by Graham Weinschenk
In 2016, I criticized Arlington parents for some online comments denigrating Arlington high schools during a boundary process. Sun Gazette staff writer Scott McCaffrey wrote that I “was as polite as could be, but [I] did the right thing” by condemning those who were out of line.
I still aim to be polite, and I still intend to do the right thing. The Sun Gazette’s editorial published 10/29 titled “From the schoolhouse to the White House?” – clearly written by McCaffrey – was way out of line.
For starters, the tone of this editorial is beyond condescending. School Board members, despite being “the lowest rung on the political ladder,” are dedicated and professional public servants who care deeply about their communities. Perhaps McCaffrey has a more cynical view of local politics than I do (maybe he has spent too much time in irrelevance?), but cynicism does not warrant arrogance.
Secondly, McCaffrey pontificates unfair and ill-mannered critiques of Barbara Kanninen and Cristina Diaz-Torres. The portrayal of Kanninen as a territorial “kingmaker” is outlandish and purely his own conjecture. McCaffrey likes to spew nonsense about “factional infighting” on the School Board, but it really just serves to increase his own readership by stirring up nonexistent controversy. Why include a snide comment about Diaz-Torres reminding voters that she is a former teacher “at every opportunity?” McCaffrey intends to imply that Diaz-Torres is opportunistic, ignoring the fact that even a cursory visit to her website biography shows that she has a master’s degree in curriculum in addition to her experience in the classroom and in policy work. He also ignores the much more plausible reason that Diaz-Torres brings up her time in the classroom because Arlington teachers have been frustrated for years at a perceived lack of attention given to the needs of educators – a frustration that Diaz-Torres is well-positioned to understand from personal experience.
It is also worth noting that McCaffrey’s editorial is both racist and sexist. The editorial mentions current, former, and aspiring School Board members James Lander, Barbara Kanninen, Judy Connally, Mary Margaret Whipple, Mary Hynes, Libby Garvey, Cristina Diaz-Torres, and David Priddy. It is absolutely no coincidence at all that those who McCaffrey describes as “ambitious” politicians taking “the escalator” to higher offices are all women or people of color. The one School Board-affiliated person who isn’t portrayed as overly ambitious? David Priddy, the only white male in the mix. Priddy, McCaffrey fancies, “seems more school-system focused.” This disgrace of an editorial is simply a continuation of McCaffrey’s history of publishing his own racist and sexist postulation as if it’s actually journalism. For example, he published an editorial that criticized three “inexperienced” state delegates – all women of color – running for statewide office, while failing to mention a white man who is running for the same position and has never even held elected office.
It’s hard to ignore the irony of McCaffrey questioning the motives of dedicated public servants when his own motives are questionable. McCaffrey attempts to hide his motivation in a poor argument that School Board members are too politically ambitious to take good care of the Arlington Public Schools. But then, in the last sentence, his motives become clear. McCaffrey – writing that “the politics of this will be far more interesting to watch over the next year or two than the actual governance of a school system,” – simply intends to stir the pot. He has no intention or desire to fairly cover and critique the job at hand, which is actual governance. McCaffrey is just a sorry excuse for a journalist who wants attention.