Great Is the Truth: Secrecy, Scandal, and the Quest for Justice at the Horace Mann School

Great Is the Truth: Secrecy, Scandal, and the Quest for Justice at the Horace Mann School

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Overview

Great Is the Truth: Secrecy, Scandal, and the Quest for Justice at the Horace Mann School by Amos Kamil, Sean Elder

A shocking exposé of sexual abuse and the struggle for justice at one of America's most prestigious schools

In June 2012, Amos Kamil's New York Times Magazine cover story, "Prep-School Predators," caused a shock wave that is still rippling. In his piece, he detailed a decades-long pattern of sexual abuse at the highly prestigious Horace Mann School in the Bronx. After the article appeared, Kamil closely observed the fallout. While the article revealed the misdeeds of three teachers, this was just the beginning: An extraordinary twenty-two former Horace Mann teachers and administrators have since been accused of abuse.

In Great Is the Truth, Kamil and his coauthor, Sean Elder, tell the riveting story of how one of the country's leading schools was beset by scandal. They relate what happened as survivors of abuse came forward and sought redress. We see the school and its influential backers circle the wagons. We meet Horace Mann alumni who work to change New York State's sexual abuse laws. And we encounter a former teacher who candidly recalls his inappropriate relationships with students.

"Great is the truth and it prevails" may be the motto of Horace Mann, but for many alumni the truth remains all too hard to come by. This book is essential reading for anyone trying to understand how an elite institution can fail those in its charge, and what can be done about it.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780374536503
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 11/15/2016
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 1,259,240
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Amos Kamil is a playwright, a screenwriter, and an investigative reporter. His 2012 cover story in The New York Times Magazine brought the Horace Mann scandal to light.

Sean Elder has written for Newsweek; New York; National Geographic; O, The Oprah Magazine; and numerous other publications. He lives in Mill Valley, California.

Read an Excerpt

Great is the Truth

Secrecy, Scandal, and the Quest for Justice at the Horace Mann School


By Amos Kamil, Sean Elder

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2015 Amos Kamil and Sean Elder
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-374-71156-6



CHAPTER 1

A SMALL WORLD


When I was growing up in Riverdale, a middle-class section of the Bronx, my whole world was contained within a couple of blocks. From the lobby of Hudson Manor Terrace, the gray brick apartment building where my family moved when I was two, I could see my entire life: across the street was PS 24, where I went until the sixth grade; the next block over was JHS 141, my next stop; and beyond that was the park where we played ringolevio — a sort of extreme New York version of hide-and-go-seek, in which prisoners are taken.

My parents, Gershon and Ada, got divorced when I was ten years old, and my father took an apartment at the Whitehall, about three blocks away on the other side of PS 24. At the time, the Whitehall had the ultimate amenity — an indoor pool. Most important to us, it was the alleged home of the Yankees' Chris Chambliss and Ron Blomberg and even Willie Mays, who it was said lived in a penthouse apartment. Today the neighborhood is largely inhabited by Modern Orthodox Jews, though then it was made up of mostly nonobservant Jews like my parents, and a smattering of Irish, blacks, Italians, and Greeks.

My parents came up the long way. They were born into tumultuous times in Berlin. When Hitler rose to power in the 1930s, my grandparents on both sides saw the writing on the wall and escaped to the dunes of Tel Aviv to help build the fledgling Jewish state.

Although they struggled financially during Israel's lean early years, my parents excelled in the army and were well on their way to an upper-middle-class life. My father was an air force pilot, which in Israeli society is akin to NBA royalty. He went on to college and was working his way up the ranks of Bank Leumi when the bank asked him to go to the New York office for a two-year stint.

My parents jumped at the opportunity to live in the financial and artistic capital of the world.

To them Riverdale looked idyllic — a reasonably priced apartment with a stunning view of the Hudson River and the Palisades, good public schools, and easy access to the city. But beneath the lush parks and the greenery was a 1970s New York that was changing and crumbling.

