Alice Miller | Black Pedagogy

88 In contrast to generally accepted beliefs and to the horror of pedagogues, I cannot attribute any positive significance to the word pedagogy. I see it as self-defense on the part of adults, a manipulation deriving from their own lack of freedom and their insecurity…

218 Idoubt that there could be such a thing as humane pedagogy, having learned in my analytic work to recognize even the more refined and subtle forms of manipulation that pass for pedagogy. …all pedagogy is superfluous as long as children are provided with a dependable person in early childhood, and need not fear losing him /her or being abandoned if they express their feelings. Children who are taken seriously, respected, and supported in this way can experience themselves and the world on their own terms and do not need adult coercion.

219 “I wonder if what is called pedagogy [is] simply: a question of power, and if we shouldn’t be speaking and- writing much more about hidden power struggles instead of racking our brains about finding better methods of child- rearing.”

14 I came upon Katharina Rutschky’s Schwarze Padagogik (Black Pedagogy ), a collection of excerpts from books on child-rearing, published in Germany in 1977. These texts describe all the techniques, which I refer to in this book as “poisonous pedagogy”… Methods that have been used to train children not to become aware of what was being done to them–not only “certain children” but more or less all of us (and our parents and forebears). …Suddenly I became more keenly aware of its many traces in psychoanalytic theories, in politics, and in the countless compulsions of everyday life.15

215The attitudes of “poisonous pedagogy” are not restricted to outdated child-rearing manuals of the past.There they were expressed consciously and unabashedly, whereas today they are disseminated more quietly and more subtly; nevertheless, they still permeate most major areas of our lives. Their very omnipresence makes it difficult for us to recognize them

20 I now believe that there is a universal psychological phenomenon involved here that must be brought to light: namely, the way the adult exercises power over the child, a use of power that can go undetected and unpunished like no other.

21along with corporal punishment there is a whole gamut of ingenious measures applied “for the child’s own good” which are difficult for a child to comprehend and which for that very reason often have devastating effects in later life.

119Animals do not suffer from the tragic compulsion of having to avenge, decades later, traumata experienced at an early age– as was the case, for example, with Frederick the Great, who was driven to become a great conqueror after the terrible humiliation he suffered as a child… So far, it is only in the human realm that I have discovered extreme bestiality; only there can I trace it and search for its motives. And I cannot renounce this search unless I am willing to be made into an instrument of cruelty, i.e., its unsuspecting (and thus guiltless yet blind) perpetrator and propagator.

200It is very difficult for people to believe the simple fact that every persecutor was once a victim. Yet it should be very obvious that someone who was allowed to feel free and strong from childhood does not have the need to humiliate another person.

163By renouncing their principles of child-rearing, pedagogues might be able to experience the feats and guilt feelings that were once beaten into them or subtly instilled in them, for they would then no longer discharge these feelings on to others, onto the children. Experiencing these previously warded-off feelings would give them something more authentic and substantial to hold on to than do the principles of child-rearing .

86 My anti-pedagogic position is not directed against a specific type of pedagogical ideology but against all pedagogical ideology per se, even if it is of an antiauthoritarian nature. … my position has nothing in common with a Rousseauistic optimism about human “nature.” First of all. I do not see a child as growing up in some abstract “state of nature” but in the concrete surroundings of care givers whose unconscious exerts a substantial influence on the child’s development. Second, Rousseau’s pedagogy is profoundly manipulative. This does not always seem to be recognized by educators… I am convinced of the harmful effects of training for the following reason: all advice that pertains to raising children betrays more or less clearly the numerous, variously clothed needs of the adult. Fulfillment of these needs not only discourages the child’s development but actually prevents it. This also holds true when the adult is honestly convinced of acting in the child’s best interests. Among the adult’s true motives we find: 1. The unconscious need to pass on to others the humiliation one has undergoneoneself. 2. The need to find an outlet for repressed affect. 3. The need to possess and have at one’s disposal a vital object to manipulate. 4. Self-defense: i.e., the need to idealize one’s childhood and one’s parents by dogmatically applying the parents’ pedagogical principles to one’s own children 5. Fear of freedom 6. Fear of the reappearance of what one has repressed, which one reencounters in one’s child and must try to stamp out, having killed it in oneself earlier 7. Revenge for the pain one has suffered.

