The Third Sector (Birth of Synanon II)

Third Sector (Birth of Synanon II)
by Paul Morantz
(c) April 2011

In 1967 Dan Garrett called Synanon a “Third Sector, “ a title taken from an Alex de Tocqueville reference to a characteristic of early Americans organizing themselves into groups to get something done as they wish and without government interference.

Tocqueville, an aristocratic Frenchman, was born July 29, 1805 in Paris where he worked as a judge. He and Gustave de Beaumont received permission to visit America in 1831 for 9 months to study the penal system. They traveled through 17 states studying judicial and political institutions. T. He later wrote Democracy in America in two volumes, one of the earliest studies of the American people.

Today Third Sector refers to non-governmental, not-for-profit organizations, each driven by their own particular mission. The other two sectors are the government which provides both national security and social welfare for its citizens and the private sector consisting of corporations and businesses whose primary goal is to generate profits. Charities, churches, universities, and even trade unions and cooperatives are considered third-sector organizations. It is estimated the numbers in existence today are from 750,000 to 2,000,000.

As for this one, It was a place that Dederich promised would never be boring. New things were added and old were taken away as Dederich would periodically shake things up. The only constant in Synanon is change, he said. At any moment he could flip the box and they would see the other side. Dederich promoted, demoted, instituted new notions and ordered changes. And with fever members followed the new orders, changing areas of the club, knocking down walls, redoing floors, removing chairs, replacing with new ones, shuffling items from here to there and jumping into their new jobs with abandon and purpose.

Dederich predicted many would come and study Synanon as they had built a “better mousetrap.” And one day, he said, Synanon, would also have political power. “Large blocks of like-minded people do that, you know. That’s just the way it is.”

As if to celebrate, Synanon’s stationary promoted it’s purpose by quoting Lao-Tze: enabling man to go right, disabling him to go wrong. A Synanon-designed logo appeared everywhere, on paper, on trucks, on the buildings, on pens, anything it could be placed upon. It consisted of a circle with opposite lines extending from the perimeter to the center, the right just above the diameter and the left just below. Each line ended just short of the middle with the right line turning upwards at a right angle and the bottom line turning similarly downwards. The lines were white on a black circle and sometimes black lines in a white circle. Proudly, the stationary proclaimed Synanon “The People business.”

Loyalty to family continued to be fueled by reminders to fear those on the outside who might due to bigotry or jealousy try to take it all away. Such encouraged fear became a force that bound them together in a common struggle against persecution. When the House was vandalized and punks broke into a Synanon apartment Dederich advised the police did not care and that these attacks were being “stirred up by our enemies.” When a Synanon sign was torn down in Westport, a stakeout was assigned with orders to take the vandals by force.

These forces, along with the harshness of its methods, were guiding the Foundation to a future only a handful foresaw.

The School had been formally called the Sibling Centeras was originally labeled The Nursery. Now I had moved for Santa Monica to a hill on the Tomales Bay facility him what had been formally called the Clough House. 13 children ranging from 18 months to 11 years lived there, separated from their parents. 13 adults were assigned to the educational staff. This had developed as an alternative to putting newborn children in foster homes until their parents were adequately fit to parent. From this, came the idea that this was a better way to teach children, even children of adequate parents. The school headmaster, Al Bauman. declared it was an approach in educating in life, not just “so – called academic education.” The Cliff House, formerly a home for check in that he, at 2400 ft.² structure overlooking Tomales Bay, was remodeled to include a play area, a music room, kitchen, 3 dormitories, 3 offices and 3 classrooms, plus an activity Center and the play yard.

The children were wakened at 6:30 AM, typing their rooms and having breakfast and meeting the school bus at 8:00 AM. There were preschoolers, kindergarten and grades school. They had a post-school program from 4:00 PM to 8:30 PM where they shared each days happenings, and did their homework. There were also work and play periods, foreign language and arts or talk. There were also periods when the children were read to. On the weekends, there was horseback riding, ballgames and classes in electronics, acting in music. The idea was to mix learning in play as a part of the work of childhood.

