Using paper forms for family genealogy

Last month, my company launched Genealogy Basics In 30 Minutes: The quick guide to creating a family tree, building connections with relatives, and discovering the stories of your ancestors. Professional genealogist Shannon Combs-Bennett wrote the book, which explains basic concepts of interest to anyone researching family origins. As you might expect, the book has sections about family trees, interviewing tips, genetic genealogy, and different type of source records. As an amateur genealogist myself, I expected Shannon to delve into these issues when I read the manuscript. However, I did not expect the topic of using genealogy forms to track research to come up, except perhaps in passing. Instead, it took up the better part of Chapter 4, “Tracking and sharing your research.” Here is how she introduced the topic:

“Tracking includes everything from creating good source citations to outputting data to a chart or tree. Along with preserving research (which we will cover in Chapter 5), it’s one of my least favorite tasks. After the initial excitement of making easy discoveries, it’s so frustrating to deal with tracking and filing and storing all of the information and papers you have found.

On the other hand, charts and other summary documents are a great way to share findings to family members. When you bring a complete pedigree chart to a family reunion, it will attract attention and prompt lots of questions. Be sure to bring copies to give away!”

Part of the reason I was not expecting to see such a deep examination of tracking research using genealogy forms relates to the fact that I use genealogy software to track my own research. The software lets me generate family group sheets, pedigree charts, and other pre-filled forms from my computer.

Not everyone uses family tree software for research, though. They prefer paper, and use blank genealogy forms to enter names, dates, and other information. In addition, as Shannon noted in the book, computers have drawbacks, including the risk of a crash or some other disaster that wipes out the data. Paper genealogy forms provide some reassurance on this front. They also do not require a power outlet!

Shannon and I discussed providing some free resources on the companion website to Genealogy Basics In 30 Minutes. Besides blog posts and tips, I have created a free genealogy forms starter kit that contains two forms:

  1. A free five-generation pedigree chart
  2. A free genealogy research log

The pedigree chart contains fields for recording birth, death, and marriage information, and goes back to great-great-grandparents (all 16 of them!). Names are numbered for easy cross-referencing. The research log can help genealogists track websites, books, and other sources used to research specific ancestors.

But it’s also good for something else, which Shannon mentions in the book: Redundant searches for information, which typically result from unorganized late-night searches on Ancestry.com. If you don’t track what you are doing, you very may well end up revisiting sites or searching for the same information over and over again. The genealogy research log helps avoid redundant searches.

Besides the free genealogy forms, I am also making available a bundle of blank forms that goes far beyond the pedigree chart and research log. The Genealogy Forms Library includes eight forms in all, ranging from a cemetery record to a photo inventory tracker. The digital edition includes 13 .pdf and .xlsx spreadsheets, but I am also preparing a printed bundle which will include multiple copies of the forms printed on archival quality paper.

Newton Mayor Setti Warren’s dangerous Planning Department report

The following ~725-word essay about a Planning Department report sponsored by the office of Newton Mayor Setti Warren was originally submitted to the Newton Tab as an op-ed column. The Tab asked that it be shortened to a 400-word letter, which appeared in the printed paper earlier this week. Here is the original column. You are welcome to leave comments below.

Newton Mayor Setti Warren Planning Department ReportLast month, the city released the “Management and Organizational Analysis” of Newton’s Planning Department. The report was commissioned by the Mayor’s Office and co-authored by Sasaki Associates, the same consultancy that helped organize a housing strategy workshop last November that had residents and developers placing LEGO blocks on a map to indicate where they preferred high-density housing to be built. The LEGO exercise was rightly called out as a fait accompli and dismissed by many councilors and residents. Similarly, I would like to call out the new Planning Department report as a flawed document whose recommendations threaten to undermine our elected representatives while giving Mayor Warren’s administration—and its successors—unfettered control over special permits and related processes.

The Planning Department report purports to provide a “clear and honest” accounting of the problems facing the department. While it presents a list of legitimate concerns (e.g., a lack of documented processes, project management inefficiencies, high turnover, no long-term IT plan, etc.) it proceeds to assign much of the blame to a group of stakeholders who happen to represent Newton’s citizens—the City Council. The report basically throws Councilors under the bus, blaming them for being too numerous, taking up too much staff time, and generally getting in the way of the special permitting process.

