To the Editor:
Joseph Adelson and Chester E. Finn, Jr., in their attack on “nuclear education” [“Terrorizing Children,” April], miss the boat on two major issues; on several others they either contradict themselves or confuse the facts.
First of all, the primary purpose of “peace education” (a preferable and more inclusive term than the syntactically misleading “nuclear education”) is not to “terrorize” students but rather to prepare them for responsible political participation in a world in which all-out war can no longer be considered a viable alternative for settling international disputes.
The form peace education takes depends on the ages of the children involved, a crucial factor of which Messrs. Adelson and Finn make virtually no mention—a particularly surprising omission given Mr. Adelson’s own extensive research on the development of political thinking in adolescents. Peace education for children in the elementary grades can include learning about peaceable ways to settle disputes among themselves without resorting to violence, learning respect and care for each other and for the environment—both immediate and worldwide—and learning to accept and value differences among people.
In junior high and high school, students, on the verge of adulthood, need to engage with real-life, often controversial, complex, sometimes even frightening, issues which have direct bearing on their lives, such as the arms race and nuclear weapons. Messrs. Adelson and Finn specifically criticize a “New York City social-studies unit” that “has students appraise the wisdom and morality of Truman’s decision to drop the bomb. . . .” The question of whether Truman should or should not have ordered the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 is a particularly useful subject for classroom discussion with older students; it is educational in the best sense since there is no easy right or wrong answer, strong arguments can be made on both sides, and the moral questions the subject gives rise to are still relevant to present-day policies and tactical decisions. High-school students, after all, are not being asked actually to make decisions, simply to cut their political teeth by considering important questions—yes, questions which “threaten the very survival of mankind.” Messrs. Adelson and Finn’s statement that these are “exceedingly complicated matters that even the experts find difficult” has a familiar and somewhat ominous ring. The implication that thinking about such matters is best left to experts seems to us dangerous and profoundly undemocratic.
Secondly, the question of the pervasiveness among young people of the fear of nuclear war has been misconstrued in the article. Fear of nuclear war is neither far-fetched nor neurotic. It is what psychologists describe as “reality-based.” And even the authors of the article make passing reference to “the realistic apprehension all of us share.” If all of us share it, why not the children, or at least some of them?
No, we don’t know how pervasive the fear is, how intense, how destructive, how many children are affected, and from what background they come. Probably the evidence which would best satisfy the authors because of its orthodox methodology and because it can’t be seen as politically motivated is the work done by Jerald G. Bachman. In one volume of a 10-volume study on adolescence, Bachman found that between 1976 and 1982 there was a rise from 7 percent to 31 percent of the nationwide sample of high-school students surveyed who said they often worried about the nuclear threat.
Statistics about feelings, however, in addition to being difficult to interpret or evaluate, may not, in this case, be all that crucial. From our own experience with children, from the disinterested research which does exist, and from the logic of the situation, we have a pretty good idea that many children are fearful—enough to make it important for adults at least to be aware of the possibility so they can recognize anxiety about nuclear war when it does appear and attempt to deal with it as best they can. Denying either the existence or legitimacy of people’s strong feelings, particularly children’s, can be very damaging, as Messrs. Adelson and Finn must know.
A few additional points:
Messrs. Adelson and Finn base a good deal of their criticism on the “abuse of science” they see in current research and testimony about young people’s fears of nuclear war: “Most of the ‘scientists’ are in truth not scientists at all.” “Most of [the evidence] is unacceptably soft, consisting of anecdotes rather than data.” On the other hand, they give strong praise to Robert Coles for his “clear-headedness”—which suggests that interview evidence (“soft evidence”) sits well enough with them when the findings are to their liking.
Messrs. Adelson and Finn, equating nonbelligerence with nonresistance (although they are clearly not at all the same), believe the new curricula “encourage youngsters to be passive about their own survival. . . .” They admit, however, with some puzzlement and a good deal of dismay, that the curricula somehow also encourage political action. Yet part of education for citizenship (once called “civics”) has always been to encourage political action: learning to express your views; write to your Senator; do research on current events and reach independent conclusions; debate political opinions and national policy and hold mock elections—in short, learning how to develop your own views and make those views known. Peace education has much the same purposes with more focus on the dangers of military solutions and more emphasis on finding “new ways of thinking,” to paraphrase Einstein’s famous cautionary statement.
Though it has been difficult to respond to Messrs. Adelson and Finn’s article in a voice of reason and restraint, we have resisted the temptation to slip into the tone of brutal sarcasm, insinuation, and contempt they employ, in the interest of bringing some clarity to a subject with which we all must be concerned. (It seems particularly odd for two professionals who take a strong positivist stand on science and scientific methods to use such highly colored, hyperbolic language.)
