Culture, Identity, Politics, Religion, Sex & Gender, Uncategorized

The Charismatic Teacher

This piece, written by the principal of the Toronto Hebrew Academy, has been floating around the internet/blogosphere lately, and given its (sadly) timeliness and the fact that it’s one of the more productive things I’ve seen on the whole subject of gurus and power, I couldn’t not repost.

The Charismatic Teacher
by Paul Shaviv
The charismatic teacher (the ‘Pied-Piper”) is one of the most difficult
situations for a Principal to deal with. A charismatic teacher will
deeply affect and influence some students – but will almost always
leave a trail of emotional wreckage in is/her wake .
Charismatic teachers are often themselves deeply immature, but their
immaturity is emotional, not intellectual, and it is not always
obvious. They can be brilliant in inspiring students to go beyond their
wildest expectations, and are often regarded (by their following of
students, by parents, and by the Board or the community) as the ‘most
important’ or ‘best’ members of staff. There is always, however, a
price to be paid.
Read more….

7 thoughts on “The Charismatic Teacher

  1. hmmm… it’s funny that Shaviv is writting that…
    I went to said academy – (Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto – CHAT)… the school is rife with political and religious conformists imposing dogma on a student body full of diverse backgrounds. The school, which is supposed to be “Community” in fact only teaches orthodox halacha and refuses to even discuss other visions of Halacha and Torah.
    In grade 10 I asked my Talmud teacher to let me do an extra credit assignment. Knowing that I was involved in Hashomer Hatzair he told me that i had to write on why socialism what anti-Jewish (as opposed to my view that halacha is full of socialist laws).
    That’s just a small, tiny example of what happens there every day. I got a great education. I can do it all with the best of them. But I will never forgive them missing the increadible opportunity to help the Jewish community understand one another’s point of view. Understand that reform jews aren’t lazy, just have another view of halacha. That socialist zionists ARE zionists who support peace as a means to secure Israel’s future.
    Mr. Shaviv. I wish you all the best. Hopefully you can transform CHAT because it is in dire need of a spiritual facelift.

  2. I read this post first on Hirhurrim, and I find it really confusing. This could be my ignorance – and I’ll freely admit that I’m ignorant in this area – but are Charismatic teachers the ones who are being identified as pedophiles? The post was written as a response to the Kolko case (I believe). I wonder if this isn’t more of a collapsing of distinction between the Gafni case (Charismatic leader using charisma to embark on relationships with women) and the Kolko case (Classroom Rabbi abusing children).
    Maybe instead of stating declaritively, I’ll just ask: Do pedaphiles tend to be charismatic? They may be, but I don’t think it’s intuitive to assume they are.

  3. I don’t necessarily think that the article is dealing with sexual abuse directly so much as the mindgames and bad boundaries that these kind of problematic teacher/student relationships can cause–which, in the event that there is also abuse in the mix (as definitely does happen, though not always), things are even more confusing than they would have been. I’d say a lot of abusive teacher/student relationships start out with this guru thing going on, but certainly not every abuser is a guru or guru is an abuser.
    In any case, in at least one of the recent cases (the guy whose smicha was revoked a couple of posts down) the charismatic/guru factor definitely played a big part in why people trusted him so much when there were so many warnings swirling around, and how he managed to get away with what seems to have been quite a lot of truly unacceptable behavior.
    I think the Jewish community at large really needs to start taking responsibility for the degree to which “rebbe-ism” informs our communal dynamics. At its worst, this kind of handing over of our power to an-all powerful Rebbe-type is dangerous, toxic and causes a lot of people to get hurt, At its most benign, it tends to cause a lot of disappointment when people figure out that their great spiritual guide is all too painfully human.

  4. Sometimes a charismatic teacher is a harasser, but more often they can be a destabilizing influence in a school context, polarizing the students and parents and operating as loose cannons, undermining the authority of teachers and administration and being generally destructive.

  5. I have a problem with the teacher being forced to turn over guidance issues to guidance counselors. The student approached him for a reason, perhaps his charisma,perhaps not. but forcing him to turn over the issue will almost always force the student to close their mouth. This leads to a potentially dangerous situation, especially if the student really needs help. Of course there are bad charismatic leaders, but the benefits of most outweight the negatives of some, the restrictions on the teacher that the author proposes do in fact make it impossible to connect with students. Teachers that interact more with their students are the only successful teachers. I stress the only. (my opinion of course)
    That said, still be wary of people taking advantage of you. These people do exist

  6. At its most benign, it tends to cause a lot of disappointment when people figure out that their great spiritual guide is all too painfully human.
    Well, that’s about what happens when most people grow up and realize that their parents have feet of clay. In fact, most of what this article attributed to the “evil” charismatic teacher could apply very well to my own father. So what should we do? Take kids away from thier parents, or just accept reality and let the kids get emotionally hurt. Becuase you can’t avoid getting emotionally hurt unless you plan on committing suicide. Life cause emotional hurt, we sghould stop overprotecting our kids. As it is, we’ve raised a generation of overprotected emotional sisssies. I blame the pyschotherapists.

  7. Not sure who Tom is, or when he graduated, or when he was in G10, but my views and the principles on which the school is currently run may be found here:
    Whilst in a large school we can’t be aware of everything that happens in every class, I don’t think the incident described could happen today, and if it did it would be of major concern.
    BTW, I consider myself a LW Zionist!

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