61 it is considered admirable and right for a child to tell the truth, to be grateful for the parents’ intentions and overlook the cruelty of their actions, to accept the parents’ ideas but still be able to express his or her own ideas independently, and above all not to be difficult when it comes to what is expected of him or her. In order to teach the child these almost universal values, which are rooted in the Judeo- Christian tradition, among others, adults believe they must sometimes resort to lying, deception, cruelty, mistreatment, and to subjecting the child to humiliation… They …use these means solely to achieve a sacred end: to save the child from telling lies in the future, from being deceitful, malicious, cruel, and egotistic…

162 In the process I have discovered the interplay between hatred and love: on the one hand, lack of respect, lack of interest in the unique being dependent on his parents’ needs, abuse, manipulation, curtailment of freedom, humiliation, and mistreatment; and on the other hand caresses, spoiling, and seductive behavior to the extent that the child is experienced as a part of the parents’ self.

198 Child-rearing is basically directed not toward the child’s welfare but toward satisfying the parents’ needs for power and revenge. Not only the individual child is affected; we can all become future victims of this mistreatment…

198Contrary to popular opinion, the injustice, humiliation and coercion a person has experienced are not without consequences. The tragedy is that the effects of mistreatment are transmitted to new and innocent victims: even though the victims themselves do not remember the mistreatment on a conscious level.

213 The choice of available objects on which a person can take revenge for his or her childhood suffering is practically limitless, but one’s own children provide an almost automatic outlet.

212 …countless numbers of people utilize this mechanism of projection… they split off their unconscious victimization and project it onto others. As parents they use it ontheir children; as psychiatrists, on the mentally ill; and as research scientists, on animals…

198People who have been pedagogically manipulated as children are not aware as adults of all that can be done to them. 76He has never gone beyond the stage of’ idealizing his parents with their demands for unquestioning obedience; this idealization can easily be transferred to a Fuhrer or to an ideology. Since authoritarian parents are always right, there is no need for their children to rack their brains in each case to determine whether what is demanded of them is right or not.
198Like the individual authoritarian father, leader figures, in whom the masses see their own father, actually embody the avenging child who needs the masses for his own purposes (of revenge). And this second form of dependence-the dependence of the “great leader” on his childhood, on the unpredictable nature of the unintegrated, enormous potential for hatred within him–is decidedly a very great danger.

79From the start, it had been the aim of their upbringing to stifle their childish, playful, and life-affirming side. The cruelty inflicted on them, the psychic murder of the child they once were, had to be passed on in the same way: each time they sent another Jewish child to the gas chambers, they were in essence murdering the child within themselves.

21The easier it becomes by means of technology to destroy human life with the touch of a button, the more important it is for the public to understand how it can be possible for someone to want to extinguish the lives of millions of human beings.

219 It is the tragedy of well-raised people that they are unaware as adults of what was done to them and what they do themselves if they were not allowed to be aware as children. Countless institutions in our society profit from this fact, and not least among them are totalitarian regimes. In this age when almost anything is possible, psychology can provide devastating support for the conditioning of the individual, the family, and whole nations. Conditioning and manipulation of others are always weapons and instruments in the hands of those in power even if these weapons are disguised with the terms education and therapeutic treatment. Since one’s use and abuse of power over others usually have the function of holding one’s own feelings of helplessness in check–which means the exercise of power is often unconsciously motivated –rational arguments can do nothing to impede this process.

43 Both Hitler and Stalin had a surprisingly large number of enthusiastic followers among intellectuals. Our capacity to resist has nothing to do with our intelligence but with the degree of access to our true self. Indeed, intelligence is capable of innumerable rationalizations when it comes to the matter of adaptation…Martin Heidegger, for example, who had no trouble in breaking with traditional philosophy and leaving behind the teachers of his adolescence, was not able to see the contradictions in Hitler’s ideology that should have been obvious to someone of his intelligence. He responded to this ideology with an infantile fascination and devotion that brooked no criticism.

220In the same decade in which writers are discovering the emotional importance of childhood and are unmasking the devastating consequences of the way power is secretly exercised under the disguise of child-rearing, students of psychology are spending four years at the universities learning to regard human beings as machines in order to gain a better understanding of how they function…

220There are some authors of so-called objective, scientific publications in the field of psychology who remind me of the officer in Kafka’s Penal Colony in their zeal and their consistent self-destructiveness. In the unsuspecting trusting attitude of Kafka’s convicted prisoners on the other hand we can see students of today who are so eager to believe that the only thing that counts in their four years of study is their academic performance and that human commitment is not required.