The report states, “The City should strongly consider removing the special permit granting authority from the City Council and placing it with an independent, less political body comprised of knowledgeable professionals, citizens, and business owners.” Practically speaking, this would mean that if a special permit were required for a large condo development or a new commercial project that exceeds the zoning limits of the parcel, our elected representatives would have no say in the matter. Instead, the approval would be up to city staff as well as unelected appointees who represent the interests of commercial developers, not citizens.

This and other oversight recommendations in the report are dangerous and unwarranted. I think many others will agree. The recommendations, if implemented, remove an important channel for residents and their elected representatives to influence specific proposals. As citizens and taxpayers, we have a right to be heard, which includes appealing to our councilors to ask hard questions and request changes that the Mayor, developers, and other parties would rather ignore. You may like the mayor’s development plans, or you may object to them, but regardless more citizen input is needed to guide development going forward, not less. Elected representatives play a critical role in bringing neighborhood concerns in front of the staff responsible for implementing housing policies.

The Planning Department report also points to a problem with a “lack of leadership.”  However, the report confines the leadership problems to the department. It goes no higher than that. It fails to mention the Mayor even once, despite the fact he has led the city government since January 2010 and could have addressed legitimate concerns with the Planning Department’s organization, turnover, technology, and processes years ago.

So, why is this report coming out now, instead of during Mayor Warren’s first term? In my opinion, it’s because the Mayor needs to overcome local opposition to his new development vision, and he needs to do it soon. As reported in the Tab, the Mayor and developers hope to build thousands of new housing units across the city and transform the villages into small urban centers. We have seen the responses in the pages of this paper, in letters from residents who say they won’t be able to afford “market rate” apartments and condos in the new developments, as well as those who object to the scale of the giant buildings and the impact of large-scale development upon Newtonville, Newton Center, West Newton, Oak Hill, Auburndale, and other neighborhoods. This strong grassroots opposition suggests that developers won’t be able to build thousands of units of new housing and commercial space unless Mayor Warren and his administration are given free rein over zoning, permitting, and other development approvals. Removing elected councilors from the picture is crucial to achieving the Mayor’s goals.

In summary, I believe the new Planning Department report was created to justify changes that would reduce the power of councilors and make it easier for the current Mayor—and future mayors—to force their strategic visions for development upon the citizens of Newton with limited oversight. It’s unfair, unwarranted, and undemocratic.

Spotlight: More abuse at Fessenden and other schools. But why no official investigation?

Boston Globe Spotlight report Fessenden School Newton Massachusetts

The Boston Globe Spotlight team — the same group of investigative journalists who opened up the decades of abuse and coverups involving the Catholic Church — published a story in this morning’s Boston Sunday Globe that details the horrors and sickness that pervaded the Fessenden School in West Newton as well as many other prep schools across New England.

The response from the prep schools was not surprising: Only 10% responded to a Globe survey about their experiences handling reports of sexual abuse. The schools clearly want this story to go away. They don’t want to deal with the negative publicity, the lawsuits, or the questions about policies relating to screening teachers, reporting abuse to authorities, or helping former students who have been victimized.

Readers of this blog know that 5 years ago the Fessenden school admitted a pattern of “inappropriate sexual behavior” involving faculty and staff that started in the 1960s and extended right through to the 2000s. The 2011 letter named one faculty member, Arthur Clarridge, who along with another named James Dallmann, were arrested in 1977 for crimes against children that took place outside of campus, and suggested that Clarridge may have abused a student. No other names of abusers were revealed in the 2011 letter by current headmaster David Stettler. The comments at the end of my 2011 blog post detailed not only names, but claims that inappropriate sexual behavior took place over a much longer period of time (one former student indicated it started as early as the 1940s) and involved many more staff and faculty members.

Several victims of the abuse at Fessy were brave enough to step forward and tell the painful and explicit details of the sexual assaults. The Spotlight article added two more faculty names to the roster:

Of the 17 total alleged [Fessenden] victims, four settled claims, nine continue to pursue them, and four filed no claims, according to a school spokesman. The accused former employees include assistant headmaster Arthur Clarridge, teachers James Dallmann and Claude Hasbrouck, and school psychologist Mickey Clampit.

