Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Mystery of Stanley S. Lamm--Solved!

Weeks ago, this building caught my eye, and I sought and enlisted the help of the Brooklyn Historical Society to find out about the Dudley Memorial building at 110 Amity, and it’s namesake, Stanley S. Lamm. I was hoping to uncover that Lamm was the Blackwater of pediatric psychiatry, that the empty building was creepy for a reason other than the real estate vultures circling above.

The building’s provenance is a yawn: ‘twas built 1903 by Henry W. Maxwell, a member of the Long Island College’s Board of Regents, as a memorial to Dr. William H. Dudley. Dudley had organized the German Central Dispensary, which soon became the Long Island College Hospital. All four floors of the Dudley Memorial originally housed nurses.

When did the building morph into the Stanley S. Lamm Center? Answer: 1951, when Stanley S. Lamm established it in his name. The Center for Developmental Disabilities, which now resides in Long Island College Hospital proper, has been rechristened the “Institute for Child Neurology and Development Medicine”—perhaps in light of the etymological bitch-slap that is “the opposite of to make fit.”

Here is where it gets interesting: Lamm also served as the medical director for classes for neurologically impaired youth in Brooklyn. Through the Center, he also ran a school for students with disabilities. The guiding torch of Lamm’s theory? Pediatric medicine must detect and treat pediatric neuroses, since they “account for more than half of the chronic illnesses in childhood” and can be identified and read early in childhood behavior.

Lamm favored examining and teaching students on an individual basis: “A major problem, according to Dr. Lamm, is that children with minimal brain dysfunction are generally grouped together, even though ways of teaching them have to be vastly different” (New York Times, Jul 20, 1970).

While I am not in favor of exclusionary classroom methods, (i.e. “special ed”) Dr. Lamm surely noticed a phenomenon only articulated in the mid-to-late 60s, as Congress initially discussed the “Children with Learning Disabilities Act” of 1969: suburbanites embraced special ed in droves, its existence absolved parents of responsibility and shame. Urban communities, in contrast, couldn’t squeeze out the tax dollars to support the programs--educators at New York Teachers College discovered that students diagnosed with learning disabilities came from predominantly middle- and upper-middle class backgrounds. Once Congress recognized learning disabilities as legit and eligible for federal funds, urban communities could better support developmental programs.

Though I can’t find any evidence that Lamm testified, lobbied or submitted reports to the Congressional Sub-Committee on Education, I’d like to think that the individual evaluation he supported in Brooklyn helped secure funding for our area.

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