Forced Smiling, Psychopathologizing Hopelessness, and George Carlin

In “The Effects of Authority, Compliance, and Pathologizing Students”, I quoted psychologist Bruce Levine’s piece on “Why Anti-Authoritarians are Diagnosed as Mentally Ill” noting how his thoughts on authority and compliance align with social model self-advocacy.

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.

Source: The Effects of Authority, Compliance, and Pathologizing Students

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.”

Source: Why Anti-Authoritarians are Diagnosed as Mentally Ill

His recent piece, “Hopeless But Not Broken: From George Carlin to Adderall Protest Music”, further explores authority and how we pathologize and suppress critical thinkers. This paragraph particularly struck me:

Witnessing a mental health profession that is fast on its way to achieving complete ignorance about the nature of human beings would simply have validated Carlin’s general hopelessness.

Students and families who’ve slogged through the deficit and medical models, SpEd, and their collective penchant for behaviorism, compliance, and authority can relate to this sentiment. We leave so many minds out. We have forgotten so much about children, learning, and the nature of human beings that hopelessness is a valid feeling.

Collecting data on human learning based on children’s behavior in school is like collecting data on killer whales based on their behavior at Sea World.

People all over the world know these things about children and learning, and interestingly, they are as workable for learning how to design software or conduct a scientific experiment or write an elegant essay as they are for learning to hunt caribou or identify medicinal plants in a rainforest.

But we don’t know them any more.

Source: A Thousand Rivers – Carol Black

We have a medical community that’s found a sickness for every single human difference. DSM keeps growing every single year with new ways to be defective, with new ways to be lessened.

Source: The Gift: LD/ADHD Reframed

Going around social media right now is a story about a school forcing students to smile.

Students who do not smile in the hallways between periods will be instructed to, and if they refuse, they will be sent to the guidance counselor’s office to talk through their problems, reported Lebanon Daily News. Meanwhile, parents claim that reports of bullying in the district are mostly ignored by administrators.

Source: Students Not Smiling At School Will Be Punished, Say Teachers

This policy is sexist and ableist, among other problems, and ties in with Levine’s thoughts on authority and hopelessness. The students aren’t the problem; it’s the authoritarians who refuse to analyze systemic causes and get structural. Forced smiling pathologizes a hopelessness that is perfectly understandable and reasonable given the structural isms of school and society. Forced smiles don’t address poverty or principals who are sexist, authoritarian assholes. Forced smiles are just more mindset marketing bandages slapped over suppurating structural injury.

Not smiling in the face of reckless and illegitimate authority doesn’t mean you are mentally ill or broken. It’s the authoritarians and those who comply who are broken. Hopelessness is legitimate. Gaslit smiles are not. Forced smiling and the psychopathologization of hopelessness are deeply authoritarian attempts to overwrite another person’s reality.

Carlin was a far better therapist for critical thinkers than are the vast majority of my mental health professional colleagues. Shaming hopelessness as some kind of character flaw or, worse, psychopathologizing it as a symptom of mental illness only adds insult to injury. Hope missionaries ignore the reality that pathologizing hopelessness does not make critical thinkers more hopeful, only more annoyed.

I know many mental health professionals who espouse hope but who are broken and compliant with any and all authorities. In contrast, I know anti-authoritarians who, like Carlin, express hopelessness but who are unbroken and resist illegitimate authorities. Carlin modeled a self-confident rebellion against authoritarianism and bullshit, and he provided the kind of humor that energizes resistance.

I don’t know the exact moment when I became hopeless about my mental health profession, but my experience has been that one can be embarrassed by one’s profession for only so long before that embarrassment turns into hopelessness.

The symptoms of ODD include often argues with adults and often refuses to comply with authorities’ requests or rules. At that time, I was in graduate school for clinical psychology and already somewhat embarrassed by the pseudoscientific disease inventions of my future profession; and throwing rebellious young people under the diagnostic bus with this new ODD label exacerbated my embarrassment.

My embarrassment transformed into hopelessness as it became routine to prescribe tranquilizing antipsychotic drugs to ODD kids; to diagnose kids with mental disorders merely for blowing off school while their entire family was falling apart; and to prescribe Ritalin, Vyvanse, Adderall, and other amphetamines to six-year-olds who had become inattentive as their parents were engaged in a nasty divorce.

Achieving hopelessness about my profession had great benefits. It liberated me from wasting my time with authoritarian mental health professionals in efforts at reform; and it energized me to care solely about anti-authoritarians who already had their doubts about my profession and sought validation from someone within it. Embracing my hopelessness about my profession made me whole and revitalized me.

Witnessing a mental health profession that is fast on its way to achieving complete ignorance about the nature of human beings would simply have validated Carlin’s general hopelessness.

Source: Hopeless But Not Broken: From George Carlin to Adderall Protest Music

Obsession and the Art of Teaching

There’s lots of good stuff in this podcast with Gary Stager on The Lost Art of Teaching, but I’m particularly glad to see educators talking about and centering obsession. Embrace obsession. Autistic Special Interest and ADHD Hyperfocus crush learning curves when allowed to pursue passion.

Less coercion, more obsession.

Selected quotes:

A teacher’s role, then, should be to create the conditions for obsession to happen.

Gary believes that deep, meaningful learning is often accompanied by obsession, and his focus is on answering the question: How can we create experiences and context in classrooms where kids can discover things they don’t know they love? This is done by implementing good projects that spur creativity, ownership, and relevance.

Through his professional learning conference Constructing Modern Knowledge (CMK), Gary has teachers put on their “learner hats” and learn how to create obsession, since, he says, very few of us have experienced what greatness looks like.