Clarridge made no secret of his preferences. This is the update he sent his Harvard classmates sometime in the 1960s or 1970s, when he was at Fessenden:

Fessenden assistant headmaster arthur clarridge harvard class report

The Globe Spotlight report included one former student’s descriptions of Hasbrouck’s Nazi paraphernalia and sexual abuse. Hasbrouck died in 1997.

As for Clampit:

Two other former Fessenden students told the Globe that Clampit abused them, too. One, who said Clampit fondled him at school and on a trip to Arkansas and Mexico, sent the school a letter demanding compensation for the abuse through attorney Mitchell Garabedian in 2015. The other man, who settled a claim against Fessenden in the 1990s, said Clampit was among four people there who abused him.

Clampit, who left Fessenden in 1976 and whose license to practice psychology in Massachusetts expired in 1996, could not be reached for comment at any of his known addresses or through his family. But his niece, Michelle Clampit of Los Angeles, said she never heard such accusations about him and was puzzled why they were surfacing now.

Note that Clampit was responsible for screening incoming students in private and counseling existing students if they reported abuse or other problems. Think about that for a moment. Fessenden’s gatekeeper and guidance counselor — the trusted adult a confused or abused student might turn to after encountering Clarridge, Dallmann, or Hasbrouck — was himself a child predator, according to several former students.

I would like to add a correction here to the Spotlight Team: Clampit did not leave in 1976. He was still at the school in the early 1980s. I know this because he screened me in 1979 or 1980 at his office in one of the upper-story dormers in the administration building and one of the commenters on the other blog post who worked at Fessenden from 1979 to 1986 said she and her colleagues knew of Clampit his behavior:

Does anyone out there remember Mr. Mickey Clampitt? He was the school psychologist/test administrator, and lived in an apartment on campus next to the “learning center.” He would hand out “creepie crawlies” (!) , little plastic bugs, to boys and would proceed to “tickle” the boys with them. The boys would squirm and giggle as Mickey, obviously enjoying the whole affair, held the boys close to his body. Well, you get the picture. Not exactly rape, but clearly NOT OK., and possibly the tip of the proverbial iceberg…as is obvious from reading this blog.

The 2016 Fessenden Letter

Just before the Spotlight article came out, Stettler sent another letter to alumni, dated May 5, 2016 (see below). Like the 2011 letter, it was timed to blunt the shock of the negative news coming from the media (although the headmaster claims in his latest letter that the 2011 information was “proactively shared”). The 2016 letter says “the School has received reports of sexual abuse involving at least 16 former students and one non-student by at least 5 individuals who were members of our community.”

Note that the 2016 Fessenden letter acknowledges “at least” 5 individuals, but the Spotlight report only names 4. Who is that fifth person?

The letter goes on to say that instances of abuse were reported to the school’s administration in the 1960s and 1970s but the school “according to these alumni, failed to take appropriate action.”

The school’s latest response? A symbolic one. “The school has removed the name of Robert F. Coffin, headmaster from 1967 to 1980, from the Fessenden ice rink,” Stettler wrote.

If you’re shaking your head in disbelief, I don’t blame you. Fessenden’s headmaster has tacitly admitted there was a nest of pedophiles at the school, and the school’s response is to remove a long-dead headmaster’s name from the hockey rink.

It’s absolutely pathetic and infuriating.

Why hasn’t Fessenden been investigated?

As you digest this information, there are several important facts to keep in mind:

  • Not one Fessenden faculty member or staffer has ever been charged with abuse of a Fessenden student.
  • Not one Fessenden administrator or trustee — from the 1960s to the current timeframe — has been fined or charged for failing to notify local or state authorities of abuse, as required by law.
  • Because the people who reportedly committed abuse against Fessenden students were never charged with a crime, they were potentially able to move on to other schools or professions or neighborhoods and commit more vile acts against other innocent children.

I raised this question in my original blog post in 2011, and I will raise it again here:

Why hasn’t Fessenden reported incidents involving sexual abuse or assault of children to the police and DAs office, not just to satisfy the minimum “required documentation” rules, but to help authorities prosecute anyone who has broken the law?

I welcome your comments below.

A note about comments: Under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the author of this blog and the hosting service are not liable for comments left by readers. Per the Digital Media Law Project, “Immunity covers defamation and privacy claims, as well as negligence and other tort claims associated with publication.”

