Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Letter


J’ACCUSE! (Redux)

A Letter to Incumbent Headmistress Nanci Z. Kauffman by Kristin [Redacted]

To Nanci Z. Kauffman—

In gratitude for everything that Castilleja gave me—academically as a student, emotionally as a child growing into an adult, spiritually in helping me know myself, know my conscience—I now find myself called to action in her defense. Permit me first to say that, the stellar reputation—the golden star of excellence that has guided Castilleja through her one hundred years, and the legacy that you, as the heritor of the title Headmistress, will take up as your own very shortly, so happy and regal until now, is threatened by the most shameful of blemishes.

Castilleja has weathered many a storm—has passed through untold historical and social changes and challenges, from the ravages of the First World War and Great Depression, to the uncertainty, and ultimate triumph of the Second World War, has passed through the tempest of the social unrest of the 1960s, where society at large seemed poised to thrash itself to bits. Castilleja has thrived on the economic miracle of the 1990s, and has embraced globalism as she has seen fit. Through all of this, however, Castilleja has remained true to her core principles, has stayed true to the promise of academic excellence, and the oath—which she gives to her students, as much as her students bestow to her—of the Five C’s.

Yet, the spot that will be on your name as Headmistress—on your impending tenure— and the thing that, despite Castilleja’s fortitude and resilience through history, threatens to tear her apart internally, limb from limb, and destroy all the legitimacy and prestige that she now enjoys, is this abominable “Bear Affair”! Someone in the administration has seen fit to dismiss and banish Mr. Capron from the community and campus, and given no word to anyone as to why. And so it is done, Castilleja has this stain upon her cheek, the history of the school for ages on, will recount that, under the tenure of your predecessor, and on the eve of you ascension to Headmistress, that such a social and moral crime could be committed.

Permit me now to quote directly Emile Zola, whose letter on the Dreyfuss Affaire I now model this, my accusation, for he has said it better than I ever could:

Since they dared, I too will dare. The truth I will say, because I promised to say it, if justice, regularly seized, did not do it, full and whole. My duty is to speak; I do not want to be an accomplice. My nights would be haunted by the specter of innocence that suffer there, through the most dreadful of tortures, for a crime it did not commit.

Which is to say, I must now speak for those whose voices have been taken from them: Mr. Capron, by his inability to be present on campus or divulge information regarding his situation; the faculty of the school, who I gather is both shocked and saddened by this situation, but cannot say a word for fear of their jobs; for the Castilleja community—students, parents, alums, former colleagues—whose questions and pleas for reason have fallen on deaf ears.

It is to you, Ms. Kauffman, as the next heir to Castilleja and the legacy that she is now in the process of creating, that I will proclaim the truth, with all the resolution of a simple woman who only wishes to see the triumph of honesty. For your honor, I believe that, perhaps aware of the situation, you nevertheless have been unable to act. Yet this will not always be the case. And with whom will I thus denounce the foundation of these guilty actions, if not with you, who will soon have the ability to right the wrongs that have been committed?

First, a bit about the truth behind the Bear Affaire, and the larger, grievous actions against the community as a whole. Sometime in mid-October, Mr. Capron was suddenly, and without explanation, removed from his position as drama instructor, and director of the fall play. Although, according to numerous sources, his message machine only says that he is “on leave”, another has taken his place as drama teacher, and another director was found to continue his work on the fall play. He was banished, essentially, from the campus, and no one knew or was allowed to say, why. Ms. Lonergan sent out a brief message to the community, saying that Mr. Capron was “in good health”, and that more information would be made available in about a week’s time. One and a half months later, still no official word about the situation.

From what students, parents, and alum have been able to scrap together, the story unfolds as such: Mr. Capron aired a short film, the Academy-award winning short film “Cashback,” in one of his freshman classes. The film apparently contained female nudity, yet no implicit or explicit sex-scene. Despite having previous given out permission slips for parents to sign, regarding their children watching R-rated movies, despite the fact that Mr. Capron allowed anyone who might feel uncomfortable to leave the class, without repercussion, despite the fact that, in numerous other middle-and-high school classes, thing have been seen and read by students of this same “graphic” nature—and potentially even more shocking (Europa Europa, Othello movie, I know Why the Caged Bird Sings)—Mr. Capron, for some unbeknownst reason, was subjected to a double-standard, whereby, after a student [s], or parent [s] of students, complained, he was summarily dismissed from employment, and an effective “gag” order was placed on all those who knew anything of the situation.

