“Genius makes its own rules.”

Assigned to 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.”

The New Yorker’s exploration of Robert Berman, one of the Horace Mann teachers involved in the sexual abuse scandals of the 1960s and 1970s (background reading here) is most successful (and it is very successful in general) in showing how predators can a) create an elaborate, larger-than-life persona and b) psychologically manipulate those around them long after they are no longer physically present in their lives. A must-read.

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