Wright School Re-Education Principles

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History and Philosophy of Re-ED

Creative people can revert to simpler ways of experiencing, to fresher ways of perceiving. They can throw away the common templates that are used to order the world and confidently seek simpler, newer ones.

- Nicholas Hobbs (1960)

In creating Project Re-ED, Nicholas Hobbs embarked on a bold new approach to emotionally troubled children and youth. Re-ED, an acronym for the Re-Education of Emotionally Disturbed Children, builds on positive concepts of normalcy and health rather than deviance and illness. Hobbs had been impressed by the "educateur" of Europe and Canada, and his approach blended elements of education, child care, and treatment into the profession of "teacher-counselor." These professionals are trained to build competence and restorative relationships in schools and residential settings, and they work closely with families and communities. The unique philosophy and methods of Re-ED as developed by Hobbs, offer a fresh and positive vision that transforms approaches to troubled youngsters.

While training clinical psychologists at Columbia after World War II, young Dr. Nicholas Hobbs would "throw away the templates" of traditional therapy in his quest for "simpler, newer ones." He challenged the prevailing paradigm where treatment virtually always meant psychotherapy: "I suggest that insight is not a cause of change but a possible result of change," he declared. This break with established doctrine shifted the focus from looking "backward and inward" towards a "here and now" treatment of the child's social ecology of home, school and community.

The Re-ED approach was grounded in educational, psychological, and ecological principles. It sought to help children who had been labeled emotionally disturbed, behavior disordered, or mentally ill in ways that were as near to natural as possible. Hobbs saw emotional disturbance not as a symptom of individual pathology, but rather as an indication of a malfunctioning human ecosystem. In his 1982 book, the Troubled and Troubling Child he sought to capture the "spirit" of the Re-ED philosophy as it had developed over the first twenty years of its history.

Hobbs believed that children "have a tremendous desire to learn and to do well; that destructive and self-defeating behavior must be faced; that young people can help each other sort things out and arrive at good choices; that the world is rich in things to learn; that life is to be savored at each moment; and that decent, caring adults are absolutely essential in the lives of children if these children are to grow up strong in body, quick of mind, generous in spirit."

While "strategies and tactics" may be important in working with disturbed children, Hobbs never wavered from his conviction that "the person" is the most critical ingredient. Thus, in some ways, selection becomes even more powerful than training. The most effective worker with troubled children would be "a decent adult; educated, well trained; able to give and receive affection, to live relaxed, and to be firm; a person with private resources for the nourishment and refreshment of his own life; not an itinerant worker but a professional through and through; a person with a sense of the significance of time, of the usefulness of today and the promise of tomorrow; a person of hope, quiet confidence, and joy; one who is committed to children and to the proposition that children who are emotionally disturbed can be helped by the process of reeducation."

The love of the wilderness, the woods, the mountains, and the sea is seen in the enthusiasm of Hobbs (1979) for therapeutic camping and adventure education. Summers of his youth were spent at the family's retreat in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where the Hobbs brothers would endlessly explore, pretty much on their own. Nicky, as he was known to his family and friends, also camped in the mountains and preferred hiking, swimming, and especially canoeing, to organized sports. In later years as an older camper, Hobbs could be found busily repairing the canoes and the electric generator.

Writing of "purposeful endeavor--it can be called work," he noted that such activity was important to children who need help in restoring purpose to their lives. Re-ED abounds with purposeful endeavor. "The great days, those days that simply sing with joy, with kids being great, with all problems vanishing, those marvelous days are days when the program is really going, and the kids are living to the hilt from the time their feet hit the floor in the morning until they fall in bed exhausted at night. These are days that...have meaning, they have significance. I am doing something for someone, I am doing something important."

Hobbs possessed a remarkable combination of abilities needed to transform good ideas into effective programs for children. He was asked by Secretary of Health, Educaton, and Welfare, Elliot Richardson, to direct a national study of the classification of exceptional children. The publications emerging from this project (Hobbs, 1975a, 1975b) constitute a powerful critique of resource development instead of current policies preoccupied with correction, crisis control, and repair after the damage is done. Writing in the Futures of Children, he concluded that "the nation cannot neglect children, nurture them in violence, and expect them to grow up to be good citizens, concerned with the well-being of their fellow man."

Our nation provides inadequately for exceptional children for reasons linked to their being different; it also provides inadequately for all children. There is urgent need for a quickened national conscience and a new national policy with this as a goal; to nurture well all of our children, in body, mind, and spirit, that we as a people may grow in wisdom, strength, and humane concerns. (Hobbs 1975a).


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