Anthony Weaver looks over L G Lennhoff’s book Exceptional Children. Weaver lectured in education at Whitelands, one of the teacher training colleges under London University. He was head teacher at a school for maladjusted children and then warden of a residential clinic which was eventually closed down as a result of Home Office disapproval. This work he has described in They Steal for Love (Max Parrish). A member of the Direct Action Committee, he authored War Outmoded (Housmans).
Years ago Edward Glover condemned D H Stott’s Delinquency and Human Nature because it was not peppered with the word guilt. He praises L G Lennhoff’s book Exceptional Children (Allen and Unwin 21s.) because it is so garnished, and he seizes upon it to parade a theory which in a sense adds a missing dimension to the work. But it is questionable whether the theory fits the facts, and whether Lennhoff would not be wiser to carry on trusting to his intuition and the empirical deductions upon which his work has been based hitherto, without on the one hand being saddled with an ill-fitting and limiting philosophy, and on the other, in trying to formulate one for himself, being dragged back into the framework of thinking in which he was brought up.
He was brought up in Germany by a somewhat frightening father and a warm-hearted mother. That he came to this country as a refugee, without money, and has succeeded in establishing a school of his own is no mean achievement. Autonomy gives a rare quality to a man. Lennhoff confines himself to a description of his practice, and in so doing provides for the uninitiated an introduction to the symptoms and treatment of maladjustment and delinquency. Understandably for one not using his mother tongue, the writing is nowhere as lucid, systematic or humorous as that of other laymen who have described their community therapy. Indeed there is no index, no full case histories, and the contents of one chapter could just as well go in the next. Furthermore there is no bibliography: the writers mentioned in passing are Winnicott, Bettelheim, and the Underwood Report.
Shotton Hall is Lennhoff’s demonstration of what he considers should be the role of an extremely enlightened father who devotes himself to the benefit of his family. He gets his thirty-five boys to call him Daddy and his wife Mummy. In his scheme of training an important section is reserved to the Family and its members: its foundation for healthy child development, analysis of the family, family structure, the family and the home, the family at work and leisure. He presents the facts about Shotton as objectively as any man immersed in this all-demanding work could be expected to do. Glover, in his Foreword, explains that “Lennhoff teaches us that an ounce of moulding is worth a pound of correction and that we cannot mould material that has become petrified. Moreover he proves to us that with patience, care and understanding the petrified minds of deviant children can once more be rendered plastic,” and further, that “throughout his work he applies the touchstone of ‘transference’, a concept of repetitive attitudes and patterns of conduct which we owe to Freud and which Aichhorn was the first to apply in institutional work with the maladjusted. The friendly transference at first so difficult to elicit with anxious or anti-social children, he nurses carefully to the point where they offset, cancel out or liquidate the hostile transferences which are responsible for so much refractory conduct. Once this has been achieved the way is open for education, or in other words for the development of a comparatively stable, realistic and adaptable ego. And Mr. Lennhoff is quick to seize these opportunities”.
Lennhoff himself, theorising in an off-guarded moment says (p.29) that “a young child has no social conscience and if no incentive to social development nor the example of a moral code is given, chaos sets in from the start. Normal development requires a constant interchange of demand and fulfilment and if this is lacking, so is the foundation of social education.” And he explains that the methods of Shotton are first analysis or gaining of insight, secondly Transference or Identification, and finally Re-education.
Aichhorn believed that Re-education was a means of modifying the super-ego and was therefore adequate in those cases whose problem arose from having a too compliant super-ego. Not merely however do we need to be clear which areas of a child’s problem it is wise to attempt to tackle by this means, but also by what other means of therapy. Suttie for example in The Origins of Love and Hate showed that the success of a so-called transference and identification amounts to a cure by love, not due to the mumbo-jumbo of psychoanalysis.
The method advocated by Glover, but to which Lennhoff only gives lip service, is the authoritarian, totalitarian one, carved out of the family situation. It is through this that many generations of human beings have had their characters moulded, and knowing no other condition, have accepted and perpetuated it, much as they do a restricted diet.
Discussing Adrian Stokes’ Three Essays on the Painting of our Time, Herbert Read explains the need of identification with the object. “The work or art,” he says, “is the best kind of self-sufficient object with which we can identify ourselves and at the same time hold commerce. In fact the work of art is unique in this respect, and essential for individual sanity and social order. In painting a picture the artist is performing an act of integration that has a threefold significance. In the first place, he creates an object which resolves the contradictions of his own psyche, calms his nerves, as we say. In the second place, the work of art is part of a patient construction of what the psychoanalyst calls the ego: a coherent idealisation of existence in an apparently absurd universe. Finally, by these means the artist helps to create a civilisation or culture, a general body of symbolic objects to which a community can give its admiration and allegiance. Moreover, whatever philosophers and theologians may say to the contrary, it is only art that can perform this service for the community.”
This argument leads to the particular doctrine associated with the name of Melanie Klein, a doctrine which is based on the analysis of the infant’s early reactions to the breast. However far-fetched and improbable this doctrine may seem to those who have not followed Dr. Klein’s analyses in all their patient detail, it must be said that it fits the facts of aesthetic experience in their widest range. The work of art can always be explained as a concrete object that saves us from the abyss — the nothingness that threatens us when we are deprived of the breast, and continues to threaten us unconsciously unless we find a substitute object we can love, and in whose concreteness we can find security.
