I said a couple of weeks ago that I was shifting away from commenting on things Anglican, but my past has caught up with me again. As I have mentioned more than once, I am an alumnus of the St. Andrew’s School in Boca Raton, FL, and same school is now caught up in a sex scandal. I hadn’t been paying much attention, but a friend brought up some things and I decided to do a little research.
I found that the best “executive summary” of the business can be found at the Episcopal Café. That’s one of the most prominent blogs on the left side of the Anglican blogosphere. I don’t pretend to be in the same rank on the other side, but it brings me to my first point: St. Andrew’s was and is a very liberal institution, one that didn’t commend left-wing Anglicanism to me in a very convincing way.
Although things really broke in the Spring–and Headmaster Peter Benedict resigned at the time–it’s still an ongoing business, as Interim Head of School Jim Byer discussed in an email to the alumni:
At the same time, the start of this school year has been a difficult time for all of us at Saint Andrew’s, and I appreciate your interest and concern for what has happened here. Many of you are aware of the results of two independent investigations related to violations of faculty/student boundaries and inadequate policies and procedures to protect students, as well as the stories that have been reported in the local media.
Please know that our school is committed to student safety, and I fully expect our community will be stronger and safer as the result of improvements in this regard. We have instituted mandatory child abuse annual training for all faculty and staff in accordance with Florida Department of Education training curriculum, we will hold accountable all who interact and engage with students on a daily basis, and we have engaged qualified, trained professionals to thoroughly examine and closely supervise the residential life program. I am also engaging an expert to oversee the restructuring of all aspects of risk in the school, to further safeguard the welfare of each and every student here.
That said, let me make some comments on the situation:
- The fact that the school decided to “lawyer up” tells me that something bad has really happened. Colleges and universities have gone “whole hog” on this subject due to the “Dear Colleague” letter that the Department of Education sent out, but this is the result, IMHO, of things that happened at the school. Bringing the attorneys in shield the investigation using attorney-client privilege, and coupled with the raft of confidentiality requirements in education, it’s pretty simple to put the “quietus” (a good TN expression) on something like this.
- Contrary to what some of the commenters on the Café said, St. Andrew’s was not started in response to the integration of public schools in Palm Beach County. It was started as a boarding school to replicate the prep schools in New England and the Northeast. Social trends and the explosive growth of South Florida have converted it primarily into a day school, where it addressed another issue: the lacklustre quality of Florida’s public schools.
- One thing that St. Andrew’s has always been is sensitive to a fault about its community reputation. Although any institution needs to pay attention to that, in St. Andrew’s case there’s a very relevant issue: the school wasn’t properly endowed when it was set up, the seed money largely going to physical plant. Its early survival was a difficult proposition and it’s not as ready as some of its older, prep school counterparts to take the hit that a scandal such as this brings.
- Unless the years I was there were an anomaly, I don’t think that St. Andrew’s has an innate culture which encourages sexual harassment of the students by the faculty. That may be relevant in considering the role of the Rev. George Andrews, Headmaster from 1989 to 2008. He is involved in the sex abuse scandals at St. George’s School in Middletown, RI, one of the New England boarding schools involved in their own imbroglio. In spite of the founders’ intentions, St. Andrew’s had a dynamic that was different from its Northern counterparts, something faculty who had taught at both noted.
As is always the case in situations like this, it will be a long time before the truth comes out, if it ever does completely. But South Florida in general and St. Andrew’s in particular was a hard schoolmaster on many issues of a sexual nature, albeit for reasons other than the ones in this scandal. I explored many of these issues about a decade ago in my book The Ten Weeks.
What I am about to say will probably make some people blow their stack. That isn’t hard to do these days. But I think this is the time to say it. We live in a society with two polar opposite ideas on this subject, and they cannot stay conjoined indefinitely.
I’ve consistently defended the Christian sexual ethic on this blog. One important corollary to that is that everyone is inviolate in their person with regard to sexual activity, i.e., it’s entirely voluntary. I want to make it clear that I support that corollary. That’s the underlying assumption to things such as the prohibition against rape, molestation, and sexual harassment. The persistence of these is part of our post-Christian condition.
On the other hand, we have the pervasive ethic these days that sexual activity is a necessity for life (not in a procreative sense,) and that one is defined by same. A corollary to that is that people who refrain, temporarily or permanently, are a) not really human and b) need to be brought into line, most usually these days by peer pressure, or now the internet.
Given the realities of the human condition, I believe that sooner or later society will realise that, as my father would say, we “have a no-fit going here.” Our educational system, which is expected in inculcate all kinds of values it was not designed to do, will be brought to bear on making sex education not only a “how-to” project but to make sure the lesson is carried out.
When that happens, the scandal such as is unfolding at St. Andrew’s will no longer be about doing something wrong as it will be about doing something outside of proper channels. In other words, after all the years of such scandals rocking the Catholic Church, boarding schools, etc., they will no longer be scandals, and the victims who have not “kept up” with the times will be left in the lurch.
Whether our civilisation, such as it is, will survive to that point is another matter altogether. But the business of same-sex civil marriage shows that public opinion, led by élite opinion, can turn around very quickly under the right conditions. As always, I doubt most people are ready to face a societal flip of that kind, but just because we’re not ready to face it doesn’t mean it won’t happen.