A Well-Adjusted Child

Barrett L. Dorko, P.T.



I recently found an old manila envelope beneath a pile of personal papers in one of my desk drawers.  It contained my report card from kindergarten.  The year was 1957.


To me, this simple two-page document is an excellent example of what our culture thinks is important to consider when grading the performance of a five-year-old.  According to the check marks, I was a child who used "self control" and "an acceptable voice."  There are other satisfactory marks for "correct posture" and "relaxes during rest period."  In fact, I was "satisfactory" all around, although I noticed that "outstanding" was another option.  I now know that this was the best report card I was ever going to get.


After the first of two grading periods my teacher wrote "Barrett is a well-adjusted child," and I guess I remained so for the rest of the year.  There are no other comments.


I hadn't gone to preschool, so I guess that this was the first official report written about my way of being in the world.  I'm sure my father breathed a sigh of relief, and that my mother simply nodded her assent.  She expected nothing less.


Personally, I wonder about the child described here. I realize that the teacher couldn't have guessed about my inner life, nor would she have had the time. They didn't call is "baby boomers" for nothing. To me, this card reports that I was adequately under control, that I didn't disrupt things.  I was quiet, attentive and sat up straight.


I feel that most of what my patients need to do in order to relieve their pain needn't be taught.  My attitude when handling others is that the system is fully capable of the corrective movement, but that it must the reminded of this.  We don't lose the ability to instinctively correct; we are just trained to forget it.  I'm sure that this training is formalized with our first exposure to education.  My old report card is clearly a record of its success in my case.  I know that what was so "satisfactory" about me was my ability to suppress my normal desire for comfort and self-expression, especially ways of expressing my body.  I was encouraged to pose and posture, how to be something I wasn't.


Like most of us, I probably rebelled at first.  I shifted in my seat, I looked around at things other than my own work, I may have even spoken out of turn.  I remember being seated in the corner just once, utterly ashamed.  It was enough to mold me into "a well adjusted child."


I know that if children aren't given some structure and order that teaching them in groups would be more difficult.  But I wonder if the conscious suppression of our desire for comfort is entirely necessary.  Long before I was fully-grown I had forgotten how to self-correct beyond an inadequate, furtive shifting.  I had to the reminded that comfort sometimes requires something far more elaborate and certainly less socially acceptable.  Reminding my patients of this while playing a role that does not include the judgment we endure in school is what I do most of the day, and it seems to be therapeutic.


If I were to be graded today, my teachers might find me less than satisfactory in many ways, and, perhaps, outstanding in a few.  I doubt that "well adjusted" would come to mind.  I'm through worrying about my posture, and I don't always use an acceptable voice.


And it only took 40 years