Prep school boys: Listen up

Right now, our nation is considering a candidate for its highest court and grappling with alleged crimes he committed against women when he was a teenager — at least one of which is said to have occurred when he was a student at an all-boys’ prep school, an hour from the all boys’ prep school where I teach in Baltimore.

These days, I go to school more aware than ever of a strange dichotomy: I am a woman at an all boys’ school in the midst of the #MeToo era. At the heart of my profession is profound hope for boys — hope for the courageous, compassionate and honorable men they can become if they are understood and loved. Yet I, too, have been groped, harassed, coerced and demeaned in the past by boys who were not educated with such care, who became men that confuse courage with conquest, thinking little of the impact.

Today, Congress will hear testimony from a man and a woman about an assault that did or didn’t happen when they were teenagers, and I feel a heavier, more singular burden to talk to my teenage students about the importance of this moment.

What I want to tell them has nothing to do with politics or partisanship but everything to do with the moments, both mundane and extraordinary, that comprise their daily lives here and now, as high school students in 2018. It would come as no surprise to them, because I say it to them daily:

Gentlemen, listen up.

Listen to the rules. Listen to the consequences for breaking them.

Listen to each other. Listen to the jokes made in the locker room and the secrets passed from one phone to the next. Listen to the awkward silence from some, and listen to the laughter from others.

Listen to women. Listen to women when they tell you “no.” Listen to women when they don’t say yes. Listen to women when they say something happened. Listen to women when they say that things happen all the time.

Listen to how the stories get told. Listen to the words that get used. Listen to the excuses and the justifications, the mistakes and mischaracterizations. Listen: Boys will be boys, some say; she should have known better.

Listen to what they’re saying about you, about teenage boys, about private-school boys. Listen to the condemnations and the blanket statements and the pathetic resignation that no one could expect better from you.

Listen to what we, your teachers, are saying about you, about how you are loved and how you’re enough as you are, about how you are capable and brave.

Listen: You don’t have to be just boys being boys. Listen to the other options.

Listen to what happens next — history repeating itself, or a new story?

I’m your teacher.

I’m a woman.

I just want you to listen.

Katie Reid is director of digital media at The Boys' Latin School of Maryland. Her email is Twitter: @katiereidwrites.

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