teacher is accused of failing to model even basic upright behavior.

We live in a world in which we’re encouraged to seek what we want, what’s good for us. For many of us, it’s all about me. And sometimes, what’s good for me isn’t what’s good for everybody else or what is right.

When I was a youngster, I memorized a Bible verse in Sunday School that has come back to haunt me on occasion (like when I stole cookies or lit those matches on the sly in the bathroom) – because it’s often very uncomfortably true: “Be sure your sin will find you out.” (Numbers 32:23).

What I’m saying isn’t an attempt to point the finger at any one. I think we need to point the finger at ourselves and ask ourselves where we’re at.

I think this is a good time for all of us to take stock, to consider what’s been happening in our community. How are we, each of us, behaving? Am I acting on principle?

If the answers aren’t coming easily, I’d suggest starting with some humble, honest self-analysis and, if necessary, some prayer and repentance.

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