We are accustomed to narratives praising good teachers and the difference they’ve made in the lives of their students. But I don’t think I’ve ever read one about what a bad teacher has wrought in a student’s life — until Emily Oren’s wrenching blog memoir of the teacher who drove her out of architecture school. Excerpt:
Abraham (as we knew him) was both immensely talented and immensely troubled. He ran his studio with a gleeful sadism, promising us we wouldn’t sleep for days and lambasting us with choice expletives when we got too relaxed and seemed to be enjoying ourselves. He frequently told us we were stupid, foolish, and would never succeed in architecture, and he failed or forced withdrawal on many to prove himself right. In his furor, he ripped drawings off the wall and snapped carefully-assembled models into pieces to “fix” them. He gave tacit approval to ideas and then turned on a dime to skewer them later. He never gave specific assignments, but he expected us to work until we passed out or injured ourselves using box cutters and power tools in a sleep-deprived state. He took evident pleasure in belittling and slandering others, both behind their backs and to their faces. He could sense fear better than a wild dog, and if it was present he would capitalize on it, refusing to give his approval even when we bent over backwards to win it.
This man almost singlehandedly drove me away from architecture. Worse, he made me question my faith in God, the faith that had sustained me through a childhood I now realize was wonderfully uneventful. Where was God when Raimund Abraham, who didn’t seem to like anybody, decided to teach a class full of young, idealistic teenagers who wanted to change the world — and instead turned to cigarettes and shrinks to cope with their feelings of worthlessness and despair? Where was God when we failed crit after crit, unable to produce something he would like and frightened for our academic future with expulsion forever on the table? When we got sick and depressed, flung ourselves into loveless relationships and rejected the advances of friends and family members who worried about us? When I had the darkest thoughts of my life (and even wished for the courage to end it), desperate to prove to someone, anyone, that I was the smart, funny, creative person I knew myself to be?
At one time I would have said quite freely that Abraham ruined my life.
Read the whole thing. What occasioned this reflection was the recent death of Prof. Abraham (who, it should be noted, is remembered far more fondly in the comments section of that link). If you read on, you’ll see how Emily came to forgive Abraham, and to find blessing in her suffering under him.
I should say that Emily Oren is a friend, and she sent me that link yesterday to tell me that forgiving Prof. Abraham was her way of doing something for my sister Ruthie, who, as regular readers know, is suffering from cancer, and who wants peace and reconciliation between people. How about that? Thank you, Emily.