How could something as innocuous as screening a potentially “disturbing” film to a group of students, who are presumed, by their entry into such a prestigious institution as Castilleja, to be able to study objectively material that may be questionable—and in fact, this movie, by all accounts, was hardly questionable—lead to the dismissal of such a renowned and excellent educator and mentor, as Mr. Bear Capron? Let us go back in time two years: fall play, 2008. The choice of the play, “Lysistrata” that Mr. Capron chose to produce, aroused some heavy criticism from the administration, for many of the same reasons (“indecency”) that now come into play with this movie, “Cashback”. Although this was a season after my graduation, I learned from my friends still at Castilleja (as I was not yet so far removed in my time to not have any student ties to the school), that their was quite the uproar, that school ended by censoring some of the production, and that a “parental advisory” of sorts was placed on the production by the administration.

Now we come to this, the current crisis. Could it not be—I sincerely wish it to not be, yet suspect nonetheless—that this current outrage of justice, this current suppression of facts, of due process, comes not from the values of the five C’s, instilled in generations of students—but instead in born from some unresolved hostility, left over from two years ago? Could it be that someone in the administration was holding out, waiting to strike at the heart of the school, if and when another misstep should be taken? Can it be that Castilleja has strayed so far from its bearings, from its values, that it now acts out of petty “vengeance”, rather than thoughtful consideration for the overall good of the school, its students, and its academic reputation and renown?

And so we arrive at the community “backlash”. Swiftly after his disappearance, a Facebook group was created to support Mr. Capron, to find out why he was discharged, and potentially, to have him re-instated. The momentum grew quickly, as the group membership now reaches, if it has not surpassed, 500 members. A petition was created and circulated, gathering over 300 signatures, and finally submitted to the school. Countless alum, students, parents, former instructors, wrote letters, asking for transparency. Testimonials to the phenomenal existence and impact that such a generous, selfless soul that Mr. Capron has embodied during 20 years at Castilleja. The veritable mentor of countless lost adolescent souls, searching for a place in the world, and ultimately finding their guiding star, under the gentle instruction and understanding of Mr. Capron. Others have born witness to his phenomenal ability to create, to direct shows, and run classes that match the caliber of theatre seen at much higher levels, not the least of which, at the college level. A phone-a-thon, to simply ask for more information, has been planned. Students gear up to protest. Many have now started to threaten to withhold community funding from the school, until the situation has been resolved or more information released.

And this outcry of support, the vast and growing wave of questions, of testimony, this growing chorus of voices, demanding, “Where is Bear?”, what has this come to? Nothing. The cry of a generation—of several generations—has fallen by the wayside, blatantly ignored by the administration and the board, to whom we only ask, “Why?”. None of our letters to the board have been answered, no more official word from the school, no explanation, no apology. Faculty members, who perhaps feel effected by this tragedy, this loss of the “Castilleja way”, and who would have the power to speak up, to guide the course of their home, have de-facto been silenced, lest the same fate of termination befall them. The due process and transparency that those in the Castilleja community—and yes, those members of that community, of which I am one—have come to expect from a place such as Castilleja, has been replaced by a black shroud of secrecy, of disrespect, of ignorance. It is the funerary veil of unilateral, dictatorial decision-making, that bids farewell at the final internment of the Castilleja we loved.

