Kindergarten Cop

   Barrett L. Dorko, P.T.



Perhaps you remember the very popular movie, "Kindergarten Cop" starring Arnold Schwarzenegger that came out a few Christmases ago.  It followed the exploits of a hardened inner-city undercover policeman who suddenly finds himself teaching kindergarten in an idyllic little town in the Pacific Northwest.  To find out how this happened, you'll have to watch the movie.


Even without my telling you, many will foresee the comic possibilities in this.  Believe me, every one of them is exploited, and I found it pretty funny myself.


But I go to a lot of movies, and I knew that something else was coming that, as a therapist, I don't find nearly so entertaining.  It was the method that Schwarzenegger used to finally control the 5 and 6 year olds whom he admitted were "walking all over" him.  He brought with him to class one day two things; a whistle, and a new attitude.  After scaring them with a blast from the whistle (Arnold can really blow that thing, after all) he announces that from now on they will immediately respond to a series of signals from the whistle indicating that they do something other than what they're doing at the moment.  It is made perfectly clear to the first little girl who objects that any deviation from this herd mentality will not be tolerated, and that her tears have no effect on the program, or her large teacher.


Soon Arnold has them marching everywhere, exercising vigorously, and competing with each other in tests of strength and endurance.  The camera depicts order in the classroom where chaos was once the rule.  I can still see Arnold's face light up as he watches his little herd moving as one, saying to himself, "It's vurking, it's vurking!"


Of course, it's only a movie, and no kindergarten teacher in their right mind would actually make their students abandon their desire to move freely, uniquely, and expressively just to satisfy their desire for control.  Would they?  I mean, in the absence of an especially large vocabulary, and virtually no writing or reading skills, kindergarteners have little left aside from their bodies to express what they think or feel.  I imagine that their immature nervous systems are regularly trying out new positions, attempting to find comfort or a variety of patterns of use to accomplish the new tasks being thrown at them.  Certainly their teacher would understand their need for freedom in bodily expression and not castigate them for simply shifting in their seat.  That would be criminal.


We can forgive Arnold, even cheer him on as he whips these kids into shape.  In fact, I remember the audience doing so.  But he's just a cop used to working with the dregs of society, and his methods are really more appropriate for a jailer, not an educator.  He doesn't understand that movement that follows thought is inherent to our being, that it is reflexive in nature and that we sublimate it at our peril (see "Without Volition").  He doesn't know that the correction of painful mechanical deformation and a return to a soft and pliable, parasympathetic dominant system depends upon our self acceptance and self expression.  In fact, he wants those around him to constantly seek his approval.  He wants them to fear movements he might not understand though others desperately wish to do them.  He likes hard, erect bodies ready to snap to attention in his presence.  Of course, no real teacher would ever ask for this, and no parent in their right mind would want their child in that class.  Would they?  Well, of course not.  You could make the argument that a society trained in such a manner would have an epidemic of chronic pain.  Imagine that.


But I know that such things do actually occur, and that people remember their time in that class to the end of their lives.  I know this because I've had hundreds of patients in their eighties tell me about it.  Isn't it a good thing that we know better now?  Isn't it a good thing that therapists understand how to help those who have lost themselves, who have learned not to trust their own inclinations to change and learn instinctively?


Of course, I once heard of a PT department that closely resembled Arnold's classroom.  Though people came for pain relief, they were judged harshly if their posture deviated from the ideal and made to exercise in ways that actually increased their pain.  Their tears had no effect on those in charge, and the protocols of movement were pretty much the same no matter the unique nature of the individual.  Of course, money poured in.  Kind of like most of Arnold's movies.


But maybe that place doesn't really exist.  Maybe it was just a movie somebody saw, and I heard only part of the account.  I mean, we wouldn't actually do that.  Would we?