Sunday, June 24, 2012

My Favorite Teacher

Another tale about my alma mater has found its way to the front page of the New York Times ("Retired Teacher At Mann Recalls Sex With Pupils"). It is a story whose 15 minutes I thought was passing, but I misjudged its reach.

Tek Young Lin might have been my favorite teacher during my 6 years at this school. I was an indifferent student and remember little of the particulars in any of my classes. But there was a gentleness to this English teacher and an appreciation for the larger universe that permeated his conversation and his actions.

I was not alone among my family in being drawn to this small and soft spoken man. My father, both during my years at HM, and even thereafter, talked fondly of Mr. Lin and of the garden that he grew in the middle of our campus. There was a world outside the classroom, he seemed to be saying, equally important to understand and celebrate.

It is not entirely shocking to me that those who have been the subject of Mr. Lin's "crossing boundaries" appear less harsh in their recollections of him, and more reticent to damn him. It is impossible for me to conceive that the brutal and prolonged actions allegedly undertaken by Mr. Somary were similar in nature and scope to those of Mr. Lin. The haughtiness and arrogance of the former seemed no where evident in the man tending to his garden.

This is not intended to excuse the actions alleged to have occurred, and those to which he has now admitted. Mr. Lin did much more than cross boundaries. And for that, decency and morality demand remorse and recognition of the errors committed, notwithstanding that he is now 88 and long since living 3000 miles away from the school in the Bronx. For the actions he has taken, no time nor distance can make them less immediate, less present or less wrong.

But, I hope history does not judge Mr. Lin in the same light that has been cast upon the others in revealing the sordid underbelly of this previously invulnerable institution. As with all else in life, there are differences and distinctions. At least for me, this story is more personal and more nuanced. I guess, for many of us, it is this ambivalence, this uncertainty of how or what to feel, that pulls at us now, and will continue to do so as this much longer than 15 minute story continues to unfold.

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