Monday, May 13, 2013

Rav Dessler: Modern Psychology's mistaken view of man

Michtav M’Eliyahu (3:360-361 written 1949): Education of children regarding corporal punishment. Question: You have written that the lastest scientific research has a fundamental problem with the use of corporal punishment. They say that it is natural that children imitate what their parents do. Consequently if they are given corporal punishment then they will learn the improper lesson that they should hit those who act against their wishes... Answer: The secular researchers are mistaken because of two fallacies in their reasoning which cause them to misunderstand the true nature of the matter. 1) The first mistake is that they think  that man is born without any characteristics at all [tabula rasa] and therefore a person’s nature is totally determined by what he learns from his environment. In other words they mistakenly believe that a man acquires his personality entirely from his surroundings. This is not true. The Torah says “At the door sin crouches”. That means that even before a child is born that there is an instinctive attraction to evil. Our Sages note that when Rivkah was pregant with Yaakov and Esav  - when when she passed the temples of idolatry that Esav pushed to be born. See what the Maharal writes on this. That means that there is an aspect of instinct without conscious awareness or thought at all which are part of a person’s nature that he is born with which he has to fight against. It is obvious of course that the social environment can strengthen characteristics and that he can in fact learn from others. However the primary characteristics do not have to be learned from others because they are innate. 2) The second mistake is that they think that it is necessary to develop independence in children. This is an incredible error. In fact not only do they no need to learn independence but they need to learn submission and humility. They will in fact learn by themselves pride and murder. But to teach them “there is no one like me” (Yeshaya 47:10) is the approach of Edom< Examine well the letter of the Gra where he writes, “There are those who try to plant seed on a stone. But the heart of stone does not allow anything to enter. Therefore it is necessary to hit the stone and shatter it. Therefore I wrote to you that you should hit our children if they don’t listen to you... " We see from this comment of the Gra a totally different aspect of hitting. He says that hitting makes the child’s heart broken and subdued [so that he is capable of listening and understanding properly what is said to him - not just to punish him]. Study well Derech Etz Chaim of the Ramchal... It is difficult to quote all the relevant parts because there is so much material. Nevertheless he has profound comments and a totally different way of looking at it. He is saying that hitting one’s children is comparable to removing the impure blockage from the heart and the purification of the grave. [...] click here for 2nd half
http://daattorah.blogspot.co.il/2010/02/corporal-punishment-psychology-from-non.html

23 comments :

  1. actually, this view about the inclination to do evil which has to be broken by "suitable" pedagogics with the rod is awfully similar to the christian doctrine of the same time... they actually believed that man is born with a hereditary sin and that his will has to be broken in early childhood, so as to break the evil inclination and encourage him to do good.

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    1. actually Rav Dessler is basing himself on the Torah which preceded Christianity many few years. Do you have any citation of discussion of this view and its history in society?

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  2. 1) The first mistake is that they think that man is born without any characteristics at all [tabla rosa] and therefore a person’s nature is totally determined by what he learns from his environment.

    ________________________

    While this may have been true of the scholarly consensus at the time, it is no longer true today. Neuroscience and Psychology have advanced since the 1940s and R' Dessler's conclusions seem to be based on incorrect assumptions.

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    1. You are ignoring the second point he makes

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    2. Tabla rosa [sic] wasn't the consensus at the time, either. The questioner was presenting Rav Dessler with a flawed description of the matzav, which Rav Dessler seems to accept or agree with.

      Rav Dessler's #2 has two aspects: one, the Torah sources which I am not qualified to comment on, though I suspect other viewpoints might be found, rendering the discussion one between opposing authorities. However, the second and critical aspect is a statement which, though the rationale ("hitting makes the child’s heart broken and subdued") is not scientifically quantifiable, the main proposition, "hitting makes ... [him] capable of listening and understanding properly what is said to him" sounds as though it might be amenable to scientific inquiry and quantification; have good quality studies been done?

      There is another question: Rav Dessler writes "not JUST to punish him." Does he mean by this that if hitting is "just to punish" it is not to be done? How can one be sure that one has clean, pure motives above punishment? Rav Dessler is, IIUC highly suspicious of the ways in which people justify and rationalize their conduct to themselves; is he here exempting hitting children, or stringently limiting who can hit, or how, and when (and if so, where are the details to be found?)

      Or, is Rav Dessler saying that the hitter's emotional and spiritual state when hitting are irrelevant to the impact of hitting on the child? It is my personal belief, based on my own observations and experience that when the reason for hitting – or for NOT hitting – is narcissism on the part of the parent (or teacher) the result is likely to be negative.

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    3. the comment about not just for punishment was my addition. It means simply that hitting can and should be used for punishment or to stop sin. But in addtion Rav Dessler is making a major point (only half the article is translated here the other half I translated before) that hitting teaches humility and subjugation and thus aids in listening.

      this is the other half

      http://daattorah.blogspot.co.il/2010/02/corporal-punishment-psychology-from-non.html

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    4. Yes, I read that as well. Still, Rav Dessler is making two sorts of arguments, one which is not amenable to scientific inquiry and one at least in theory is; he appear to be treating them interchangeably but they seem to me to be qualitatively different.