About: My name is Ian Lamont. To contact me, please email ianlamont -at- yahoo dot com

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Fessenden’s 2016 letter:
Fessenden letter from headmaster David Stettler, p1

Fessenden letter from headmaster David Stettler, p2

Fessenden School and St. George’s: A tale of two investigations

Alumni of a prestigious New England prep school come forward, relating their experiences decades ago of being molested by faculty. The school conducts an internal investigation, admits that students were abused, issues an apology to the victims and makes counseling available to them.

Sound familiar? It should, because it’s the same playbook used by the Fessenden School in Newton, Massachusetts after a sexual abuse scandal came to light. However, this isn’t the Fessenden School. It’s St. George’s in Rhode Island. And unlike Fessenden, St. George’s is being forced to go much further. Not only are Rhode Island state police investigating St. George’s, the school is working with victims on a separate independent investigation. The New York Times reports:

St. George’s School, an elite Rhode Island prep school embroiled in a widening sexual abuse scandal spanning decades, said Thursday that it would commission a new, independent investigation into allegations of misconduct against former staff and former students.

The investigation is to be undertaken by a third party to be chosen with the approval of a group of victims who have been critical of the school’s handling of the matter.

The school and the victims group, which calls itself “S.G.S. for Healing,” said in a joint statement that the investigation would be independent, comprehensive and not limited “in scope or time period and will be conducted in a manner sensitive to victims who may have already provided information.”

The Rhode Island State Police are conducting a separate investigation. And the Episcopal Diocese of Central Pennsylvania has restricted a retired priest from his duties after the priest was named Tuesday by lawyers for former students as having molested three boys at St. George’s in the 1970s. … (more)

The contrast is striking. The police are investigating St. George’s, and the school has agreed to an independent investigation that will look into allegations going back to the 70s and possibly much earlier. Meanwhile, the Fessenden School, Fessenden Headmaster David Stettler, the current and past Fessenden board of directors, and Fessenden’s legal counsel have done everything they can to make the ugly stories and lawsuits about pedophile faculty go away. It’s been this way for years. Only recently has a crack begun to open, but the school continues to fight, delay, and deny.

I have confidence the truth about Fessenden will come out in civil lawsuits. But what really needs to happen as soon as possible is a criminal investigation by the Newton police, the Massachusetts state police, or the Middlesex County D.A., as well as a totally independent investigation, funded by the school but not run by its lawyers, administrators, or directors. The truth must come out, and people guilty of abusing students–as well as administrators, directors, or other parties who either attempted to cover it up or failed to notify authorities–need to be tried in court. If they are found guilty of crimes, they need to be sentenced to jail. The school needs to come clean, acknowledge exactly what happened, and examine the factors that led to young boys being abused and the promotion of a sick, broken culture. Only then can the real healing begin, and safeguards put in place so something like this never happens again at Fessenden or any other school.

Lives were ruined. Yet Fessenden and the people who committed pedophilia or allowed these acts to take place continue to evade scrutiny and accountability. This must change, and the situation at St. George’s shows a way to move forward.

Zuckerberg can speak Mandarin. Why can’t Rupert Murdoch or other foreign expats in China?

Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder and CEO of Facebook, did something remarkable at Tsinghua University this week. He had a 30-minute Q&A with faculty and students, and most of it was in passable Mandarin (the video was posted on Facebook, unfortunately I can’t embed it here). His example raises the question of why other foreign expats — including high-profile CEOs such as Rupert Murdoch – can’t speak Mandarin.

I learned Mandarin as a young adult, living in Taiwan and taking classes for about 10 hours per week. It took about 6 months to get to the level of vocabulary that Mark is using, and another 6 months to get to the point where I could handle a job interview.

Mandarin syntax is surprisingly easy, with no articles or weird things like irregular verbs or messy conjugations. The tones throw people off, and the written characters are extremely difficult to learn (at least for Westerners; Japanese, who have exposure to Chinese characters, do quite well at reading and writing). Fortunately, there is a Romanization/phonetic system called pinyin that makes it quite easy to get started with pronunciation and tones.

