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Messages - redtail

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The Troubled Teen Industry / Therapeutic Wilderness Camping
« on: November 11, 2004, 03:01:00 PM »
Bye and thanks.  I'm headed for the field now.

The Troubled Teen Industry / Death at Skyline Journey 13 July 2002
« on: November 10, 2004, 03:43:00 PM »
Yes, the people at Skyline Journey certainly bear some enormous responsibility for this tragedy.  I''m not arguing otherwise.  I left the company about a year previous to this death because I saw a lot of problems at the company that no one seemed willing to face.

One of the benefits of a forum like this is that these problems are brought out in the open.  What I would clarify is that this does not all come from the uptight, overstrict, behavior modification, thought control philosophy.  Some of it comes with the "hands off," let the students run things, let the staff come up with their own answers approach.  

The other problem is that these programs (whether Mormon or non-Mormon owned) are conceived and ran largely by people of strong idealistic temperament.  They  (like the rest of us, I suppose) have blind spots they don't want to look at.

The incredible idealism of these people makes some of these programs very positive for some youth, who thrive on the attention and positive feedback from idealistic staff.  The shadow side to this is that an untempered idealist often has the tendency to reject any negative feedback and to maintain the illusion that the physical world is not all that real, and that therefore all physical challenges can be overcome by spiritual resolve or faith.  

Some of the idealists I deal with seem to have an incredible amount of sympathy for people in spiritual pain, but show a surprising incredulousness to physical pain.  When they see a kid struggling with a backpack, they assume it is a spiritual weakness or denial.  I tend to look for a problem in technological or physical construction and stop to make adjustments, and am therefore seen as a coddler.  

It's not just that.  Many of these people tend to dismiss all negative feedback as a problem of attitude, faith, or will.  It can be very annoying and has caused me much anger.  From my experience at Skyline Journey, in my more understanding moments, I can see such an event stemming from this base, rather than outright conscious brutality.  (Though I saw a certain amount of what I perceived as sadism at SJ, it seemed directed towards field staff, not students).

I have my own blind spots.  So I have to realise that every trip out into the woods is filled with danger as well as promise.  Perhaps that's the way it is- nothing ventured, nothing gained.  It is indeed a sobering thought, and I thank you all for bringing that to remembrance.  More accountability is in order.  But I think that part of that accountability would come in to the companies themselves if they would hire more pessimists, logistics people, and technologically oriented people to work directly in the field so all bases are covered.

The Troubled Teen Industry / Mid American Turns Kids Over to Mormons
« on: November 09, 2004, 07:23:00 PM »
What's going on here doesn't address the realities of what's happening in all the programs.  There seems to be the belief that all of these programs are some sort of Mormon conspiracy to abuse and brainwash kids.  No doubt there are Mormons as well as others who want to do just that, and they can be found in some of thes programs, perhaps many of them.

The fact is that some of the programs suffer from too little structure and regulation, while others are uptight thought and behavior modification, or have some weird mixture of the two.  They have cells of people who want to give absolute freedom, no rules (which can end up becoming a tyranny of the most popular students and staff) or they are into total suppression of individual freedom by the community (thought control).  You can give students freedom of thought, and a certain amount of freedom of action, and still have some rules of behavior for the safety of the group and individuals.  You can approach behavior problems kindly, or with loving confrontation when necessary.  I think this is what Outback, where I work, is trying to do.

As for Mormonism in these companies, this accusation seems a little off-base to me.  I think I was the only Mormon amongst a dozen or more trainees in my Jan 2001 Aspen Achievement Academy training.  Most of the company leaders seemed more on the liberal, ex-hippy fringe for Utah  My trainer was self-professed gay, opposed to the local Mormon redneck deer hunters.  Sure, people like Gil Hallows have a Mormon background, but they are even called into question by association with the liberal crowd at the Academy.  As a Mormon I cetainly felt a little out of place with all the Buddhism, vegetarianism, Native American stories with no discernable meaning to me at the time.  