Two or three times a week the children played a version of the gain called “Complaint Meetings” which included an adult for home complaints and discussions were channeled. The children were encouraged to express hostility on any subject, including morality. Meanwhile, various residents were being trained to become teachers. They began as apprentices to the other teachers, and partaked in mother like care such as diaper changing as well as providing the discipline. The trainees worked on 5 hour shifts and had 3 one-hour classes a week in educational theory and a half hour class each day to learn the basics.

Bauman, was ecstatic over believing they were creating a new way for children to grow up into an adult world and to assure that the children adapt Synanon values of honesty and decision-making. If the children learn the fundamental quality of Synanon which is the Synanon game, which will bring the children up into self-actualizing, decision-making people. Period children learn from farming, electronics, to road building, to Art from poetry to digging ditches.

Bauman saw this as a boon to child rearing by enabling to have children be together as part of the Synanon culture. As Synanon questioned the value of the general society they were building a base in the finding new values, techniques and knowledge and raising people as part of a “family.” They were creating new pathways for the children of the future.

One could see how the ideas would seem so encouraging to a schoolmaster. But what Bauman did not see was that in this secluded school environment there was no preparation for life in the outer community, trades taught were tailored to the needs of building Synanon, and not for creating one’s own life goals, and a pressure to conform to the values (playing the game) is an assumption that those values are good will always remain good. Even in the end, when Bauman left in disillusionment and became the first person I interviewed, he had to admit to how those values had changed drastically. Also importantly, psychology in 1966 was not as clear. as it is today over the need for nursing care from a parent, and the problems that can result if it is not provided. Today, the term Attachment Syndrome refers to children who in their initial years do not have a parental attachment, most known about from studies of children raised in orphanages, and that the resulting damage can be devastating.

In March of 1967, San Diego’s childcare agency section notify Synanon that the Synanon plan for a school as an smaller space would have to be licensed as a children’s institution. Children were not permitted under school age to be in a 24-hour group care. The same month, the State Department of social welfare wrote to Ron Silva that its operation will have to be examined to discuss licensing standards. A follow-up letter of May 25, 1967 the Department of social welfare stated to Mr. Silva had stated because of licensing requirements Synanon was going to “phase out” the school. He said this would occur in a month. The children wouldthen be reunited with their parents and attend public schools. At this time there were 70 to 80 children of Synanon families.

In fact, the school was never dissolved. It was a bluff on Marin taxpayers that seemed to work. Synanon had been informed it cannot board children under 16 without having a license. But, by letter of December 13, 1967 Ms. Francis Lee of Child Care agencies wrote that she accepted the representation of Mr. Bauman that each of the students will have one or both parents assisting in the school program and residing at the Synanon school. As long as this holds true “the need for licensing does not exist.” Ms. Lee asked that the agency be notified if the situation changes in which case they will be pleased to work towards assisting in the obtaining of a license.. And thus the state stop looking into the question, and of course the representations never took place. In essence, Synanon accomplish what it had done in Santa Monica with the zoning issue. Synanon kept saying it was moving, but never did, and somehow the matter was forgotten. Now Synanon represented it would change its educational/living system to remove the need for licensing, the State accepted this, it was not done but childcare agency discontinued its follow-up and the school continued illegally.


Two addicted medical doctors moved in. Another who asked for help was turned away because he would not move in. He later shot himself with a shotgun.

Synanon acknowledged it appeared to create persons outer-directed (controlled by others), but stated each game player builds his own defenses and learna his own lessons thus becoming inner-directed (develops own ideas). The game, it was said, promoted self-discovery.

A dog robber (personal errand boy) was assigned to each person of status.

The bench was now a no man’s land where a person sat while his future was debated. He could be admitted. And if he acted out he could be ordered returned to the streets.

When a commune leader asked Dederich for advice, Dederich told the young man to fold up his flock and move everyone in Synanon as it had thought of flower power, love-ins and LSD long before the movement.

Zoning battles with Synanon began in Detroit also but were resolved by actions of the city authorities.