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  3. Dear Rabbi,

    See "Zri'ah Uvinyan BaChinuch" by Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe zt"l for a different view.

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    1. Could you send it to me or summarize it. From what I have seen he is only stating that the age for lifnai ivair has dropped. He has stated that in modern times even a three year old will hit back when hit and therefore the talmudic prohibition of hitting an older child now applies to younger children.

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    2. 2 points:
      1 - it's tabula rasa.
      2 - lifni ivair for a minor. A 3 year old has no chiyuv mitzvos. If he hits his father - so what? If I remember correctly, the Shulchan Orech gives an upper limit of 20 years old for hitting a child. Perhaps, Rav Wolbe meant that since even a 3 year old will strike back that it is ossur to hit a child who has reached the age of mitzvos who will certainly strike back at his parent.

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    3. Point 1) either rasa or rosa seems to be acceptable spelling

      http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_does_tabula_rasa_mean

      Point 2) Rav Shlomo Wolbe (Sefer Zriah u'Binyan b'Chinuch): that even though the Gemara says that it is forbidden to hit a kid who is over sixteen or according to another opinion 24 years old, according to the way things are in our times, he says, one who hits a kid that is only 3 years old transgresses li'Fnei Iver because the child, even at that age, will rebel against his father. Once upon a time it was possible to hit a child without destroying the relationship between the father and the child, nowadays it is no longer possible. Hitting a child will always destroy the relationship between the parents and the child. The Sefer Minchas Shmuel says in the name of Rav Chaim Volozhin that harsh words do not penetrate or make any positive impact and a parent should only speak softly and with kindness. If in the times of Rav Chaim Volozhin this was the case, certainly it is true in our times and even more so with regards to children. Times have changed. Rivka was suitable for marriage at age three. Our kids are old enough to rebel at age three.

      Mo’ed Koton (17a): One of the maidservants of Rebbe saw a man beating his grown son. She said that this person should be banned because he is violating the Torah prohibition [Vayikra 19:14] of placing a stumbling block before the blind…
      Ritva (Mo’ed Koton 17a): We are talking here about beating his grownup son. This means even though his own intent was to rebuke him. It would appear that grownup son is not to be taken literally but it all depends on the nature of his son as to whether he will retaliate either verbally for physically against his father. Even if he is not yet 13 it is isn’t right to put him in a situation where he might hit or curse his father. Thus it is better to rebuke verbally. The reason that the gemora describes him as a grownup son is because that is the normal case but not that it doesn’t apply to other ages.
      Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 240:20): Someone who beats his grownup son is banned because he transgressed the prohibition [Vayikra 19:14] of placing a stumbling block before the blind. Grownup here means at least 22 years old or 24 year old.

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  4. Perhaps a study should be made to see if people not hit in their younger years have greater issues with self control. Discussing such subjects in the air can go on forever with no solid results.

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    1. I doubt if a randomized assignment study could be done today. The growing assumption is that hitting is immoral and that it is inherently harmful to the child - even though this has not be established scientifically. From the Warburg review of corporal punishment in Traditin 2003, "Prof Murray Straus who has devoted a significant portion of his career to the study of corporal punishment and its negative effects upon children, recognizes that the empirical evidence on the negative effects of forces is not definitive."

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    2. Robert Heinlein wrote about this sort of "fuzzy headed science" in his 1959 book Starship Troopers. A good read, which accurately predicts a lot of the social problems we are having today as a result of such things.

      He writes,
      ...the time-tested method of instilling social virtute and respect for the law in the minds of the young did not appeal to the pre-scientific pseudo-professional class who called themselves "social workers" or sometimes "child psychologists". It was too simple for them, apparently, since anybody could do it, using only the patience and firmness needed in training a puppy. I have sometimes wondered if they cherished a vested interest in disorder- but that is unlikely; adults almost always act from conscious 'highest motives'... They had no scientific theory of morals. They did have a theory of morals and they tried to live by it, but their theory was wrong- half of it fuzzy-headed wishful thinking, half of it rationalized charlantry.

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    3. Given Heinlein's sexual morality and libertarian polemics, he is an odd authority to be quoting in this context. Furthermore, while he may have been correct about "fuzzy headed science" he had the author's luxury of entirely making up the non-fuzzy science and making his opinions its conclusions. Starship Troopers is a great read; it also centers around a rather romantic adaptation of Francis Scott Keys' lyric: "the noblest fate that a man can endure is to place his own mortal body between his loved home and war's desolation." By making the war in question an existential struggle between the human race and an implacable alien enemy, Heinlein is able to ignore most of the deep questions of war between humans. He also postulates a human society in which only veterans of (voluntary) national service have the vote, though all people have access to education, jobs and commerce (making it sort of the mirror image of Israel, in which non-veterans are limited in their access to the economic sphere though having the vote.