Zuckerberg can speak Mandarin. Why can’t Rupert Murdoch or other foreign expats in China?
Mark Zuckerberg speaking Mandarin at Tsinghua University

Yes, Mark is speaking with a very heavy accent and needs to work on his tones. But the fact that Mark was able to get to this level without living in China (he says he’s only visited 4 times, although it sounds like he’s able to practice with family members, including his wife’s paternal grandmother) is very impressive. According to the LA Times, he started learning Mandarin about five years ago:

Several news accounts at the time said he took morning lessons at his kitchen table with a tutor. Zuckerberg’s wife, Priscilla Chan, whom he met at Harvard University and married in 2012, grew up in the United States as the daughter of immigrants and spoke Cantonese at home.

I think many Chinese citizens would be right to ask, if the busy CEO of a major American company who seldom visits China can learn Mandarin, why do many foreign businesspeople who have lived in China for years fail to learn the language?

Expat business leaders in China who can’t speak Chinese

Case in point: Rupert Murdoch. He was married to a Chinese woman for years, owns (or owned) a house in Beijing, and had significant business interests in China. Yet he did not learn how to speak Mandarin, according to his ex-wife, Wendi Deng.

For that matter, there are millions of foreign expats living in other countries who never bother to learn the language, despite having opportunities to take classes (or study with a tutor) and practice every day with their colleagues, neighbors, and shopkeepers.

Certainly, there are circumstances which may make study difficult. The ones that I heard a lot when I lived in Taiwan were, “I am only stationed here for a few years” or “I don’t have time.” However, practically anyone can make the effort to hire a private tutor for a few hours per week. And even if you are only in-country for two or three years, why wouldn’t you want to make a real effort to learn at least basic conversation, to better communicate with the people around you, including employees, partners, local officials, etc.?

Innovation Hub complaint: Innovation is more than an academic pursuit

In early January, I wrote the following email to WGBH, a well-known public broadcaster here in the Boston area. The station produces some excellent programming, but I have been mildly disappointed in a new program, Innovation Hub, that is close to my heart. Here’s the text of the email:

I would like to make a comment about the radio program Innovation Hub.

I had high expectations for this program when it launched, as there is so much innovation taking place in WGBH’s neighborhood, from the labs at local universities to the small and medium-sized startup companies concentrated in the region. There are also many established organizations trying innovative approaches to their products, services, and ways of doing business. In other words, there is no dearth of guests who can come in to talk about what they are working on or where new opportunities lie, in fields that include biotechnology, manufacturing, media, banking, architecture, and even farming and food preparation. Of course, Skype and other connection tools make it possible for innovators all over the world to take part in the program.

However, when I turn on Innovation Hub every Saturday morning, I’m invariably treated to very long interviews with academics or pundits. Today, for instance, I heard the dean of a school of public health talking about research into innovation, and a doctor and a researcher talking about a minor finding in obesity and mortality data.

This is not an unusual slate of guests or discussion areas. Often I hear authors and researchers talk about innovation in terms of studies or classic examples (e.g., what Google or Facebook is doing), while at other times they discuss some surprising finding in their research that goes against prevailing attitudes or experience.

While interesting, I feel that these discussions are 20,000 feet above the trenches where actual innovation is taking place, and the interviews are so long that there are too few opportunities for the program to talk with people who are actually carrying out innovative projects, product development, or new ways of doing “x”.

There is so much innovation taking place these days in New England and around the world. I hope the program can consider devoting more time to actual innovation and the people who make it happen.

One thing I would like to note: My Innovation Hub complaint was not intended as a passive pitch for my own business. I was motivated to write it by a desire to hear from people in the trenches of innovation. There are so many interesting things taking place right in WGBH’s backyard, and it seems like it would be so easy to get a slew of interesting people from all kinds of backgrounds to talk about the work that they are doing.

 

 

 

A proposal for a Lean Media Framework: Input and iteration required

(Updated) I’m a media guy. I’ve been involved as a producer and manager in various sectors of the media industry my entire adult life, including the music industry, broadcasting (radio and TV), newspapers, magazines, and, starting in the 1990s, online media. I’ve experienced the shift from analog to digital, and the many struggles that have resulted from this sea change.

More recently, I’ve become a startup guy. I co-founded a mobile software startup that released a classifieds app. I’m currently trying to bootstrap an e-publishing venture around In 30 Minutes® guides, and have released more than a half-dozen titles on Amazon, iTunes, Kobo, and other ebook distribution platforms. These guides are aimed at mainstream audiences who need help getting up to speed with mildly complex subjects, ranging from health to technology. The guides include ebooks/books as well as online components — including the guide which people mistakenly compare with Google Docs for Dummies and posts such as What Is Dropbox? to get an idea of the products and information being offered.

