NUMBER 218• 3 MARCH 2003 • PROFESSIONAL PESSIMISM
INDEX OF QUOTESReferences
The most virulent strain of professional pessimism is low expectations. Assuming the worst, treatment professionals quarantine youth into roles of victim or patient. Those who highlight the victim status of an individual provide excuses for irresponsible behavior. Children need empathy and understanding, not adults who feel sorry for them and set low expectations. The patient role highlights pathology. Speaking for adolescents like himself who have been in treatment programs, Brian Raychaba of Toronto says: “Young persons must be allowed to be active subjects, not merely objects in somebody else’s grand scheme, ‘saving young unfortunates.” (Raychaba. 1992)
The pessimism of treatment is personified in labels given troubled youth. In the English language, to think in negative ways one only needs to add the prefix de- or dis-. Psychologists like the word disordered, special educators prefer disabled, and a favorite of social workers is dysfunctional. Psychiatrists have their own list of unfriendly sounding labels published in the ever-expanding DSM series. Scholarly journals are filled with articles on disordered behavior, disturbed emotions, deviant thinking, dysfunctional families, and deprived environments.
Brilliant professional pessimists write books to spread their thinking errors. Criminologists J. Wilson and R. Herrnstein contend that students who are "temperamentally as well as intellectually different" are to blame for eroding educational standards. "When the proportion of low IQ students becomes too high, they then set the tone for the school." (Wilson and Herrnstine. 1985). They are cynical about rehabilitating antisocial youth and argue for a return to retribution as just and equitable. (Wilson and Herrnstein. 1985) Presumably, these Harvard professors have been deprived of the opportunity to discover boxy clever and resourceful kids who outwit adults really can be.
Jonathan Kellerman is a child clinical psychologist turned crime novelist. A testimony to his pessimistic views on adolescents in trouble is his nonfiction book, Savage Spawn: Reflections on Violent Children. He produced this for a panicked public after the Columbine school shootings. Kellerman cautions against empathy for antisocial adolescents whom he describes as “a species apart." He likes the label psychopath. "It’s a juicy term, connotative of evil, and this is a juicy evil creature we are dealing with.” (Kellerman 1999). Once having maligned them, he is ready to discard them: “The chances of eliminating entrenched psychopathic behavior in an adolescent are extremely low if not zero.” (Kellerman 1999)
The popularization of this junk psychology is infiltrating our schools where more youngsters are viewed as punks and psychopaths rather than young people who possess the potential for greatness. This is prejudice masquerading as behavioral science. Experts who have studied conscience development find that even among delinquents, nine out of ten youths have some positive foundation of morality. (Gibbs, Potter, and Goldstein. 1995). After 50 years of working with aggressive children, Fritz Redl concluded that true child psychopaths are virtually nonexistent. Almost even’ child has some positive qualities. Redl proposed that somebody write a book titled The Virtues of Delinquents, but he speculated that it might be hard to find a publisher!
LARRY BRENDTRO et al
Brendtro, L; Ness, A & Mitchell, M. (2001). No disposable kids. Colorado: Sporis West. pp 66-67
Gibbs, J.; Potter, G., Goldstein, A. & Brendtro, L. (1996) From harassment to helping with antisocial youth. Reclaiming Children & Youth, 5(1): 40-46
Kellerman, J. (1999). Savage spawn: Reflections on violent children. New York: Ballantine.
Rachaba, Brian. (1992) Voices of youth: Doing and being done to. Journal of Emotional and Behavioural Problems. 1(3): 4-9.
Wilson, J. and Herrnstine, R. (1985). Crime and human nature. New York: Simon & Schuster