Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Are you really shocked?














First Sandusky at Penn State, then Bernie Fine at Syracuse.  People are shocked.  I just asked the man on the street.  He said, “I’m shocked.”
It feels like deja-vu to me.
Anybody remember Ted Washburn?  I didn’t think so.  He taught seventh- and eighth-grade English at Buckingham, Browne and Nichols.
My school.
Amazing teacher.
He had these assignments called Slide-Tapes.  Students were allowed to pick a slide, choose music to go with it, write a blank verse poem and record the whole thing in his a recording studio to be mixed and then played for the class on Fridays over the awesome stereo.  There were different rules for different Slide-Tapes.  In one, you couldn't use the verb; to be in any form.  It was straight description.  Mr. Washburn wrote his own textbook.  We read Lord of the Flies and Dandelion Wine.
He also molested some of the boys and maybe the girls, I don’t know.  Gave them Penthouse and Hustler to read.  Got them all hot and bothered and suggested ways he could help them feel better.
It went on for years.  Twenty years.
The reason it’s deja-vu is that Ted Washburn also coached the Freshman Crew at Harvard.  Perhaps it’s not Division I football but in Cambridge, Massachusetts, rowing is a big deal and Harvard rowing is bigger by a magnitude of about ten.
What happened?
It was buried.  My school swept it under the rug in the principal’s office.  The Boston Globe ran some articles on it but mostly what they reported was the story of a man who raped little boys and got away with it because his father was famous (Brad Washburn mapped the Grand Canyon, Everest and, more or less, started the Boston Museum of Science).  Mike Barnicle’s column was the exception, sort of.
What I remember of Ted Washburn was that he was a really gifted teacher but I have mentioned that already.
What I also remember was that I was invisible to him.  At the end of the year he gave out awards.  The El Toro Award, given to the boy whose voice had dropped the most (Seth) consisted of a plastic bull standing about eight inches tall with a shriveled balloon dangling between its legs.  The Land O’ Lakes Award was given to the girl whose breasts developed the most.  Did you know that you can cut around the little box held by the Land O’ Lakes Indian girl to make a little flap, then cut out her bare knees and paste them behind the flap so when you look behind the butter it looks like she’s baring her boobs?  Well, that was the trophy.  Valerie won.  She seemed thrilled at the time.  I found out later that she was anything but.
There were lots more awards.  But not one for every kid.  Of course, being the paragon of mediocrity that I was in seventh-grade, I didn’t even get an honorable mention.  Nothing.
So I lied.  I was good at that.  I came home and proudly announced to my parents that I had won the Bullshit Award.  The fact that I did not have the trophy, a spray can with the word Bullshit stenciled on the side, did not keep them from buying the lie hook, line and sinker.  Problem was, they were not impressed.  My father particularly.  I don’t remember how many times that lie came back to bite me as it would take years for me to live down the bullshitter label.
Which is worse: to be a bullshitter or to win the award?  Although Mr. Washburn didn’t know it, I was probably the most deserving student he had.
But here’s the thing.  When the news about Ted Washburn finally dribbled out, I was, unlike the man in the street, not shocked.  Although I had no idea what was going on, there was still something off about Mr. Washburn.  The emotion I felt was very complicated.  You see, Mr. Washburn did horrible things and ruined several boys’ late childhood or early adulthood.  But Mr. Washburn chose the popular boys, the smart boys, the good-looking boys.  In some strange way, hearing the news that Mr. Washburn was a pedophile wasn’t as hurtful as knowing that I was not one of the boys that he wanted.
Saved by mediocrity.  It’s about as mixed a blessing as there ever was.

25 comments:

  1. I remember everything :( ~ Blair

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    1. I also remember everything.

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  2. What do you remember? It was an odd time, wasn't it? I find it funny how much I can't remember!

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    1. Ellakim, is there an email address at which you can be contacted? I'd like to discuss this.

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    2. Here's an address:
      Eliakim.littell@gmail.com

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  3. Complex stuff, Kim. I remember sitting on your floor, studying child development and talking with you about Washburn and my experiences at the Renaissance Community. I also remember the time Washburn rode along with Ken W. and feeling so stressed out about it. It all makes me feel ill, even after all these year.--Faith

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  4. 20 years may be an understatement. My brother, a good-looking athletic blond, was his student in the early 70s. They went camping together and Ted regularly showed up at our house looking for my brother.

