Editorial: Rough Patch for Local Black Male Teachers
(pictured above: Eric Puryear)
There are two sides to every story.
So which one do we believe? Sadly, it is usually the one told through the loudest microphone. And you know us humans – if we are told something long enough, we’ll buy it hook, line and sinker. And if a newspaper headline shouts it or a television anchor recites it – we eat it like fodder given to a cow.
Samuel E. McClain should make us all rethink the way we perceive allegations. In the spring, when prosecutors decided to charge him with two misdemeanors for allegedly inappropriately touching two students, his name and face were an omnipresence. He had yet to have a day in court – the only appropriate venue for weighing the merits of allegations – but his name was mud.
He declared his innocence right away, but few bought that. In a nation so proud of its Constitution, “innocent until proven guilty” is but an idiom. No one practices what our legal system preaches. If cops investigate it, a DA prosecutes it and a judge hears it – we almost always assume a crime has taken place. That’s doubly so when you factor in the scarlet letter the media places upon those merely charged. If we see a mugshot staring back at use from a television screen or newspaper, it gives allegations verisimilitude, feeding our belief that “where there is smoke, there’s fire.”
Fortunately for McClain, a judge saw that there wasn’t even a spark in his case – not even a match to start one.
McClain’s free and his record will remain spotless, but will the incredulous public let him enjoy his moment in the sun and allow him to move on? We hope so, but know that allegations – just like convictions – can haunt.
It is hard to lay blame at anyone’s feet in the case – expect for the students whose charges have been found to be baseless. The school system has an obligation to take every allegation seriously, especially now. School administrators have come under fire in recent years for reportedly sweeping such allegations under the rug without even involving law enforcement.
And sadly – but quite truly – McClain is an aberration. Most of the time, teachers accused of having inappropriate contact with students actually did take part in such acts. The examples are endless. But then there are people like McClain and Jason Ford, a Wiley Middle teacher who in 2010 also faced allegations of inappropriately touching students. Cops cleared Ford before he saw the inside of a courtroom.
We wish McClain luck in his future endeavors and feel an incredible sadness that his lifelong dream of being a teacher has ended in this way. He says that he will never step foot in a classroom again as a teacher; he’s afraid that another student will cry wolf and he’ll lose not only his career but his freedom.
These days, the Loch Ness Monster is seen more than black men leading classrooms. With McClain gone, we’ve lost another one – a good one, by all accounts.
Speaking of young black men in education. We were happy that Atkins Academic and Technology High School Head Football Coach Eric Puryear was rehired – and not just because he is a capable young man and role model.
His rehiring shows that the voice of the people still has sway and that public apathy is not as endemic here as we once feared.
After Puryear was axed for seemingly nickel-and-dime violations, the kin of his players contacted school administrators to express their displeasure. It also didn’t hurt that the Puryear name is well-known and respected in these parts. His parents are much-loved former educators, and his brother, Sam, is a former Michigan State and Stanford golf coach who now leads golf operations at Queens College.
The powerful and well-connected took up his cause as well, but we like to think that the voices of the Average Joes and Joans were most stentorian and caused Atkins Principal Joe Childers to reconsider his decision.
Atkins is a fine school that is carrying on the tradition of excellence started decades ago by its forerunner. The original Atkins was so successful at churning out top-notch graduates because it embraced the concept of community. The teachers and administrators did not just teach and lead; They were mother and father figures, mentors and treated students as if they were their own progeny.
Puryear seems to embody that old Atkins spirit, and we think the school and his players will be better because of that.