In light of the terrible news coming out of St John's, and the way in which Mr Edey has been portrayed by some of your talk show hosts, I feel duty-bound to express the truth about him, and about the tremendous influence he has had upon my life.
As a young, poor, indigenous child who had gained his way into St David's Marist College with an academic scholarship, high school proved to be a continual reminder of my own economic deficiencies and my cultural divergences from the mainstream elite at the time. I was one of 2 black students in a class of 100, and I had no shield to protect me from teenage deprecation.
High school was in short a terror - and I am ashamed to confess that I decided early on to try my hand at joining the terrors, so that I could gain a measure of infamy, and in so doing, deflect some attention away from my poor self.
The opportunity to cause insult to my overweight accounting teacher arose when we were asked to compile a business plan early in Standard 6 (Grade 8). Armed with Herbalife brochures, and a wicked way with words, I set off with mischievous glee. I was only trying to be funny, I convinced myself. The sorry truth which I hid all too well from myself, was that my presentation was shameful, sexist, and ignobly pejorative about women with weight challenges. It was the lowest point of my scholastic career. Of course, I got cackles and sniggers from the rest of the class. Of course, my poor teacher was humiliated. And of course, I got into (perhaps) the worst trouble of my life.
When I went to Mr Edey's office, an unspoken part of me feared the worst. Was I going to get suspended? Or expelled? What were my parents going to say? And as Mr Edey spelled out for me the gravity of my ill conduct, my self-worth lost all lustre and value. Then just at the point when I was sure that Mr Edey would take severe punitive action, a remarkable thing happened.
"Irvine," he said. "Do you know what 'Confortare Esto Vir' means?" "No," I whispered. "'Confortare Esto Vir' is the school motto. It means 'Take Courage and Be a Man'. Now I could punish you severely for your actions, but one thing I have learned is that punishment on it's own will not teach you anything. And I believe that at St David's, you have a great opportunity to learn, if you are willing to accept the lessons we teach." "Yes, Sir" I said, my morose eyes firmly fixed to the ground. "So Irvine, how would you take courage and be a man now?" Silence stretched out interminably whilst I groped for a suitable response. "Irvine?" "I uh, I suppose I should redo my accounting assignment." I dared a glance at Mr Edey, hoping that this would suffice. His stern glare did not waver one bit. "You need to do more." Inwardly, I plumbed the depths of desperation, whilst sweat burst into a frenzied sheen on my forehead. "I must say sorry to Mrs -?" "In writing," affirmed Mr Edey. "Today, you will write the letter right after detention. And you will redo your assignment tonight. Am I clear?" "Yessir! Sorry, sir!" Relief bloomed in my mind like fireworks in the night sky. Mr Edey nodded his dismissal, and I scurried towards the door on tremulous limbs. As I reached the door, Mr Edey called out "Irvine?" I turned and his sharp eyes caught mine firmly. "'Confortare Esto Vir'. Never forget these words, and what they mean."
I never forgot. Neither did Mr Edey.
In this Teacher/Student incident of prejudice, I believe that Mr Edey has tried to offer the teacher the same opportunity of redemption that I was offered. Because he is right: punitive action on its own will not teach the offender anything. Rather, it risks reinforcing the prejudices that have led the teacher to such offensive behaviour.
The castigation and exile being promulgated by some of your radio hosts is not the solution. In saying this, I am not making light of what has happened at St John's. The teacher's statements and actions are terrible in the extreme. But everyone deserves the opportunity to make amends. And how will this teacher do this if you destroy his life before he has a chance to change it?
Mr Edey is not leading poorly. He is not being soft-handed. He is not making light of racism. He is trying to change a terror, into something far better. For his bravery, and his conviction, Mr Edey deserves recognition and respect, however the St John's incident is resolved.
And for the compassion he showed me, even as he corrected my erroneous judgement, Mr Edey has won my love and my eternal support. Because he is a far better, far wiser man, than some of your poor pithy denouncements have made him out to be.
This article first appeared on 702 : Opinion: In Defence of Mr Paul Edey