Thursday, March 1, 2012

Why do some alumni see nothing negative about Linton Hall Military School?

The best answer I've come up with is, "I don't know." The second best answer, the result of much thinking, is the subject of this post. I've tried hard to understand this, but cannot come up with a satisfactory answer.

Over the past two years, I've been in contact with other Linton Hall Military School alumni on Facebook, and occasionally there will be someone who sees his experience there as totally positive. Some of these cadets attended at the same time I did.

I find this surprising, since virtually everything I write about is something that I saw with my own eyes at Linton Hall. Not just that, but given that there was little or no privacy at Linton Hall Military School, almost everything that happened was witnessed by anywhere from thirty cadets (in a classroom) to 200 or more cadets (the entire battalion.) We can disagree about whether the discipline and punishments were positive or negative, appropriate or excessive, but it is a fact that they happened.

Moreover, I am not one of the cadets who was punished a lot. Other than being made to stand at attention, the only physical punishment I remember was being paddled once. That's once during the couple of years I was there. But I saw much worse done to others, often in front of the entire battalion, and I would be lacking in empathy if that did not bother me. At one point I was so disgusted at seeing someone treated that way by the Commandant of Linton Hall Military School, that I seriously considered giving up my hard-earned rank as an officer and handing in my bars, right then and there. The fact that I was an officer, and was even awarded a medal, also shows that I followed the rules and did what was expected of me. It wasn't because I held the Linton Hall school administration in high regard, even back then, but only because I did not want to experience the punishments that I saw meted out to others.

I've written a lot about Linton Hall Military School, and just as I've written about the negative aspects, I've also written about the positive ones. I've been criticized for writing about the negatives, but I have yet to be told that anything I've said about my experience, either what happened to me or what I saw happen to others, was inaccurate. The reason I chose "Linton Hall Cadet" (instead of something like "John Doe") as a pen name, is that we all lived by the same rules, and had the same things happen to us, or at least observed the same things happening to others. So, what I write isn't just about me; it's about all of us.

I haven't seen any persuasive arguments that the rigid rules and strong punishments were positive; not arguments that would persuade me, anyway.

I've discussed our divergent views with some of these alumni on Facebook; a couple have unfriended me. I understand that it's not pleasant to rehash unpleasant memories, but I don't understand getting to the point of denying them entirely. I've given credit where credit is due, and said many positive things about Linton Hall Military School, but a true picture must include all the negatives as well.

I also believe that it's important to note that I, as well as others who have written about their experience at Linton Hall, are doing so as adults many years after the fact, and from an adult perspective.

As a child, there are many things I disliked having to do, but was made to do, either by my parents, or at Linton Hall: school attendance, doing my homework, brushing my teeth, eating my vegetables, going to bed at a reasonable time, and so on. But as an adult, I recognize the benefits of those activities and am grateful that I was made to do them.

But those are not the things that I've complained about, or that others have complained about. I've written about serious things that I believe any reasonable adult would consider wrong. Even as a child I knew the difference between appropriate and petty rules, and between appropriate and excessive punishment. Again, I was only paddled once and can recall no other physical punishment being inflicted upon me other than having to stand at attention for a reasonable period of time. But for many of those who attended Linton Hall Military School their experience was far worse than mine.

From what I've been able to gather, Linton Hall has changed dramatically and for the better since I was there during the late 1960s. I've seen photos from the 1980s, Linton Hall's last decade as a military school, and it looked quite different, with doors on the bathroom stalls, more pleasant looking dorms, and even a school dance with girls (from another school) in attendance. And I know that today's Linton Hall School is a coed non-military day school, with a principal who is not a nun. I haven't communicated with any current students or recent alumni, but I've seen photos in which the students seem genuinely happy to be there. These are photos taken by the students themselves, not photos from the school brochure, which one would expect to show the school's best side, as brochures are apt to do.

Recently, I heard from a former cadet who was there for a few years during the 1960s. He said he finds it "frustrating" when someone says "anything negative" about the school. A couple of others have expressed similar sentiments, but this particular alumnus is now a member of the Linton Hall School Board. What I heard from him is definitely not what I wanted to hear from someone currently involved with the school. I wish he would have said that Linton Hall School had addressed its previous shortcomings, and is now a much better place than it was when he was there. But if he sees nothing wrong with the way the school was then, where does that leave us? Does he really believe that Linton Hall School should take LHMS as its model and go back to everything I've described in my first blog posting two years ago? Does he believe that they should implement the long list of punishments written about by the other blogger in ?

Progress requires an honest look at the past. Teachers correct homework so students can learn from their mistakes. Linton Hall School should also look at its past, recognize what the adults in charge did wrong, and take the necessary steps to make sure the same actions aren't repeated. An apology to the 5,000 or so cadets who attended over the years would be the right thing to do, not that it would change the past, but it would be a good step. But it should be freely given, not in response to a request by me or anyone else.

Much of what went on at Linton Hall Military School has remained hidden for far too long. It is only in recent years, with the spread of the Internet, that I and others have been able to speak publicly about this.

While we were at Linton Hall, outgoing (and occasionally incoming) mail was censored. This is a practice that rarely exists in boarding schools, and is more typical of prisons, POW camps, mental institutions and so son. At Linton Hall, outgoing mail had to be left unsealed so that it could be read. If something too negative was said in the letter, it would be thrown away and not be mailed. Sister Mary David O.S.B., the principal at the time, once told a classroom full of cadets (I was present in that classroom) about one such letter.

With roughly 210 cadets in the school, if each one wrote just one letter home a week, that was 210 letters in a week, or 30 per day, that needed to be read and censored. Let's say it took two minutes per letter, that's an hour a day that the principal dedicated to this activity, in addition to her duties as principal and teacher. Why did she need to do this? Surely not to prevent us from saying that it was a wonderful school, causing it to be flooded with eager applicants!

But I digress. Back to my original question. I thought that maybe those who could see nothing wrong about Linton Hall Military School were:

* Those who never got in trouble. No, there is someone who got punished a lot, in the harshest ways known to Linton Hall, and now he says he deserved it. On the other hand, both I and the other blogger both rose to officer rank.

* Those who went there for many years and don't have other schools to which they can compare Linton Hall. That's not it either, two cadets who were there for just one year, one for seventh grade, the other for eighth, see the school positively. On the other hand, I was there just a couple of years, and the schools before and after LHMS were far better.

* Those who came from difficult family conditions at home. Not that either, some have confided in me through private message or email that they had parents who, shall we say, were less than ideal, and yet they hated it there. Others had a pretty good home life, and have positive things to say about Linton Hall.

* For this last possibility, I'm playing amateur psychologist. There is something called the "Stockholm Syndrome" named after hostages held for five days by bank robbers in Sweden in 1973, who became emotionally attached to their captors and even defended them after being released. Paradoxically, sometimes a bond forms between the victims and those who mistreat them. This appears to have been the case for Patty Hearst as well as Jaycee Lee Dugard.
(See, for example, )

Yet none of these explanations is good enough. The past can't be denied. Yet why some are unable to see anything negative about it, is something I still don't understand.

Read more in my book, "Linton Hall Military School Memories," over 200 pages, 7x10 inches, only $5.69 (or less) at

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