The situation, by all accounts, to re-iterate what has been said in other letters, has been handled in the worst-possible way; it has led to a noise that has surpassed simply the school community and into the public domain: look only at the Palo Alto Weekly article, and the sub-section, “Controversy” on the Castilleja Wikipedia page. Our shame has become a public shame, an embarrassment that damages Castilleja’s reputation and possibly, even more tragically, damages the reputation of Mr. Capron, an innocent who has been forced to the sidelines of his own fate. And, most disastrously of all, these courses of action—yes, the unjust dismissal of Mr. Capron, but moreso the blatant disregard for the community that supports the school—for a school is nothing without its community, past and present—have permanently stained the memory and cherished feelings many had held dear of their years at the school. Many feel alienated, angry, and “had”. The no longer feel a connection to the place, they feel betrayed in their loyalty. They are beings now without a home in Castilleja. This is a wound, Ms. Kauffman, not so easily nor quickly healed.

Such is the simple truth, Ms. Kauffman, and it is appalling, and will remain a stain on the history of Castilleja, on the tenure of your predecessor, Ms. Lonergan, and on yours, should you not take the opportunity, as incumbent Headmistress, to do the right thing, to incite the school to move to justice and to honesty. I very much doubt that you have no capacity in this affair, that you are a simple bystander, and can have no effect until you rightfully and officially take your place as Headmistress. I repeat this with a more ardent belief and certainty: the truth will, the truth must, march on, and will come to light. Today, the affair has only begun to start, as there are two sides that are clear: those—the culprits of the injustice— who do not wish the truth to come to light, and on the other hand, the carriers of justice who will give their well-being to see justice done, truth revealed. Again, to quote Zola, whom I owe a dept of gratitude for the inspiration of this letter:

When one locks up the truth under ground, it piles up there, it takes there a force such of explosion, that, the day when it bursts, it makes everything leap out with it. We will see, if we do not prepare for later, the most resounding of disasters.

Ms. Kauffman, this letter is long, and I must conclude, with the coup-de-grace that we all await.

I accuse Miss Lonergan of unjustly dismissing Mr. Capron, and silencing all possible dialogue on the matter, of suppressing honest questioning, and instituting a general “gag” order that prevents any official knowledge of the situation—although initially promised—from reaching the community that has been affected by this.

I accuse Ms. Fischer, possibly under the auspices of the aforementioned “gag” order, and just generally a desire to see the storm of protest “blow over”, from disseminating the letters she has received from the community, to those other members on the board, and of just generally ignoring the legitimate questions of the community.

I accuse the Board of accessory to injustice; that in not using their due and legitimate power as the supervisory head of the school—above that of the Headmistress—to follow the right and truthful course of action, to convene and review the matter, and decide by a fair due-process, if the actions towards Mr. Capron were warranted or not, and if not, using their authority over the Headmistress to have him re-instated, they too are party to the miscarriage of justice henceforth taking place.

I accuse the administration in general, those not directly related to personnel issues, but nonetheless holding positions of authority, of staying silent on a matter that requires courage (one of the five Cs, now so long forgotten), and in doing so, also bearing the black mark of accessory, of being culpable to the Headmistress’s abhorrent action.

I accuse all those in the Castilleja faculty and staff community who, it has been heard, call those who would stand up for truth and justice and honesty, “irresponsible” in acting without complete, “official” information on the matter, of, by their dismissal of the wave of concern emanating from the community, of also being accomplices to the atrocity now taking place.

I voluntarily subject myself to accusations of slander that may result from this letter, and I accept this reality in the hopes that, in perhaps exonerating Mr. Capron, I can also exonerate the soul of Castilleja.

As for the people I have henceforth accused, I only know them in passing—I hold no personal hatred or animosity towards them, they are only specters of a greater social and educational injustice now taking place. And, “the act I have accomplished here is only a revolutionary mean for hastening the explosion of truth and justice,”.

My protest is nothing more than a desperate cry for help—not for myself—but for the school that I once knew, the place that once fostered intellectual and mental growth, but now only fosters fear. My only desire is these blemishes expunged from the life of Mr. Capron, one of the shining stars of the Castilleja community, that Castilleja can renounce its secretive and harsh ways, and once again find itself in the light of excellence that it once knew. I wait for the day that Castilleja can once again acknowledge truth, practice justice—which can only come from a full investigation of the situation at hand, both the firing of Mr. Capron, and the treatment of the community—and thus, the day where Castilleja can save itself. I wait.

Please know, Ms. Kauffman, that you still have my deepest respect.