A truth long buried

An Israeli-born alumnus of Horace Mann takes a deep look at the accusations of sexual abuse in the NYC school.

Jon Sieger, a former student at Horace Mann School, who has alleged sexual abuse during his time there, sits beside a picture of himself during a news conference in New York in 2013 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Jon Sieger, a former student at Horace Mann School, who has alleged sexual abuse during his time there, sits beside a picture of himself during a news conference in New York in 2013
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The hit film Spotlight with Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo has brought the issue of exposing child sex scandals to the mainstream. Based on Boston Globe journalists who wrote a series of stories exposing the Catholic Church’s cover-up of pedophile priests, the film demonstrates the power for change that can be effected by a small group of dedicated people.
That same feeling permeates Amos Kamil’s Great is the Truth, about the institutionalized phenomenon of sexual abuse against dozens of mostly male teen students by at least 22 faculty members of the prestigious Horace Mann School in the Bronx neighborhood of Riverdale.
The book, written with Sean Elder, is based on Kamil’s 2012 New York Times Magazine story, “Prep School Predators,” that exposed the decades-long pattern of sexual abuse at the exclusive school, focusing on three teachers. However, following the article’s publication, the floodwaters burst with one former student after another stepping forward to recount their horrendous experiences at the hands of both teachers and administrators.
The Israeli-born Kamil is a Mann alumnus who – while emerging unscathed from his years at the school – took the revelations, some from old friends of his, very personally. That passion infuses the narrative of Great is the Truth, which recaps the Times article and then, in a page-turning, compelling manner, recounts the saga as it unfolds.
That aftermath includes the intimate stories offered by more survivors as they come forward with their previously untold stories of their abuse, the efforts by the victims to band together and seek redress, the school’s evasive responses and the efforts by various interested legal parties to achieve a settlement.
“Great is the truth and it prevails” is the school’s vaunted motto, but given the opportunity to correct the wrongs administered behind their backs, the school’s administrators adopt a stonewalling policy and eventually offer insulting monetary restitution to the victims, some of whom experienced shattering repercussions from their ordeal well into their adult lives.
There are times when the book gets bogged down in legal red tape, but Kamil always reels the reader back in by returning to the human element. He treats both the subject and the victims with sensitivity and empathy and offers a keen, detail- oriented eye that allows the reader to enter the lives of those who have opened their hearts and deepest secrets in the hopes that it will change norms and prevent similar atrocities from harming innocent students in the future.
In some of the book’s most spellbinding passages, Kamil is skilled enough to let some of the accused teachers tell their side of the story without editorial adornment. Their own words are all that is needed to understand how the future of impressionable youth can fall into the hands of predators who lead outwardly respectable and authoritative facades.
A story of betrayal, but also one of hope that leads to partial redemption, Great is the Truth is a book that lingers long after it’s been put down. In his introduction, Kamil writes that one of the great results of dredging up the wrongdoing of institutions like Horace Mann and the Catholic Church is that today’s teens and young adults are less likely to keep quiet in the face of abuse.
Michael Keaton might never appear in the film adaptation of Great is the Truth, and its impact could be muted under the Hollywood hoopla surrounding Spotlight. But that shouldn’t prevent the book from being a “must read” investigative work as dramatic and wrenching as any Hollywood playwright could come up with.