Re-Education of the Adult a War Necessity

Beyond architecture, James Betelle occasionally wrote about grander social issues.  This article was written in 1917, shortly after the U.S.’s entry into World War I. Transcribed from The American Architect, Vol. CXII, August 22, 1917, No. 2174.

Re-Education of the Adult a War Necessity 

During the past three years the United States in its various governmental departments has been a careful observer of the experiences of the other countries engaged in war, with a view to profiting by the lessons taught.

An interesting study of conditions as at present existing in Canada, and which will undoubtedly be duplicated in this country at a later period when our military operations develop, is that of the reeducation of the disabled soldier. Many men invalided home to Canada have been found upon discharge from the hospital to have become incapacitated from the pursuit of their former line of work. For this reason they have been forced through necessity to accept work at a reduced rate of wages, and in many instances have become a charge on the Dominion.

To correct these conditions and to evolve a plan that would work to the advantage of the individual as well as to the nation, a scheme of re-education has been evolved in Canada, and will, with certain modifications or improvements, be put into operation in the United States.

The method as at present pursued in Canada places all wounded men in the general charge of the Canadian Hospital Commission. This commission is composed of one representative each from the Army, the Medical Corps and the Department of Education.

The first care is to place the wounded man in the best physical condition that the nature of his injuries will permit. At the time of his discharge from the convalescent camp his case is referred to the educational department, where the man’s civil and military history is carefully examined and a recommendation is made as to the proper re-educational course that will rehabilitate the individual and place him in the best position of self-support.

The soldier is next sent to a specially adapted vocational school, where he is given the training prescribed. On discharge, the authorities assist in the obtaining of work along the new lines of reeducation.

From the time of his entry into the hospital to that of his discharge from the vocational school the soldier is under strict military discipline, serving in his army grade or rank, and is under the orders of the Army Department member of the Hospital Commission. He is paid a minimum of $1 per day, or the pay of his army rank. Through this method his special education becomes compulsory, and it is not until he has been placed in a self-supporting position that he receives his discharge from the Army.

Experience has shown in many cases of disabled soldiers that when left to individual choice, or inclination, the opportunity for re-education is refused and the result is that the man becomes an economic loss to the nation. This feature of re-education introduces into the life of the soldier a paternal, or perhaps more properly, an elder brother attitude on the part of the nation, that is in every way so desirable as to need no argument to effect general approval of the method.

In working out the details of a proper and satisfactory system of re-education, the United States has been able to avail itself of all the experiences of organization in Canada, to which have been added features that have been shown to be practical in the vocational or trade schools for children of school age.

At the outset it was believed that the regular school equipment, or vocational schools near hospitals, could be utilized for the re-education of disabled soldiers. With the experience of Canada, as an actual working example, it has been decided by our own government that it would be inadvisable to include the adult with children of school age, and that the re-education of the adult should be regarded as an entirely distinct problem from that of the usual vocational school.

The Red Cross in New York has been presented by a generous citizen with the building at the northeast corner of Twenty-third Street and Fourth Avenue, long occupied as a commercial college. There has also been added a cash contribution of $50,000. The building is now thoroughly equipped for its intended purpose, the exact course of study has been determined, and it stands ready for use when needed.

It has been suggested that these special schools be located at the various cantonments, or war hospitals. Inasmuch as these cantonments are used for mobilizing of troops, they can also be used for demobilization, and one-story temporary schools be erected for the crippled, or temporary schools built in connection with the base or convalescent hospitals, where these soldiers, even though pronounced cured, could be constantly under the eye of the medical officers while receiving their re-education.

To serve the Navy, some of the existing buildings could probably be used, or temporary buildings could be built at various naval training stations for this purpose.

It is a duty devolving on the Nation to provide for the permanently incapacitated men by pensions or insurance and also to afford men who are able to avail themselves of it the opportunity to do for themselves. A soldier is naturally, or by training, self-reliant, active and capable. We can in no better manner prove our appreciation of his sacrifice than to afford a well-considered means to help him keep his self-respect by employing his mind and body in some useful work, and thus assist him to forget his impaired efficiency and also avoid the humiliation of pauperization.

J.O. Betelle