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Imprisoned Doctor. Born in Vienna in 1903, Bettelheim devoted himself to the arts and won a doctorate in esthetics before switching to psychology. A Jew, he was sent to Dachau, then to Buchenwald. There he observed fellow prisoners who literally died of terror or like autisticstotally withdrew from rational life. That experience led to the monograph that was the forerunner of his series of seven renowned books. Individual and Mass Behavior in Extreme Situations was published in 1939, shortly after Bettelheim was released* and went to the U.S. This work was made required reading by General Eisenhower for all U.S. Army officers in Europe during World War II. Bettelheim's growing reputation led him to the University of Chicago and the Orthogenic School. From its. founding at the turn of the century, the school had restricted its treatment to epileptics, spastics and other brain-damaged children. Convinced that public institutions could handle such cases, Bettelheim began replacing them with young victims of extreme psychosis.
Tuition at the Orthogenic School is high$8,000 per year. Even that fails to cover the true cost, which is $12,000 per pupil. To make up the difference and pay for the one-third of the students who receive scholarships, Bettelheim relies on foundation grants and grateful parents. Of the severely disturbed children he has treated, one is now teaching clinical psychology at Harvard. Another teaches educational psychology at Stanford. A third has gone on to become a New York stockbroker who, says Bettelheim, is "working on his second million."
Bettelheim's positivism at the Orthogenic School contrasts vividly with his tendency to say no in public. In a monthly column for the Ladies' Home Journal called "Dialogue with Mothers," he regularly naysays parents on a variety of topics. Last month he told Mom not to impose her complex political opinions about Viet Nam on young children, who perceive such issues only in simple terms of black and white, right and wrong. Bettelheim has chided U.S. schools for ignoring violence rather than facing up to this human tendency and teaching children how to deal with it. He has scoffed at the notion that U.S. women have achieved anything like the social and sexual emancipation they deserve. He also holds that the nation's racial dilemma is not unique but merely a "local variation of the universal problem" of discrimination.
Splitting hairs a bit, Bettelheim refutes those who charge that he is too permissive. "I ask these children to act rationally, to have self-respect, to take cognizance of reality. That is not permissive. That is asking an awful lot."
*Literally, straightening (ortho) development (genie). *At a time when many prisoners were released to free Gestapo guards for active war duty.