Let’s get the magic, constitutional language out of the way first. Nothing I am about to say presumes guilt. We all learned from some Duke lacrosse players where that tends to lead. But, assuming, arguendo, that some local prep-school graduates did what the Montgomery County D.A. says they did and spearheaded an upscale drug cartel, we are left with this:
Ingratitude can be criminal.
I should probably put all my cards on the table at the outset. Twenty-some years ago, I taught AP French at the Haverford School. At 5 feet 2 inches and not yet 30, I didn’t cut much of an imposing figure among seniors who towered over me, but the boys were kind and pretty much adopted me as a novelty on a campus that was 99-44/100 percent pure (that is, male.)
Haverford is styled after an English prep school (think “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” meets “Dead Poets Society” with a slight dash of “Boys Town”).
The students were for the most part very privileged, and I recall being able to differentiate between the teachers and their pupils by the type of cars in the parking lot: The boys drove the vastly better ones. But I can honestly say that I never felt that those kids underestimated the gift they’d been given of that type of education.
My own brother spent six years there, from seventh through 12th grade. The school helped him through the death of my father, and I will never forget that debt.
But all that being said, and with a very deliberate nod to the due process we consider fundamental to our American identity, I’m so damned angry at what happened this week. Angry, and disgusted by the phenomenal lack of gratitude shown by those former students who, if the allegations from the D.A. are true, spat on the great and glorious promise they’d been offered on a golden platter.
Here we have young men, and one young woman, who apparently, allegedly and supposedly decided that earning money the legitimate way (first asking daddy, then getting an exceptionally lucrative job) was far too demanding. They also bought into that evolved theory of pot being just another commodity for sale and the Controlled Substances Act a tiny road bump on the way to Pablo Escobardom.
These students had the world at their fingertips, or at least within arm’s length. They perverted Robert Browning’s famous line, “A man’s reach must exceed his grasp or what’s a heaven for?” into “A man should pervert the heaven he’s been given.”
Or, maybe this, from “Paradise Lost”: “Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.”
This is not to say that privilege is necessarily a vaccine against pain, want or psychological distress.
There are children of noblesse who deal with a certain existential distress that material affluence can’t neutralize. But the one thing that they do have is options, which is something you don’t often see in the inner city.
Believe me, I’d be just as angry if the faces that appeared on the front page were black or brown, and hailed from Overbrook, Point Breeze or Kensington. No one gets a pass because he or she has a sad backstory. My own father grew up in West Philadelphia, spent some time in foster homes and barely made it out of adolescence without a rap sheet. He took what opportunities were available to him, listened to the priests at St. Tommy More, did a stint in the Army in an isolated NORAD outpost in Greenland and came home. To college, which he paid for entirely by himself while working two jobs. To Temple’s Law Review. To a brilliant career.
Google the name Theodore Flowers, and you’ll find that he was voted a Legend of the Philadelphia Bar Association by his peers, many of whom never knew what it meant to go to bed hungry.
So, the whining about those poor inner-city kids having to deal drugs to survive gets no purchase in this precinct. They’re little criminals, regardless of their sob stories about absent fathers and addict mothers. And the racism angle, please, don’t even get me started.
But the kids from Haverford are even worse than the reprobates from the inner city, because they were given the keys to the kingdom and instead, it seems, used them to unlock a world of depravity.
If they were addicts trying to get a fix, that’s one thing (although I have little sympathy for even that excuse).
But this epic endeavor, involving an arsenal of weapons, Moneyball-style accounting techniques and an attempt to pull in other kids from other campuses and turn the Main Line into a white-bread version of Cali, Colombia, wasn’t to satisfy some physical craving. It was that most banal yet deadly of motivators: greed.
The glee with which some experts in class warfare are greeting this story is vile. But it is not wholly unexpected. Nor, I say weeping, undeserved.