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  5. Hi Kim, This is Serena, BB&N '87. I just read this article from the NY Times: Prep-School Predators - The Horace Mann School’s Secret History of Sexual Abuse (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/10/magazine/the-horace-mann-schools-secret-history-of-sexual-abuse.html?pagewanted=all) and ended up searching on Washburn and found your post. The article on Horace Mann completely reminded me of the whole Washburn affair - the teacher with the unconventional teaching methods, the whispers of his rude comments, the abuse that went on for years. Even though Washburn had no direct impact on me, it still haunts me today.

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  6. I don't know why today was the day I researched all of this (and found your post), but I was one of the boys he chose in the late 70's - I wasn't good looking, or even all that smart, but I suppose I made a good target. 35 years.... I've never told anyone, but my wife. Thanks for the post - it helps.

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  7. I was in Mr. Washburn's class the year his sexual misconduct came to light. He did not go for the popular boys then, but the loners and the troubled ones. I remember feeling shocked and disappointed. The last grade I received from him was an A- , and when I found that paper in my little pigeon hole, I had never been so proud. To this day, I remember that feeling-- and the pride in finally getting priase from him (I am a female and was in noway a candidate for the big boob prize)

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  8. Crazy to see this...I remember the slide tapes...it was the only thing for which I received a good grade. More often I remember being nervous for not having completed the reading when we would discuss it in class...a few times he would call on me in class and seemed upset I had not done my reading. Guess he didn't like me for that and he left me alone. I was shocked to learn about all of this nonetheless.

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  9. I was in Boston in 1988 when the story broke. Since I was on the crew team in the 70s, I certainly paid attention.
    Google "Ted Washburn abuse" if you have not already done so.
    I'm shocked that BB&N did not own up to this until 2008!

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  10. I was a student of Ted Washburn in the late 60's. He was my english teacher, and crew and hockey coach. I found him quite engaging and liked him immensely. This was early in his career so I did not see any of the rude behavior that others apparently experienced.

    He used to pick me up and drive me to school as I lived on the way. We had numerous discussions, many of which revolved around sex. He seemed to have quite a fixation on sex which did extend to his teaching. He taught a "Youth"course in which he recounted to me the sexual topics they discussed. I distinctly remember him recounting how he had assigned the class to write pornography and he had "got some really good stuff".

    Ted and I parted ways as I was bit too "conservative" for his taste. My parents did complain to the school (Gunness was headmaster) but were told something to the effect that "maybe B&N (as it was called then) was not the place for me"-so I left the school.

    A contributing factor may have been the time period of the late 60's in which it was very fashionable to be open (and avant garde) about sexual topics. I think Ted's pathology was masked and perhaps enabled by the fashion of the time.

    Even so, I still blame the school leadership for allowing Ted's career to continue. They should have had the clarity to have seen that his behavior was inappropriate and put a stop to it.

    What a shame. This all could have been avoided.

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  11. Kim, I was in the year behind and you were one of my brother's friends. Even then I thought it was odd that kids went down to Mr. Washburn's classroom during free period to listen to him play the guitar and eat a Twinkie. Luckily I was not a direct target, but it still affects me to this day. There was at least one boy in my 7th grade class that was molested. I remember him telling us that Mr. Washburn would bring him in the back recording room, give him a porn magazine and have him wack off while he was watching. I thought it was odd then and it disgusts me beyond description now. Working with young children and being trained in abuse prevention, I am reminded of Ted Washburn almost weekly. I am completely disgusted by him and how the BB&N Administration allowed him to teach for so long knowing about his abuses.
    I can't believe what it would be like if I was one of his targets. I just asked BB&N to take me off all communication distribution lists.

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  12. When I was in 4th grade, I was invited to my first sleepover party, at the home of Ted Washburn's daughter. My parents let me go for the first portion but did not let me stay over because they didn't know "my friend's father." While I realize that Ted was seemingly more interested in boys than girls, I still wonder what may have transpired that night after I left. I was so angry at my parents at the time for not letting me stay over. When this story broke in the late 80s, I finally understood my parents' concerns. Kids don't like to admit when their parents were right, but boy were my parents right about this one.

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  13. What ever happened to Washburn/where is he today? Can we be assured that he didn't repeat his pattern after his slap on the wrist of a conviction?

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  14. I was one year ahead of Mr. Washburn's daughter at BBN (and I remember moronically looking for her at the assembly announcing his departure). Rather than the slide-tapes, I will never forget the grammar drills on the TRS-80s. Between having a basement classroom that felt totally removed from the rest of the school, the computers and finding him sitting on the table calmly playing his electric guitar - he seemed so very cool.

