I watched a new show on TV last night. “The Principal’s Office” (TPO) airs on TRU-TV, the new name for what used to be known as Court-TV. TPO follows administrators from three schools in Connecticut, New Jersey and Arkansas as they try to instill a modicum of order on their respective campuses. The reviews are mixed but I thought it was, at the very least, fun and a little informative. It’s good to know that we all face the same challenges.
The offenses that came before the principals were seemingly petty. Skipping classes, excessive tardies and cell phone use. But those are the kinds of problems that most teachers can relate to. My guess is that the real meaty issues can’t be aired due to the ages of the kids in question. It takes some of the substance out of the show and the producers compensate by going for laughs.
Some of what I saw was interesting. All three schools had a well published, well disseminated violation chart. If a student breaks a school rule the principal looks at the chart and says, “This is your punishment for breaking that rule.” No negotiations allowed. Fair for one, fair for all. It’s a great idea because even the best, most even-handed administrator can administer justice unfairly without meaning to. We are all absent-minded, distracted or just plain overwhelmed from time to time. This way everyone is treated the same way and Susie can’t complain that Johnny only got one day of In School Suspension (ISS) when she did the same thing and got three days.
As I said, the reviews were mixed, ranging from Boston Globe reporter Joanna Weiss‘ generally positive look at the show to Verne Gay’s scathing comments on Newsday.com. Weiss wrote a passage in her review that struck home.
Still, if there’s a case to be made that today’s teens are too pampered, too coddled, and too quick to emulate wiseass cartoon characters, this show makes it loudly.
Verne Gay wasn’t as empathetic.
We can all marvel at the extent to which reality TV continues to explore and exploit the human condition, but the principal’s office? Producers play this for laughs, though just slightly. (These are high school kids, after all.) Even so, the show’s flat and almost stunningly uninformative.
I liked the show and so did my 16 year-old daughter. She even put off a phone call to her boyfriend to watch it with me and that alone was worth the price of admission. I recommend The Principal’s Office to anyone who has ever stepped into a classroom and had to face down 20-odd teenagers who have been raised by their television sets, video game consoles and iPods and were tasked with making sure that No Child is Left Behind.
My only complaint about the show is that, as I mentioned, the violations are minor ones that are often played for their comic effect. You can not point a camera at a person and expect them to behave the way they always do. Principals across America face challenges their forefathers did not. Government interference, crashing budgets, children with murderous intent and scores of other problems. In Knoxville, Tennessee a 15 year-old student was shot in the chest and died because of an argument that two young men were having in the school cafeteria. I get the feeling that we won’t see that on The Principal’s Office.
I’ll leave you with my favorite quote from the show. Steve Halter from Arkansas stopped a young man in the hall and told him, “Don’t be a knucklehead, son. There’s no future in it.”