Mental Health Testing in Public and Christian Schools

The rapid and wonderful advances made in the fields of psychiatry and psychology, with the promise of even greater remedial help in bringing immeasurable relief and cure, are boons to mankind for which we are indeed grateful to God. It is, therefore, certainly not my intent to underestimate the worth of these scientific benefits to us, nor is it my desire to impede in any way the progress of legitimate scientific inquiry or its attendant experimentation. But science, like other fields of learning, is ever confronted by problems of a moral, ethical, or philosophical nature. It is, then, to two aspects of the mental health testing program in our schools that your attention is called: the first, that our public school facilities are being exploited by the Mental Health Program for what seem to be religious purposes; the second, the premature release of some mental health tests which seem to have undesirable psychological effects on our children.


The first undesirable aspect seems to have been caused by an error in definition, one which makes the Mental Health leaders now see mental health in a new light. By good mental health most people have meant a state of well-being of the mind; in other words, good mental health is to the mind what good physical health is to the body—one reasonably free from mental disease or deeper emotional disturbances. It is the kind of mind that in its resilience can overcome the daily frustrations, annoyances, and emotional upsets without medical help. But it seems to me that, according to the article by Rev. Arthur DeKruyter (The Banner, July 18, 1958), the Mental Health leaders, by their own definition, have moved the problem from one dealing with the state of the mind to one dealing with the state of the heart—in which case we have entered the religious area of man. From this article we learn that Dr. Chisholm, president of the World Federation for Mental Health, clearly s tat e s the underlying philosophy when he recognizes that morality, the concept of right and wrong, is the only basic psychological distortion capable of producing the burden of inferiority, guilt, and fear to which man has been subject throughout every civilization.


Says Dr. Chisholm: “…For many generations we have bowed Our necks to the yoke of the conviction of sin. We have swallowed all manner of poisonous certainties fed us by our parents, our Sunday and day school teachers, Our priests, and others with a vested interest in controlling us…There must, therefore, be a reinterpretation and eventual eradication of the concept of right and wrong which has been the basis of child training; this is one of the belated objectives of practically all effective psychotherapy and must also be considered one of the legitimate objectives of original education.”

All the views expressed by Rev. DeKruyter are corroborated by George H. Cless, Jr., in an article in Christian Economics, September 16, 1958, who further adds that in floating this dangerous new concept, in an attempt to remake human nature, the Mental Health leaders are asking for the abandonment of common sense and a denial of a God-given moral law.

According to Dr. John R. Seeley and Dr. R. H. Dysinger, both national leaders in the program, the movement promises to be revolutionary in that the dogma of the church must give way to the dogma of social science. Says Seeley: “Like the early church, the mental health movement unites and addresses itself to ‘all sorts and conditions of men,’…(and) seeks to occupy the heartland of the old territory.” Occupying the “heartland” is religious territory, it seems to me. Other writers also agree with Dr. Seeley’s position.


In replacing these concepts, says Professor Barbara Wootton, there will be the danger of a moral vacuum which must be filled “in terms that are in harmony with the magnificent body of new knowledge that the human mind has established in the past two centuries—knowledge which incidentally is itself the primary cause of the rejection of religious dogmas.” Miss Kathleen Nott, in The Emperor’s Clothes, believes that “the only logical conclusion of an authoritarianism which tries to claim finality for its view of human conduct and psychology” is one that carries the implication that “scientific investigation, if and when it”is carried over into the field of human mental life and human social behavior, is not only fruitless, but wrong.”

In seeking to replace God-given moral standards by those of the social scientist, Miss Nott refuses to accept “Original Sin” as a “given,” or factor. Since such “notions” must be eradicated early, we are told in the De Kruyter article that the “program is admittedly preventive and begins by treating the children” and that educational facilities are being exploited for this. Now, it is one thing to use public funds for the common good but it is quite another matter to use them to advance and to propagate a theory that threatens to reinterpret and eradicate the historic religious concepts of others—and all in the name of a public health movement. I believe this must be viewed as a religious aspect and that we must examine our schools to see whether exploitation is being made of them for the advancement of this new idea.



Rev. DeKruyter says this is being one through the “production, purchase, and distribution of mass educational media, such as pamphlets, films, reports, news bulletins, etc.” This is the more obvious way and also the more easily recognized and hence can be controlled by communities and schools that do not agree with the philosophy underlying this movement. Others suggest there may be a more subtle way in which this eradication of the concept of right and wrong is taking place in our schools.

Jo Hindman, in “The Fight for Your Child’s Mind” (The American Mercury, November, 1957), says that child guidance has provided entrance for the preventive stage of the Mental Health Program; that credulous amateurs (teachers and counselors) are performing the task through the use of mental health tests and counseling; and that the average classroom counselor probably does not recognize the “salvo as coming, almost word for word, from ‘Mental Health and World Citizenship’—a worldwide statement prepared at the International Congress on Mental Health who have declared as mentally unhealthy the millions of people who do not believe in world government” and who have set out to “‘save’ the mental health of children living with non-collectivist parents…” On one of the mental health tests before me I read in its statement of purpose: “That due to ignorance, false beliefs, and unfortunate practices on the part of their (parents ), many a child has neither enjoyed fair treatment nor experienced reasonable opportunities for making these adjustments”; that the teacher is, therefore, “one of the first lines of defense against mental health difficulties.” How is this “ignorance, false beliefs, and unfortunate practices” to be interpreted?

