In Loco Parentis

I don't need a photo release to show you this, because I'm his dad.
I don’t need a photo release to show you this, because I’m his dad.

In loco parentis got a little more literal with the shop teacher out of town. His son became mine, and I used my parental power to whisk him away to Kongiganak, where I was to chaperon a Native Youth Olympics meet.

I’ve had a hard enough time these last few weeks, surrounded by too many people and in beds not my own. We spent this weekend at the Kong school, and my sanity creaks under the weight of being unable to escape the herds: sleeping on a hard classroom floor with our team of boys, being followed and following everywhere. And yet it is in a way the most privacy some of these kids get; if I had to sleep seven to a bedroom in a 500 square-foot house, I might find my only retreat in humming myself a tune. And I would rarely be able to find the attention for homework.

In loco parentis is Latin for in the place of the parent and describes the broad authority of schools and teachers over students. Teachers here don’t perform the most important parental roles: we do not teach a child what it means to be loved or nurtured, we do not transmit the bulk of culture or provide a safety net of lasting support. And yet, I have fewer students in most of my classes than most local parents have children in their homes. I have more time to focus individual attention on my students than their parents do.


On Friday night a few local students brought out drums. Yup’ik song and dance is a tradition hanging by a thread, but you can get a fair impression of it from these videos by Anchorage-based band Pamyua.

Pamyua Bubblegum:

Pamyua Ocean Prayer:

Modern Yup’ik song and dance are usually performed in a school basketball court, because these are the largest meeting spaces available in most communities. Here’s an example of the tradition as I found it Friday night:

And here’s a sample of my own poor recording:

The repetitive, choral verses and the beat of the drums put me into a meditative state which I could imagine floating over the whole audience. And I wonder if the musical style could be performed in English, with words drawn from the western mythos, and what effect it would have on an audience in a small space. I’ll try to find better examples of music similar to what I heard.

A few pictures:

A local picked us up from the airstrip in a sled attached to a snow-go, like this, for the mile-ride into school.
A local picked us up from the airstrip in a sled attached to a snow-go, like this, for the mile-ride into school.

Puppy guarding a snow-go, Kongiganak in the distance.
Puppy guarding a snow-go, Kongiganak in the distance.
The view from our host-classroom window, Friday morning.
The view from our host-classroom window, Friday morning.
The Alaskan High Kick
The Alaskan high kick. The athlete grabs an ankle with one hand, supports himself on the other, and kicks up with his free foot. The best competitors can enter a momentary one-handed stand with their free leg pointing straight up.

To see a perfectly executed and photographed kick, click here. The picture is from another teacher’s blog post.