[UPDATE added below in red] We were truly surprised by the news about the sexual assault allegations against Brother Lawrence at St. Mary’s, from a letter to parents sent out on January 31. As we wrote in the last post, the least we could do to help members of the wider school community who may be affected, is to host and facilitate a(n anonymous) discussion, found in the Forum. We are happy to use this blog’s established existence to do that. Apparently, many of us are interested:
Here is how people came to our blog (for the past 30 days–to include January 31st, the day the letter to parents came out). Wow–is all we have to say about the power of Facebook–507 referrals, and counting:]
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As for Ms. Tran’s case, because she submitted the overseas plaintiff deposit on time, the defense (Gregory Strong, Professor of English at Aoyama Gakuin) has had to submit arguments for the February session of the court i.e. engage in the suit fully. That happened earlier this week. Ms. Tran’s side will rebut the arguments for the next session, at the beginning of March.
The defense’s arguments are long and repeat much of what was said in the case with St. Mary’s earlier. Namely, that Gregory Strong had no obligation to hire Ms. Tran at Aoyama. Again, while this is true, the decision not to hire someone surely shouldn’t be followed by a defamatory rant to the person’s current employer, nor a written threat to stymie the person’s future chances of being hired elsewhere. How about just not hiring the person, Mr. Strong?
We can only imagine that a small-minded, petty person with an inflated sense of self-importance and influence would bother to do that.
Upon checking out Gregory Strong’s CV, it seems he presents at McGraw-Hill Education Events at JALT, writes about EFL and ESL, and of course, is in charge of hiring for Aoyama Gakuin University’s English Department. Thus, it is understandable why he wrote this email defaming a teacher in the “strictest confidence”: such a thing is, otherwise, utterly unprofessional to do. Of course, there was an assumption of an unwritten Code of Silence and the support of a league of behind-the-scenes actors who have no qualms about damaging others. It’s great that Ms. Tran’s employer at the time refused to participate.
It’ll be interesting to find out how the defense will argue that Mr. Strong felt it necessary to go the extra step of writing about fictitious court orders and settlement results against Ms. Tran in his infamous email. And if St. Mary’s claims not to have fed Mr. Strong this information officially, then Mr. Strong needs to explain why he cited an authority at St. Mary’s.
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We are not big fans of Codes of Silence and non-transparency. These things may be useful for holding up reputations of institutions or the egos of those who run them, for a while, but ultimately, they create an environment full of unacknowledged cracks. When the weakest member of a community is being punished for or prevented from speaking out, be it a new teacher, be it an isolated family or student, the community is an unsafe one. These days we hear a lot about societies fighting to protect women, girls, minorities like the LGBT community, victims of sexual abuse (in India, Sochi, the world wide Catholic community…)–because when the weakest members feel safe and thriving, that’s when we can be assured a community is a solid one.
St. Mary’s International School was not a safe place for Ms. Tran to bring up, what should have been standard complaints: stop whispering in her ear Mr. Assistant Vice-Principal; acknowledge the test results of her students and stop closed-door meetings where a teacher is not allowed any advocate present. It was surprising, instead the machinery that had been set up and waiting, to squash her speaking up. In 2008, it was in the wording of the contracts that the school had set up with the teachers’ landlords, and the ambiguous wording of the employment contract itself. These things could only be challenged in court, which took time and expense. When the teacher overcame those, in 2010, it was the St. Mary’s admin, Linda Wayne, Curriculum Coordinator, who leveraged a network of friends in positions of power to pass on things that would damage the career of a teacher in a way that would not be visible to the courts.
Why is there machinery to quiet voices? Why not deal with problems openly and transparently? Is the brand of the school more important than the well-being of the individuals within it? We are afraid so.
By the way, we don’t mean to attribute real “power” to people like Gregory Strong and Linda Wayne. We feel like it is only applicable because in this small, claustrophobic context of international schools in Japan, and particularly at St. Mary’s — these individuals seem big. Noting the ultimate pettiness of what was done to Ms. Tran, we know that her slanderers would not be considered worthy of their professions in a real context. If Linda Wayne’s dinner conversation with Gregory Strong meant to excuse why St. Mary’s had to pay a settlement to Ms. Tran:
In our opinion, 25-30-years is much too long a tenure for people like Linda Wayne and Gregory Strong to ever be advocates of progressive education and teaching excellence. Spotty-bottomed bureaucrats intent on reinforcing the brand of the only institution on their resumes? That’s more likely. Some international schools in Europe have a 7-year maximum on how long any teacher or administrator is allowed to stay. What a great policy.