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Opinion & Essays - September, 2002 Issue #97 

Tom Bratter Responds to Exclusion
from the Woodbury Reports

By Tom Bratter,
The John Dewey Academy
Great Barrington, MA 01230
(Fax) (413) 528-5662

Ask Lon what my reaction was that The John Dewey Academy (JDA) has been excluded from The Woodbury Reports’ Directory, Places for Struggling Teens because Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) members did not think the school deserved it? I neither criticized nor requested he include us. Lon Woodbury is our third largest referral source. We rarely have more than 10% from IECA members. Carol Maxym, Former Dean of students, is the second largest referral source. About a third of our students are referred from consultants who have terminated their membership in IECA.

No other accredited, educational-therapeutic high school can assert after fifteen years that 100% of its graduates attend institutions of higher learning where a third achieve academic distinction, and two thirds graduate college.

It is troubling that IECA critics claim JDA is controversial, which is not true. If this academy is so controversial and toxic, why do professionals with doctorates who have college teaching experience remain at John Dewey for more than a decade, as do most of our faculty? Because job satisfaction is high! Why do the most prestigious colleges admit our graduates? Simply stated, because our graduates do well in the classroom and on the campus and in so doing contribute to improving the quality of life! Bennington College, Brown University, Coe, Carleton, and Centre Colleges, Clark (3) & Columbia Universities (2), Kalamazoo, Manhattanville (2) & Mount Holyoke Colleges, NYU, School of Visual Arts, Spelman College, Syracuse University (School of Visual and Performing Arts), Trinity College, University of Chicago (3), and Vassar College have admitted our graduates the last three years.

The John Dewey Academy is criticized, rightfully so, for being stressful. Expectations escalate for growth and improvement. When there are no expectations for growth, this becomes a negative self-fulfilling prophecy that condones laziness, stagnation, mediocrity, deceit, and irresponsibility. Positive expectations, in contrast, change the treatment transaction from a pathogenetic to a salutogenetic orientation; that is, the adolescent can not only assume responsibility for acts and attitudes but also, (re) gain control of their life. When growth and improvement are expected, this becomes a positive self-fulfilling prophecy, which produces the incentive for creative and constructive change.

Our students were at-risk to self-annihilate. They were treatment and educational failures because they rejected traditional approaches. Many had been institutionalized. More than three-quarters arrive medicated by potent psychotropic poison prescribed by physicians. They entered with a myriad of DSM-IV multiple diagnoses supplied by judgmental and ineffective referral sources:

Organic Brian Syndrome 1%
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder 60%
Conduct Disorder
Aggressive 18%
Non-Aggressive 16%
Oppositional Character Disorder 40%
Anxiety Disorder 6%
Eating Disorder 16%
Substance Use Disorder
Alcohol 60%
Cannabis 50%
Cocaine 20%
Heroin 15%
Affective Disorder
Depression 28%
Bipolar 6%
Borderline Personality Disorder 30%
Thought Disorder 10%
Sociopathic 16%
Self-Mutilation 20%
Suicidal Thoughts 20%
Suicidal Attempts 10%
Homicide 1%

Painful, compassionate confrontation psychotherapy is effective for angry, gifted, self-destructive adolescents. The John Dewey Academy rejects DSM- IV terminology and psychotropic medication, insisting that students are accountable and can become responsible and productive. The crucial “Bottom Line”: performance, validates The John Dewey Academy’s educational and treatment philosophy, so it is not controversial!

I believe financial self-interest, rather than having a commitment to helping troubled teens, has become the primary motivation for many IECA consultants. There are rumors that the IECA infrastructure is contaminated and corrupt. Inexcusably, IECA ignores self-serving conflicts of financial interest, which plagues Wall Street. Sadly, similar to the church, IECA protects, not punishes offenders. I have notified IECA about violators, but my concerns have been ignored. IECA can duplicate the macrocosm’s abysmal performance or be a microcosm with integrity.

There are four reasons why The John Dewey Academy has been excluded by IECA.

First: The reason why some educational planners “ignore” us is there no financial rewards. Since The John Dewey Academy does college placement, it deprives planners of an additional fee!

Second: Less than six educational planners have visited The John Dewey Academy during the last three years, so few know about this program.

Third: Some IECA members view the JDA as a one-person program. This ignorant comment insults our credentialed faculty and staff. Ken Steiner, Ph.D., MSW, our dean, has attended IECA conferences for six years. Nancy Coiner Ph.D., a Rhodes Scholar, has taught at Middlebury College, Stanford University, Smith and Mount Holyoke Colleges before joining our faculty four years ago. These are two of a staff, most of whom have doctorates.

Fourth: I have been accused to be a cult leader, which is remarkable, since The John Dewey Academy is criticized for having a high dropout rate, which no longer is true, even though adolescents are free to leave since there is bus fare in my unlocked desk in my unlocked office!

The losers are adolescents and families in their time of desperate need because several planners refuse to discuss The John Dewey Academy to be a viable placement. So be it!

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