50 Years and the Price of True Success
I wrote about Adrienne Nater in the Glasser biography, Champion of Choice. In the same year that Reality Therapy was published, 1965, Adrienne was a vice-principal at Oxnard High School in Southern California. She read Reality Therapy and began to rely on the approach as she worked with student offenders. In spite of the documented success she was having by working with students in this way the school principal at the time didn’t like the methods and forced her to resign. In short, she liked the elements of reality therapy, successfully used them as she worked with students, and got fired for it!
This story would have slipped from sight and remained unnoticed forever had it not been for the fact that the Oxnard Press Courier ran quite a few articles on the situation during the spring of 1966. I stumbled onto newspaper clippings of the story in an old photo album sitting on the floor of a partially opened closet door in Glasser’s home office. I was immediately captivated by the story as I read through the now-yellowed articles. Glasser and his wife, Carleen, were also captivated by the story, and that led to a highlight moment during the biography interviews. Carleen got some help from Directory Assistance and, remarkably, within a few minutes was talking to the same Adrienne Nater on the phone. After a short explanation of who she was and why she was calling, Carleen handed the phone to Glasser. Try and picture it. Out of the blue, 40 years after losing a position because of the ideas of reality therapy, the author of Reality Therapy calls you. It was a special moment! (Several months later they met in person.)
One of the Oxnard Press Courier’s articles, under the headline Resigning Vice Principal Believes Her Theories Supported By Results, described how –
Miss Adrienne Nater’s give-and-take theory of discipline at Oxnard High School is difficult and time-consuming in practice, but she believes it pays off in benefits to the misbehaving student.
Her approach was one of the chief reasons why she was forced to resign as girls’ vice principal.
“If a child is sent to the office, I try to find out why,” she says. “I let her relate what happened and then I try to show her why she can’t be disrespectful. I don’t mete out punishment without letting the child know why. Control by fear and hatred is bad. I think the only way is through respect and understanding.”
School principal, Clifford Powell, says her forced resignation was “just a case of not being suited to her job.” District officials say her job is to discipline students instead of counseling them.
Miss Nater says “you can’t separate counseling and disciplining, and that her approach is similar to that of Dr. William Glasser, psychiatrist at Camarillo School for Girls. Dr. Glasser says his psychotherapeutic techniques of discipline do not prevent enforcement of conformity to regulations. Miss Nater says she ran onto his book, Reality Therapy, by accident. His technique is far more formalized than mine,” she adds.
“The truth is,” Nater says, “that not many teachers have received an education in the modern techniques of reaching these unhappy youths. They know only that discipline is sort of eye-for-eye and tooth-for-tooth throwback to the era when pain, humiliation, and embarrassment were thought of as educative processes.”
Miss Nater believes her technique “helps a young person find herself in some small way and so become a better member of our society. These young people are behind me because every one who got into trouble feels that she better understands herself through the new approach.”
Her student supporters have started a drive to retain her. Their parents also have joined the campaign by signing a petition being circulated.
Another Press Courier article quoted Adrienne explaining that –
“I simply can’t go along with traditional discipline. In generations past a vice principal was supposed to be thoroughly feared and hated. Traditionalists seem convinced that hatred is constructive. I know better, and so does Dr. Glasser out at the Ventura School for Girls near Camarillo.”
“I follow Dr. Glasser’s philosophy in every sense of the word because it works in maintaining discipline and it leaves the disciplined youngster on your side.”
Miss Nater is perfectly honest and willing to admit that all her life she has rocked boats. “Not because I deliberately set out to do so, but because I was very early trained to think for myself, to make my own decisions, and to follow practices and policies that, to me at least, seemed the most effective and efficient.
Petitions and protests, including by parent groups, and even including local church priests and pastors, did not prevail, though, and Adrienne Nater, after being forced out, went on to serve her community in other ways. One of the Oxnard Press Courier editorials ended by pointing out that –
“Miss Nater would have no trouble finding another job. Oxnard High School might have a lot of trouble finding another vice principal who could win the confidence of students.”
I couldn’t agree with this editor’s insight more. I thoroughly enjoyed my interviews with Adrienne, since I knew immediately that her story needed to be a part of the biography. In spite of our visits and all the details of her career experience we talked about, she recently surprised me again with information that just has to go in future editions of the biography. She recently read Champion of Choice for the first time and, as a result, we re-connected.
In one of her emails she brought up a name that she and I had never talked about, but that she was reminded of as she read the book. Keep in mind that after leaving Oxnard High she stayed and worked in the Oxnard / Simi Valley area. Here is what she shared –
“This is so astounding: Brad Greene and I were colleagues in Simi. I remembered that he was selected to lead Apollo by his administrative buddies because he was not quite up to their standards of being a good Christian. This difference was not acceptable. Brad was placed in his position as a punishment. He made them eat dirt.”
Brad Greene was the principal featured in one of Glasser’s best books, The Quality School: Managing Students Without Coercion (1990). Glasser heard about Brad and went to Apollo High School to meet him and explore the possibility of becoming involved at the school. Glasser and Brad formed a very good working relationship and Glasser maintained a regular presence at the school, working with teachers and students, as he began to write the manuscript for The Quality School. Brad Greene and Apollo High School learned a lot from Glasser, but Glasser would be the first to emphasize how much he learned from Apollo High School. There was so many things Apollo was doing right even before Glasser arrived on the scene.
The Quality School did well as far as copies sold and Brad attained nationwide notoriety because of it. He went on to become one of Glasser top trainers, traveling across the country to help others understand the concepts of reality therapy and choice theory. The thing is, though, that Brad hadn’t gone looking for notoriety or for cross-country travel. Even as others thought they were punishing him by putting him at an alternative high school out in Simi Valley, Brad focused on helping kids and creating a school in which they wanted to attend. His superiors may have thought he wasn’t Christian enough, yet he helped to create a school that really cared about students, a very unique group of students at that, and sought to help them attain their diploma.
Two stories of amazing educators who sought to live and teach the principles of reality therapy and choice theory. One lost her job over it, while the other got transferred to a school nobody else wanted. Yet they persevered, always looking out for kids, and always trying to inspire their colleagues to do the same.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Reality Therapy, whose ideas have rocked the world of therapy ever since. I can think of no better way to acknowledge Reality Therapy’s importance than to share the stories of Adrienne Nater and Brad Greene, two quietly powerful people who live the principles of Reality Therapy every day.
Love ya Jim
Thank you for sharing, this made think of a time when a student with severe behavior problems was only comfortable talking to me and another fellow educator. One needs to make time to listen in order to understand where student is coming from
I love what Ms. Nater said about essentially following her own conscience and her own reasoning. What a great example for kids. Isn’t that what we want to help them learn to do? It reminds of the connection you have made between Glasser and Ellen White– that focus on being thinkers and not mere reflectors. That is how our communities will progress and grow (both in truth and in respect and love for one another as individuals) rather than stagnate. Did Ms. Nater continue with her ideals at other schools?
I read “The Quality School” as a new school psychologist in the early 90s. I can point to that book as the single greatest influence on my thinking about discipline.
That’s pretty cool they were able to meet up so long after the fact, good stuff!