The Lean StartupA few years ago, before the mobile startup, I heard Eric Ries give his Lean Startup stump speech at MIT. It immediately clicked with me. His focus was software development, but I realized that the things he was saying about product development, feedback cycles, and speed applied not only to software, but to media content as well. I had seen it with my own eyes. Print content, websites, video, music and other products/projects that were developed with these qualities in mind had many positive qualities. They were cheaper to produce, they made it to market more quickly, user feedback loops started sooner, and if they were new brands, they got a huge head start. They were also more fun to work on.

Conversely, products that took the big media approach — bloated teams, top-down directives, planned by committee, limited feedback cycles, etc. — encountered problems. They required huge staff and budget commitments, took years to complete, and seemed to have a higher rate of failure.

But I also realized that there were some problems with applying the Lean Startup framework to media content.

First, out of all of the “Lean” media products that I had been a part of or had seen close-up, very few could be considered successes. My blog about the Harvard Extension School is one (more than a half-million page views, thousands of dollars in revenue) and an online community for Computerworld (probably 10 million visits before it was retired) is another. But other products floundered or failed out of the gate, and even after iteration, they failed.

Second, it wasn’t hard to find examples of fat big media products that were hits. Turn on the TV, and you can see examples on every channel. A reality TV talent show that takes millions to produce, is planned for at least a year, and follows a format of a three-judge panel with at least one British judge, has a very high chance of success. In the music world, there have been many albums that have taken years to produce and have broken every Lean rule in the book, yet have sold millions of copies. To illustrate, Def Leppard started writing the songs for Hysteria in 1984, yet the album wasn’t released until 1987. The songs on Hysteria didn’t take long to write. But finessing them, producing them, marketing them, and launching them took years. This is the exact opposite of Ries’ Minimum Viable Product (MVP) concept, or even the variation known as Minimum Delightful Product.

Third, it was hard to isolate certain factors that are commonly found in media products but are seldom seen in the software world. “Brand” and “star power” can be hugely important in new product launches for media, but in the software world (aside from Apple) it’s more about the product and what it can do. For media products, another difference relates to creative processes and team dynamics, and the feedback cycles that exist within teams (think of the Beatles in the studio, the New York Times editorial processes, or the Saturday Night Live script readings). There is also the huge disruption that is taking place around business models, which clouds everything around media.

Lean Media: From Theory To Practice

When I launched a mobile software startup, I finally had a chance to put Lean methodologies to work with my co-founder. We made mistakes, especially at the beginning, but eventually released a product that proved to be very popular with consumers, and had high engagement and retention rates. I felt that when we followed the Lean philosophy, it worked very well for product development.

When I started my second venture this summer, the ebook experiment, I pledged to myself that I would attempt to actively follow the Lean philosophy. Get products out to the marketplace as soon as possible. Measure. Iterate. Improve. Some of these processes were already ingrained, owing to my earlier experiences with rapid product development in the online media and music industries, as well as the mobile software startup, and my grad school experience, which emphasized iterative product development. But I was more methodical with measuring and incorporating feedback. I also paid a lot of attention to revenue, something that I had not been focused on with any previous venture or media experiment.

As the ebook venture progresses, my mind has been circling back to the inconsistencies I observed earlier. Yes, Lean methodologies do work for media content. They can lead to better products, and better sales. However, the Lean approach does not take into account important factors — such as brand and creative processes — that can determine the success or failure of media ventures.

The Opportunity For Lean Media

Therefore, I believe there is an opportunity to build a new Lean framework that is specific to media ventures — a Lean “mod” for media, if you will. The goal of building a Lean Media Framework is to help startups and established companies build innovative products, platforms, and business models that have a higher chance of success and can contribute to new models of creation, distribution, and consumption.

In the old media world, an idea like this would have been developed by a single writer or a small team of collaborators. An essay would appear in a communications journal or The New Yorker. If it got traction, the author(s) would get a book deal.

In the spirit of Lean development and distributed knowledge, I am starting with a simple blog post (which took two hours to write) and throwing these concepts out to my favorite forums for discussion and iteration. Share your thoughts below, tweet to @ilamont, write a blog post, or do whatever you think is appropriate to carry the discussion forward and iterate until we have something that we can share with a wider audience.

