Regardless of what verdict may be returned in the case brought against a former upperclassman of St Paul’s School for raping a freshman, the rector’s public reaction to the case is unsettling. On the one hand, he assures parents and students that the school remains ‘committed, as always, to ensuring our students’ safety and wellbeing [emphasis added].’ On the other, in the face of allegations that the school appears to turn a blind eye to sexual predation in certain circumstances, he says that ‘we could be doing better’ to plan and structure preventives to such things as ‘relational violence’.
‘Relational violence prevention’ is one of the eeriest euphemisms I have heard anyone use in connection with secondary education. It is possible that the rector is merely walking on eggshells, but yet another statement of his suggests a deeper problem. The New York Times reports that he said, ‘[the alleged rape] provides us with an important opportunity to reconsider elements of our shared life that do not appear in our strategic plan.’
Strategic plan? St. Paul’s School is an Episcopal school, or professes to be. The times being what they are, everyone professes need for a ‘strategic plan’, though organically constituted communities can manage without them, as did another Anglican institution, the University of Oxford, in its 19th-Century reform movement. More to the point is the implicit admission that strategic planning is not a be-all and end-all. How anyone could have thought otherwise?
Part of strategic planning is to identify opportunities and threats and to consider what might be done to take advantage of the former and keep the latter at bay. Anyone who has participated in this part of the plan knows how much fantasy and wishful thinking matter in the final lists and plan. Suppose you are in a planning group and you say, on the basis of evidence available to you, that one threat to a school is destructive and violent behavior by students countenanced or tolerated within the school culture. The chances are that within an insecure or disingenuous corporate culture your warning will be dealt with ineffectively or, worse, will be dismissed or derided.
But all this discussion should be beside the point. Schools should have moral compasses, which are one of the things that happily distinguish them, or should distinguish them, from educational software. By moral compass I do not mean the one that identifies bad conduct as ‘inappropriate behavior’. That sorry category makes date rape sound like a faux pas.
If the allegations now on trial should be proved true, and if as claimed the school’s culture is shown to have led to the behavior alleged, it will suggest strongly that St. Paul’s moral compass is faulty. That is a pity, for an effective traditional guide to conduct is available to St. Paul’s. It is called the Spiritual Works of Mercy. If that seems too sectarian, there is yet another guide available. It is called the law.