Finally, we suggest that the authors of “Terrorizing Children” might have done better to read for themselves the Cambridge School Committee’s order rather than relying on the capsule report of it in the Wall Street Journal (“the school board requires teachers to cover peace and nuclear war from kindergarten through 12th grade”). The actual order, favorably voted on by the Committee in April 1981, asks the School Department and the Superintendent of Schools to “initiate and work with community groups to develop an appropriate peace curriculum throughout the grades that supports children’s and young people’s understanding of the history, scientific background, economics, and politics of waging peace in a nuclear age.” In our view, the order describes a reasonable, broadly conceived approach to peace education, certainly not one designed to “terrorize children.”
Brenda S. Engel,
To the Editor:
In “Terrorizing Children,” Robert Jay Lifton, among others, is faulted for abusing psychiatry and psychoanalysis for politically motivated reasons—specifically, for showing intellectual bad faith and corrupting his scientific and professional values in the interest of furthering his missionary cause, which is to attempt to prove . . . that there is general and widespread anxiety about the possibility of nuclear war among the nation’s children.
I am in agreement with the authors in their criticism of Dr. Lifton. Recently I reported on a similar abuse of psychiatry in the Soviet Union. This involved the dean of Soviet psychiatry, Andrei Snezhnevsky, and his theories of “sluggish schizophrenia.” Snezhnevsky’s sloppy and uncritical thinking and failure to use minimal scientific controls are very much like what Messrs. Adelson and Finn ascribe to Dr. Lifton. In the Soviet Union, Snezhnevsky’s abuse of his profession has provided the cloak of respectability for the inhuman suppression of political dissent via unwarranted psychiatric hospitalization of dissenters. This—the end result of politicizing one’s profession—is a lesson that Dr. Lifton would do well to take to heart.
But that is not the only point I wish to make.
Dr. Lifton is identified in the article as a psychoanalyst. He is not, and it is no service to our profession to burden us with Dr. Lifton’s sins. I say this with some regret, because I know him personally. I have checked Dr. Lifton’s credentials as a psychoanalyst carefully to be sure of my facts, and have come across some curious findings. It appears that Dr. Lifton may have contributed to the confusion about whether or not he is a psychoanalyst by the way he lists himself in professional directories.
Robert Jay Lifton is certainly a most eminent figure in psychiatry, and holds a high university chair. The Directory of Medical Specialists, however, the major reference for professional identification in all of the medical specialties, including psychiatry, has no listing for him. . . .
Consulting the rosters of the American Psychoanalytic Association and my own organization, the American Academy of Psychoanalysis, the two major national organizations of medically-trained psychoanalysts, I find he is not listed as a member of either. He is, however, listed as a “Scientific Associate” of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis. This is a non-voting category—entirely separate from the voting members and fellows—and includes a number of scientists and others in fields allied to psychoanalysis. Membership is restricted to physicians who are psychoanalytically trained according to criteria laid down in the by-laws of the organization. Dr. Litton did not qualify under those standards, and was admitted only as a “Scientific Associate” under a section which applies to “psychiatrists who are versed in the dynamics of behavior.”
Looking further for Dr. Lifton’s credentials, I consulted the most recent edition (1977) of the Biographical Directory of the American Psychiatric Association with data about Dr. Lifton available to me (he is not listed in the current, i.e., 1983 edition). In that volume, Dr. Lifton—who submitted the biographical material which is included and is solely responsible for its accuracy—is shown to have had psychoanalytic training in Boston, although it is not clear whether he completed that training. He is not listed as a member of any local psychoanalytic society. He is listed, however, as: “Member, American Academy of Psychoanalysis.” . . .
I know from personal experience with Dr. Lifton (I included one of his papers in a volume that I edited) that he would prefer to be known not as a psychoanalyst but as a writer and psychohistorian. He is one of the founders of that field (the validity of which is yet to be established, it should be noted), and so I prefer to think that Dr. Lifton was somehow confused about his status in the Academy, and not misrepresenting himself as an accredited psychoanalyst.
But a consequence of Dr. Lifton’s misidentifying himself . . . is that by so doing he has implicated the Academy in his politically motivated activity. Without scientific legitimacy, he lays, however unwittingly, the protective mantle of psychoanalysis over his political beliefs and actions.
