That is a great article! Somebody has to email or contact that writer. A followup article would be awesome.
I'll paste the article here so you don't have to flip pages. I found it a pain in the neck to flip pages. I like to see the whole thing at once.
Swim Pioneer Makes Waves
For Decades, Harvey Barnett Has Attracted Attention With His Tough-love Approach To Lessons. Who Is The Man Behind The Method?
July 07, 2001|By Harry Wessel, Sentinel Staff Writer
Water is both a wonderful and dangerous environment. Few people know this better than Harvey Barnett.
He's been a pro surfer, scuba diver, marine wildlife authority and underwater photographer. But it was a traumatic event when he was 18 that spurred his life's work: A neighborhood toddler drowned in a canal near Barnett's home in Satellite Beach. Barnett, by then a seasoned lifeguard, started teaching young children to swim.
He hasn't stopped. Now 53, the Winter Park resident heads one of the largest infant swimming instruction programs in the United States -- Infant Swimming Research -- with more than 100 instructors in Florida and 13 other states certified to teach his method.
Barnett's program is poised to become bigger still. The Dr. Phillips Charities, galvanized by a board member and Barnett friend, pitched the idea of a communitywide campaign to combat infant drownings. With the charity offering $1 million to fund the campaign, the Central Florida YMCA in April announced its partnership with Barnett's company. The goal? Teaching aquatic survival skills to 10,000 Central Florida toddlers a year.
The Y calls its program "Safe Start," but the instruction is identical to that offered by Barnett's Infant Swimming Research program.
The Y's announcement made plenty of waves. Barnett's back-float teaching method involves "coerced" submersion of children under 3, which is strongly discouraged by the national YMCA, the American Red Cross, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
But Barnett has been making waves for more than 30 years within the field of infant swimming. Many outside his program view the Florida native as a secretive maverick -- one with a history of suing instructors who leave his program to teach on their own.
"Is there anybody more controversial than Harvey Barnett? On the national level, I wouldn't think so," says Steve Graves of the National Swim School Association, which represents more than 250 U.S. swim schools.
Barnett, a balding, powerfully built man with a doctorate in educational psychology, is described by friends and detractors alike as smart, charismatic and passionate in his beliefs. And who would argue with his stated life's mission?
"He's totally focused on saving young children from drowning. He's a man on a crusade," says Orlando pediatrician David Carr, a longtime friend of and consultant to Barnett.
About 115,000 young children have gone through the Infant Swimming Research lessons, Barnett estimates, and he personally has taught more than 8,000 of them. He takes particular pride in having schooled more than 1,000 special-needs children. "These are children who could not otherwise participate in the water," he says, "kids with Down syndrome, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, developmental delays."
Drowning is the No. 1 cause of accidental death for Florida's infants and toddlers. Everyone in the swim safety community knows this. The issue is how each program tackles the statistic. Some, such as Harvey Barnett, take the tough-love approach.
Barnett supporter Carr likens infant swim lessons to inoculations.
"My goal," says the Orlando pediatrician, "is to protect children from danger where they can't perceive danger. I stick needles in kids' arms all day. They don't like it, but they don't understand about life.
"If they're afraid of a swim lesson, I'm sorry, but my job is to protect them," says Carr, whose pediatric experience includes having consoled parents after their babies drowned. He also has served as an expert witness for Barnett and written extensively about Barnett's program.
The 10-minute lessons, five days a week can be intense, Carr acknowledges. Infants as young as 6 months are taught to float and breathe on their backs, and to propel themselves -- even fully clothed -- to the pool's edge. Parents are not allowed in the pool. And although children are never thrown into the water, they do have to put their faces under water whether they like it or not.
Some parents may complain that Barnett's program pushes their children too hard. Then again, Carr adds, plenty of parents complain that other swim programs don't push their children enough. The bottom line: Water is a serious place, and children need to know that early.
As Barnett once wrote, "I've always been taught, out of fear comes respect."
