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Thoughts on the Penn State Crisis

November 11, 2011

At the beginning of every year, we who work in the field of education reflect on the sacred trust we hold as men and women who work with young people.  Teachers may at times think that their profession lacks the stature, compensation and recognition of other professions, but when we consider the responsibility we carry each day as role models, coaches, advisors and mentors, we realize that our calling is sacred.  Every moment we spend with students is a gift and a privilege.

The scandal rocking the athletic program at Penn State University cuts to the core of this notion and principle of responsibility and trust.  We need to be able to count on the humanity, decency, integrity and generosity of our teachers and coaches; we need the adults in our schools and universities to reflect a deep commitment to the spiritual, physical, emotional and intellectual well being of the young people entrusted to our care.

It is particularly vile and repulsive to use the sacred position of trust that teachers hold as a means of gaining access to opportunities of abuse.  The allegations against the Penn State assistant coach describe acts that are unlawful, violent and outrageous.  The strategies he may have employed to gain such trust and access to children are reprehensible and disturbing.

The work we do in educational institutions each and every year makes us acutely aware of the history of human evil and human transgressions in our culture and world.  We exist as sanctuaries—places where children are celebrated, recognized, affirmed and protected.  We define the very goodness and potential of our cultures by asking how the youngest children flourish and develop on our campuses.

Therefore, we all collectively commit to a system, a process of bringing up children that calls upon community, collaboration and participation.  We look out for the safety and welfare of children.  We intervene when they are in danger.  We look for signs of unhappiness, distress, neglect or abuse.  We report any observations or impressions that disturb us, upset us or frighten us.  That is what adults do, every day, in a civil society—we bring up children; we honor children; we protect children.

Those who violate that trust or those who by indifference or neglect enable such abuse destroy a sacred trust and obligation.  They must answer to the law.  Most importantly, they must answer to their consciences.

Perhaps from this crisis we as Americans will gain an even better sense of the obligations and responsibilities of adulthood.  Perhaps we will see that our adulation and obsession with athletic success may ignite a culture of presumption, arrogance and lawlessness.  Perhaps we will all commit ourselves to the creation of a world and culture that honors and protects the innocent children of the world.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Jane von Oehsen permalink
    November 11, 2011 6:24 pm

    Thank you to all at St. Andrew’s for this very thoughtful email. We are so horrified as we look to college admission for our son.

    However, from the first moment we arrived on your campus, we felt our son would be in good – no – great hands. It is hard to have your child go away to school and we would not allow him to go just anywhere. All of us were searching for an institution who has faculty and staff that are beyond our greatest expectations. We bless the day we found you!

  2. alan wein permalink
    November 11, 2011 7:50 pm

    Well said !!

  3. Heidi Rowe permalink
    November 12, 2011 10:40 am

    Wonderful letter, Tad. Thank you for sharing your outrage and compassion.

  4. November 12, 2011 12:38 pm

    Thank you for your thoughtful letter, Tad. At St. Andrews the mentor/student relationship is invaluable. As teachers and coaches your calling is indeed “sacred.” That is why it is so important that mentors (faculty, staff, clergy, and coaches) be educated about the fragile dynamic that exists when students looks up to and put such trust in them. The emotional and spiritual health of the child depends upon the sound boundaries of the mentor. There are several organization nationwide that can be hired to provide in-school seminars around this very important issue.

  5. Pat Nicklin permalink
    November 13, 2011 9:29 am

    Thank you for your important comments, Mr. Roach. I also found the immediate reaction of the Penn State students to be disturbing. The 2,000 students who rioted because Joe Paterno was suspended showed that some of them cared more about the football program than they did the children who were abused. I believe that St. Andrew’s emphasis on character is the most important thing you are teaching our children.
    Pat Nicklin

  6. November 14, 2011 2:45 pm

    Sorry about the two typo’s…

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