219In the same way that technology was used to help carry out mass murders in the Third Reich in a very short space of time, so too the more precise kind of knowledge of human behavior based on computer data and cybernetics can contribute to the more rapid, comprehensive, and effective soul murder of the human being than could the earlier intuitive psychology. There are no measures available to halt these redevelopments. Psychoanalysis cannot do it; indeed, it is itself in danger of being used as an instrument of power in the training institutes.

3 even if we, as survivors of severe childhood humiliations we all too readily make light of, don’t kill ourselves or others, are not drug addicts or criminals, and are fortunate enough not to pass on the absurdities of our own childhood to our children so that they become psychotic, we can still function as dangerous carriers of infections… When people who have been beaten or spanked as children attempt to play down the consequences by setting themselves up as examples, even claiming it was good for them, they are inevitably contributing to the continuation of cruelty in the world by this refusal to take their childhood tragedies seriously.

216 the realization that all this time they had been cheated out of free access to feelings. [while been proud of this self-control] and the rage, if it is really acknowledged and experienced, can make room for a feeling of sorrow. The change from rage to sorrow makes it possible for the vicious circle of repetition to be broken. If their anger is followed by grief over having been a victim, then they can also mourn the fact that their parents were victims too, and they will no longer have to persecute their children. This ability to grieve will bring them closer to their children.

4The more we idealize the past, however, and refuse to acknowledge our childhood sufferings, the more we pass them on unconsciously to the next generation…

14I am aware of the resistance on the part of the reader who has not been in analysis, of the guilt feelings that arise when cruel treatment is discussed and the way to mourning still remains blocked. What, then, should be done with this sad fund of knowledge?

61 is not … possible or to overlook parents’ cruelty… and still become an autonomous human being who can exercise independent critical judgment.

61[many] may find the way I relativize traditional pedagogical values and question the value of pedagogy per se to be shocking, nihilistic, threatening, or even naive. This will depend on their own personal history. For my part, I can only say that there certainly are values I do not have to relativize. Our chances of survival probably depend, in the long run, on the practice of these values, among which are respect for those weaker than ourselves– including, of course, the child–and respect for life and its laws, without which all creativity would be stifled…

87-8 an honest rejection of all forms of manipulation and of the idea of setting goals does not mean that … children should be raised without any restraints. For children need a large measure of emotional and physical support from theadult. This support must include the following elements if they are to develop their full potential:Respect for the child,Respect for his rights,Tolerance for his feelings, Willingness to learn from his behavior [About the nature of the individual child.About the child in the parents themselves, About the nature of emotional life, which can be observed much more clearly in the child than in the adult because the child can experience his feelings much more intensely and, optimally, more undisguisedly than an adult.] and authenticity on the part of their parents, whose own freedom–and not pedagogical considerations–sets natural limits for children.

78 Morality and performance of duty are artificial measures that become necessary when something essential is lacking. The more successfully a person was denied access to his or her feelings in childhood, the larger the arsenal of intellectual weapons and the supply of moral prostheses has to be, because morality and a sense of duty are not sources of strength or fruitful soil for genuine affection. Blood does not flow in artificial limbs; they are for sale and can serve many masters. What was considered good yesterday can–depending on the decree of government or party–be considered evil and corrupt today, and vice versa. But those who have spontaneous feelings can only be themselves. They have only be themselves. They have no other choice if they want to remain true to themselves. Rejection, ostracism, loss of love, and name calling will not fail to affect them; they will suffer as a result and will dread them, but once they have found their authentic self they will not want to lose it. And when they sense that something is being demanded of them to which their whole being says no, they cannot do it. They simply cannot. This is the case with people who had the good fortune of being sure of their parents’ love even if the): had to disappoint certain parental expectations. Or with people who, although they did not have this good fortune to begin with, learned later–for example, in analysis–to risk the loss of love in order to regain their lost self. They will not be willing to relinquish it again for any price in the world.

