Friday, October 12, 2007

Shock and Awful

Mother Jones
October 2007

The cover story of the October issue of Mother Jones is busting the disturb-o-meter. It's about a "school" in Massachusetts for special needs kids that opened in the 1970s called the Judge Rotenberg Center. Its Chief Executive is a psychologist named Matthew Israel who studied at Yale and was fascinated by the behaviorist theories and techniques of B. F. Skinner.

Over the years, several kids have died at this school, from things like being strapped face down to a board for hours at a time. Somehow the school has always managed to prevail in court and not get shut down. Around 20 years ago, the school started zapping students with electric shocks as part of their aversion therapy, because it was "quicker" and "more convenient" than their past aversion methods, like beating kids and tying them up.

Evidently, the shocks originally were used on only the most violent and self-abusive kids, to try to get them to quit doing things like repeatedly knocking their heads against the floor or pulling their own hair out. Most of the students at that time either had severe autism and/or profound mental handicaps. I do not want to be unsympathetic to desperate parents out there, but jeez, can't we find a better solution than treating the most vulnerable in our society like lab rats?

As if that were not hideous enough, now the school's population has grown to include kids with AD/HD, bipolar disorder, and other serious but not insurmountable problems. The techniques at the school are the same, no matter how high or low functioning the patient. The reporter who visited the school for several days saw kids shocked for run of the mill infractions like whining or swearing. I was a straight-arrow teen, but probably would have been shocked on a daily basis. The kids, some as young as nine or ten, describe the ordeal of having to lug around backpacks with the shocking mechanism in them, and have electrodes strapped to their body 24/7. Staff members carry remotes with each child's photo on them, so they do not mistakenly shock the wrong kid. Anyone out there outraged?

The article also references "boarding schools" for troubled kids that use beating, humiliation, and emotional/physical bullying to get kids to straighten up. Lots of these schools are supposedly "Christian" based. Gross. Not like any Jesus I have ever encountered, or a God I want any part of. For a compelling memoir about one of these places, Escuela Caribe, located in the Dominican Republic, read Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres. It'll wig you out.

On a happier note, YAY for Al Gore winning the Nobel Prize. Where's yours, Dubya?

Reading Rev


At 10/15/07, 11:02 AM , Anonymous Matthew L. Israel said...

Ms. Gonnerman’s article “School of Shock,” which appears in the September/October issue of the Mother Jones magazine, is an entirely one-sided and biased account of the court- and parent-approved behavior modification therapy used at the Judge Rotenberg Center to successfully treat, without drugs, severe (sometimes life-threatening) behavior problems of children and young adults with special needs that have not responded to any other form of treatment. For readers who would like to hear the other side of this story, please see

At 10/16/07, 8:03 PM , Blogger Tarzan said...

Why would they give one to Bush when they didn't consider Reagan for staring down them evil commies


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