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Re: “Albany: A Seething Caldron of Lust?

This whole thing is horrible. When I first read of these allegations I felt sick to my stomach. The nature of the coverage isn't totally helping abate these feelings of disgust. I agree with several of the comments in which people took issue with the title of this article: "Albany: A Seething Caldron of Lust?" Why sensationalize such a hot-button topic? People get worked up when there is any potential abuse of the student/teacher relationship. Particularly when it involves allegations of sexual abuse. How does this title help frame this issue for the public? This isn't a joke. People's lives and reputations are involved. Does this title throw more mud on the accused or the accuser? It does a disservice to both. Being abused isn't like a romance novel. And being accused of sexual abuse isn't like a pleasant little episode of Desperate Housewives. Regardless of the outcome of this incident/trial, both parties (and those around them) will have their lives profoundly altered. I feel terrible for everyone involved, particularly the accused and the accuser. But I also feel bad for the community and all the present and past students of Albany Middle School. Allegations of sexual abuse cause a lot of difficult emotions. It is easy to be overwhelmed and angry. Humans are emotional creatures. Albany is a cloistered environment that sees itself as a safe and nurturing environment. This image of itself often manifests itself in a "not in my back yard" attitude. Abuse does happen in small communities. And blindness to problems doesn't make you safe. Bad things can happen anywhere. So the ugly comments coming out of that community are understandable, if regrettable. The fact is that nobody outside of the accuser and the accused actually knows what did or didn't happen. So how can the rest of us process all of these negative thoughts and feelings? We live in a society that creates and upholds laws. People are human and break laws. One of the foundations of modern law is the concept of the accused being "innocent until proven guilty." The accuser has a right to anonymity, even though the accused does not (so that others can come forward if they can corroborate the allegations). A false accusation is severely damaging to the accused. That is why the police and district attorneys are supposed to be well-qualified and sensitive to the potential for false accusations. The reputations and morals of both parties are open to public debate, however, the public can only voice informed opinion about one side if they know Ms. Sorg and are commenting solely about their own interactions with her. This, however, doesn't always result in anything productive. In response to former students saying that Ms. Sorg was a great teacher and a great person, several posters have countered by saying that priests who abused children were also held in high regard before they took advantage of their position of power and trust. Other posters have suggested that the mere fact of being charged on multiple counts means that there must be some truth to the allegations. A counter to both of these arguments is that many police officers and district attorneys in the history of the world have been corrupt and committed crimes, thereby betraying the power that the community entrusted them with. Additionally, the concept is "innocent until proven guilty", not "innocent until charged". We might assume that the police officers and district attorney involved aren't sinister. But that doesn't mean that these charges are true. Everything at this stage is just guesswork. So it might feel natural and worthwhile to expand simple, singular facts into generalizations. But when we do so we veer into the murky realm of conjecture and opinion. So is there any place for conjecture and opinion? Since Ms. Sorg taught science, it might be helpful to apply the principles of the "scientific method". You can start with characterizations and then make a hypothesis. But you have to test that hypothesis and subject it to rigorous testing. It is important to understand your own methodology in order to insure that it is sound. An opinion or a characterization is not a fact. So how do we test these theories then? Shoul we rely upon the court of public opinion, using only posts from anonymous people? That doesn't seem altogether helpful. In a modern (more or less civil) society, this kind of "testing" takes place in a court of law. And the law operates on facts. Fact: I was a student of Ms. Sorg in 85/86. I have always felt that she was a great teacher. She was enthusiastic about science, and she inspired an enthusiasm about learning in her students. She was approachable and had a quirky sense of humor. She expanded the parameters of how her students thought about learning. Science happens outside of the classroom, in everyday life, and all around you. I would classify Ms. Sorg as one of the best teachers I have ever had. Did I know her outside of school? No. Did I interact with her after I graduated from Middle School? No. I didn't and still don't know anything about her personal life other than what has been posted on this site or printed in other articles. That sums up all I know about Ms. Sorg. Conjecture: Is it possible that Ms. Sorg became sexually involved with a student? Sure. But I'm not qualified to make that assessment because I don't know of any facts other than the ones I listed above. That's why this thing needs to be sorted out in court. Facts need to be tabulated and weighed. Everything else is just conjecture. Fact: I don't know the accused. I didn't go to Albany High School. She wasn't at Albany Middle School during the period that I attended this school. To my knowledge I don't know anybody who knows her. That sums up all I know about the accuser. A lot of comments have been posted questioning why a person would wait so long to report their allegations of abuse. Conjecture: The age of the accuser is now approximately what Ms. Sorg's age was during the period of alleged abuse. So perhaps this fact helps explain why these memories would crop up, even if that person was actively trying to suppress these memories. Did the accuser willingly enter into this inappropriate relationship with a much-older teacher? I don't know. But perhaps, if you assume that she was immature enough to enter into such an inappropriate relationship, then you could also assume that she wasn't mature enough at that age to realize how inappropriate that relationship was. Perhaps it was only much later that she was able to realize how wrong the whole thing was. Perhaps she approached the schoolboard because she didn't want what she claimed happened to her to be able to happen to others. We don't know. This is all conjecture. Fact: Adolescence is a difficult time. By the standards of society you are not yet an adult, but you are no longer a child. This doesn't mean that you are isolated from the potential dangers confronting adults. You are just less prepared to handle those dangers on your own. You can't drive until 16. You can't vote until 18. You can't drink until 21. My opinion: Although society sets one timetable for the transition from adolescence to adulthood, your body has other benchmarks and rulers. Starting around 13, your mind is bombarded with hormones and your body starts to change, whether you are prepared for it or not. Girls start to develop at this age, and some girls start to think of themselves as being adults already by virtue of the inappropriate attention they get from adults (who respond to the visual cues that their changing bodies are sending out). Adolescents want to be taken seriously and treated like adults, and are therefore particularly susceptible to unscrupulous adults who can easily manipulate such desires. Some variation on this possibly might have occurred. But I don't know. When I was in 8th grade I had a conversation with two female classmates about "maturity." This came about after these two girls were bragging about how mature they were. They claimed that boys their own age weren't mature enough for them. I asked them what age of boy was mature enough for them and they said that they preferred to date boys aged 18-22. I don't know if they were telling the truth. They could have been lying. But that is what they claimed. I then asked how mature an 18-year-old man could possibly be if he were dating a 14-year-old girl? Their answer was that they were mature, they were already women, and therefore required a mature person who could appreciate them. True or not, I wasn't in a moral position to chastise them for breaking this societal taboo. At that age I was venturing along my own, partially-informed journey from adolescence into adulthood. Any one of us three could have made any number of ill-informed decisions that would have permanently scarred or injured ourselves. That is why growing up is difficult. Life doesn't wait for you to be ready for it. It doesn't ask you: Are you sure about that? So is that 8th-grade conversation relevant to this case? I don't know. While life might not wait until you are prepared to deal with it, the view of society is that people between the ages of 13-17 aren't mature enough to "consent" or make any decisions for themselves. The relationship between a 14-year-old and an 18-year-old is in a grey area. The "relationship" between a 14-year-old and a 30-year old isn't in a grey area. The older person should know better. It is my opinion that until the case is settled in a court of law, this is all just conjecture. The fact is that we should have compassion for both the accuser and the accused. Instead of just venting the negative emotions that this case brings up, try picturing yourself in their position.

Posted by Sean Bokenkamp on 05/21/2007 at 11:53 AM

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