Special Convocation of George Peabody College

"We are here to insure that the inner space explorers will achieve the results in Seventies and the Eighties that the outer space explorers have achieved in the Fifties and Sixties."
NASHVILLE, TN • May 29, 1965

In 1957, the Russians launched the world into the space age with Sputnik I. The following year, the United States followed suit with EXPLORER I. Lunik I circled the sun in 1959 and Lunik II hit the moon later that year. Still in 1959, Lunik III circled the moon and radioed to earth the first photographs of the moon’s other side.

The year 1961 saw Major Yuri Gagarin, commander Alan Sheppard and Captain Gus Grissom become the world’s first spacemen. Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers began disappearing from the funny papers -- even Superman was threatened.

Colonel John Glenn became the first American to go into orbit when he circled the earth three times in 1962. Commanders Carpenter and Schirra followed Glenn into orbit that same year. 1963, 1964 and 1965 have left us gasping as American and Russian scientists, astronauts and technicians have probed the four Corners of the Universe. Jules Verne and H. G. Wells make prosaic reading in comparison with any morning’s headlines. Just five days from now an American astronaut may leave his capsule and walk out among the stars. By 1970 earthmen will walk on the moon, fulfilling President Kennedy’s daring prophecy.

But there is another breed of space explorers whose exploits are just as spectacular as those taking place in outer space. The April 30 issue of Life Magazine gave us a fantastic glimpse into this other world -- the world of Inner space.

Beginning with the sperm and egg, Swedish photographer Lennar T Nilsson takes us on an odyssey that makes Ulysses’ Voyage look like a trip to the corner grocer’s. Even John Glenn, I am sure, would be amazed at the view through Nilsson’s lenses of life before birth from before conception to delivery.

The thrust into inner space, of course, predates outer space exploration by thousands of years. Yet it is only in the current Generation -- only in the last ten or even five years -- that inner space exploration has begun to approach the level of accomplishment of the outer space explorers.

Albert Einstein once said that it would be a great cause of regret and would put all mankind into jeopardy if the life sciences did not keep up with the tremendous advances in the physical sciences. The evidence is clear that the life sciences -- the sciences concerned with human development and human welfare -- have begun to heed Einstein’s warning.

Right now, no inner space Einsteins or Von Brauns, Gagarin’s or Blenns are household names. But make no mistake – inner Space has its own pantheon of heroes. Their names, I predict, will become as well-known in the 1970’s. And 1980 is as the outer space explorers are in the 1960’s. We are here at Peabody today to insure that that prediction will come true.

We are here to insure that the inner space explorers will achieve the results in Seventies and the Eighties that the outer space explorers have achieved in the Fifties and Sixties. The advance into inner space is in the making all around us. As has always been true in the past, basic research in mental retardation has led to discoveries in fields far broader than retardation.

The foundations of this new advance have been laid. New salients are thrusting out all around us. Inner space will be stormed and taken. Crucial new discoveries about human nature -- physical and mental -- are in our grasp or will be in the next 15 years. In 1953, Watson, Crick and Wilkens won the Nobel Prize for discovering the hereditary code in the chemical known as DNA.

In 1959, Kornberg won the Nobel Prize for synthesizing this chemical. In 1958, Lederberg -- now director of the Kennedy laboratories at Stanford which are devoted to mental retardation research -- uncovered some of the basic mechanisms underlying heredity.

He shared that prize with George Beadle, president of the University of Chicago, who heads the interdepartmental committee on mental retardation at the University of Chicago, where The Kennedy Foundation last year gave a large grant to develop a mental retardation research program.

Although the systematic modification of DNA -- and thus the direct control of heredity -- may be beyond our control for the foreseeable future, Dr. Robert Cooke, head of the department of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins medical school and chairman of the Kennedy Foundation scientific advisory board – believes there is reason for considerable optimism that the action or effects of DNA may be considerably modified through chemical Intervention.

Dr. Lejeune of France recently won a Kennedy award for proving that mongolism was characterized by an extra chromosome. This has led to the recent discovery that chromosomal abnormalities -- and carriers of such abnormalities who themselves are not affected -- can be detected by finger and palm printing, or by simple chemical analysis. Such detection will permit scientific genetic counseling for prospective parents of defective children, as well as aid in the diagnosis of questionable conditions of abnormality.

