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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:

Bruno Bettelheim has once again affirmed a characteristic of his which refuses to be changed. This is his complete commitment to and over-riding concern with mastery. His model for therapeutic success is the personality who can now cope with reality, especially the destructive, anti-instinctual aspects, by intelligently outsmarting restrictions. In this sense, he is fully committed to Freud’s pre-death instinct philosophy of warfare between social restrictions and man’s instincts, with the main purpose of behavior being the ego’s attempt to avoid destruction in a hostile world….

In his review of the book Stability and Change in Human Characteristics Bettelheim seems to carry this psychological Darwinism to its completion. He actually seems to be suggesting a substantial removal of children from family influences between the ages of two to five in order to insure their maximum development of intelligence (I.Q.). However much I disagree, it is not to this point that I wish to address myself. What concerns me the most is his lack of a special kind of sensitivity—compassion. His joyous celebration of his own mastery in escaping destruction in a concentration camp makes Bettelheim paint the slaughtered millions as stupid and destructively fixed and passive. The joyous discovery of Professor Bloom’s confirmation of ancient psychoanalytic “principles” makes it possible for Bettelheim to ridicule the “do-gooders” who no longer want to separate Negro and white, but to unite in love and compassion.

Perhaps the time has come to see life as other than behavior to avoid destruction, for this is essentially the function of these characteristics which Professor Bloom writes about and which Bettelheim interprets. There may very well be a positive need to experience love for its own sake which has no relationship with intelligence, academic achievement, or mastery. At any rate, I would hate to see a mastery not spawned out of love, which is what I fear Bettelheim is driving for.

Melvin Rubenstein, M. D.

Saint Louis, Missouri

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