Families of the Slums: An Exploration of Their Structure and Treatment

Families of the Slums: An Exploration of Their Structure and Treatment

Families of the Slums: An Exploration of Their Structure and Treatment

Families of the Slums: An Exploration of Their Structure and Treatment

Excerpt

On a beautiful spring afternoon two small ten- or eleven-year-old boys are playing near a brook at the Wiltwyck School for Boys. One of them, Peter, looking under some rocks, suddenly discovers a mother salamander with a litter of five. The other child, Jimmy, quickly grabs a rock and frantically attempts to crush the salamander. Peter screams, "Please don't, please don't!" Unable to stop his companion, he dashes over to the nearest counselor: "He's going to kill her, he's going to kill her!" Jimmy persists, but he is having quite a difficult time with the slippery animal. The counselor is startled and attentive; after an urgent "Where?" he runs over to the danger spot. He grabs Jimmy by the shoulders and pulls him out of the situation. He keeps his right arm on him until his fast panting diminishes; his left arm enfolds the crying Peter. "There, there, nothing is going to hurt her," he says reassuringly, and after a tense, motionless minute, the three of them walk to the dining room. Peter, pushing the counselor's arm away from him, mutters bitterly, "Man, you didn't do nothing." Surprised and let down, the counselor asks, "What do you mean you saw me do nothing?" Before Peter can answer, Jimmy begins kicking wildly at the counselor. "You mean bastard, you always pushing people around." He compels the counselor to tighten his hold again.

What was the underlying quality of this experience for Jimmy and Peter? Why did Peter, the panicky child, fail to perceive the forceful removal of Jimmy as protection, as some kind of answer to his concern? Why did Jimmy experience only an aggressive "pushing around"? What would have satisfied Peter? What would have satisfied Jimmy?

Peter continues, "Man, you didn't hit him or nothing." Nothing short of a fully violent move toward Jimmy would have satisfied Peter; yet Jimmy perceived little in the counselor's action beyond an extreme . . .

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