Lennhoff does not seem to realise the truth he has stumbled upon. “We must arrange,” he says (p.64), “that suitable teams work together. For instance, if Jim, who simply cannot start work in the mornings and is inclined to lounge on a radiator and ‘just think’, is teamed with Bill, who works quickly and well, Bill will see that Jim is doing his share. Help from the staff is often of great importance. Duties shared with people one loves and respects are part of the early maturing process, and this aspect is often worked out during tasks tackled with the help of the staff.”
The process by which we are induced to share a common ideal, Read has shown, is none other than the creation of an emphatic relationship with our fellows by means of imitation of the same patterns — by meeting, as it were, in the common form or quality of the universally valid work of art. And it is with great ingenuity that Lennhoff provides a welter of activities for expression. These take mainly two forms. The first of these is craft (woodwork, gardening, puppet-making, book-binding, material-printing, basketry, leatherwork, modelling). The significance of much of this he explains as therapeutic — “the creation of craft work can be of great encouragement to children whose role in life has often been to destroy rather than to create … when a disturbed boy feels safe enough, he paints into his picture much of his own emotional situation, working through some of his difficulties as well as informing the adult of the precise nature of some of his feelings. Paul, for instance, shows his aggression clearly in his pictures. Frequently in the scenes he paints is the burning and torture of a woman. The woman is undoubtedly a symbol for the mother who has caused him so much unhappiness.” This function of painting, demonstrated by Cizek, Aichhorn’s contemporary in Vienna, is none the less valuable for being well-known. But it is only the beginning of the act of integration outlined by Read in the passage quoted above.
The second form of activity is work. The therapeutic value of this is also well-known, and has been used by Makarenko, Homer Lane, and by Henrietta Szold in the Youth Aliyah Children’s Villages in Israel. However, Lennhoff has had the nerve to buy a 60-acre farm eight miles away, which, on top of everything else, he administers from Shotton. That boys may get away there, to work as volunteers, has incidentally reduced absconding to negligible proportions, and provides an essential contact with animals. He tells the tale of a boy whose mother went off to buy some magazines at a railway station just as they were setting off on an outing, and never returned. “Life had nothing more to offer him and his personality went to pieces. He began to steal and to withdraw from human contacts. After a long period of ‘don’t care’ attitudes he regressed to early childhood: his most marked expression of this being the time when we found him underneath a cow, feeding from her udder. This enabled one of our staff to break through to him …”
Lennhoff understands that freedom is no negative state of existence but a qualitative one which makes demands upon the child. He and his colleagues show remarkable persistence in keeping up these demands providing opportunities. The first period at Shotton is a bewildering and testing time of learning what is right and wrong, and this means choice. In a more rigid system you can always blame someone else for what goes wrong, but where responsibility is shared (albeit not in the clear-cut and formalised David Wills method) the child slowly learns to make decisions for himself, and then to cope with the reality situation that his own action has created.
Lennhoff insists that it does not matter in what direction the child widens out, as long as he is successful and can be encouraged to go a step further. Not only is this far from Glover’s claim of moulding character, but Lennhoff has the frankness to admit that some children, with whom they never succeed in making a relationship, nevertheless cure themselves. For example the boy Barnie writes about Shotton: “I never really found any particular adult could help me, but everyone was kind enough and understanding and somehow I felt trusted for the first time and so I could sort things out for myself. I’d never felt like that before in my life.”
There are many examples in the book of the trust that is placed in the boys — they help to run the office, for example, and if insistent will be shown their own files: “the hunger for knowledge is generally centred on details about family background (mainly in the cases of illegitimate children), or to find out whether their misdeeds at Shotton are registered, which incidently they are not.”
Similarly in dealing with parents the attempt is not made to tell a mother exactly how to manage her child, but how she can broaden and be more mature in her view of life.
Lennhoff’s demonstration of Re-education in the present writer’s opinion, deserves the highest praise. It complements, and reveals his understanding of, Aichhorn’s exposition of the abreaction of his aggressive group and the working of individual transference. If he can extend the significance of art, that is to say dance, painting and drama as well as craft, in education and indeed in his whole scheme of things, as Lyward does, he can be spared Glover’s backhanded compliments.
Ownership by Lennhoff (he calls himself “we”) though giving him autonomy, marks him off from his colleagues who appear as his instruments. Can he shed his authority over them, as the nurses quoted at the Henderson Social Rehabilitation Unit have shed their uniforms? Will he allow himself to be supported emotionally by his fellow workers and thus remove a central figure upon which the children will otherwise identify themselves?
Some other books on residential work with disturbed children
- E. M. Bazely: Homer Lane and the Little Commonwealth (Allen & Unwin).
- Bruno Bettelheim: Love is not Enough (Glencoe, Illinois). )
- Michael Burn: Mr. Lyward’s Answer (Hamish Hamilton).
- A. Makarenko: The Road to Life (Foreign Languages Publishing Ho. Moscow).
- David Wills: Throw Away Thy Rod (Gollancz).