News & Views - June,
1994 Issue #28
by: Tom Bratter, Founder
The John Dewey Academy
Great Barrington, Massachusetts
We often have been asked, "Why don't you hire a director of admissions?" This clinical vignette partially
will provide an answer. For those who feel that the interview was harsh, I plead "guilty as charged" but assert if Percieval (Not
his real name) refused to attend The John Dewey Academy where his prognosis is optimistic, his desperate mother would have initiated
charges so he would have been incarcerated. Whether the treatment ends justify the therapeutic means is the profound question each
of you can answer for yourselves.
Abandoned by his father after an acrimonious divorce, Percieval Perkins raged at his mother whom he perceived
to be the enemy. Ms. Perkins periodically attempted to bribe her son to no avail--i.e., peace at any price. Perhaps, in an effort
to retaliate against his mother, this adolescent rejected traditional middle class values and embraced an anti- social "street image."
Perkins arrived disheveled. His beard was unkept. He looked "dirty." He smelled. Had he desired, he could
have passed for being "homeless."
Fearing her son would flee when she took him to visit schools, Ms. Perkins employed an off duty police
officer to accompany them. Upon my advice, they first visited a very tightly structured and semi-secure school. Percieval was not
happy with that school for two reasons. First: He did not want to attend any residential program. Second: Percieval believed he could
manipulate his mother to acquiesce as he had done successfully so many times previously so he could remain home continuing to terrorize
her and indulging in exciting self-destructive activities. He had no long-term educational goals.
For the first hour of the interview, Percieval refused to cooperate, though being reassured that unless
he agreed to remain, no power could force him to do so against his wishes. I discussed with his mother about other residential options
attempting to persuade him to be more realistic. In addition, I counseled her how to proceed legally. What intrigued and impressed
me is that this adolescent directed his anger to his mother while ignoring my provocations. Percieval rejected all residential options
and in so doing taunted his mother so the only one remaining would be incarceration in an involuntary program. As has been his custom,
this youth pushed his mother to the brink, expecting her to capitulate. Mother remained silent, perhaps in a state of shock.
I inquired, "Do you know much about incarceration?" Before he could answer, I suggested to his mother,
"Purchase some vaseline for your son." Percieval asked, "Why?"
Before responding, I arose from my chair and positioned myself in front of him, trying to look even bigger
that "6' 1" and weighing 230 pounds. I peered down at Percieval and sarcastically said, "Because, son, you are 'gonna [sic] get [expletive
deleted]. The line will form to the left. And some of those who will rape you will be HIV positive: Get the picture?"
Percieval feebly called me "a sick pervert." I interrupted and asked the accompanying police officer
to corroborate my account. The police officer was startled, because he had not expected the president of a college preparatory, therapeutic,
high school, located in a castle, would use such brutally candid, scatological language. He did confirm, however, what I had described.
Not content to pause to permit Percieval to gain his composure, as is my custom, I escalated the confrontation. "Listen, jerk, I have
buried eleven bright, sensitive, decent, dumb kids like you who think they know all the answers. I don't want to bury any more! You've
got a choice to make. I've wasted 90 minutes. Now what do you want to do? Return to the semi-secure school? Go to a House of Detention?
Or stay here? You've got five minutes to make one of the most important decisions of your life. Take those stupid earrings out.! You
look ridiculous!" I successfully intimidated Percieval because he acquiesced. He meekly surrendered to a force he perceived to be
more formidable than his mother and more powerful than he.
I told his mother and the police officer to leave but before they did, I walked over to my unlocked desk
in my unlocked room, pulled out $25.00 which is the bus fare to Port Authority in New York City and told Perkins, "You are free to
leave whenever you wish. No one will try either to persuade you to remain or detain you. Just remember, sucker, you are here on my
terms. You have one last chance. It's your life. Take control!"
Clint Eastwood would have been impressed with my monologue not as an artistic achievement but rather
as a persuasive, passionate, though flawed, performance. Such is the stuff which buys us time and persuades some to stay.
Percieval arrived seven weeks ago. Even though Percieval had not been attending school for most of this
year, he will earn all "A's" for the term which will place him in the elitist group of the top 10%. At this premature juncture attendance
at a college of quality is a realistic long-term educational goal.
Copyright © 1994, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced
without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)