JULY 8, 1947
HYDE PARK, Monday—I had the first of the picnics for the Wiltwyck School for Boys the other day, and I never realized so keenly before how perfectly free from self-consciousness children can be if nobody reminds them that there are any differences in color or race. The boys show signs of early hardship, and lack of proper feeding and environment has left many of them with poor coordination and nervousness. Here and there among those who have recently arrived at the institution, there is a kind of sullenness which you feel is a protective reaction. They expect to be badly treated and so they protect themselves ahead of time by showing no interest in anyone else.
The other day, they all ate as boys should eat at a picnic, and then they sat and listened while I read aloud. Finally, they played games before going with me to the Library and the big house.
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The school has recently been given a very beautiful new building by the Hofheimer Foundation and Mrs. David Levy. The building contains a kitchen fully equipped with the most modern gadgets, a dining hall with a little stage at one end, upstairs rooms for the staff, and a real projection room.
As I looked at the tables set with new china and silverware, I thought how different the effect of eating in a place like that must be in comparison with the old dining room. The latter was in a basement, and the food came out of a kitchen so small that you wondered how the cook could turn around. It must set new standards for both the staff and the children to live in these new surroundings, and I am tremendously grateful that these youngsters can have this opportunity.
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Some of the boys, before being sent to Wiltwyck, were in several other institutions and were found so difficult that they could not be kept. But at Wiltwyck, the boys themselves seem to help with the discipline. One little boy announced on arrival that they would not be able to keep him, that he "always managed to run away from every institution." There are no walls around Wiltwyck, and he did run away several times. But he always came back and the other boys finally convinced him that "we don't run away from Wiltwyck."
The ten-year experiment now under way is, of course, partly psychiatric. But if they succeed in finding a way to treat delinquent children which makes them more normal, a way to interest them in education which makes them want to learn, and a way to start them on arts and crafts so that they have some outlet for the pent-up tensions that have made them turn to gangsterism, then a pattern may be set which may be helpful to similar institutions all over the country.