New attention is being paid to the importance of diet and nutrition in total human development. There is substantial clinical evidence that insufficient protein and an overabundance of vitamin D not only inhibits healthy growth and development in children but adversely affects the intellect to the extent of lowering the levels of intelligence.

Inadequate or improper diet in animals has been shown to have irreversible effects on their intellectual development if not altered by the time the animal is the equivalent of a five or six year old human child. While these findings have only been made on animals, their implications for human children are obvious, proper diets must be instituted sufficiently early enough to prevent irremediable intellectual damage to children.

This is one of the reasons that a major part of the project Head Start Program for underprivileged pre-schoolers includes a serious attempt to correct the diets of these children.

Mothers too have been shown to contribute to mental retardation through inadequate diet, mothers who are anemic have a higher incidence of prematurity -- a condition highly associated with retarded intellectual development in their offspring. This has been documented for 30 or 40 years; only recently has there been any attempt to utilize this information for the broad benefit of the public through the child welfare and maturity care centers established by the 1963 welfare legislation.

New knowledge about the role of infection in brain pathology should lead to a marked increase in vaccinations in both mothers and children, with a subsequent decrease in the number of infant’s and children’s brains injured through this cause.

We already have the ability to eradicate red measles, responsible for brain inflammation and mental retardation in one in a thousand cases affected by the disease. The measles vaccine and other vaccines are being administered in increasing numbers today, but we are still far from the kind of universal vaccination program that is necessary. Measles vaccines ought to be administered to every infant from nine months of age on.

Urgently needed are cytogenetic and biochemical laboratories or facilities for the practicing physician, for the early diagnosis of treatable metabolic or viral conditions which, if left untreated, may result in mental retardation. For example, PKU and a half dozen other metabolic conditions, certain forms of Hydrocephalus, and RH incompatibility between parents and their offspring. Laboratory tests for these conditions should be as common to ordinary medical practice as blood and urine analysis.

Such testing is not just a matter of going through the Motions. Present treatment of many treatable conditions consists of secondary or reparative measures – dietary alterations or blood transfusions. As we learn more about the nature of these conditions, direct chemical intervention resulting in basic biochemical alteration will be possible. It will be vital, however, for these measures to be instituted early -- maybe even before birth-- if they are to be effective. It will be too late once the child has grown to a stage where physical or behavioral abnormalities become apparent.

In the past 18 months 14 states have enacted some sort of legislation calling for analysis of infants for PKU -- a 50 cent test. All 50 states should require PKU testing in the first days of an infant’s life.

But medical prevention and treatment is only part of the story. It took the combined efforts of hundreds of scientists, engineers and technicians in the physical sciences to put together the atom bomb in the Manhattan Project.

Thousands are at work on the outer space program. Those problems -- developing a bomb, putting a man on the moon -- were fairly clear-cut problems – staggeringly difficult to implement and bring to completion, yet comparatively Simple once the underlying principles were understood.

Human development and human welfare, on the other hand, are a thousand times more difficult to achieve because the underlying principals -- the mechanics of life and death, of growth and decline -- are only dimly understood,

We are just at the frontier of a scientific understanding of the nature of man. But we are at the frontier. A generation or less ago the frontier was only indicated by a road sign -- pointing no one knew exactly where.

One reason for our progress is the development of the team approach among all the disciplines of learning. A task as gigantic as human development and human welfare demands the ideas and imaginations of us all.

Human development and welfare may start with the sperm and the egg. But full development, comprehensive welfare require total care from conception on. No matter what the physical potentials may be that a child brings with him from the womb, both the degree and quality of his development -- physical and mental - - depend on his experiences.

The specific characteristics of those experiences – of the total environment as it is sometimes called -- is the province of the social and behavioral sciences. Only as the social and behavioral sciences join hands with the medical and biological sciences will a comprehensive science of man emerge.

Just as students of behavior in mental retardation have contributed to our understanding of normal as well as retarded children and adults--Stard, Seguin, Montessori—so too will the scientists and educators working together in the new university mental retardation clinical and research centers like Peabody contribute knowledge of fundamental value to all human beings. That is why the Kennedy Foundation, whose principal aim is the eradication or remediation of mental retardation through prevention treatment and training is contributing to the development at Peabody of the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Center for research in education and human development.

Mental retardation will receive heavy emphasis in the Peabody program of research training and services. But this emphasis will take place in the context of a campus-wide and community wide commitment to investigation of all aspects of human development, from the social and behavioral point of view.