My uncles from a nearby town both viewed the Aspen Achievement Academy with suspicion, certainly outside the conservative Mormon local culture.  They're especially suspicious ot the environmental idealists (left-wing) which seem to gravitate to the wilderness schools to commune with nature and children.  Aspen has an uneasy peace with the local Mormon community.  In light of this i find some of the generalizations and conspiracy theories here ludicrous.  

You find the same mixing of culture at Outback, and many of the Mormons that work there would certainly be seen as at the fringes of Mormonism.  They're definitely anti- behavior modification in philosophy to the degree that they have had to struggle with the fact that the new staff (Mormon or non-Mormon) are so liberal that they are reluctant to enforce anything for fear of hurting anyone's relationship.  

Again, I think they're doing a darn good job at looking for a harmony between a safe social order and individual freedom.  I thank you all for helping me see some of the problems out there.  I'll try to do better to be more sensitive to the situation of the students.  But perhaps a few of thes facts can help keep it more real.

On the otherhand I certainly agree with Spirithelps and others that the accumulation of corporate power in the hands of Aspen is a big concern.  Many at Outback were not happy with the sellout to Aspen.  I don't like some of the clauses in the nondisclosure agreement at all.  I certainly believe that power and accountability should coexist


[ This Message was edited by: redtail on 2004-11-09 16:30 ]

The Troubled Teen Industry / Death at Skyline Journey 13 July 2002
« on: November 09, 2004, 06:17:00 PM »
In defence of Mark Wardle, I must clarify that he did not support the students' prohibition of their companion from eating until a punishment was inflicted.  He backed me on getting food to the student, but he also criticized me for taking things too seriously, told me to lighten up.  When I told him that the students were running the program he said that they were supposed to be, that we were supposed to "empower the students," that the first students felt like they were junior staff, and that the program would tighten up more on procedure with time.  

When I later told him that it was he who had told me to "come down hard on standard operating procedures," he told me, "Yes, but I didn't tell you to come down hard on the students."  

Mark assumed that because the majority of students were against me that I was being too harsh.  I disagree.  I was doing the best I could with the limited training I had.  I was imposing no consequences other than reporting unacceptable behavior to therapists.  

I don't think you can condemn Mark for being behavior modification-oriented or of creating an atmosphere of fear and torture (as most of you seem to think happens in all programs).  He was basically the Santa who came in occasionally and sweet-talked everyone, and left us to figure out how to get the students to take care of safety and health concerns without offending anybody when he wasn't there.  

The program may have changed in the year after I left.  My tendency is to take the students very seriously and get advice from an M.D. before hiking a student who says he's sick.  I sometimes get suckered, as some of the students are adept manipulators.  I'm sometimes criticised by younger staff who think either I don't want to hike or I am a coddler or a babyer.  It's not always an easy call, not cut and dried as some seem to think.

The Troubled Teen Industry / Death at Skyline Journey 13 July 2002
« on: November 09, 2004, 04:09:00 PM »
The last message was a quote from me on another thread.  For the sake of objectivity I could also say that there are good people, good staff, in all the programs I have worked at.  I really liked the Owen family at Skyline Journey, for example.  Monty Owen, as a field operations manager or director gave me some clear standards.  Perhaps that's why he and other Owen family members lost their job.  several months after I quit.  (I ran into his parents several months later and they were involved in a lawsuit with the Wardles, with whom they had partnered to form the company.)

Nevertheless, with dedicated staff in any program, some or all of the students will benefit.  Some of our staff at Walkabout came from Skyline Journey and they've benefited the company.  No doubt they made a positive impact on many kids at Skyline Journey.  

It is sometimes hard to be objective with people who you don't think have treated you with due respect.  Mark Wardle is perhaps a good person in many ways, able to communicate with kids and parents.  But he has a BIG blind spot in my experience, and that is a respect for other important aspects of a field operation- training, planning, logistics, and communications and relationships with staff.  Mark's positive outlook on life (seeing the silver lining to most things) is a great asset in motivating kids.  But I cannot help but suspect it had something to do with the unfortunate death of Ian.  

