To the editors:
I have been following your "Bettelheim controversy" [Letters, April 6 and 20, May 4 and 11] with much interest, and a growing amount of disgust. I'm really glad that people are finally starting to come forward to tell the truth about the Orthogenic School, and if they don't feel comfortable using their true names, I understand that completely. With Dr. B, retribution was swift and forceful, and old lessons die hard.
I was at the O.S. from 1967 till 1974, and still I fight with the consequences of my time there every single day. All the feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem that I had when I arrived there were strongly reinforced by the staff, until I assumed they were truth. I was told I was crazy, that I could not function in the world, and that there was something intrinsically "wrong" with me. A part of me knew there was something wrong at the O.S., and I rebelled. For this I was rewarded with more blows, both physical and psychological.
What is so amazing to me is that Bettelheim managed to fool so many people for so long. Steve Herczeg's letter [May 4] surprised me in some ways. I liked Steve very much, and I trusted him. Now, I wonder what he could possibly have been thinking. I don't think most of the staff ever thought about how we, the kids, felt. I don't think they could possibly have looked through our eyes for even a single moment and kept on working there. It was a place filled with psychological terrorism at its most insidious.
Recently NBC news did a piece about children who are put in institutions by their parents just because their parents did not know what to do with them. Their conclusion? That these kids were going through normal growing pains. They were not sick or crazy, and neither were most of us at the O.S. We were looking for love and trust and self-esteem and a little direction to our lives. We did not find it in Bettelheim's terrorist fort.
At the time I arrived there, the 60s were going on all around us. Everyone was confused, including us. The nation was in an uproar, and we were trying to come of age in a time when all the rules were no longer valid. Bettelheim often took his confusion out on us. He was from the Old World, we from the New. He was from another time and place, we were trying to put our lives together in a time of turmoil. Every "kid" that writes to you will have his/her own horror stories. I'm certain that eventually books will be written.
I'm glad you have been a forum for the controversy. Someone has to let us tell our stories. It may be the only way we can at last rid ourselves of the horror and degradation of our O.S. years.
Roberta C. Redford