Sunday, August 15, 2021

Hyde School testimony

This testimony was located on the Fornits Home for Wayward Web Fora in a message thread.

A Negative Experience

I also went to Hyde School 30 years ago and am somewhat amazed to come across this forum. I can't think of a more disingenuous and destructive place for an adolescent. While the basic premises of character building and tough love seem worthy, and may even work for some who went to Hyde, the overall environment that was created was unhealthy, not to say bizarre.

After 1972 the school became increasingly strident and hysterical. Joe Gauld threw the most outrageous tantrums, shrieking and ranting accompanied by a Hitleresque waving of arms, which in any sane place would have been viewed as unacceptable and aberrant. At Hyde these were perceived as justified and that the recipient must have provoked them by a lack of willingness to accept some deep truth about themselves. I have since learned such behavior is always a cheap, manipulative power play.

The over-emotionalism at Hyde was particularly unhealthy. Manufactured crises, whether of individuals or over the school's direction, was always accompanied by wailing and crying as people confessed their supposed shortcomings and confronted others. There was an incredible lack of privacy, with every aspect of a student's life scrutinized by both faculty and peers. The term "brother's keeper" was twisted to mean betrayal and students were acclaimed for confronting and making public others negative attitudes, which really meant maintaining a capacity for independent and critical thinking.

Seminars, now evidently called discovery groups, started out as helpful and supportive, but evolved into a hysterical feeding frenzy as students were confronted over anything from poor athletic performances, which necessarily demonstrated a lack of commitment to themselves, or an inability to "give" and open up their true feelings. After 1972, these frequently degenerated into screaming and wailing sessions.

When you are involved in this environment on a daily basis, one's own sense of reality becomes perverted. Because we were basically isolated on campus with parents coerced into supporting the Hyde Way, hysteria and tantrums became normal, even commendable. There was an illusion created that had no basis in reality. This reality was to be perpetuated by students who were willing to make a lifetime commitment to Hyde. Some of these are evidently still there today.

In 1976, one student who couldn't handle the pressure tried to burn down the Mansion in the middle of the night. As this was the main building at the time, which served as a dormitory, dining area and housed all classrooms, it was a highly dangerous act. While there was considerable damage, there were no injuries.

But perhaps the sickest incident I witnessed occurred in the winter of 1974 and involved the confrontation of a faculty member who will remain nameless. This teacher was a definite Poindexter type, socially challenged but a perfectly decent individual. Evidently he proved unable or unwilling to truly "give" of himself in the faculty seminar (discovery group). Early one afternoon, then headmaster Ed Legg announced an emergency school meeting and this teacher was hauled in front of students, faculty and staff and confronted.

What followed was a scene right out of Lord of the Flies. Ed Legg set the tone, offering up a damning appraisal of the teacher's character and deep-seated problem connecting with the school. He then opened the floor to other students and faculty and 240 people set upon the teacher, screaming and crying for two hours, confronting him with how he was not only betraying himself, but the entire school. "I can't feel anything you're saying", screamed one student. "I'm so disappointed in you, how could you let us down like this", sobbed another.

After this incredible emotional purging he was given an opportunity to "give" something of himself. Obviously in a state of considerable distress, he admitted to an affair he had during the Vietnam War with his best friend's wife. "And the damn woman seduced me", he admitted, choking back tears. This was deemed by faculty and students to be insufficiently giving and the teacher was judged to not truly be in touch with his feelings. Joe Gauld then closed the meeting saying, "But the person I feel most bad for is your son". The teacher had a two-month old baby.

It was all very hysterical, tawdry and pathetic. I remember being shocked and frightened at the time by the emotional intensity of it all. It was a manipulated mob run amuck. As with all of Hyde, the experience had no positive educational value. The only lesson learned was that frightened people in a group feed off each other, and are to be avoided.

To those who feel that people critical of Hyde need to toughen up, my response is there is a difference between toughness and manipulated hysteria and false truth. I had a great deal of unlearning to do as a consequence of my experience at Hyde, which took a number of years. After time past, my parents felt deeply guilty about sending me there. The fact that the same philosophy still exists at the school, and some of the same people, or their offspring, remain in charge is disturbing. To those considering Hyde as an educational alternative, take note of some of the more sober posts in this forum and consider other alternatives.

Frederick W. Burnside

The original testimony on the Fornits Home for Wayward Web Fora

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