It is this last point that causes great difficulty for parents and pedagogues, for the following reasons:

1. If parents have had to learn very early to scorn or ridicule their feelings, they will lack sensitivity . As a result, they will try to substitute pedagogical principles as prostheses. Thus, may be reluctant to show tenderness for fear of spoiling the child…
2. Parents who never learned as children to be aware of their own needs or to defend their own interests because this right was never granted them will be uncertain in this regard for the rest of their life and consequently will become dependent on firm pedagogical rules. This uncertainty, regardless of whether it appears in sadistic or masochistic guise, leads to great insecurity in the child in spite of these rules. An example of this: a father who was trained to be obedient at a very early age may on occasion take cruel and violent measures to force his child to be obedient in order to satisfy his own need to be respected for the first time in his life. But this behavior does not exclude intervening periods of masochistic behavior when the same father will put up with anything the child does, because he never learned to define the limits of’ his tolerance. Thus, his guilt feelings over the preceding unjust punishment will suddenly lead him to be unusually permissive, thereby awakening anxiety in the child, who cannot tolerate uncertainty about the father’s true face. The child’s increasingly aggressive behavior will finally provoke the father into losing his temper. In the end, the child then takes on the role of the sadistic opponent in place of the grand- parents, but with the difference that the father can now gain the upper hand. Such situations, in which the child “goes too far,” prove to the pedagogue that disciplining and punishment are necessary.
3. Since a child is often used as a substitute for one’s own parents, he or she can become the object of an endless number of contradictory wishes and expectations that cannot possibly be fulfilled. In extreme cases, psychosis, drug addiction, or suicide may be the only solution. But often the child’s feeling of helplessness leads to increasingly aggressive behavior, which in turn convinces parents and educators of the need for strict countermeasures.
4. A similar situation arises when it is drilled into children, as it was in the antiauthoritarian upbringing of the sixties, to adopt certain ways of behavior that their parents wished had once been allowed them and that they therefore consider to be universally desirable. In the process, the child’s real needs can be totally overlooked. In one case I know, for example, a child who was feeling sad was encouraged to shatter a glass when what she most wanted to do was to climb up onto her mother’s lap. If children go on feeling misunderstood and manipulated like this they will become genuinely confused and justifiably aggressive.


One Response to “Alice Miller | Black Pedagogy”

  1. ΙσοτηταEquality Says:


    106Self-contempt is here transmuted into hatred of others—and there is a most determined and persistent e􀀧ort to mask this switch. Obviously, the most e􀀧ective way of doing this is to 􀀼nd others, as many as possible, who hate as we do.

    The less justi􀀤ed a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready is he to claim all excellence for his nation, his religion, his race or his holy cause

    21Faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves

    74The revulsion from an unwanted self, and the impulse to forget it, mask it, slough it o􀀭 and lose it, produce both a readiness to sacri􀀝ce the self and a willingness to dissolve it by losing one’s individual distinctness in a compact collective whole.

    40 We join a mass movement to escape individual responsibility, or, in the words of the ardent young Nazi, “to be free from freedom.”9 It was not sheer hypocrisy when the rank-and-file Nazis declared themselves not guilty of all the enormities they had committed. They considered themselves cheated and maligned when made to shoulder responsibility for obeying orders. Had they not joined the Nazi movement in order to be free from responsibility?

    A peculiar side of credulity is that it is often joined with a proneness to imposture. The association of believing and lying is not characteristic solely of children. The inability or unwillingness to see things as they are promotes both gullibility and charlatanism.

    95The urge to escape our real self is also an urge to escape the rational and the obvious. The refusal to see ourselves as we are develops a distaste for facts and cold logic. There is no hope for the frustrated in the actual and the possible. Salvation can come to them only from the miraculous, which seeps through a crack in the iron wall of inexorable reality. They ask to be deceived. What Stresemann said of the Germans is true of the frustrated in general: “[They] pray not only for [their] daily bread, but also for [their] daily illusion.”21 The rule seems to be that those who 􀀞nd no di􀁁culty in deceiving themselves are easily deceived by others. They are easily persuaded and led.
    108Self-righteousness is a loud din raised to drown the voice of guilt within us. There is a guilty conscience behind every brazen word and act and behind every manifestation of self-righteousness.

    Fanatics, says Renan, fear liberty more than they fear persecution.11 It is true that the adherents of a rising movement have a strong sense of liberation even though they live and breathe in an atmosphere of strict adherence to tenets and live and breathe in an atmosphere of strict adherence to tenets and commands. This sense of liberation comes from having escaped the burdens, fears and hopelessness of an untenable individual existence.

    The permanent misfits can find salvation only in a complete separation from the self; and they usually find it by losing themselves in the compact collectivity of a mass movement. By renouncing individual will, judgment and ambition, and dedicating all their powers to the service of an eternal cause, they are at last lifted off the endless treadmill which can never lead them to fulfillment.

    72mass movements depends less on the doctrine they preach and the program they project than on the degree of their preoccupation with unity and the readiness for selfsacrifice.


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