Such thinking represents one side of the infant swimming debate. Here's another:
"Fear and intimidation are often amplified in the name of safety to justify the use of force to prematurely and repeatedly submerge or back-float an unwilling child," says Rob McKay, who runs the 20-year-old Lifestyle Swim School in Boca Raton.
As McKay sees it, promising to teach aquatic survival skills in a few weeks to an infant or toddler is imposing a compressed, adult-centered time line on a child who can't fight or even talk back. McKay's school requires parents to be in the pool with children under 3, and it employs toys and games to make the lessons enjoyable. His program takes longer than Barnett's, McKay acknowledges, but it's just as safe and the kids are happy.
On his Web site, McKay advises parents who want individual instruction for their under-3 kids to choose a teacher with a "baby-friendly philosophy as professed by such baby swimming pioneers as Virginia Hunt Newman."
Newman has been teaching infants to swim in Southern California for 50 years. She has written two books on infant swimming instruction and founded the World Aquatic Babies Congress, an organization with 600 teaching professionals worldwide.
Newman, 81, is blunt in her assessment of Barnett and his teaching methods. "I believe he traumatizes children. Some children who go through his program are so traumatized they won't go near the water, or they'll cry and scream any time they get near water. That's not a way to teach."
As a self-described zealot, Harvey Barnett is not prone to compromise. Not on his beliefs, his reputation or his swimming program. And what he knows, he guards. He doesn't network with peers or share much of his knowledge beyond paying clients. Instead, he does his best to keep under wraps what he can about his swimming program.
Although parents can watch and even videotape lessons, all Infant Swimming Research instructors sign a confidentiality agreement that requires they not "divulge, disclose or communicate . . . any matters affecting or relating to the business and trade secrets" of the program.
This tends to keep Barnett's instructors from networking outside the fold. Barnett himself has declined to join either of the two major organizations devoted to teaching young children to swim: the National Swim School Association and the World Aquatic Babies Congress.
Both organizations agree with Barnett that children under 3 should be taught to swim, and both include members who teach survival back-float techniques.
Barnett is forthright about why he doesn't join. "I have a lot of people out there who pay $10,000 to learn my technique and be a part of it. Why would I freely share this information and database with people who could profit from my data, background and experience but not go through my training?"
Ginny Flahive, who has been teaching infants to swim for 28 years in Southern California, says it is unusual for someone in the field as long as Barnett not to belong to any professional organization aside from his own.
"Harvey Barnett's reputation is that he thinks he knows it all," Flahive says. "He says he wants all these children to learn to swim, which sounds beautiful, yet he's secretive and won't share."
Barnett cites quality-control as well as business reasons to explain why he is so tight-lipped about his swim instruction program. And he protects it with the sort of control that leads to lawsuits -- at least half a dozen during the past two decades.
Sometimes just the threat of a lawsuit is enough. Four years ago, Orlando mother Linda Howard took her son to an Infant Swimming Research instructor.
In six weeks, Howard's son, then 3, learned to swim. "The lessons went well. He screamed, but he could swim," Howard recalls. She was so impressed she started thinking about teaching infants to swim herself. She contacted several swim teachers before making her decision, including a former Infant Swimming Research instructor Barnett had sued in 1982.
Within days of their chat, Howard received a certified letter from the program's vice president, JoAnn Barnett, Harvey's wife. The letter threatened legal action if Howard trained under the former program instructor.
Howard was stunned. "All I was doing was research. Something is wrong when profits and secrets overshadow the goal of making kids safer in the water. Getting a nasty letter from someone I had never met was crazy."
Ultimately, Howard decided not to teach swimming and says she is still intimidated by the letter.
Barnett's legacy of lawsuits continues today. Locally, he has filed a suit against Joy McGinty, a former Infant Swimming Research instructor who now teaches on her own. (Barnett cited the suit and the need to seat an unbiased jury in declining to be photographed for this story.)
And in federal court in Denver, he has filed against a trio of ex-program instructors. In both cases, Barnett claims the former instructors stole his trade secrets and are teaching his method without authorization.
