A Remembrance by Jordan Riak, March 1998
In 1973 Adah Maurer mailed "News Notes" to a small group of friends and supporters. It consisted of four photocopied sheets containing a few articles and letters which she had transcribed. It had no cover. The binding was a staple in the corner. The font was the humble pica generated by a manual typewriter. "News Notes" was the first of what soon evolved into The Last ? Resort, a quarterly magazine that challenged the popular belief in an immutable instinct, presumed to be encoded in the genes, that prevented the adults of our species from deliberately harming the young of our species.
Cruel treatment of children? Child abuse? Sadistic treatment of pupils in the schools? Surely such phenomena were the rarest of aberrations. Surely they occurred only on the remotest fringes, among the hopelessly derelict, if they occurred at all. Besides, were a child punished unusually harshly, that child must have done something horrendous to deserve it. These are the things people told themselves and told each other. Four times a year, to a readership rarely exceeding two thousand, The Last ? Resort presented a more honest view of how our society behaves toward its young. Every issue told through news clippings gathered nationwide about the abuse of children--abuse mislabeled as "discipline." It forced the reluctant reader's attention to our ambivalence toward children, to our penchant for hurting them rather than comforting them. It was a revelation.
Adah Maurer's magazine and the organization she founded, End Violence Against the Next Generation, provided the basis for the first and, as it turned out, the most enduring child advocacy network in the English-speaking world. Of course, that network has expanded and continues to expand, and at the time of this writing not every key player knows every other key player. But back then, when there were few, Adah Maurer was at the hub of the network.
A room barely large enough for either purpose served as Adah's bedroom and the office of End Violence Against the Next Generation. Adah's kitchen doubled as the shipping department. Magazines were labeled, sorted in zipcode order, stacked on every available surface, and bundled for delivery to the post office. Sometimes a volunteer might show up to assist with the bulk mailing, but most often, Adah did the job alone.
The arrival of the mail was Adah's peak experience of the day. News clippings sent by friends and subscribers, and the contents of the packet from her clipping service, were sorted and analyzed in preparation for the next issue of the The Last ? Resort. Requests for advice were promptly answered, often with lengthy, detailed letters. Every correspondent received her personal attention.
For twenty-four years, four times a year, Adah's magazine blew the whistle on a child abusing culture. The abusers hated her for that. They scoffed at her and dismissed her as an eccentric, but they couldn't shake her off. Only once, very early in her career, she retreated briefly, when she was literally run out of town for publicly criticizing the mistreatment of children at the local school.
Throughout the course of her career as an advocate for children's rights--she was an educational psychologist by training--Adah's written output was nothing short of torrential: scholarly essays, articles for the popular print media, leaflets, pamphlets, booklets, and one book, Paddles Away, a sadly ill-timed volume because it appeared a decade too early to find a ready following. Paddles Away is a seminal work on the subject of punitive violence toward schoolchildren. It has influenced every subsequent author to deal seriously with the subject. I believe it will continue to do that for a long time to come.
In the last months of Adah's life, I visited her every Saturday at her home on Keeler Avenue, Berkeley. It was our standing date. She'd share with me that week's mail as she decided what to toss and whom to answer. We'd have lunch. I'd give her the latest news from my office and then we'd watch a video. That was the routine. On one such Saturday, at the conclusion of the movie--some forgettable, sentimental fluff--Adah turned to me and said, "Now, let's get back to the real world. What can we do to make people stop hitting their kids?" She would not be derailed even briefly. On another occasion we watched "The Dead Poet's Society." At its conclusion, Adah sat silently for a long while, looking at the screen until the credits finished scrolling, digesting the experience. She had been deeply moved. So had I, though I'd seen the film twice before. "The Dead Poets' Society" spoke to her heart. I will always cherish the memory of those visits.
There is an awakening these days, with the inevitable mean-spirited backlash that accompanies the imminent success of every true social reform. Adah Maurer's view: that there is never a good reason for deliberately hurting a child, that nothing good comes from it, only harm, is taking root in the mainstream. Every day, the root goes a little deeper and becomes more secure. I am happy that my friend lived long enough to witness the unmistakable signs of that development. I am saddened that she is not here with us today to enjoy its progress toward inevitable vindication and triumph, toward a time when those instruments of child torture--the paddle, the strap, the cane, the tawse--will be seen as pathetic artifacts of a bygone, benighted age. I am saddened that I will be able to enjoy Adah Maurer's wit, her keen intellect and her inextinguishable optimism only in memory.
I know I speak here for my friends who were also Adah's friends and for all the people who have become connected to one another through the network she started. We say:
Thank you, Adah Maurer! Thank you for all you have given the children in your time and for generations to come. We will try our best to carry on as you would urge us to carry on if you could speak to us now.