To the editors:
I am writing about the letter from the person whose name was withheld, who pointed out how he and others had been abused by Bruno Bettelheim [April 6]. If you do not publish this letter, please forward it to him, because I would like him to know that I, at least, believe him. (And I also believe that “he” refers to men and women, as in “he who hesitates is lost…” etc. etc.)
I heard Bettelheim speak at a high school in the evening, in the northwest suburbs, in the 70’s. The auditorium was full of teachers who were clearly desperate because they did not know what to do with their students who, as anyone who was there can remember, were hostile, angry, uncontrollable, suspicious (as well they might have been, listening over and over to how pot would kill you) and experimenting with dangerous drugs, specifically LSD. They had come because they wanted to get some suggestions, some help. They were humble, they knew they were in trouble, and they were asking.
Bettelheim’s answer to all questions was: “Well, I don’t have any problems when I go into the public schools.” No, of course he didn’t. Everyone knew who he was, and he was no doubt escorted by a phalanx of administrators dressed in expensive business suits (like most important visitors to public schools); the way they are dressed practically guarantees that the students will quiet down for the two minutes it takes them to walk by; Bettelheim did not tell us how often or why he was “in the public schools” or what he did there. I am sure he did not go in anonymously to teach classes, like a substitute.
The misplaced esteem in which most of the audience held him, his obviously contemptuous attitude, his sneering tone of voice, left most of the most deeply concerned teachers feeling like absolute failures, without hope. Why were they having problems if God was not?
I had gone to the meetings because I thought Bettelheim would tell me something I didn’t know. I left knowing that he was a really terrible, egocentric, vain, sadistic, vicious, power-mad person. I was surprised that everyone did not.
Pass it on!!