In April, the federal judge in Denver issued a preliminary ruling against Barnett. "Although other [infant swimming] programs do not use the same labels for each action," Judge Lewis Babcock wrote, "the basic process was and is in wide use."
Barnett says he expects that ruling to be overturned. But his trade-secrets claim does not appear to be faring much better in the local case.
Orange County Circuit Judge Joseph Baker, in a hearing last year, wondered aloud how Barnett's instruction differed from that of legendary Winter Park swim instructor Fleet Peeples. Peeples, who died in 1993, taught Baker's two children to swim, along with tens of thousands of others in Central Florida during a 60-year career.
Citing Barnett's estimate of the number of Infant Swimming Research graduates, Baker joked about the trade-secrets claim. "Dr. Barnett here thinks he's got a secret way to teach people to swim. I don't want him to have to reveal his secret. He's only revealed it to 100,000 people."
YMCA GETS ON BOARD
The story of how the Central Florida YMCAs became enamored of Harvey Barnett's program involves a well-connected Barnett supporter and a charitable foundation with deep pockets. It ends with the regional YMCAs reversing years of naysaying about Barnett's approach and bucking its own national headquarters.
Until this year, the local Y's followed rules directly counter to a tenet of Barnett's program. Infants and toddlers should never be required to put their heads underwater, according to national YMCA guidelines.
The Central Florida Y changed its mind after the Dr. Phillips Charities offered more than $1 million to fund Barnett's instructional program. Board member Tom Ross initiated the idea. His children had gone through the Barnett training, and he had been impressed with it. So had other parents he knew.
Ross, an attorney with Akerman, Senterfitt & Eidson, says he was not familiar with other infant swimming programs, but that Barnett's program had a proven record. Barnett "is a fanatic about safety and safety protocols," he says.
In fact, no other programs were considered, says Dan Wilcox, chief operating officer for the Central Florida YMCA. "We saw a fit with this," he says.
During their discussions about connecting Barnett's program to the Y, board members "were not aware of any lawsuits" involving Barnett, says Jim Hinson, president of the Dr. Phillips Charities. Nor were they aware of any controversies about him within the infant swimming industry.
But Ross was aware of at least one dispute involving Barnett. In February 2000, during the three-way negotiation among the Dr. Phillips board, the YMCA and Infant Swimming Research, Ross wrote a letter to former Infant Swimming Research instructor Joy McGinty on behalf of Barnett.
The signed letter, on Akerman, Senterfitt letterhead, informed McGinty that her license agreement with Barnett had been terminated and that she no longer had "the right to engage in instructional activities" teaching infants to swim.
Ross would not return repeated phone calls on the matter, but Safe Start spokesman Carol Arvo says Ross "is not and never has been an attorney for Harvey Barnett." She says the letter was strictly "a friend type of thing," and that Ross had neither been paid for the service nor expected the dispute to turn into a lawsuit.
The question at the heart of that lawsuit is the same as in the Colorado case: Is Barnett's program one of a kind?
In a hearing earlier this year in the Denver trial, before the deal with the YMCA was made public, Barnett was asked by the judge if his program really was unique.
Barnett answered: "It is the safest and most effective, and if it wasn't, the [Central Florida] YMCA wouldn't be wanting to pay me a million dollars to train a hundred of their instructors. They could have gone anywhere in the world. They chose me. They chose this system."
For Harvey Barnett that is vindication enough. The longtime maverick is an outsider no more.
This is interesting because we see how the Y perceives ISR nowadays. Also the Dr.Phillips foundation debacle is interesting. I want a followup article!
Here's discussion about Dr.Phillips foundation - http://infantswimmingtruth.smf4u.com/index.php/topic,12.0.html
And here's some discussion and facts about SafeStart from the SafeStart authority Christian - http://infantswimmingtruth.smf4u.com/index.php/topic,21.0.html
This stuff is great for research and true facts.