New Coverage: Robert Berman article in The New Yorker

Berman, Robert

Marc Fisher (HM ’76) has published a lengthy look at the career of English teacher Robert Berman in the April 1, 2013 issue of The New Yorker: A Sex-Abuse Scandal at Horace Mann:

…what about Mr. Berman—this odd, secretive man who frightened away many students, yet retired to a house that former students bought for him? He wasn’t mentioned in the Times stories, but he may have been the greatest enigma of all.

The full contents of the article are graphic and may be triggering for abuse survivors.

18 thoughts on “New Coverage: Robert Berman article in The New Yorker

  1. I believe that the authorities knew what was happening to the victims.
    I believe that the victims were abused by drugs (put into their milk, coke,
    coffee, etc), hypnotism, and subliminal messages. This is the method
    the military uses. Once the drugs are placed in the drink, the victim
    looses their Will Power to say, “No.”

    I hope that Marc Fisher checks these techniques out. You might want
    to suggest to him to read all the books on The Wizard of Oz. The
    books are filled with subliminal messages.This is what BlueBird is
    all about.

  2. Just finished the Marc Fisher article in The New Yorker.

    All of the people who defend Berman, including Berman, say that the accusations come from people who are unhappy with their lives, aka losers. Amazing how they all stick to that script.

    And if not siding with Berman means I am mediocre, I would much rather be mediocre in the eyes of this master abuser.

  3. This is all so, so awful.
    My thoughts go out to all the Horace Mann survivors.

    I have an overpowering desire to read this “magnum opus” of his. Would it be absolutely impossible to find a copy?

  4. I am not connected to Horace Mann school at all, but just read the NYer article and wanted to send care and support to all those survivors. Having experienced only cruleness of words and behaviour from mentors/teachers, I cannot being to imagine the hurt this man’s actions have caused and continue to cause. May each survivor find healing, peace, and deep residing love within themselves.

  5. I read the Marc Fisher article in the New Yorker. I was at Horace Mann during the thick of the article’s time-line, and even knew some of the people mentioned- where names were discerable. My best Mr. Berman story was when, at our physics class down the hall (Dr.Wezmar), we were banging and clanging- I guess learning about the many permutations of sound waves, and this noise was interfering with the cult next door. Mr. Berman opened the door, and just stood there, glaring (I guess, through his shades), with his eyes and posture tell all of us to stop the noise.

    Neither Mr. Berman, nor any of the other abusers mentioned in NY Times articles, put any moves on me, but I can say that the school at that time lent itself to cliques (normal teenage stuff, even if all boys) and cults (not normal). The Bermanites were clearly in the cult category. Marc Fisher tries to draw a link between membership in the Bermanites with crumbling home-lives. I would add that there may be another dimension- intellactuality was cool at that point, and self-made striving Jewish parents (circa late 1960’s, early 1970s) were not always so “smart” and kids may have sought a refuge.

    Regarding Marc Fisher article, he starts to talk about Mr. Lin- though not by name, at the intro of the article, not sure why he did not name him, or just trying to set the tone that teachers of that era were “wierd”. There was an English teacher in Lower School 1968- 1969, first name “Whitney” who later got caught up in some big sexual abuse scandal maybe in Boston area. But Whitney only lasted one year- not sure what happened with him.

  6. I’m loosely quoting Spector: Where else would a teacher–a high school teacher–who was so CRUEL that half his class dropped out immediately, be tolerated? Not too many places.
    Hah! When I went to high school in the 1950s (and junior high and even elementary school) most teachers were CRUEL. Horribly cruel. Sadistically cruel. Some sad and troubled children were further disabled by what went on at Horace Mann, and their teachers and administrators, people they had every reason to trust, injured them more. But in my experience, and in the experience of many people that I know, the injuries, to self-esteem, to security, to intellectual growth, were not at all unusual. I knew, as a child, that teachers, men and women, were the meanest,most powerful, most abusive people going. The Magdalenes had nothing on the cordon of teachers in the 50s. They got away with abuse because they could. (I know things are better now, but still, power corrupts).
    On the other hand, we grow up and live reasonably happy, productive, or miserable lives and that may have little to do with the Robert Bermans of this world.

  7. I find it amazing he is living away his days at the posh Robert Simon Fine Art headquarters in Tuxedo Park. I understand he cannot be sued criminally due to the statute of limitations, but can’t a civil suit be filed against this man? It just is terrible that a monster like this can, apparently, get away with these crimes unscathed and live a life of luxury. And his enabler Robert Simon apparently suffers no professional backlash whatsoever in the art world.

  8. I hope that somebody finds and posts a picture of him, maybe even of his home.

    While I’m not suggesting that people storm the gates of Tuxedo Park (It’s quite lovely, I went to the country club there for swim meets as a child), and he seems like someone who gives not a fig what the neighbors think, I suspect like all bullies (and brainwashers?) the Mr. Berman is a coward.

    While another writer here hoped that a Miltonian hell awaits him, as an agnostic I’d prefer that his suffering begins in the here and now.

  9. Mr. Berman as described in the article was vicious, manipulative, grandiose — and completely pathetic. The 27th greatest intellectual of all time, next to Melville? Hardly. His letters to the author were comically verbose and dense. Did anyone else notice he’s a horrible writer?

    The world is black and white to pedophiles. You’re either a boring philistine or a genius as potentially great as Milton. Friendship is expressed through sex. Refusal of sex means hate. This black and white thinking is how children think. No wonder pedophiles fail at normal relationships with adults. It’s a borderline personality: all or nothing.