As the city veered toward bankruptcy and the police were MIA, busing also shook up the city's schools. Suddenly the kids at JHS 141 were joined by much tougher youths from the South Bronx. At 141 we learned never to go to the bathroom for fear of getting jumped. My first week of sixth grade, a seventh grader in a shiny shirt held a switchblade near my stomach and demanded my lunch money, right outside the classroom's barred windows. I had nothing to give him, but the attempted mugging made an impression. Childhood was coming to an end.

Things had changed for me at home by then, anyway. My parents were in the midst of what would become a long and bitter divorce. Their battles, which had been raging for years, intensified when my father had an affair with my mother's best friend, Fran, who lived across the hallway. Her kids and me and my three brothers were all friends. Our families sometimes vacationed together. With the home fires out of control, all four of us boys began hiding: Ofer, by then out of the closet, in the discos of Manhattan; Gideon with the young tough druggies on Johnson Avenue; and Daniel, five years my junior, crawled into the TV. I spent as much time away from the constant drama as I could. Not that we were alone; almost every kid in my building had parents who were getting divorced then.

The youth center around the corner was where we went to play basketball and Ping-Pong and to crowd around the tiny black-and-white TV to watch the Bronx Is Burning vintage Yankees: Reggie, Munson, Nettles, Guidry. Mick the Quick ... But by the time I was in the eighth grade, "going to the center" was just an excuse I'd yell over my shoulder to my mom, who sat, lit cigarette dangling from her lip, fretting over the crossword and how to extract the latest alimony payment from my parsimonious father. In truth, I was going out into the Bronx night to get drunk and stoned.

By ninth grade, my life was nicely divided. I was a straight-A student pretty much without ever gracing my textbooks with my shadow. Because I played sports, I got a free pass from most of the guys who were bused in; I was one of two white kids on both the softball and basketball teams. And after school I was hanging with a very different crowd, Irish and Italian kids from across the highway and down the hill.

Jimmy Ryan, one of my newly acquired best friends, represented this other world. While only a decent athlete, he was a tough guy of epic proportions: in the fourth grade he challenged the entire fifth grade to meet him after school on a grassy hill known as the Fighting Grounds; I don't think he got any takers. Jimmy represented freedom and girls and the basic Fuck-You Bronx attitude I was so desperate to embrace. There was a threat of violence anywhere Jimmy went. It was like an antidote to the muted passivity and seething hostility of my mother's response to her ex–best friend living with her ex-husband.

I exploded out onto the streets and joined endless gangs of seemingly parentless teens crowding the benches, the fields, the paddleball courts, the tables, the center, the arcade, Seton Park, and Johnson Avenue. Fat city rats feasted on the open garbage that had been left in decaying piles by the budget-slashed sanitation workers under Mayor Abe Beame's flailing administration. We stood, together, denim jackets Magic Markered with the names of our favorite bands (Beatles, Doors, Stones, Zeppelin), openly smoking pot in front of what few cops we saw: they had better things to do with their time than chase off a bunch of ragamuffins getting zooted out of their heads.

Everywhere you went there were nicknames — Tootsie, Perky, Pirate, Eggy, Ish, Fanbelt, Goich, Johnny-Boy, Gay Ray, Bend-Over Bob, the Mole, Buttons. I was the Mouse, from Amos (Ay-mos in the more Anglican pronunciation at school, as opposed to the Hebrew pronunciation Ah-mos). I was a small and scrappy middle infielder with good hands. A coach started calling me Mouse, and it stuck.

* * *

After school we'd play chicken, a game where we'd throw jackknives or stilettos into the ground, trying to get them as close as we could to our opponent's feet. One day the Mr. Yum-Yum ice cream truck pulled up, its maddening jingle a clarion call to kids all around. The guys I was playing chicken with were suddenly gathering rocks and pelting the truck, yelling, "Fuck that shit! This is Mr. Softee's territory!" The hapless vendor drove off in a hurry, fleeing in a hail of stones, while I wondered what the hell was going on. It was only years later that Ish told me that somebody was paying them to keep Mr. Yum-Yum off the block; he rewarded them all with free ice cream. "Yeah, Irish confetti," he recalled fondly.