I don't know the full circumstances of the case, am a poor judge.  But if bringers of warning or bad news are ignored or punished, a vital feedback loop in a company dies.

The Troubled Teen Industry / Mid American Turns Kids Over to Mormons
« on: November 08, 2004, 06:19:00 PM »
Toni, or spirithelps:  I came to this site on your recommendation as I have considered you an ally and friend in many ways.  I am using a screen name because I believe that as a current worker at a youth program in Utah in is in the best interests of the youth, staff, and myself to remain somewhat anonymous.  I suppose you know that the Federalist Papers which helped get the U.S. Constitution passed were also written with a degree of anonymity under the pen name of "Publius."  So I'm not sure that either James Madison, myself, or the poster here known as Anonymous are doing something wrong.  Preserving the anonymity of our students and ourselves has been encouraged to us by the industry for both student and personal protection.

As a Mormon who has worked with you on other issues, I still have to agree with Anonymous that many of the comments made
about Mormons on this string are offensive to me, largely because I do not see them as true.  I have never in my life been taught in my church or by my parents that sexual or physical abuse of children was desireable or acceptable.  The description of Mormons as "rabid fundamentalists" by Deborah certainly strikes me as both offensive and inaccurate for a large percentage of my faith.  As for my own parents, active, orthodox Mormons their entire life, they have shared their finances amongst themselves, their children, and their fellow creatures to a degree which in my mind qualifies them for the title of saints.  As for the descrimination against women, I have seen the reverse in this industry from women of both Mormon and non-Mormon background.  I have seen fierce, ruthless competition in this industry by women who feel they must prove themselves superior to men in every capacity, by withholding information from me as a man that  felt was important to the doing of my job.  I have had female staff direct me away from the students out of sheer gender jealosy that the female students might learn some relevant skill from a male.  Such is our society today.

In addition, I would say that one of the directors of our company placed himself at risk at the Challenger and North Star programs when he worked there.  If those programs would have listened to his warnings, several deaths would have been avoided.  He testified against them, he is nominally at least Mormon.  One of his associates, a Mormon woman at our company, also worked at some of the early, dangerous companies and has greatly supported my employment because of my attentiveness to safety concerns.  I certainly agree that the company I work with has room for improvement, i could certainly use more training as could other staff.  I just spent two days of training with the company in appropriate handling of unusual occurences.  I have told more fully my story on the thread about youth camping programs.  

While there are rural Mormon families that are overcontrolled by the male spouse, I can tell you firsthand that there are cases where the female spouse is definitely the one in control, financially or otherwise.

As for Mormon control of youth programs, I know that one of the prominent leaders at Aspen Achievement Academy left the Mormon Church because it was't liberal enough, and Gil Hallows at that location is certainly not viewed positively by many local Mormons, who distrust the company.  Gil, incidentally, I think is probably a good man, despite his Mormonism or Aspenism.  I remember him from childhood.

The Troubled Teen Industry / Therapeutic Wilderness Camping
« on: November 08, 2004, 04:07:00 PM »
I just found out about this forum from a friend who found some real problems at Turnabout, a program now owned by Aspen, I believe.  I was encouraged to seek employment at Aspen Achievement Academy (wilderness) by a friend in Jan 2001.  I took a training there for 1 week.  I felt like most of the people there were sincere and idealistic.  But I didn't feel comfortable with a huge corporation being my employer.  Lots of the locals (my relatives) are uncomfortable with the Aspen presence in their community.

I liked the idealistic feeling of concern at the Academy, and their emphasis on processing of emotions and constant feedback was appealing to me.  On the other hand, this same concern and feedback seeking seemed like it could become controlling, and the training seemed at times to be based on the acceptance of a philosophy that I could not buy into based on faith, in a dogma of development that seemed to me geared towards loss of individuality to the group.  Such a philosophy seemed appealing both to leftists there and those of a right-wing corporate mentality.  I think greater individuality is often needed to make strong communities and give strength against peer pressure.