Although some of the mental health writers pay lip service to the value of a religious faith of a seemingly harmless type, offering mental serenity, they also declare that what they do oppose is the kind of faith based on authoritarian standards and arbitrary demands—which of course the Christian faith is. In a chapter on “How To Have Peace Of Mind,” Norman Vincent Peale (The Art of Living) tells us that to have peace of mind is to have peace of heart, a condition attained by “staying the mind on God” which will enable us to rise above the “insignificant matters” that daily trouble us. We are told to “go to the hills and the quiet valleys”; we must watch the sunlight fall gently or “lift our eyes to the stars”; and we can “warm the bones before a wood fire on a winter night.”

TIns may be the kind of esthetic religion the Mental Health advocates mean; certainly not one based on the Word of God which confronts man with his guilt, but which also says, “Let not your heart be troubled; ye believe in God, believe also in me,” and which offers peace of heart through forgiveness. This is a peace of heart and mind different from the well-being of mind which we mean by good mental health. After all, the general defects which manifest themselves in mental and physical diseases are the results of sin; and these afflictions, along with the blessings of good mental health and physical fitness, bestowed by the graciousness of God, fall on us en masse, on Christian and non-Christian alike; and it is in this area that the mental health program can legitimately work without violating the principle of separation of church and state.

The difficulty is that psychoanalysis (depending on its philosophic bent) can represent a form of religion in that it claims to accomplish the same thing that Christianity does and employs much the same technique as does Christian morality. This makes the choice of mental health tests a troublesome task; yet it is important that we know, for the same kind of justice that “protects” the child in a public school from learning about God must also protect the children of Christian parents from deliberate attempts to undermine their particular religious beliefs. (See McCollum vs. State case and other Supreme Court decisions of a similar nature.) Although many mental health tests are free from religious aspects, we shall examine a few that seem to have an undermining effect; but first a word on mental health testing by way of definition and description.


Mental Health tests, often called personality tests, seek to measure certain aspects of character and personality by asking questions which point out traits, tastes, preferences, emotional strengths and weaknesses, and so on. Usually these are purchased fro m psychological firms; sometimes teachers make up their own; sometimes an observational method is employed. The form such tests take may be oral or written, essay, forced choice, or question and answer type. They are always subjective or introspective in that they deal with personal opinions, tastes, and concepts. They are therefore, in the final sense, incapable of being verified except by the person being tested. Although these sometimes employ “school subject matter” as a camouflage, such tests are not to be confused with aptitude tests, which deal objectively with subject matter learned in school.

The work is done by teachers or counselors who employ the tests for various purposes. Some are used to appraise a student’s personality to help him adjust socially; others are used to identify the non-conformist, the trouble-maker, the leader-type, the gifted, the emotionally disturbed, or those harboring incipient mental disease. Still others are used, as one test says, to “discover some very erroneous beliefs and some bad habit patterns.” These tests are used extensively in our public schools and there is evidence that some have been used in Christian and Catholic schools. In 1953 there were 121 such tests available, ranging from adult through elementary-school level. They were “being sold by the millions to schools, clinics, and private industry, under such names as preference tests, personality analyses, personal profiles, character ratings, mental maturity tests, and problem check lists.”


Parents generally are unaware of the “sniping directed at the family, the home, and the church” by some of these tests because these are usually given without parental consent. One elementary test asks, “Are you usually able to get the best seat at a program or other meeting?” If the child answers, Yes, this is interpreted to mean he has violated the Golden Rule. The manual then instructs the teacher or counselor: “Explain that this Golden Rule represents a great racial achievement in group living, and that it is not based on the arbitrary demands of either a God or a society.” This according to Hindman, flies in the face of “religious instruction given to many American children, and introduces the child to scientific humanism, which enthrones Man in the place of God,” and which, instead of recognizing the problem as one of simple childish rudeness, uses “atheistic instruction to lay the groundwork for a One-World ideology that abscinds from the divine basis in Natural Law which observes the right of sovereignty belonging to each Nation.”

Among the questions on some of these tests that seem to chip away at Christian concepts are these: (On the elementary level)—“Do you feel that members of your family do not like you as well as you deserve? Is it wrong to take things you need very much if you are sure you won’t get caught? Does some one at home help you get the money you need for things?” (On the junior-high level)—“Do you think your parents too strict? or too lenient? Give the reasons why.” (A few of the 330 problems confronting the high-school student)—“Parents not understanding me; Disliking church services; Clash of opinions between me and my parents; Having a guilty conscience; Failing to see value of religion in daily life; Afraid God is going to punish me; Moral code weakening; Losing faith in religion; Confused on some moral questions; Science conflicting with my religion; Parents favoring another child; Family quarrels; Being treated as a ‘foreigner.’”