Thus, though Messrs. Adelson and Finn justly criticize Dr. Lifton, they are in error in considering him a psychoanalyst. . . . I agree with their valid criticism that psychiatrists and psychoanalysts should be very cautious in draping their professional cloak over matters outside their clinical experience.
Seymour C. Post, M.D.
Department of Psychiatry
College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University
New York City
To the Editor:
Witty skepticism is a fine thing for those among us fortunate enough to have reached a venerable middle age. At an informal gathering of Yale students last year, I asked the kids who truly believed that they would live long enough to have grandchildren to raise their hands: out of forty young people, two raised their hands, thought for a moment, then lowered them. The rest didn’t have to think about it: they didn’t move.
We are not innocents in the woods, nor duped, nor brainwashed, nor hysterical. We are a generation that, rationally and realistically, concedes that it is dangerous to permit ourselves the luxury of what may be the ultimate delusion, the luxury that Messrs. Adelson and Finn’s generation took for granted: that we would see our children live long enough to give birth; that we would see this world with the eyes of old age, with faith that it would survive us. It is no small thing that has been taken from us; I think we need not be apologists for our just rage.
New York City
To the Editor:
I felt a great sense of relief when I read “Terrorizing Children.” I am sure there are many others in the teaching profession who join me in thanking the authors for badly needed ammunition to use against the disgracefully simplistic and biased “nuclear curricula” we see on the horizon.
It used to be said in the military that there are few things more dangerous than a new second lieutenant with a fountain pen; he will sign anything, for he does not yet understand the responsibility that goes with his position. That adage can now be extended to include Yale and Harvard psychoanalysts.
John S. Hollingshead
Silver Spring, Maryland
To the Editor:
“Terrorizing Children” should be welcomed by parents and educators who have tried to resist the ministrations of nuclear education. It has been my experience that parents can successfully resist the kinds of situations described by Joseph Adelson and Chester E. Finn, Jr., even in a city like mine, that has declared itself a nuclear-free zone.
In the fall of 1983, when my daughter was in first grade, I received a notice that the third, fourth, and fifth grades were going to be shown a film, Bombs Will Make the Rainbows Break, in conjunction with a “peace week” sponsored by Educators for Social Responsibility. I called the principal to express my concern on psychological and political grounds and was asked to write a letter outlining my position, as were other parents who had called to complain.
The principal, after previewing the film with some of the teachers and a psychologist, decided it would not be shown. He justified his decision on grounds similar to the points made by Messrs. Adelson and Finn: (1) the film instilled a sense of hopelessness and depression; (2) the film was propaganda.
One small victory will hardly stop continuing efforts on the part of the National Education Association and Educators for Social Responsibility to politicize the treatment of defense issues in the schools. But one can hope that parents and educators determined to resist this trend will be spurred to action by the sensible insights provided by Messrs. Adelson and Finn.
Joseph Adelson and Chester E. Finn, Jr. write:
Initially we were told by the nuclear-education movement that the nation’s young were in a mental-health crisis—anomie, despair, suicide, psychic numbing, nuclear nightmares—a crisis of such urgency that their terrors could be repaired only by the schools’ becoming vast therapeutic agencies. In fact, the mental health of the young has been improving, albeit slightly (see below), so that balloon has burst, and now we learn from the letter of Eleanor Duckworth, Brenda S. Engel, Beth Lerman, Peggy Schirmer, and Vicky Steinitz that nuclear education is to be renamed, and offered to us as an instrument of democratic pedagogy. In short, the essentially political aims of nuclear teaching, so plainly evident to anyone reading the proposed curricula, are once again to be disguised and their intentions dissembled.
A friend of one of us says he was inspired by our article to draft his own curriculum, and it is worth hearing about, since it provides what the critic Kenneth Burke once termed “perspective by incongruity,” that is, a way of renewing our vision through unexpected juxtapositions. This friend believes, passionately, that the most important domestic issue facing our country is abortion, which he calls “baby-murder.” There are, he will tell you, well over a million such homicides each year, carried out on the innocent and helpless. The abortion carnage, as he terms it, is real and continuing, and of far greater moral urgency than an entirely hypothetical nuclear carnage. So he is determined to develop what he calls a “life” curriculum, which would extend, as the Cambridge curriculum does, from kindergarten to the twelfth grade. In the early years, children would be instructed on the sanctity of human life, but as they grew older, they would be encouraged to confront some grim realities. They would, for example, be shown vivid color photographs of twenty-week-old aborted fetuses; they would hear testimony from former employees of abortion clinics about some of the horrors they had witnessed; they would see screenings of The Silent Scream. To bring home the magnitude of the abortion peril, they would be given ingenious mathematical exercises; for example, they would be told to draw graphs depicting the annual number of murdered babies in their own community, in the state, and nationally. There would be workshops where children would be encouraged to make public their hidden feelings about abortion; as Duckworth et al. remind us, some concerns are reality-based, and with over a million murdered babies a year, children will be worried “enough to make it important for adults at least to be aware of the possibility so they can recognize anxiety . . . when it does appear and attempt to deal with it as best they can.” Particular attention would be given to those children who seem to be indifferent about abortion, for it is likely that they suffer from psychic numbing. Students would be told to write letters on the matter to their elected representatives—as the Cambridge letter tells us, that is part of “education for citizenship.”
