School of Shock Staff: Just Following Orders

| Fri Dec. 21, 2007 1:58 PM EST
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Maia Szalavitz, who's tracked the "punishment-as-therapy" movement's origins in the discredited antidrug cult Synanon, adds an interesting historical perspective on the latest news from the Rotenberg Center, AKA the School of Shock. Over at HuffPo, she draws a parallel between the incident in which Rotenberg staffers unquestioningly shocked students at the behest of a phone call from a "prankster" to the infamous 1963 Milgram experiment, in which volunteers readily complied with orders to give simulated shocks to unseen subjects. Interestingly, the volunteers were called "teachers" while the recipients of the shocks were called "learners." Yet, as Szalavitz writes:

In that case, the "victims" were actually actors, no real harm was done to them-- and a great ethical controversy ensued over the treatment of subjects, who had been deceived by experimenters about the nature of the research. [...]

Here, however, poorly-trained staff inflicted serious and genuine emotional and physical pain on emotionally disordered children -- at the prompt of an anonymous caller, and outside an experimental setting!

It all adds to the sense that Rotenberg is a nutty science experiment gone very, very wrong.