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In a New Yorker article about sexual abuse allegations at Horace Mann…

… the author shares a memory of his time there in the ‘seventies.

Assigned to [Robert] Berman for tenth-grade English, I took a seat one September morning alongside sixteen or seventeen other boys. We waited in silence as he sat at his desk, chain-smoking Benson & Hedges cigarettes and watching us from behind dark glasses. Finally, Mr. Berman stood up, took a fresh stick of chalk, climbed onto his chair, and reached above the blackboard to draw a horizontal line on the paint. “This,” he said, after a theatrical pause, “is Milton.” He let his hand fall a few inches, drew another line, and said, “This is Shakespeare.” Another line, lower, on the blackboard: “This is Mahler.” And, just below, “Here is Browning.” Then he took a long drag on his cigarette, dropped the chalk onto the floor, and, using the heel of his black leather loafer, ground it into the wooden floorboards. “And this, gentlemen,” he said, “is you.”

Margaret Soltan, March 23, 2013 10:21AM
Posted in: smackdown

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5 Responses to “In a New Yorker article about sexual abuse allegations at Horace Mann…”

  1. Jim Says:

    And our parents were so proud that we could go to such a school (not, in my case, Horace Mann, but a comparable English school), with such teachers!

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Jim: Well, I actually like, and find funny, his approach here.

  3. theprofessor Says:

    John Silber’s speech to my fellow freshmen at BU was along these lines, except “ignorant” and perhaps even “stupid” were used explicitly.

  4. Dom Says:

    This is part of an abuser’s selection process. Here is a good explanation:

    Berman seemed to have three steps in his strategy: humiliation to screen out people with healthy self-images and attracting those with a mild masochistic streak; grooming of the remaining likely candidates by selective praise and grandiose proclamations (Berman ranked himself one slot higher than, ahem, Herman Melville); and, finally, threatened withdrawal of the master’s attention and ostracization for not sticking with the program.

  5. Timothy Burke Says:

    I was going to say as Dom observes: it is hard to like or find funny that approach after reading the article, because it’s essentially the opening bid in a cult leader’s rhetorical strategy. But I’m also with the Yeshiva professor near the end of the article: even without the abuse, there is something so pretentious and self-flattering about Berman’s entire style that I imagine it would be edifying as much as an example of how not to teach a love or understanding of literature as the other way around.

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