One somehow suspects that Duckworth et al. will not be overjoyed by this proposal, but on what grounds can they oppose it? They want to have children “cut their political teeth” on “real-life, often controversial” issues; and so does our friend. Their goal—a world at peace—is a virtuous one; but so is his—the preciousness of human life. They want to allay the unspoken anxieties of children, as does he. And if they were to argue that “life education” is no more than propaganda pretending otherwise, the same can be said for “peace education.” In short, the case to be made for and against each curriculum is essentially the same. Finding a place for peace education will mean, sooner rather than later, finding a place for life education or choice education, or for any other curriculum whose sponsors are eager to use the schools to teach its doctrine, whether in the cause of mental health or democratic education or whatever. Come to think of it, if we are to have peace education, à la Duckworth et al., what is to keep us from having peace education à la Phyllis Schlafly, let us say—like the rest of us, she favors peace, fears nuclear war, and has strong ideas on how to avoid one. If the advocates of nuclear education were not so insular, they would realize that there are many other determined voices waiting to be heard, and if you offer a platform to one, you offer it to all, at great cost to general education. It surpasses understanding why the schools and journals of education cannot grasp that simple fact.
On some of the other issues raised in the Cambridge letter: (1) We know the Bachman findings quite well, and do not consider them germane to the question of nuclear anxiety, for reasons we spelled out in great detail in the original article. (2) We did not treat the problem of “age-appropriateness” in detail because of a lack of space, and because the nuclear curricula have far more serious faults. But since the matter is raised, let us say that most of those we have examined appear to have been composed without regard to fitting the material taught to the cognitive capacities of the students. One of us, in fact, offered written testimony on that very issue to the House Select Committee, and that statement is available in the Committee proceedings. (3) We are not “positivists,” whatever that may mean, and we did not impose exalted standards on the “evidence” we examined. What has been provided to the Committee and to the public is not “research” but a travesty of it and, what is even worse, “research” entirely tendentious in intention. (4) We are all in favor of reason and restraint, and regret that more of it was not evident in most of the testimony offered to the House Committee. To characterize the young as a whole as enraged, cynical, despairing, suicidal, and the like strikes us as “hyperbolic” almost by definition, and beyond that, entirely false, to judge by every bit of reliable evidence we have. It does not help matters when that fiction is then linked to an equally fictive epidemic of nuclear anxiety. The epidemiological evidence shows quite clearly that psychological pathology among the young, including the suicide rate, has been declining, and it is irresponsible for putative mental-health professionals to seek a public forum while being unaware of that evidence or choosing to ignore it.
Which brings us to Robert Jay Lifton, and in turn to Seymour C. Post. We would not have believed it possible, but Dr. Post’s letter left us in complete sympathy with Dr. Lifton. Dr. Post seems bent on becoming the Torquemada of psychotherapeutic credentialism, e.g., he recently sent a letter to the New York Times taking Sigmund Freud to task for having had Anna Freud trained in psychoanalysis. He ought to remember that “psychoanalyst” is not an official title, that a great many training institutions confer that designation quite legitimately, and that it is not up to him to determine by fiat just who is and is not a psychoanalyst.
To the Rhodes Scholar-elect, who gazes in the mirror, sees herself and forty Yalies, and believes she sees a generation, we recommend the following mantra: “My generation voted overwhelmingly for Ronald Reagan. My generation.”
We want to express our appreciation to John S. Hollingshead and Lawrence Kohn, and to many others who commented favorably on the article.
Finally, the crescendo of nuclear education continues to swell. Since we wrote our article, another major organization of educators (the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) has given over much of its magazine to a profoundly one-sided treatment of these matters; the Oregon legislature has voted to encourage “peace studies” in the schools of the entire state; and the Los Angeles Board of Education has done the same for its tens of thousands of students. We were not, in short, merely chronicling past events or depicting a static situation. Indeed, we expect that worse lies ahead.