November 2015 Update: I am expanding Lean Media into a book. Read sample chapters here, or sign up for the lean media newsletter.

Update: More thoughts and discussion here:

Fessenden School abuse scandal: It gets worse

(UPDATES: Fessenden is finally being sued over this terrible affair. Details at the bottom of this post. See also the stories that alumni from the 1940s-1980s have left in the comments section below, and check out the follow-up blog post prompted by the 2016 Globe Spotlight team investigation) I don’t tell people too much about my middle school experience. I attended a private school in Newton, Massachusetts, called the Fessenden School, which is currently embroiled in a terrible sexual abuse scandal. I’ll talk about my own experience first, before getting in to contents of a letter I just received from Fessenden. The scandal goes much further than the initial reports of a single pedophile assistant headmaster at the school. And just to be clear, I am not a victim of abuse at the Fessenden … but some of the victims and their stories are described in the linked articles as well in the comments.

I attended Fessenden in the early 1980s. I hated it. It was the type of place where put-downs and other small cruelties reigned, and kids’ personality flaws were amplified. A strict social hierarchy emerged, with the jocks and some of the cruelest kids at the top, and the frailest and neediest kids on the bottom.

One recollection comes from the very first day I stepped into the school. I was visiting as a precursor to applying, and another boy took me around. He was friendly enough, but then while we were walking down one of the basement hallways between classes he suddenly attacked another student. It was clear there was some history between them. They began to fight, and in a few seconds they were writhing on the floor, wrestling each other. In less than a minute, my guide came out on top, brushed himself off, smiled like it was no big deal, and continued the tour.

I was baffled by this, but didn’t say anything. Maybe this was normal behavior for middle-school aged kids, I thought. Indeed, once I began attending the Fessenden School I got tangled up in similar fights from time to time (once I was even egged on by other students in the big room outside the headmaster’s office). I am not a fighter, and never got into physical fights before or after attending Fessenden. But at that school, things were different.

I did not understand it at the time, but the fights, bullying, and other physical and mental put-downs were actually part of the deep-rooted culture of the Fessenden School. It had been stewing for decades. As described in the letter below and in the comments section of this post, some especially dark, sick episodes involving abuse had taken place, leaving scores of victims who are still haunted to this day. While there was somewhat of a house cleaning in the late 70s preceding my arrival and during my first two years there, the Lord of the Flies culture continued to fester.

Fessenden School abuse scandal
Fessenden School

Some Fessenden teachers were good, but there were a few who participated in the cruelty-based social structure. I remember one time being picked up by my lapels and screamed at by a teacher with his face just inches away from my own, for making the mistake of visiting one of my friend’s dorms during the day. He was the beloved “house master” of one of Fessenden’s dorms, and this was how he informed me that visitors were not allowed during the day. I was shocked and absolutely terrified.

I remember the morning in 1981 or 1982 when Fessenden’s headmaster (Mr. Burnham) announced in a grave tone that a relatively new teacher had been dismissed. The reason? As I recall, the teacher had been caught serving alcohol to a student in his quarters on campus. Think about that for a moment. A teacher at Fessenden, serving alcohol to a boy who was at most 15 years old (Fessy only went up to 9th grade). Besides the hiring, training, and policy issues that allowed this to happen, what sort of culture had to be in place for a teacher to think that it was OK to invite a boy to your room and give him beer or booze?

A lot of the boys (there were no girls) at the Fessenden School were children of the wealthy, who were parked there by their parents who were seeking some sort of Americanized version of a British boarding school, with apple-cheeked young preppies marching around in blazers and ties. As a day student who lived nearby, I didn’t have to deal with the sleepover aspect of the Fessy experience. But it was pretty sad, especially for some of the youngest boys. If they were lucky, they got to go home for the weekend. If they weren’t so lucky, they were there seven days a week. Every weekend, I would see small packs from this group walking down to the local village center to buy candy and magazines. My parents, who still live in the area, tell me that the same sad ritual continues.

I have only a few positive memories of the school. There was a winter nature trip to Western Mass. with a small group of students led by a wonderful teacher named Mr. Olsen. There was also a hands-on experience learning about computers and programming from Mr. Carey, our British computer science instructor and a roomful of Apple II+ and Apple IIe computers. That sparked an interest in technology that continues to this day (I am a publisher of how-to guides about LinkedIn, Google Drive, Twitter, etc.).

