One of my favorite rock songs of all time (“Hello, I’m John, and I’m a rock ‘n’ roll addict”) is “For What It’s Worth,” written by Stephen Stills and originally recorded by Buffalo Springfield. It begins, “There’s something happening here; what it is ain’t exactly clear….”
That lyric occurred to me as I contemplated the ever-increasing number of stories I am hearing of young children with clothing and food “issues.” Specifically, these kids complain that their clothing itches or feels tight or their food tastes or feels “funny.” Reports of hysteria and throwing up are common.
These complaints and over-the-top behaviors often result in a diagnosis of Sensory Integration Disorder, concerning which there is zero hard evidence verifying the pseudo-scientific claims being made by diagnosing professionals. When they say things like “your child’s brain has difficulty receiving and processing sensory information,” and “your child experiences things like taste and texture differently than does a normal child,” they are throwing darts blindfolded. These claims are unprovable, to say the least.
I don’t particularly relish the taste of some foods but will eat them without complaint if someone else prepares and serves them to me. Does this mean there’s a problem with the wiring in a certain part of my brain? No, it means I am considerate. When it comes to consuming certain foods, the setting, not my tongue, dictates whether I eat them or not. When making those decisions, I take other people’s feelings into consideration. (And by the way, a couple of my sweaters have itchy collars. I pull them on and force my mis-wired brain to get over it.)
Young children are by nature self-centered, meaning they rarely if ever take other people’s feelings into consideration. To a young child, nearly everything is all about The One and Only Almighty Moi. Furthermore, children are soap-opera factories. It is an act of love for one’s neighbors for parents to teach children that their feelings do not rule other people’s behavior (beginning with theirs).
But many if not most of today’s parents are not impressing that understanding on their children. Instead, they regard their children’s feelings as valid, meaningful expressions of inner psychological states that they must strive to understand and affirm. In their view, failing to do so may bring on a psychological apocalypse.
Ironically, because they try to understand and affirm what is essentially irrational – their children’s self-centered and hyperactive emotional expressions – said well-intentioned parents wind up bringing on one psychological apocalypse after another. (For the record, a child’s emotional expressions are not all irrational…only most.)
Because of mental-health propaganda, today’s parents take this stuff seriously. And so, instead of saying, at the first complaint of itchy clothes or “funny-tasting” food, “You’re going to wear/eat it anyway, end of discussion,” today’s parents begin jumping around like manic marionettes trying to make life perfect for their little darlings. This is, after all, what good parenting is all about in the new millennium.
The following is axiomatic: When parents assign credence to every emotion a child puts out there, he will quickly develop what I call Affective Basket-Case Disorder. He learns, after all, that if he acts like he is having an ABCD episode, his parents will change their behavior and revise their expectations.
Under the circumstances, the child suffers because people who are driven by emotion are not happy people. His parents also suffer because living with a person with ABCD – no matter the person’s age – is highly stressful. Invariably, the child’s parents begin acting like emotional basket-cases, about which they feel significant guilt, thus further overloading their already-overloaded emotional baskets.
Yep, there’s something happening here all right, but I happen to think it’s perfectly clear. Fifty or so years ago, the mental health community persuaded parents that children had a right to express their (mostly irrational) feelings freely. It’s been an increasingly chaotic downhill ride ever since.
Public Schools in Decline Thanks to Discipline Fads
For the record, I believe in the concept of public (aka, taxpayer-funded, government, “free”) schools. I attended public schools and obtained an excellent education that challenged my intellect and imparted a broad understanding of the world and my place in it. I am forever grateful to my teachers. Some were more likeable than others, but they were all dedicated to their craft and mission.
I began having misgivings concerning public education during my kids’ school years. The schools they attended were less than challenging and often driven, it seemed, by educational fad (e.g., outcome-based education, open classrooms, new math). In addition, parents and teachers – the latter, mostly – were beginning to tell me stories of classroom discipline debacles of a sort that I never saw or even heard of when I was a student. Since then – over the past forty years, that is – the discipline problems teachers are expected to deal with have only gotten worse, by much.
The further problem is that over that same time, teachers have been slowly but surely stripped of permission to punish. According to educational and psychological ideologues, punishment is demeaning, lowers self-esteem, leads invariably to resentment, and other things it is and does not. Research done by social scientists who possess an abundance of objectivity – increasingly hard to find – contradicts all the politically-correct propaganda pertaining to punishment.
In a nutshell, the best research finds that mild-to-moderate punishment works far better than any alternative (rewarding, ignoring, talking) at correcting misbehavior; that the most obedient kids are also the happiest; and that the highest student achievement is associated with teachers who employ moderate criticism and create teacher-centric classrooms.
Characteristic of an ideology-driven institution is a blind eye to facts that do not affirm the ideology in question. Concerning America’s public education system, that description seems to fit. Consider the following statement from a teacher, who echoes the complaint of nearly every public-school teacher to whom I’ve spoken of late:
“We are told we need to ‘understand their behavior’ and use ‘restorative justice’ to help a student through a bad behavior episode....NO consequence should be given for the behavior because it is a ‘teaching moment.’ How do we get the education system to realize that coddling kids is not the answer?”
First, the attempt to “understand” the circumstances and motives surrounding a child’s misbehavior is a form of enabling in which an adult helps a child construct a justification of one sort or another for an offense. The assignment of blame must be avoided at all cost because, theoretically, the perpetrator is as much a victim as the actual victim. He’s wrestling with “issues,” supposedly. Restorative justice – offender-victim reconciliation – is the logical outgrowth of that counter-productive process. Mind you, restorative justice is the default approach even when the victim is a teacher. In the Brave New World of the American public school, teachers and students are equals and students rate their teachers based largely on how well they succeed at being liked.
Eventually, ideologies run out of new ideas and begin recycling old ones under new nomenclature, and so it is with this supposedly cutting-edge approach to school discipline: it is nothing more than a new spin on the “I’m okay, you’re okay” silliness that took America by storm in the late 1960s. Combine restorative justice with academic relativism – there being several equally correct ways to spell “alphabet,” for example (red ink lowers self-esteem, doncha know?) – and the inevitable result is ever-increasing classroom (and intellectual) anarchy.
This explains why so many people who were once very good teachers are now working in the private sector, where the meritocracy and common sense continue to prevail, albeit hanging on for dear life.