These guys all lived across the highway, in North Riverdale or down the hill in Kingsbridge, where the streets were lined with rows of Archie Bunker–style houses and tired-looking apartment buildings that made Hudson Manor Terrace look grand. This was much more the neighborhood that people imagine when you say "the Bronx." It sure wasn't the Riverdale I came from.

One cold winter night we found an empty space in the basement of an apartment building on 238th Street, and turned it into our own private clubhouse, unbeknownst to its owners. We dragged in some derelict furniture and sat around at night drinking beer, smoking pot, snapping on each other's mothers, and making out with girls with feathered-back hair and denim jackets. We christened our subterranean clubhouse Zero.

Besides my decent grades, the biggest thing I had going for me was baseball. All those years of stickball had prepared me to become a good batter. After years of swinging at a small, curving Spalding ball with a bat the size of a broomstick, a regulation baseball looked like a grapefruit. By the age of fourteen I could hit a ball long and hard and had the arm, glove, and game smarts to match.

It was during one of my better outings that I met Inky Clark. The headmaster of the Horace Mann School was also the coach of the school's baseball team, and he had a reputation for scouting the local ball fields for promising players. I was at bat in a Pony League game at Seton Park when he pulled up in his big orange Cadillac convertible. Even if you were supposed to keep your eye on the ball, you couldn't miss Clark. He wore the plaid pants and loud sweaters of his adopted class and shouted his greetings to our coach in a braying voice that carried across the field.

When I came to the plate, the kids in the outfield moved back; that must have got Inky's attention. Then the first pitch I hit flew about 350 feet. It was caught, but it was still a hell of a rocket for a fourteen-year-old boy. I had heard Clark chattering until the moment I connected; that shot seemed to shut him up.

After that, Clark became more of a presence at our games. He was scouting talent, looking for kids to recruit to the school on scholarships and matching grants. Though I didn't know it at the time, Horace Mann wasn't just a bastion of the elite; it was already known in some circles as a place where Jews got cleaned up for the Ivy League and eventually Wall Street.

For the people I hung out with, my crew from the other side of the tracks, Horace Mann wasn't even on the radar. Though it was only about a mile from where we played stickball, it might as well have been on Neptune. The houses around the campus, in the Fieldston section of Riverdale, were mansions of the Tudor sort. Money trimmed the lawns and the hedgerows of the surrounding yards; the Beatles' last manager, Allen Klein, lived in a manse with a doorbell that played melodies by the Fab Four. John F. Kennedy had lived there as a child. The campus was gorgeous, and I can imagine that many graduates of Horace Mann felt a tinge of disappointment the first time they saw their colleges.

* * *

Over the course of the next few months, Inky continued visiting my games. In between he'd send typewritten letters on Horace Mann letterhead. "I have heard you are a fine student, which combined with your athletic interests means that Horace Mann might be a great spot for you," he wrote in one letter. "Let's plan to get together fairly soon ... In that way, we can start the necessary procedures."

Although two of Fran's kids went to Horace Mann, my parents knew little more about the place than my friends and I did. When Inky's offer to join its student body came at the end of ninth grade, it was like finding a message in a bottle on the seashore, albeit one written in a tongue none of us understood.

Soon enough, I found myself sitting, arms folded, in the admissions office in a building on the Horace Mann campus they called the Cottage. If Inky was famous for his lime-green pants and plaid jackets, he was outdone only by Gary Miller, the glad-handing director of admissions. Miller was a Thurston Howell III caricature of a WASP. Ambivalent about losing my friends, I let my Bronx accent do my talking for me ("Yeah, how you doin'?"). But if I meant to queer the deal with my attitude, it didn't work. Miller had probably seen enough of Inky's diamonds-in-the-rough to take my tough guy street act in stride. Clark, I came to understand, was on a mission to change Horace Mann, one kid at a time, and I was just a small part of his master plan. I had a lot to learn — about Inky, his mission, and the school itself.

* * *

When I was summoned alone to my father's apartment for our weekly Sunday-at-one conference, my mind was made up: I didn't want to go to Horace Mann. That day, I walked through the PS 24 playground to the Whitehall steeling myself for his wrath. I walked past the doorman and stole a look around for Chambliss, Blomberg, or Mays. I stepped out of the elevator on 8 and pressed Father's doorbell, expecting to be met in battle, or maybe to find him relieved that he wouldn't have to pay even a small portion of the steep tuition.

