The world of elite NYC prep schools really is a strange, rarefied place. As a product of one of them (albeit, at one of them a couple rungs down on the snooty ladder), I can attest to how bizarre the environment in them is. The students are, for the most part, children of wealthy families whose arrogance and sense of entitlement is hard to fathom -- particularly in people so young. They view prep school simply as a way station to a great college and then a life of wealth and privilege. Their behavior if often bad and goes unpunished. Their cruelty is often brazen. And yet they always seem to get away with it.
Then there are people like yours truly -- middle class kids who were lucky to get in and who appreciate everything these schools can do for them. But we go through these schools knowing that many of our classmates look down on us. It's something you never quite get over.
The teachers are a strange lot too. In many ways, they mirror the students in a way. Teachers at these elite schools fall into two categories. There are The Legends, the teachers who have taught there for decades, who are admired by their peers, and who have even managed to garner the respect of their students. These teachers are, in many ways, the most powerful people in the school. Students obey them and administrators fear them. And they can get away with anything. Then there is the other category of teachers, the Newbies, young men and women recently out of college or grad school who were super lucky to get these teaching jobs and are desperately afraid of getting fired. The students view them (mostly) with contempt and the administrators consider them nothing more than the help.
So as I read the long, bombshell article in this week's Times, about stories of sexual abuse at Horace Mann, I couldn't but remember what it was like to exit in this odd world.
Now, if you don't know about Horace Mann, let me catch you up to speed. It is the elite prep school in NYC. In fact, it's so elite that it has something most schools don't have in this town -- a campus. It's so elite, it's practically impossible to find. It's nestled in the gorgeous Riverdale section of the Bronx on a leafy 18 acre campus. The children of the very rich go there and it's very hard to get in. But, if this article is true, apparently back in the 1970s, 80s, and early 90s, there were several teachers who abused their students. And it was either tolerated or hushed up by the administrators.
You should read this article yourself and draw your own conclusions. I can certainly attest, that at my time at private schools in NYC, nothing like this ever happened nor did I ever hear about anything like this. But this story did remind me of the weird social world that exists at these private schools. Students of wealth co-existing with middle class kids -- and it becoming very clear, at a young age, about who belongs where in the pecking order. And for the teachers too -- those who can do no wrong and those, who when they do wrong, are easily disposed of. Perhaps this kind of unique environment breads this kind of behavior. Perhaps it's just a classic case of some bad apples.
Yet, whatever the reason, it's a tragedy none the less.