We ask: When common sense, based on Biblical concepts, gives a parent the kind of judgment that makes him encourage his child to study hard and to respect his teachers, does calling to the student’s mind the following “troubles” give help or hindrance? “Worrying about examinations; Not fundamentally interested in books; Trouble with mathematics; Can’t see the school is doing me any good; Worrying about grades; Taking wrong subjects; Teachers lacking personality; Teachers lacking understanding of youth; Grades unfair as measures of ability.“ But common sense is regarded as the “major bugaboo of scientific advancement”; we are asked to abandon it.


Now, common sense, born of prejudices (both good and bad) and the accumulated wisdom of the ages, “does not leave man hesitating (Kirk, the Conservative Mind) in the moment of decision, skeptical, puzzled, and unresolved,” because “it has previously engaged our minds in a ‘steady course of wisdom and virtue.’” Sociologist George Lundberg says: “It is the essence of prejudice that it should be based on less than scientifically adequate objective grounds.” This brings us to our second thought: Are all the tests used in our schools “scientifically adequate” to insure no harm to our children by way of injurious psychological effects?

Why does our common sense make us skeptical of the worth of some of these, questioning possible harm, when that same common sense makes us gratefully accept the benefits of the Salk vaccine and other immunization shots? Is it because our schools are laboratories and all our children are being used for these experiments? Is it because it is the essence of “analyzing” that the object analyzed will be altered? Are unlicensed practitioners possibly doing the kind of “consulting” and “resolving of problems” that should be left only in the capable hands of a psychiatrist?


Within the ranks, opinion seems divided. In 1955, Life quoted Professor Frank Freeman (“Theory and Practice of Psychological Testing”) as saying that “the instruments at present available still permit too wide a margin of error for widespread or uncritical group use; nor are their results refined enough to warrant the elaborate statistical processes to which some of them have been subjected.” One personality profile, however, claims to “give quick, reliable measures of five aspects of personality…” At that time nonpartisan psychologists and psychiatrists said the 121 tests available had one quality in common: none of them worked. But one can expect that considerable progress may have been made since then. For the most recent objective view on the use of these programs, the reader is referred to Loren B. Pope’s article (New York Sunday Times, section E, page 9, November 23, 1958) which is considered by a leading educator to be a fair appraisal.

One wonders how profitable counseling can put a question such as this one (elementary level ): “Do you think it is as important to behave well as it is to know a great deal?” What is the object of learning the immature opinion of a child when it comes to recognizing the objective values of such things as knowledge and behavior? And by what logic do we invite comparison?

Dr. Arthur Bestor (“Restoration of Learning”) quotes a pediatrician and psychiatrist on the matter of the school’s work in detecting emotional disturbances. He claims that, although it was through the school’s alertness that some emotional disturbance was recognized early, just as often psychological-minded teachers and consultants have been responsible for acute emotional disturbances in a family through misguided efforts. Writes Bestor, “The teacher who misunderstands the limit of his own competence in matters of mental health is as dangerous as a first-aid worker who thinks he is qualified to perform an appendectomy,” and grave responsibility rests with those administrators “who encourage such delusions of competence by asserting that the principal task of the school is to foster the psychological adjustment of the child instead of imparting to him knowledge and intellectual power.”

The Council For Basic Education, which is all for proper guidance, isn’t happy either with the branch of counseling that deals with maladjustments and personality problems: “A recent book on guidance suggests that over 50 percent of the cases referred to the guidance department in some high schools deal with ‘personality’ and ‘home’ problems. We wonder how many of these problems are real and how many are dreamed up by the amateur psychologists who largely staff the guidance offices… “One way to make children neurotic is excessive and unnecessary poking around in their psyches by cut-rate Freuds; if you ask a normal child often enough whether he feels disliked and misunderstood, and does he sometimes feel shaky and nervous, and does his mother tend to dominate the home (all questions found on currently used questionnaires), he may soon imagine problems where none existed before. We wonder if the problems of normal young people are not better met by a sympathetic teacher of intelligence and common sense than by the counselor, with his paraphernalia of personality and youth inventories, sociograms, problem check lists, behavior preference records, and all the rest…” (CBE Bulletin, April, 1958).


Surely, responsibility for what is happening with the testing programs rests with some one. Until parents can be sure that what is being done to and for their child by these tests is not harmful nor detrimental to their religious beliefs, until such tests have proved their worth and validity in a way beneficial to the home, the school, and the child himself, some safeguard must be established. Hindman suggests that parents, for their child’s immediate protection, file written request with the school board; but more is needed. State legislation must be initiated that will protect all citizens and especially children of pre-college age. California, for instance, includes an exemption clause which attaches to the mental health code of the Education Code; Massachusetts and Michigan do not have this. With the added threat of the seemingly anti-Christian aspect of the Mental Health program, we must be doubly vigilant; Christian and Catholic schools through their alliance with public education control groups invite these dangers. Christian psychiatrists must help, for parents and schools are not qualified to determine matters pertaining to this branch of medicine.