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Abandon Hope

Creator: Gordon C. Zahn (author)
Date: October 1946
Publication: The Catholic Worker
Source: Available at selected libraries

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This is the final in a series of articles on the problems we met, as C. O.'s, at Rosewood State Training School, Owings Mills, Md.


"All hope abandon, ye who enter here" is the inscription fashioned by Dante for the gates of Hell. It was in no burst of poetic fancy that the sign, "Rosewood -- No Thoroughfare," was placed at the foot of the lane leading to the "training school" for the mentally deficient of Maryland; yet, that inscription is every bit as fitting as Dante's. Escape or death are virtually the only ways out for the unfortunate child committed there. Rosewood, as we of CPS No. 102 witnessed for almost three full years, is strictly a one way, dead-end street.


Rosewood Fails


About 1/4 of the patient body at Rosewood consists of custodial cases. Most of these are individuals with mentality of infant level or lower. All any institution could do for them is to provide adequate care and reasonably pleasant surroundings. However, Rosewood fails even in this respect. Instead these unfortunates are herded together into huge basement "playrooms"; the total effect of the smell, sight and sounds of Rosewood's Hill Cottage can be guaranteed to produce revulsion and often nausea into anyone viewing it for the first time. Insofar as these patients are concerned, the entire fault for the state of affairs lies with the stinginess of the Maryland Legislature; even if the Rosewood administration wished to improve their lot, no funds would be available for this purpose.


The Real Tragedy


The real tragedy of Rosewood lies -- as was stated in a previous article -- in the inadequate provisions for the care and eventual return to Society of those boys and girls of the higher mental levels. In name, and in name only, Rosewood is a training school. This should imply that a child placed there would be given the benefits of an adequate program of education, recreation and social guidance: the first to develop his mental abilities to their maximum; the second to promote physical and mental health and build a sense of teamwork and sportsmanship; the last to assist him to re-adjust himself properly to a Society against which he had previously rebelled. On all counts Rosewood fails miserably -- and here the fault lies principally in the institution itself and in the individuals to which these responsibilities have been entrusted!


The Only Exit


The goal of every admission to Rosewood (except those which are obviously custodial in nature) should be parole. Yet in those three years the only paroles of Rosewood resulted from successful "escapes" or from actual court actions instituted by interested parties. Since the great majority of children there are not blessed with sufficiently interested parties, the latter cases were few indeed. Is it not a sad commentary on the merits of Rosewood as a training school that the only exit routes were to run away or to force a way out by legal procedure.


The System Fails


Wherein the failing? First, in a totally inadequate educational program. These children failed intellectually in all of their regular or special public school classes. Still we find the Rosewood program based on the same type of subjects with little or no attention given to individual interests or capabilities. Granting that these general subjects are a valuable foundation; is it not unwise to place full stress on them to the detriment or elimination of other training in which the child would find more value? Rosewood can be complimented on its efforts to gain an accurate survey of each patient by employing an extensive variety of psychological tests and measurements. But of what possible worth is an elaborate psychological study of a patient who shows mechanical abilities and interests if the "school" provides no facilities whatsoever for the development of such interests and abilities into worthwhile occupational training? It is futile to attempt the training of mentally limited patients on a group basis. Each of them must be accepted as an individual problem with the training and education planned to meet his individual needs and capabilities.




Rosewood is utterly unfit to do such a job. In the first place, it again lacks the facilities. It is almost inconceivable that the State of Maryland would knowingly operate such an institution without providing equipment for shop work and other mechanical training. Unfortunately, however, even if this were not the case, the Rosewood teaching personnel lacks the imagination, the inspiration and the ability to adapt themselves to the needs of each individual pupil. The best measure of the value of any training school lies in the number of patients it succeeds in salvaging for Society; judged according to this standard the Rosewood educational program is a total failure.


Little Success


The lack of an adequate recreational program has already been discussed in detail. Suffice it to say, then, that so long as this great need is not met, Rosewood will have little success in its efforts to convert its patients -- especially those committed because of delinquent trends-- into citizens of promise.

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