So I sought employment at a locally-owned family company that had just opened called Skyline Journey.  Philosophically it seemed more in line (based on literature, internet, and phone discussion) with principles of freedom and individuality.  Probably so on paper.  I worked for two months (four shifts) and decided the place was unsafe for both students and staff.  I'm sure that the people involved were nice in their own right (some of them) but the unchecked power went to other's heads.  Standards changed from week to week, there was inadequate training, little feedback or accountability.  I was put out as head staff with no training my first week and faced some very vicious competition from younger staff who felt more qualified.  I was undermined by them and the office.  My allies in the office who sought some consistency with field standards were fired shortly after vI quit.  Of course,  the program was shut down sometime later due to a death.  Perhaps they should have been shut down sooner by my whistleblowing.  I was such an emotional wreck after the experience, however, that I did not trust anyone fully and to try to write down my experiences would bring me to a shutdown.  

My final week I was told that two kids had been taken down.  A staff just lost a finger to a falling rock, some of us suspected it was during forbidden rock climbing.  I requested defensive training, and was told not to fear because a new head staff was coming in, trained at Aspen.   They pulled him after a few days, however.  Some of the boys hated a new student, got him in trouble with the other staff.  The students were going to keep him from eating, but I physically removed one of the student's legs from on top of the food bin to get him his food.  I was then accused of being abusive.  The company guru backed the kids.  I spent an uneasy night in the woods with hoods who had given me some veiled threats.  that was my last night.  

I next went to another locally-owned company, Walkabout.  They also had a "hands-off", anti-behavior modification philosophy which i liked, they didn't seem to impose thought systems on the youth, respected freedom.  yet they seemed more mature in leadership than Skyline Journey.  I had my misgivings, didn't always agree with every company decision, but worked on and off there for several years.  They like me there because I try to follow health and safety procedures but do so without a lot of power play.  I'm still learning, and I don't do everything right.  But judging by the respect I have received from students and staff, I don't think I've been so bad.  The company has grown and learned.  I believe that most of the company leaders I've worked with are sincere, dedicated, and idealistic- they want to help kids.  They've been open to feedback (from me, at least).  There have been errors made, but also willingness to change.  The culture does not permit the authoritarianism and extreme "consequencing" seen at some companies- rather, there is a tendency in some of the younger staff to not impose enough structure for fear of offending kids.  But some structure and rules are required for safety purposes, and I try to bring that in always.  I've seen what I regard as some real positive changes in people- not just behaviorally, but in inward attitude.

Some of the stereotyping I've seen here about companies, ideology, Mormon religion, gender problems, etc., takes us away from the real truth about what's happening out there.   The scarey power game-players out there are both Mormon and non-Mormon, male amd female.  Dialogue forums like this, if they allow all to express their point of view, hopefully open up the process of positive change for everyone's benefit.

Walkabout (now Outback) was to my dismay bought out by Aspen, but Aspen may have a lot of good things it can bring in if the professionals in Loa are any example.  I don't like to see this corporate, monopolistic concentration, though.  Outback's "agentive" or "choicing" philosophy may indeed spread through Aspen affiliates.  

Let's break another stereotype about Mormons.  Both Outback and Anasazi and Skyline Journey for that matter had Mormons involved in leadership from the beginning, yet opposed behavior modification and thought control.  SJ had no consistency with its philosophy, but Anasazi arguably offers too little discipline, structure, or supervision.  Outback has struggled to find a reconciliation with these and freedom, and due to sincere efforts, I believe, is approaching that ideal.

I don't believe all the information on youth programs here tells the full story.  I've worked at some wilderness programs, find some to be full of sincere, dedicated people, others are jerks.  Definitely needs the dialogue and discussion and watchdogging seen here, but I think I'd like to talk about this with a little more nuance to be more truthful.

I've posted a fuller version of my experience and beliefs under the first string in this section (Therapeutic Wilderness Camping), for your information.[ This Message was edited by: redtail on 2004-11-08 13:23 ][ This Message was edited by: redtail on 2004-11-08 13:24 ]

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