The Effects of Authority, Compliance, and Pathologizing Students

Two pieces on authority in education and a piece on side effects in education caught my eye on social media this week. The first is a Bruce Levine piece from 2012 on Why Anti-Authoritarians are Diagnosed as Mentally Ill that resonates with this social model self-advocate. Neurodivergent and disabled folks are medicalized, pathologized, and written off at school. Levine’s narrative complements Jonathan Mooney’s Learning Outside The Lines and Alan Schwarz’s ADHD Nation.

Having steered the higher-education terrain for a decade of my life, I know that degrees and credentials are primarily badges of compliance. Those with extended schooling have lived for many years in a world where one routinely conforms to the demands of authorities.

So authoritarians financially marginalize those who buck the system, they criminalize anti-authoritarianism, they psychopathologize anti-authoritarians, and they market drugs for their “cure.”

Second is a piece by Seth Godin on how school conditions us to accept working under authority rather than working with each other. Education has a deficit of collaboration.

We build school around the idea of powerful teachers, coaches and authority figures telling us what to do.

In our connected, networked world, communication is oxygen and collaboration–not deference to authority–is our way forward.

The third is great longform by Yong Zhao on side effects in education.

But side effects exist the same way in education as in medicine. For many reasons, studying and reporting side effects simultaneously as has been mandated for medical products is not common in education.

It is difficult for an educational system that wishes to cultivate a homogenous workforce to also expect a diverse population of individuals who are creative and entrepreneurial. Research has also shown that test scores and knowledge acquisition can come at the expense of curiosity and confidence.

What are the effects and side effects of the deficit model, compliance culture, and willful unawareness of structural problems and social injustice? They exact a huge toll on the marginalized and the different. Put a warning label on our systems.

Pathologizing Anti-Authoritarians

In my career as a psychologist, I have talked with hundreds of people previously diagnosed by other professionals with oppositional defiant disorder, attention deficit hyperactive disorder, anxiety disorder and other psychiatric illnesses, and I am struck by (1) how many of those diagnosed are essentially anti-authoritarians, and (2) how those professionals who have diagnosed them are not.

Anti-authoritarians question whether an authority is a legitimate one before taking that authority seriously. Evaluating the legitimacy of authorities includes assessing whether or not authorities actually know what they are talking about, are honest, and care about those people who are respecting their authority. And when anti-authoritarians assess an authority to be illegitimate, they challenge and resist that authority-sometimes aggressively and sometimes passive-aggressively, sometimes wisely and sometimes not.

Some activists lament how few anti-authoritarians there appear to be in the United States. One reason could be that many natural anti-authoritarians are now psychopathologized and medicated before they achieve political consciousness of society’s most oppressive authorities.

The selection and socialization of mental health professionals tends to breed out many anti-authoritarians. Having steered the higher-education terrain for a decade of my life, I know that degrees and credentials are primarily badges of compliance. Those with extended schooling have lived for many years in a world where one routinely conforms to the demands of authorities. Thus for many MDs and PhDs, people different from them who reject this attentional and behavioral compliance appear to be from another world-a diagnosable one.

I have found that most psychologists, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals are not only extraordinarily compliant with authorities but also unaware of the magnitude of their obedience. And it also has become clear to me that the anti-authoritarianism of their patients creates enormous anxiety for these professionals, and their anxiety fuels diagnoses and treatments.

Do we really want to diagnose and medicate everyone with “deficits in rule-governed behavior”?

So authoritarians financially marginalize those who buck the system, they criminalize anti-authoritarianism, they psychopathologize anti-authoritarians, and they market drugs for their “cure.”

Source: Why Anti-Authoritarians are Diagnosed as Mentally Ill

Author and clinical psychologist Bruce Levine sits down with Open Paradigm to discuss society’s relationship to drugs, psychiatry’s increasing credibility issue, and the cultural response to incidents of mass violence.

With > Over

For thousands of years, we’ve built our culture to teach people to not only tolerate a powerful overlord, but in a vacuum, to seek one out. We build school around the idea of powerful teachers, coaches and authority figures telling us what to do. We go to the placement office to seek a job, instead of starting our own thing, because we’ve been taught that this is the way it works, it’s reliable, it’s safer.

And so we’re pushed to begin with under, not with.

The connection economy begins to undermine this dynamic. But it’s frightening. It’s frightening to have your own media channel, your own platform, your own ability to craft a community and 1,000 true fans. So instead, we seek out someone to tell us what to do, to trade this for that.

I think it’s becoming clear that power doesn’t scale like it used to. Too many unders and not enough withs.

But, each of us can change our perspective, as soon as we’re ready.

Find your with.

Source: Seth’s Blog: Over/with

Side Effects in Education

Educational research has typically focused exclusively on the benefits, intended effects of products, programs, policies, and practices, as if there were no adverse side effects. But side effects exist the same way in education as in medicine. For many reasons, studying and reporting side effects simultaneously as has been mandated for medical products is not common in education.

In this article just published in the Journal of Educational Change, I discuss why education must learn the important lesson of studying and reporting side effects from medical research. Side effects in education occur for a number of reasons.

First, time is a constant. When you spend time on one task, you cannot spend the same amount on another. When a child is given extra instruction in reading, he/she cannot spend the same time on arts or music. When a school focuses only on two or three subjects, its students would not have the time to learn something else. When a school system only focuses on a few subjects such as reading and math, students won’t have time to do other and perhaps more important things.

Second, recourses are limited. When it is put into one activity, it cannot be spent on other. When school resources are devoted to the common core, other subjects become peripheral. When schools are forced to only focus on raising test scores, activities that may promote students’ long-term growth are sidelined.

Third, some educational outcomes are inherently contradictory. It is difficult for an educational system that wishes to cultivate a homogenous workforce to also expect a diverse population of individuals who are creative and entrepreneurial. Research has also shown that test scores and knowledge acquisition can come at the expense of curiosity and confidence.

Fourth, the same products may work differently for different individuals, in different contexts. Some people are allergic to penicillin. Some drugs have negative consequences when taken with alcohol. Likewise, some practices, such as direct instruction may work better for knowledge transmission, but not for long term exploration. Charter schools may favor those who have a choice (can make a choice) at the costs of those who are not able to take advantage of it.

Source: Education in the Age of Globalization » Blog Archive » What Works Can Hurt: Side Effects in Education

Canned Emotional Skills and School Pride

These programs often include conformist type activities to promote school pride. Gifted kids often struggle with authoritarianism and can have behavioral issues due to mis-fitting educational experiences. If they feel teachers or the system isn’t understanding or working with their needs, they are going to struggle with school pride.

Source: Danger in a Can: Why Canned Social-Emotional Skill Programs in Schools Can Harm Gifted Students More Than Help Them – SENG

2 thoughts on “The Effects of Authority, Compliance, and Pathologizing Students

  1. Omg what an amazing post!! I think along the exact same lines, my friend, which is extremely rare for me to say. I came to form the same impression of educational institutions, much like the video for Pink Floyd “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2”, where something akin to a demonic Play-Doh Fun Factory churns out kids who are carbon-copies of each other, of a “socially acceptable” prototype. Intellectual mediocrity and automatic compliance have become the ruling class, and the rest of us are “graded” on how well we conform to their bleak landscape.
    Awesome piece, my friend–brilliant all the way around 👏🏼👏🏼
    Cheers,
    ~The Silent Wave Blog and Who Loves Kitty blog writer/Laina 🌟🌟

    Liked by 1 person

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