Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Q for quarantine?

This is priceless (from the BBC website)

In the middle of World War II the authorities had a problem - what to do with those children who had been evacuated but who were too disturbed or delinquent for the average family to handle.

So when a group of earnest young conscientious objectors offered to take them off to rural Essex and "cure" their antisocial tendencies with a mixture of fresh air, unconditional love and radical democracy, nobody asked too many questions.

Q Camp was a utopian experiment which tried to get troubled boys to operate a self-governing community in the middle of the countryside...

The Q stood for query or quest and the camp chief was a young man named Arthur Barron, known to everyone as Bunny.

Staff and boys lived in the most primitive conditions, in ramshackle wooden huts without windows or sanitation. A Probation Service inspector described the camp as "dirty and dismal" in one report. She said the sleeping huts filled her with "horror" and the beds "looked grimy".

Work was shared, but the youngsters weren't compelled to lift a finger. A camp council of staff and boys imposed what little discipline there was. There was also a school but attendance was voluntary and the school hut was set on fire on several occasions...

It was Mr Barron's belief that the young boys should not be told what to do. Smashed windows remained unfixed and obscenities were left daubed on walls because he believed it was better to leave the jobs until the boys responsible agreed to do them. They rarely did.

. .. in its determination to move away from the authoritarian model of the approved schools, it anticipated many of the ideas on residential childcare that became common in later decades.

Many of those involved went on to become senior and influential in their field.

Mr Barron trained as a psychoanalyst with Anna Freud and became an eminent child psychotherapist. Mr Thomas became a director of social work in Scotland. He counts the Q camp a success. Another member of staff, Chris Beedell, became an academic and a guru in the world of children's social work.

But others say Q Camp failed because the children themselves didn't want to share the responsibility, but wanted to feel the adults were in charge.

So much so that they organised themselves into two groups, masters and slaves - the ones who wanted to control and the ones who wanted to be controlled.

"This was the exact antithesis of what the theorists wanted to achieve," says author Maurice Bridgeland, who knew Mr Barron. "It was the opposite of all their principles."

Well yes, Mr Bridgeland, but I know as an academic that practice should never be allowed to get in the way of romantic theory in the social sciences. That's the glory of it. If it's an abject failure, simply describe it as a fascinating experiment which shows the way forward.

No comments: