In response to:
How Much Can Man Change? from the September 10, 1964 issue
To the Editors:
…No one could question that improvement of the schools was a legitimate public concern. Good schools cannot undo the work of bad parents, nor could they cure all social ills, but the home in which reasonable hope for good schooling can be entertained is more likely to send well-prepared children to school. The suggestion that we should in more direct ways “make our influence felt in their homes” does nothing but raise a number of doubtful questions. Who, for instance are “we”?
C. Douglas McGee
Department of Philosophy
Bruno Bettelheim replies:
Reading the letters you received in reply to my review of Professor Bloom’s Stability and Change in Human Characteristics confirms once more my conviction that it is pointless to engage in controversy and that the best way for knowledge to grow is to let each person state his position so that all aspects of a problem become more fully illuminated. Then let the reader form his own opinions. But since you wanted my reactions, here they are, as short as I could make them.
I thought the purpose of a review was to bring an important book to the readers’ attention while presenting at the same time one reader’s namely the reviewer’s reaction to it. But from the letters you received about my review of Professor Bloom’s book the sad fact emerges that while these persons have strong reactions to my review, none of them seems to have gone to the trouble to read his book before taking issue with me. But what is here at stake are his data and what they prove. After all, there is only so much one can mention even in a long review; if Professor Bloom could have presented and discussed all pertinent facts in the space allocated to review his book, he would have written an article of this size, not a book-length report.
Had the authors of the letters read Professor Bloom’s book I am sure the incredible wealth of data he presents would have convinced them, as it convinced me. My advice therefore is that they peruse Professor Bloom’s book. They will find it most enlightening, and after having read it will find it much more difficult to believe that relatively easy half measures, such as school integration, will solve the problem of how to offer a truly better life to our underprivileged children. What I argue is that it is high time we stop fooling ourselves that what we are trying to do in our schools offers an adequate solution to a problem that can be solved only either in the home, or through other measures which radically alter the underprivileged child’s pre-school experience. If such are “racist” views, as Mrs. Bove asserts, she welcome to use name-calling in lieu of research and reason.
I do not agree with Mr. Holt’s opinion that schools, even the best, are an environment inimical to the growth of intelligence. While our schools are not as good as they ought to be, his statement is so exaggerated that it seems pointless to argue against it. Any comparison of a first with a twelfth grader is convincing evidence that schools do develop intelligence and transmit knowledge. Summerhill, like the Orthogenic School with which I am connected, deals with psychiatric cases. We have found it entirely possible to change children’s scores on I.Q. tests 60 or more points. But the initial low I.Q. was the consequence of severe emotional blocking, and the change the result of therapy, not of schooling; hence it tells little about children who do not suffer from psychiatric disturbances. It is well known that certain individuals can overcome handicaps which are destructive to others. Since they are able to do so, they do not need to concern us. My concern is with all those others who do not possess extraordinary powers of resistance or unusual abilities—that is with the vast majority of people.
If Dr. Cole says that reforms in the early life of the child will require a good deal of further spelling out, I am in hearty agreement. Only I did not review a book which made suggestions in this respect, but one that showed the need for it. Hence this is all I could say about it in the context of a book review.
If I understand Professor Seeley correctly, I think he says what is needed is therapy, to which I fully agree. But since society does not seem ready to offer therapy to all culturally disadvantaged children, and since I think that prevention is preferable to cure, I suggest that the early life of these children be so reconstructed that no later therapy will be needed. Pious hopes that we can integrate into our schools the principles of psychoanalytic therapy will not do, because they are essentially educational and not therapeutic institutions, and by trying to be that, they would lose out in education.
I agree with Professor Reinitz that maybe for 5 per cent of the disadvantaged differences in the quality of schools can produce greater differences than the 0.4 I.Q. points a year mentioned; but again what bothers me is not these 5 per cent, but the other 95 per cent.
Dr. Rubenstein is indeed right. My concern is with the creation of personalities that can cope with reality and achieve true mastery. As for the rest of his letter I feel it shows little of that kind of “love for its own sake” that he advocates.
October 22, 1964