    Ellakim, you are so right, he had a charisma, and I also distinctly remember thinking that I was invisible to him. It was clear to us kids that he had favorites who got to hang out in the basement of cool outside of class. I agree with a previous commenter from my era that they were not the popular kids, but the loners. I didn’t know what horrible things might have been going on, but I did notice the favorites were all boys so I knew I would never be one of them. As a loner kid too, I was very, very jealous. That’s some disturbing power over little kids.

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  15. Powerful account, thanks for sharing Kim. And sorry to all who are continuing to struggle and come to terms with their own experiences with Ted Washburn. I only went to BB&N at the upper school, but was a senior in the fall of 87 when the news broke, and we had helicopters flying over our playing fields. I think many of us may be remembering again today, this week, in light of the recent story at St. George's. It is very troubling that this continues to happen, to remain hidden and that there is no offer of support to those who have been affected or no culpability of those responsible. --- Kristen Ruckstuhl

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  16. Could you contact me? I am the alum who launched the campaign that got BB&N to change its stance.
    Thanks for keeping the conversation going.
    Daniel Weinreb (went by my first name Nick at BB&N.) I'd like to get an article in Rowing Magazine - I'll explain why.

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  17. Could you contact me? I am the alum who launched the campaign that got BB&N to change its stance.
    Thanks for keeping the conversation going.
    Daniel Weinreb (went by my first name Nick at BB&N.) I'd like to get an article in Rowing Magazine - I'll explain why.

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  18. It's better not to win awards. On the occasions when I won some academic prize (or, years later when I got an "engineer of the year" award at work), my performance always went down in the immediate future. Subconsciously, I'd thought that I'd "arrived", or reached the/my peak and had nowhere else to go (when in fact there was plenty of elsewheres to go).

    Read the Daniel Kahneman quote in wikipedia's article on "Regression toward the mean".

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  19. Just a quick comment on the "hands off" stance of the administration. While most B&N (early sixties) students enjoyed a happy and healthy upper school experience, I learned later in life that my considerable academic struggles were the result of an mis-diagnosed learning disability. It essentially made reading for comprehension an impossibility for me. Imagine being the brunt of countless teachers' ridicules and being labeled "lazy" and "incorrigible" throughout my years there. When I tried to kill myself (unsuccessfully, I'm happy to say), I was escorted into the Headmaster's office the next day by my father. The Headmaster at the time (1965 and I'll let you fill in the blank) told my father that I was obviously unhappy there and that maybe the best thing would be to find another school. Meeting over. Neither Pratt (woops) nor my father ever brought the incident up to me again. Failed on two counts. They are both gone now and I have forgiven them.

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  20. Globe just published a major article on sexual abuse at New England private schools. Washburn's case is mentioned if you search BB&N.
    It includes the letter offering therapeutic support to any person who survived Washburn.

    https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2016/05/06/private-schools-painful-secrets/OaRI9PFpRnCTJxCzko5hkN/story.html

    Washburn is still living in Lexington. He used to live on Berwick Lane, now he lives at 7 Doran Farm Lane, Lexington, MA.

    The Massachusetts statute of limitations has been extended - Washburn can be sued in civil court by any survivor under 53. I am in the process of doing so, represented by Mitchell Garabedian. Garabedian would be happy to talk with others - I could recommend other lawyers if people want.
    -Nick Weinreb '89

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  21. Just received 5/21/16 updated latter from Rebecca Upham. Daniel, while I am sure I am not the first and I know I won't be the last, I just want to say you are to be commended on your strength and perseverance in changing a school (it took how many decades?), a community, and a culture which had its medieval head stuck up its butt. I graduated BB&N in '75 and did not ever have him as a teacher but was close to others who did and heard stories about how 'creative' he was (time now to redefine that term) which included sleepovers. You probably have helped many others come to terms. I am in Florida, run a large practice of mental health practitioners, and if I can ever help, let me know.

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  22. I went to school with his daughter in lexington before she went off to BB &N. I remember her being very withdrawn and remember in several occasions peeing in her clothes at school. I'm learning now as I pursue fostering and adoption brought the state that these kinds of behaviors commonly result from child sexual abuse. It makes me so sad to think of what she must have been going through all alone in that home (mother didn't live there) while none of us neighbors knew a thing. Friend, I am so sorry we did not help. I hope you have been able to heal from all the horror.

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