A review of the kinds of breakthroughs in mental retardation over the past years -- which we expect to see, continued here at Peabody -- illustrates the importance of knowledge in this area for general human development.

In the field of imprinting and earliest learning, Hess at the University of Chicago and Hayward right here at Peabody have shown that the lapse of time before learning takes place can be reduced at least 25 percent if proper stimulation is brought to bear. These findings lay open our previous myths about the genetic immutability of intelligence at birth. They teach us that intellectual development is highly dependent upon the presence or absence of the right stimuli at the right time.

Another example: at MIT, Dr. Burton L. White’s studies have shown that early visual motor development is remarkably plastic. We know that the age range before five months after delivery is of utmost importance for total perceptual development. Research is now going forward which will reveal the specific factors responsible for these developments.

Thirty years ago, the work of Dr. Harold Skeels demonstrated that presumably retarded deprived infants and children could be taken out of the retarded range and into the range of the normal by provision of social, biological, emotional, physical and cultural stimulation. Following upon Skeels work, Dr. Samuel Kirk from the University of Illinois took four and five year old children with IQ’s below 70 and gave them special enrichment programs and tutoring.

These children showed remarkable gains in intelligence, with some showing IQ gains of 30 points or more. The works of Kirk and Skeels led to formation of a theory of psychological development which suggests that marked Improvement in development may come from enrichment of experience early in life which may have crucial implications later in life.

Right here at Peabody, Dr. Susan Gray has confirmed these largely neglected findings of Skeels and Kirk. She has already raised the IQs of deprived Negro pre-school children ten points in ten months, by teaching them to use language more, to look more closely at their surroundings, and to become positively motivated to yard achieving learning and excelling. It is no secret that operation Head Start is a direct application of this recognition that what we do or do not do for children affects their development. Society now accepts What Dr. Nicholas Hobbs has called the fifth freedom – the freedom of every child to learn to the limits of his capacity.

Still another example: last December, in Boston, I witnessed a dramatic example of the power of programmed learning. A severely retarded 40 year old man with a mental age below 3 was taught to dress, feed and take care of himself – something he had never been able to do in his life. Moreover, he was taught to distinguish between geometric forms at the 8 year level -- five years above his scored mental age. This is of vital importance because such discrimination is the basis of reading Dr. Murray Sidman of Harvard who taught this man these skills, says that there is no reason why he cannot teach him other skills far beyond his present performance levels. Training like this, based on the operant conditioning principles of B. F. Skinner, should result in significant transformations in the behavior of mentally retarded individuals.

The fact is we simply do not know the limits of human capability. Sidman has shown that it is not their genes but our ingenuity which is responsible for the performance levels of the mentally retarded. If this is true for even the severely retarded, obviously brain-injured person, what must it indicate for the normal and even superior individual?

In addition to research, behavioral science and education can do much to prevent the onset of mental retardation or reduced intellectual performance in the normal and superior child -- or to remove the causes of such deficit once they have taken cause.

Psychologists can analyze the character traits and other psychological factors in family members contributing to reduced performance by children. They can prescribe enrichment, remedial or psychotherapeutic measures to reduce the effects of these factors on the children.

Social workers can contribute to the understanding home conditions and family dynamics, and serve on the remedial team.

Educators can provide specific diagnoses of specific intellectual deficits and prescribe specific remedies. The work of Dr. Kirk and his associates on the Illinois test of psycholinguistic abilities may represent a significant breakthrough in this regard. Just as in the case of mental illness the emphasis is away from institutionalization and towards community treatment, so too the emphasis in mental retardation is towards keeping the child at home and in the community. This is only possible if the schools accept the responsibility of educating the retarded along with the normal.

But in order to make the most of the new knowledge which has resulted from fragmented efforts in science and education, we require a united national thrust, I therefore, call for the establishment of a national inner space commission at the highest possible level to bring about the full realization of human potential In America.

This commission must first define the goals which will seize upon those efforts with the same sense of urgency and dedication which motivated our nation to reach for the moon and beyond.

This commission must develop an action plan which will enable us to accelerate our explorations on inner space with the same vigor and enthusiasm which characterizes project Apollo.

We can only strike these targets if we fully integrate our actions at all levels public and private, federal and state, research and service.

We can only fulfill the dream of the great society by demanding that the creative potential of all be realized. In the words of Sir James Barrie:

“The most gladsome thing in the world is that few of us fall very low; the saddest that, with such capabilities, we seldom rise high.”

Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us.
Sargent Shriver
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