JULY 27, 1956
HYDE PARK—It is shocking to hear of girl gangs committing murder, and for two high schools in Brooklyn, N.Y., to have gangs that actually fight each other seems to me an extraordinary situation.
A few weeks ago I wrote of a teacher who was beaten up by a student and I said that I felt that the teacher was partially to blame. I have had a number of letters telling me that it is outrageous to hold the teacher to blame in a situation of this kind, and that if I were a teacher in the public schools today, I would know that the homes are to blame and that there are incorrigible children who cannot be controlled either in school or at home.
My writers say that these pupils are just "bad children."
I did not make it clear that I think one of the things in which every teacher should be trained is careful observation of the children in her classes, from the very early years. Psychiatrists say that many young children need psychiatric help and the future difficulties could be obviated if they received help when they were at that age.
This does not mean that every teacher must be a psychiatrist. It means, however, that neither the teacher nor the mother must be afraid to face the fact that a child found backward or difficult to handle may need care and understanding beyond what they themselves are able to give.
There is real responsibility on parents and teachers to report symptoms of trouble in children as early as possible. With the older children, whom my correspondents seem to consider beyond control, I think the teacher, in her dealings with her pupils, has some responsibility in finding those who are uncontrollable and reporting them immediately.
The head of the school who does not at once have such a child examined is also negligent, because I question how many "bad" children there are.
Without question, there are sick children. These girls forming gangs and committing murders are sick children who should have been reported long ago.
I realize that it takes courage for a mother to say her child seems to be behaving badly. She does not want to suggest that there is anything abnormal, or emotionally or mentally wrong, with her child. But it is a good deal better to face the facts before a crime is committed than to have to acknowledge it afterward.
It is even harder for a teacher to report a child, but at least she has the support of the people above her, and they have a responsibility to the community which they cannot well escape.
I have been told that it is not uncommon for youngsters of 12 and 13 to think they are behaving in grownup fashion if they can get some liquor and drink it. I don't think at that age anyone really enjoys liquor. But, in any case, the desire to ape one's elders is nothing new, and I believe if more honesty were practiced in the home and in the schools between the young people and their elders, some of these difficulties could be controlled.
It is when you set standards for youngsters and do not live up to them yourself that the youngsters begin to question the validity of the standards. I have been reading the manuscript of a book, which I will mention in a later column, and the author makes the point of this need for honesty between generations.