Thursday, March 28, 2013

If only teachers at wealthy private schools could get married.

Megan McCardle asks why the scandal of sex abuse at private schools like New York's Horace Mann School doesn't get the attention that other scandals get:

We heard rumors of this kind of thing at my school, of course; I suppose there are sniggering suggestions at any school.  There was a seventh grade English teacher who was a little too friendly with female students, and one senior who claimed to have had an affair with a teacher. But those teachers quickly disappeared when the rumors became too loud.  I'd never heard any suggestion of the kind of widespread abuse that has now been chronicled at Horace Mann--abuse that was, the authors claim, unnoticed or even ignored by the administration.  The stories are harrowing.  If true, they tell us that teenaged boys, most of them in vulnerable family situations, were groomed and abused by methodical predators.  The situation seems to have been made worse by the deliberate decision that schools like mine made to open their doors to kids from more diverse backgrounds; it provided a reservoir of particularly vulnerable boys for the teachers to prey on.  Their victims have only come forward recently, when they no longer have to fear the repercussions for jobs or college admisions (or being called gay).
This is troubling.  And what's troubling is that one imagines it wasn't limited to Horace Mann; pedophiles tend to go where they have access to children, and a school is one excellent place to gain that access.  The incentives to hush up such incidents are obvious, particularly in a private school, where it's easy to imagine all the parents pulling their children out, and the school actually collapsing.  
Here's what's really interesting about these two articles: we haven't heard any calls to re-examine the institution of private school in light of these revelations.  
When the Catholic Church scandals erupted, there was a lot of discussion of what factors specific to the church had allowed them to continue.  Priestly celibacy, obviously: you'll naturally attract people who can't act on their sexual desires in public.  Hierarchy and tradition clearly played a role; victims deferred to authority, and so did many of the people who tried to bring these crimes to Authority's attention.  The Catholic Church's repressed attitude towards sex was referenced, as were its retrograde views on the role of women.  Surely such a thing could not have happened anywhere except an all-male patriarchy?
Similarly, when Jerry Sandusky's crimes were exposed, the commentary focused on the flaws of Penn State as an institution--and also on the macho culture of football. Yet as the Horace Mann revelations continue, I haven't seen anyone question whether Horace Mann deserves to exist, much less suggest that private school presents an unusually ripe field for pedophiles--a field that should be sown with salt.  The authors of the two bombshell articles (both Horace Mann graduates) certainly don't make any such suggestion; they are plainly bewildered that this was allowed to continue as long as it did.
What explains the difference?  The obvious candidate is the demographics of columnists and academics who write about these things.  Few of them are football players.  Few of them are practicing Catholics (or social conservatives).  But a fair number of them went to private school, or send their children there.  Even if they are prone to question the institution as an institution, doing so would be awfully uncomfortable.  And it might not do much for little Emily's chances at Brearley.  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Here I thought you were gonna speak of Nuns at Catholic schools.

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