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Controversy: Replies to Bettelheim’s “Schooling is Not Enough”

In response to:

How Much Can Man Change? from the September 10, 1964 issue

To the Editors:

…Of course integration of the schools is not enough, but then whoever supposed it was? The proper question is not for most sensible people: Is this—integration or whatever—a sufficient condition? But only: Is it a necessary condition? And if it is…should it precede, accompany, or follow other measures?

…. Now as between integrating the schools now and trying to do something about the pre-school life of the disadvantaged, we may not be able to do the second unless we do the first. There is nothing to support the view that we must choose between the two, and hence the question of which to do is about as relevant as the choice between giving our children food or drink….

It is…misleading to say “we may still wish to press for integrated schools as a matter of social justice…” First, more than “social justice” is at stake, including the effects on us of continuing to lend ourselves to a morally indefensible and democracy-destroying way of life. Second, problems of “social justice” and “help” cannot be so separated: help in a context of injustice is mere patronage, destructive to helped and helper. Third, the knowledge of school discrimination to come is part of the pre-school child’s present context-for-growing, and hence affects his plastic possibilities in that vital area then. Fourth, an essential step in the proper preparation of the next generation of parents to give their kids a better first five years is to do what we can with the children of school age now. Fifth, the very essence of education is integration—in a sense I shall define. And sixth, it is probably politically and practically impossible (as, I think, it is morally reprehensible) to appear with in one hand a program to reform the early years of the disadvantaged (which means changing their families) and in the other a bar to accepting their present disadvantaged children into the company of our present advantaged ones.

Let me press the fifth point, that education is integration, perhaps especially with reference to the disadvantaged. Dr. Bettelheim’s own Orthogenic School is a living institutional witness to what can be done…. Therapeutic nihilism has hence no justification. And neither does a kind of secondary nihilism that believes without sufficient evidence that only a few great men can perform such feats, that the skills required are beyond the reach of common men and teachers in general, or indeed beyond the reach of the recovered and partly recovered children themselves…. Everywhere the therapy is not merely conditional upon, it is the integration, it is the assimilation of the disadvantaged, the unloved to the more loved, the disoriented to the better oriented, the halt to the less halting….

What educators need and have now got from a social scientist such as Dr. Bloom is a lively sense of the damage done by disadvantage, and the difficulty in righting that damage except by a more direct attack. What they need from psychoanalysts of the competence and warmth of Dr. Bettelheim is aid and guidance in finding for an institutionalizing in the school those principles which assist the reintegration into the core of common humanity of those more lost from that mainstream…

John R. Seeley

Professor of Sociology

Brandeis University

Waltham, Mass.

Fellow, Center for Advanced Study of Behavioral Science

Palo Alto, Calif.

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