      Heinlein also envisioned Starship Troopers and Stranger in a Strange Land as paired meditations on the two sided coin of freedom and responsibility. In Stranger, his protagonist (also self sacrificing and, in his ultimate martyrdom, echoing the Christian story) gains his abilities and perspectives by being raised by aliens, since even Heinlein couldn't plausibly invent a society that could have given rise to him.

      Speaking of his polemics, here are a couple:

      "When any government, or any church for that matter, undertakes to say to its subjects, This you may not read, this you must not see, this you are forbidden to know, the end result is tyranny and oppression no matter how holy the motives."

      "Political tags - such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth - are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire."

      Though he also said this, which is germane to our discussion:

      "Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy."

      Those quotes are from: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/r/robert_a_heinlein.html

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  5. There is hitting and there is hitting.
    And Judaism is not alone. All societies practiced corporal punishment, until it was slowly abolished after the Beatles and the bleeding heart psychologists. In Arab societies, however, it was not abolished. And Arab men also beat their wives. Perhaps we should also allow this?

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  6. Here are a few sources I found from Robert McCole Wilson a historian of pedogogy, which with respect to this thread, illustrate that corporal punishment is not a practice unique to the Torah, nor necessarily its origin. We find among ancient cultures from around the world that the infliction of physical pain to be common in numerous traditions from the west to the east.

    In China bad scholars were "not infrequently punished every day" (Smith, 1899, 79)
    In ancient India, it was provided by the The Laws of Manu (formulated about 200 A.D., but based on earlier works) that "a wife, a son, a slave, a pupil, ... who have committed faults, may be beaten with ropes or split bamboo, but on the back part of the body only, never on a noble parts" (quoted by Woody, 1949, 163)
    Among some tribes of Australian aborigines, for instance, physical pain was deliberately inflicted on the boy as a training for, and test of manhood (Elkin, 1964, chap. VII)
    Amongst the Hopi Indians in America, the whipping rite symbolizes the Hopi child training pattern. In it the mother of the Kachinas, represented by a masked female figure, holds a large supply of yucca switches while the Whipper Kachinas, represented by masked male figures, apply them to the nude boy supported and shielded by his godfather and his godfather's sister. Both the boy and his godfather stand on a large sand painting which represents the Kachina Mother and the Whipper Kachinas, while a segmented line drawn from the Kiva si'papu southeast shows the road of life with its four phases. Afterwards the Mother Kachina steps on to the sand painting and is whipped by the Whippers and then the Whippers whip each other. (Thompson & Joseph, 1944, 56)
    In ancient Greece, Plato (427-347 B.C.) gives a typical description of the time: "if he [the child] obeys, well and good; if not, he is straightened by threats and blows like a piece of wood" (Plato, Protagoras, 1953 edition, 324).
    Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), for instance, did not believe that education could be pleasant or easy: "Now obviously youths are not to be instructed with a view to their amusement, for learning is no amusement, but is accompanied with pain" (Aristotle, Politics, 1943 edition, VIII, 5). Indeed should the child depart from desirable behaviour, he should be "disgraced and beaten" (Aristotle, Politics, VII, 17).



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  7. the fundamental question is if, in theory it was proven scientifically beyond any doubt that hitting a child was inherently harmful and had no benefit, would we then say that it is possible for chazall to be mistaken about human psychology? or do we have to have emmunah and choose between science and Torah? even more so in this case, chazall seem to be basing there understanding on a pasuk. does this make it a biblical concept?

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    1. the clear and unambiguous answer to your question is NO! It is not a question of emumna - there is simply no way of knowing whether human psychology has changed. The arguments of Rav Wolbe and others is that the practice needs to be changed - not be cause Chazal were wrong - but because people have changed.

      The verse involved is Mishlei which makes it no more than rabbinic. Chinuch itself is only rabbinic. There is actually no obligation to hit kids stated - so no mitzva - Torah or Rabbinic is violated if you don't use corporal punishment.

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  8. We should at least be able to sort out whether corporal punishment is an absolute last resort or a preferred method, or something in between.

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    1. There is no question that according to Jewish sources it is the best way to go. It is only if the generation can't deal with it Pardes Yosef or is rebellious - Rav Wolbe etc - that it shouldn't be used. I have not found a single rabbinic source that says otherwise.

      If you are asking form the secular viewpoing - it really depends on what you want to accomplish and whether corporal punishment is administered out of anger and frustration or as measured discipline.

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  9. 1) There's a back and forth on this with R Aryeh Carmell in the sefer zikaron for R Dessler .

    2)I think RSRH philosophy was rather different.
    (This isn't the pspecific essay I was looking for, but I think it's instructive nonetheless)
    http://www.stevens.edu/golem/llevine/rsrh/lessons_jacob_esau_col_vii.pdf

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