NUMBER 249• 15 APRIL 2003 • OLD AND NEW
INDEX OF QUOTES
From a book first published in 1925 ...
Let us consider the conditions in the old type of reformatory and in the new training school. In the former, we are struck by the surly, shut-in reaction of the inmates. Everywhere we meet a cautious, distrustful, antagonistic attitude. No one looks us straight in the eye. The usual happy overflowing of youthful good spirits is entirely absent. What cheerfulness there is to be seen strikes us as sad. Real joy in living expresses itself quite differently. We can hardly restrain a shudder at the dammed-up hate we feel in these young people. This antagonism finds no solution in the institution but is condensed and stored up for later discharge against society.
The superintendent of such an institution once called my attention to wash basins that had been in use for twenty years. He was proud of the fact that they had remained so, long undamaged and still shone like new. In the dormitories the beds stood in a row, twenty-five on each side, like rows of soldiers, not an inch out of line. The covers were all folded at correct right angles and fell like a plumb-line. Everywhere was the same meticulous order. When we consider how hard it is to make most children orderly at all, we know what constant discipline is necessary to maintain such military order as this. If it is difficult for normal children to be neat, how much harder is it for dissocial children! They could not conform to the demands of society outside. Can we expect to socialize them through such methods?
Now for the other type of institution. If you had come to our training school on a particularly good day you would have found something like the following: Before you reached the grounds of the institution you might have met a local inhabitant complaining loudly that the delinquents, instead of being locked up and marched out in a line to go walking, were allowed to run around in the neighbourhood, that they could come and go at will through unlocked doors and gates. He is on his way to complain to the superintendent because some boys, who were scuffling on their way home, had broken one of his windows. You cannot see me at once because a policeman is waiting for me. From my office you hear the excited voice of a gardener complaining that he cannot have the boys coming into his orchard. I invite you to come in with the policeman and let you hear the account of what happened the day before. Two boys made a fire in the woods and cooked a trout that was obviously caught in a near-by brook, a thing forbidden by law. The policeman is no more than out of the room and we are on the point of making a round of the institution when the cook bursts in great excitement to say that she had made just the right number of dumplings and five have disappeared. Maybe you will decide to forgo further inspection of the institution.
Is it better to have such a state of affairs in a training school or should one really depend on lock and key? In the consultation room of the clinic the worker accepts the misconduct of the delinquent and in the beginning does not interfere with it but awaits the time when a change comes of itself. We can see no reason why the procedure should be different in the institution just because there are more cases and the difficulties are greater.
It is characteristic of the delinquent that he possesses little capacity for repressing instinctual impulses and for directing energy away from primitive goals. He is thus unable to achieve what is considered by society a normal ethic code. The great majority of children in need of retraining come into conflict with society because of an unsatisfied need for tenderness and love in their childhood. We therefore find in them a proportionately increased thirst for pleasure and for primitive forms of instinctual gratification. They lack inhibitions and they have a strong, though distorted, craving for affection. If the delinquency is to be cured rather than repressed, we must meet these needs even though at first this seems futile to so-called "understanding people."
As a matter of fact, the work in our institution was misunderstood. Anxious, timid people were horrified, the neighbours were angry, and every time anything went wrong there was a great outcry. However, we did not let ourselves be misled. We utilized the daily conflict to achieve an educational purpose. We assured these youths of our interest and affection in an environment calculated to please them, made use of the love thus won from them to retrieve a neglected part of their development, i.e. the transition from their earlier unreal world of self-indulgence to one of reality.
From the very beginning we felt intuitively that above all we must see that the boys and girls from fourteen to eighteen had a good time. We did not treat them as dissocial or criminal individuals from whom society needed protection; they were human beings who had found life too hard, whose antagonism to society was justified, and for whom an environment must be created in which they could feel comfortable. With this attitude as an impetus, the work carried itself along. The faces of the children and the personnel reflected happiness. I can still remember the tension with which we awaited the first admission and how delighted he was when we threw ourselves into the task of winning him over. Later, we modified our treatment in many ways, but I can assure you that even our first exaggerated efforts did no harm. That first boy is well adjusted and has been successfully earning his living for years.
Without really knowing what we were doing we worked out what might be called a practical psychology of reconciliation, which can be used to advantage with most of the children in training institutions of the present time. It is of interest that the same types of delinquency, which stirred us to friendliness and kindness, provoke the personnel in the older type of institution to an attitude of stern moralism and revenge. I have never felt the need of changing my attitude in this respect but have continued to find it justified.
Aichhorn, A. (1951). Wayward youth. London: Imago Publishing. pp 146-150