    I hope this monster’s countless victims find some healing in their lives by talking about their experiences with other victims of abuse. Not only at Horace Mann but the other elite, all-male prep schools with denialist administrators scared of losing prestige in a bid for a limited pool of tuition dollars (i.e. ALL of them). I pray above all else they don’t themselves perpetuate the cycle of child rape. Somewhere in the dark recesses of their psyches, Berman hardwired the idea that this behavior is normal between a Master his Loyal Subjects, and that is the perhaps the cruelest form of abuse of all.

  10. I’m a reader of the New Yorker article and have no connection to Horace Mann. I think Berman and people like him should be locked up for life. And I hope someone help these abused victims move on and make peace with their lives. Is it possible that “Gene” in the article answered his own question, about not being able to let go? That the most difficult part of healing is to recognize that he has never stopped loving Berman. (Ms. Debora Shuger, the UCLA English professor, commented the boys in Berman’s class loved him.) Would it help if he and other Berman’s victims talk about their love for him, which is deeper than the hurt and which is more difficult to talk about? Please forgive me if what I say offends anyone. That’s not my intention.

  11. I was flabbergasted by this article. All my life I have brushed up against personalities like this but somehow avoided becoming entangled, or felt suspicious enough of something to get away. This article depicts a case that should be studied and applied wherever svengali-like personae lurk, and young minds should be protected from their clutches.

    I found the description of Berman- and people like him in my life – as laughable. Like the student who transferred out of the class after the Hamlet riddle, I just moved on after suspecting something wasn’t right. The peak of his pathetic arrogance was the vain, self-publishing of his opus magnum. I hope those still held by his basilisk gaze someday escape and move on with their lives lest they continue to live for him.

  12. I just today finished reading Marc Fishcer’s New Yorker article on Robert Berman. I am not a victim, nor an alumnea of Horace Mann . However, I want to express my profound sadness and rage about the entrenched abuse that was allowed to continue decade after decade with the administration’s knowledge.

    In the case of Berman, what struck me was that this is a man whose emotional abuse of students alone should have been a fireable offense. What sort of a school allows that kind of mistreatment of children, completely public, undeniable mistreatment, the kind that cannot be shrouded by any kind of (false) plausible deniability? It seems the sort that believed that that kind of behavior somehow lent a mystique to the school, an atmosphere of some sort of non-conformist eccentricity that said “yes, we are an elite prep school, but we’re hip; we’re not like the others,” the kind that mistakes bad teaching and emotional abuse for some kind of cache.

    Where else would a teacher — a high school teacher — who regularly had half his class immediately drop out not because he was tough or even intimidating, but because he was CRUEL, be tolerated year upon year? Not too many places.

    I focus on this element of what was tolerated not because I really believe that it leads directly to a tolerance for sexual abuse — plenty of “ordinary” institutions are as guilty as Horace Mann of that — but because THIS man, this one particular man who appears to have been one of the most vicious abusers at the school, could have been fired for rather ordinary reasons. Taking that action would not have addressed the horrifying phenomenon of what happens when a teacher/predator is fired without any criminal investigation — the predator continuing his legacy of destruction at the next institution that hires him unless some brave soul takes it upon himself to warn future employers, an action that would never completely stop a monster like Berman — and yet, it remains to me a disturbing element of this whole story. The school collectively (not speaking about any individuals here; not qualified to, nor do I believe that there is or was “groupthink” at Horace Mann) either passively or actively supported a kind of behavior in its teachers that certainly did not make it harder for them to include sexual abuse in their devastating abuse of power.

    I said up top that I am not a victim. This is true. But I, along with so many kids at that godawful age, could have been. I was scared enough, insecure enough. It could have been me had I been in the wrong place. I can see easily how these soul-destroying brain-washing predators would leave a child, and then an adult, helpless to speak out. My greatest admiration and respect to those of you who were able to find the courage to speak.

    • I’m “replying” to myself because I am not sure of something I wrote. I am not sure that other schools would have been more likely to get rid of someone like Berman for what appears to be obvious and public unacceptable behavior. After reading more about the whole phenomenon of educational institutions minimizing all kinds of bad behavior on the part of their teachers, and after thinking more about emotionally abusive teachers I came across in school, I am not at all sure that retaining a man like Berman was any more likely to happen at Horace Mann than anywhere else.

    • I am responding as an experienced professional from the Freudian school of thought. One possibility that this abuse was allowed to go on for so long is group dynamics. This group, this subculture, may have the psychopathology of sado-masochism. There is pleasure in the pain. The teacher is cruel and vulnerable children have already learned to eroticize pain, the basis of masochism. The subject is so taboo, that the defense mechanism of DENIAL is very strong and endemic. As for the ‘authorities,’ if they know what is going on, and do not stop it, they are a part of it. They are voyeurs and get a certain erotic pleasure in visualizing and identifying with the cruelty.

  13. These allegations and stories are heartbreaking. And baffling. I can imagine how confusing such an entanglement would be for a young person: I cannot remotely imagine the parental response, or the dithering from the Horace Mann administration. Had my trustworthy and conscientious daughter, now studying at an Ivy League, come to me with a report about Mr. Berman’s sexual advances, I would have skipped the school authorities and gone directly to Berman. And I would have advised him that any further predatory behavior would result in immediate death. A man so well versed in the tenets of good and evil would have understood, I’m sure. Meantime, I can only hope that Mr. Berman, at his advanced age, is close to getting a first hand experience of the Miltonian hell he lectured about for so many years.

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