Instead, I found him in a conciliatory, almost concerned mood. He asked me about the offer and even my "five-year plan." At fourteen, my immediate plan included nothing more than sports and girls, and it certainly didn't extend half a decade into the future. He asked me what my objections to Horace Mann were. I shrugged like Jimmy Ryan and told him I just wanted to be with my friends.

"You will make new friends," he said.

"I just don't want to go," I whined. "That whole place is filled with a bunch of snobs."

"Snobs!" He repeated the word, raising one eyebrow and sticking out his lower lip in an exaggerated expression of surprise. He stood and limped to the bookcase by his desk. He picked up a thick dictionary and lumbered back to his chair to continue our interview.

"Snob," he said, as he leafed through the pages before stopping at the definition. "'Snob: one who blatantly imitates, fawningly admires, or vulgarly seeks association with those regarded as social superiors.'" He looked up at me. "This is who attends Horace Mann?"

"Well, not exactly," I said, fumbling my response. "I don't know."

He continued. "'One who tends to rebuff, avoid, or ignore those regarded as inferior; one who has an offensive air of superiority in matters of knowledge or taste.'" He looked at me again, like a chess player who has just maneuvered his opponent into checkmate. "These are the students you will meet?"

I dug in. "I don't care! I'm not going."

He closed the big book, smiled at me, and said kindly, "Why not try it for a year? If you don't like it, we can talk about it then."

CHAPTER 2

THE CITY ON THE HILL


Pink is for pussies.

That's the thought that crossed my mind as I stood in the Breezeway wearing the pink Lacoste shirt my brother Ofer had given me to wear on my first day of summer school at Horace Mann. This was before Ralph Lauren ushered in the prep school era of fashion by aping the style of the yacht club set. My brother meant well with his fashion-forward statement; he thought it would help me blend in.

But first I had to pass biology. The only condition on entering as a sophomore was that I take a summer science class that made my studies at 141 look like kindergarten. I'd gotten straight As there without breaking a sweat, and only after arriving at HM did I understand how low the bar had been set. I was in the major leagues now.

The summer of 1979, I shuttled between HM's pristine campus and my mother's apartment, my backpack stuffed with enough books for a semester's worth of classes. Our teacher was Michael "Doc" Passow, himself a graduate of Horace Mann. He was quick-witted and broke down the material in a way that made biology come alive for me. He bantered with the students in a familiar, collegial fashion that was unlike any student-teacher interaction I'd ever witnessed. Compared with him, most of the teachers at 141 were like prison guards.

The student labs were state-of-the-art. The hallways were free of the graffiti and litter I had come to regard as normal; the food in the cafeteria, which I couldn't afford, was comparable to what I was bringing from home; and the stalls in the restrooms had doors on them. For a 141 kid who had trained himself to hold it in all day, this was a major deal.

By the end of the second day, I was racing home to scarf a quick dinner before throwing myself into a full evening of memorizing information about mitochondria and cell organisms — just the kind of thing that used to make my eyes cross. My brothers were astounded by the overnight change in my behavior. My two best friends, Lance and Pat, were mostly just annoyed.

The buzzer would sound and one of my brothers would yell out my name. I'd tear myself away from protoplasm and answer the intercom.

"Yo, Mouse, we're going to the benches," Lance would say. "You wanna hang out?"

"I gotta study, man."

"In the summertime? What the fuck?"


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Great is the Truth by Amos Kamil, Sean Elder. Copyright © 2015 Amos Kamil and Sean Elder. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Contents

Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Dedication,
Epigraph,
A Note on Methods,
Introduction: Hell for Sure,
1. A Small World,
2. The City on the Hill,
3. Out of the Past,
4. The Storm Unleashed,
5. A Safe Space,
6. The Turning of the Tide,
7. The Wild Card,
8. Mediation,
9. Blowback,
10. Strange Aftermath,
11. What Does Justice Look Like?,
12. Truth Be Told,
Note,
Acknowledgments,
Index,
A Note About the Authors,
Copyright,

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