Last week, the New York Times published a long article about a long history of sexual abuse at Horace Mann, one of New York’s most prestigious high schools. The author of the article, an alumnus of the school, describes a decades-long string of abuses of students by teachers, particularly of boys by men. The story is Hard To Read, as these kinds of stories always are.
Those stories are also very hard to write. But one very good reason to write them is that it makes it easier, safer, and more acceptable for others to do the same. You break the silence, and once a silence is broken, it’s awfully hard to put it back together.
That’s exactly what’s happened at Horace Mann. The New York Times reports:
One of the more complex and profound reactions to the article unfolded on the Processing Horace Mann page on Facebook. The page, which is private and has a membership open only to Horace Mann alumni, was started on Thursday.
The posts on the page were initially focused on Mr. Kamil’s article itself, with some expressing shock that the sort of behavior described had been going on while they were students, and with others voicing surprise that it had taken so many years for the allegations to become public.
In short order, the group’s membership soared and the conversation expanded to include the full promise of the page’s name, as members, in a kind of collective therapy, began reflecting on every part of their high school experience: teachers, the high-pressure academic curriculum, the general challenges of adolescence.
As Joan Didion famously wrote, we tell ourselves stories in order to live. In cases like this one, we tell each other our stories in order to heal.
My heart goes out to all the victims of sexual abuse at Horace Mann, and I commend Amos Kamil for writing the story, and the Times for running it. I hope that the silence remains broken, so that more people who have experienced sexual abuse will be able to talk about what happened to them – and so that institutions can ensure that it doesn’t happen to their students. The more we talk about it, the less it happens.