Around the time of Nation at Risk, legislatures all over the world removed the art of teaching from teacher preparation and all they left was curriculum delivery and animal control.

Knowledge is a consequence of experience.

The instruction might not be necessary at all. A good project can replace a great deal of reckless instruction.

Curriculum is so arbitrary and so arrogant.

When it comes to a skill like computer programming, the kids never develop enough fluency to be able to use it to solve real problems.

Curriculum is the most dangerous idea in education.

As we remove agency from teachers, they become less thoughtful in their practice.

The best projects are generative.

Not enough adults have experience with what greatness looks like, feels like, tastes like, sounds like.

Great artists reflect the milieu in which they live.

You can’t possibly be 21st century learners if you haven’t learned anything this century.

I never worry about classroom management because I never go into a classroom feeling like I have to manage it.

Much of the PD we see expects nothing of teachers.

Apparently, everyone needs a good seventh grade social studies teacher.

A great 80 year old pianist said: Nothing needs to be taught, only experienced.

There are folks in every walk of life who understand Piaget. You Go to Latin America or you go to Reggio Emilia and they say, “We get John Dewey better than you get John Dewey.” People who are living these ideas of learning by doing, of valuing expertise, of understanding the importance of an aesthetic…

Source: ML Podcast #42 – The Lost Art of Teaching with Gary Stager – Modern Learners

Embrace the obsession. Special interests are “intimately tied to the well-being of people on the spectrum“. “Special interests have a positive impact on autistic adults and are associated with higher subjective well-being and satisfaction across specific life domains including social contact and leisure.

Source: I’m Autistic. Here’s what I’d like you to know.

Social Support, Well-being, and Quality of Life Among Autistic People

Great piece from the American Academy of Pediatrics on how inclusion, acceptance, agency, self-advocacy, and responsive parenting/teaching support adaptive functioning, language acquisition, subjective well-being, and transition to adulthood. The findings align nicely with social model self-advocacy.

Selected passages:

I challenge the validity and utility of functioning labels for autism and the interpretation of the “autism spectrum” as a linear continuum. Social support may mediate functioning, because individuals with initially lower skills may experience more benefits from enriched social environments, such as parental input for language growth and cognitive development from inclusive educational settings. Furthermore, subtler manifestations of autism increase individuals’ risk of active peer rejection, loss of formal supports as they transition into adulthood, and distress. Thus, in this review, I provide support for the notion of autism as a cloudy constellation of uneven skills and high within-person variability, with performance contingent on the quality of social experiences and support well-suited for individual abilities or potential and needs.

Self-advocates have organized the neurodiversity movement to reclaim autism as a part of identity (eg, using identity-first language such as “autistic person,” as in the case of the author, rather than person-first language such as “person with autism”) and support civil rights. We argue that social environments contribute substantially to disability and seek quality of life, defined in terms of “objective” factors of adaptive functioning, such as independent living and employment, as well as in terms of subjective well-being, which requires self-determination to play as active a role as possible in making decisions to have the experiences one wants. Yet we argue against normalization and “cure,” in part because many autistic traits can function in neutral or positive ways, although other people may misunderstand or stigmatize atypical behaviors. Indeed, the following narrative review developed from empirical evidence replicated by independent research teams argues against a linear relationship between autism symptoms and impaired functioning, across developmental periods and in multiple domains of both “objective” quality of life and in subjective well-being. In the following syntheses, I suggest that effective social support and subjective well-being mediate whether autistic people achieve a high quality of life.

Responsive parenting (eg, parenting that follows children’s focus of attention and labels objects of interest while allowing the child to take the lead) contributes to young autistic children’s language development, particularly among those who need it most: those with lower levels of expression. Although the same principle applies in typical development, responsive caregiving and input may especially benefit language learning for autistic children, particularly for those who have more difficulty responding to others’ attention. Parents’ strategies to synchronize their behavior in response to their autistic child’s, such as matching his or her pace, may drive language gains from joint parent-child engagement through encouraging the child to initiate interactions, which may especially benefit the children who have the most difficulty producing their own goal-directed actions in reaction to others’ movements. This aligns well with the advice of autism rights movement founder Sinclair, in a foundational essay primarily for parents, to “let your child teach you a little of her language, guide you a little way into his world” as a means of helping the child adapt to the dominant culture and for the well-being of the family.

Instead, higher autism severity, as assessed by the parents’ questionnaire-based report, sometimes inversely relates to their acceptance of their child’s autism, which suggests that subjective perception rather than empirically demonstrated factors may drive acceptance. An increase in autism symptoms over time also relates to more parental acceptance of a child’s autism, likely because of a lowered perception of the possibility for the child to outgrow his or her challenges.

Early intervention delivered in inclusive as opposed to segregated preschool settings predicts higher IQ in elementary school, particularly for those with initially greater social and adaptive behavior impairments. In addition, higher levels of educational inclusion relate to better functioning for autistic adolescents and adults, beyond the effects of demographic and individual characteristics. Furthermore, autistic adolescents with intellectual disability had better academic performance in inclusive versus segregated classrooms, likely in significant part because they received more structured instruction time and their educational plan had greater focus on applied skill development (as contrasted with rote procedural goals). These benefits of inclusion appear driven in part by higher expectations based in confident understanding of needs, more naturalistic and responsive teaching methods as opposed to behavioral management, and access to typically developing peers.

An autism-typical pattern of poor adaptive functioning relative to IQ tends to rise with greater age and IQ, and autistic young adults as a group tend to have lower employment rates than their peers with intellectual disabilities.

Source: Social Support, Well-being, and Quality of Life Among Individuals on the Autism Spectrum | SUPPLEMENT ARTICLES | Pediatrics