But most of my time there was not fun. After 8th grade, I couldn’t stand Fessenden anymore, and happily returned to the Newton public school system. I haven’t had any contact with the Fessenden School or my classmates for over 20 years. As a parent, I would never consider putting my own kids through such an experience, even before the news that just came to light.

Fessenden School abuse scandal hits the local media

A few days ago, there were some reports in the Boston Globe about abuse carried out by one of Fessenden’s assistant headmasters, Arthur Clarridge, in the mid to late 1970s. That was bad enough, but the letter I just received from the current Fessenden headmaster David Stettler (reproduced below) is positively horrifying. It’s not just a case of one bad apple for a few years in the 1970s, but a pattern of alleged abuse and “inappropriate sexual behavior” at Fessenden School or involving Fessenden students starting in the 1960s, continuing through the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s. As recently as the late 2000s, a teacher was apparently engaged in sexual contact with a just-graduated student, and was fired in June 2010. Fessenden’s response? Informing the parents, and filing the “required documentation” with the state. It’s only after the Globe report that the school has begun to let everyone else know about the investigations, and to offer counseling to anyone who was victimized.

It’s too little, too late. In my mind, a hierarchical school culture that is buttressed by cruelty and physical bullying, aided by successive administrations who wanted to sweep allegations of abuse under the rug, led to repeated incidents of this nature, and needless emotional trauma for the victims. Although Fessenden undoubtedly wants this news to disappear, they should be doing everything in their power to:

  1. Determine which faculty, staff, and students were responsible for sexually abusing other students
  2. Report the incidents to the police and DAs office, not just to satisfy the minimum “required documentation” rules, but to help authorities prosecute anyone who has broken laws relating to abuse or sexual assault
  3. Re-examine the cultural aspects that allowed this state of affairs to persist for decades, with an eye toward developing a plan to make concrete changes that will not only protect students, but also help them thrive in a way that truly brings out the best parts of their character and the best elements of the community.

Fessenden School lawsuit

UPDATE December 2014: The Newton Tab reports that attorney Michael Garabedian, who represents victims of abuse at the Fessenden School, is taking the school to court. According to the article:

“Garabedian said he represents six adults who say they were sexually abused by Fessenden employees both on and off campus between 1968 and 1976. The victims were between 10 and 13 years old at the time of the alleged assaults.”

The article also quotes the attorney as saying:

“Their procedures in the past failed children,” Garabedian said. “They should be sitting down with victims to help them heal and learn how those failures took place. As educators they should be learning from their mistakes.” Garabedian said Fessenden has made “empty gestures” toward his clients in addressing their allegations.

The 2014 Newton Tab article can be read here. The Boston Globe also has an article. The timeline of the Fessenden School lawsuit is not certain.

Note that the timeline of abuse started in the 1940s, according to alumni who have left comments on this blog. Please scroll down the page to see their stories. I also encourage readers to share this post via Facebook, Twitter, and email, so other victims/survivors/witnesses can learn about the case.

Spotlight team investigation of Fessenden and other New England prep schools

On May 8 2016, the Boston Globe Spotlight team published an investigation of rampant sexual abuse at Fessenden and other New England prep schools. There are many stories from some of the brave former Fessy students who stepped forward. See some of the data from the report and my reaction on Spotlight exposes more abuse at Fessenden and other prep schools. Why no investigation?.

The 2011 letter from the school can be viewed by clicking on the images below:

Fessenden School

Fessenden abuse

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About: My name is Ian Lamont. To contact me, please email ianlamont -at- yahoo dot com

Everest Institute investigated

Everest Institute is located in Brighton, just a few miles from Harvard. But unlike the folks who attend Harvard to get a liberal arts education or study business, law or medicine, most Everest students aspire to be medical assistants, working in doctors’ offices and hospitals. Almost all are women, most from working-class and/or immigrant backgrounds.

I became pretty well acquainted with the school through a family member who completed her medical assisting training at Everest, and even visited a few times to see what the curriculum was like and help decipher some paperwork. She recently received a letter from the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office; apparently Everest (owned by Corinthian Colleges Inc.) is being investigated on several fronts (UPDATE: Everest Institute has since closed).