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Mental health trumps individual accountability

By Nancy Salvato
web posted December 13, 2004

Large numbers of teachers believe themselves incapable of meeting the learning expectations placed on their institutions by the No Child Left Behind Act. Like the characters in Atlas Shrugged, they find themselves having to deal with problems they did not create within the constraints of a system designed to fail. In order to remain in their chosen profession, those caught in the middle must place blame elsewhere in order to find an "out." Those who refuse to "work within the system" disappear. Mediocrity rises to the top and excellence disappears.

Public education has cried "wolf" one too many times, claiming that lack of money is what is wrong with our schools. The public is not voting for tax increases. School districts have had to resort to other means to assure that their increased public funding habit is met. Lawsuits have been filed against state governments for not providing the financial means necessary for an optimal education. "Activist Judges" who use rule based on research generated by the very mouths this research is designed to feed, have ordered governors and legislators to come up with more funding.

Educational Mandatory mental health testing not only provides an "out" for academic failure by providing labels that excuse individual actions; it generates more funding to provide special services for those labeled with deficiencies. The New Freedom Commission on Mental Health (NFCMH) represents a massive victory for those activists and lobbyists who champion the cause of pharmaceutical companies who produce medication for those deemed "mentally ill and unable to function in ‘normal' capacity." It is a blow against those fighting to preserve the rights of individual liberties guaranteed under the US Constitution. With individual liberty comes individual responsibility, but that is not expected of someone excused from the standards that apply to everyone else.

The NFCMH has made it easier to justify irresponsible behavior such as impulsiveness and other unrefined character bi-products of the "me first" and permissiveness era, heralded in by Dr. Spock. Today's children are granted adult rights while retaining minor status, for example; having an abortion without parental consent and being guaranteed their right to privacy in other areas, as well. Judicial activism selectively emancipates minors. Those who behave irresponsibly while accepting no responsibility can site a variety of mental disorders as their "modus operandi" and dismiss the consequences of their actions!

Just look at the liberals who can't get over Bush's reelection. They're not bad sports. They have Post Election Selection Trauma as a result of losing the election. Their inappropriateness is justifiable given that they cannot help themselves. The therapists are making beaucoup bucks helping them adjust to reality and these blowhards don't have to be responsible for their disregard for civility.

Rather than address the real problem which is inadequate teaching and classroom management stemming from poor pedagogy, children can be labeled with a mental disorder that excuses their academic performance and behavior. Public education, seemingly forced to account for their performance, has been dealt the ultimate trump card. The Orwellian conclusion to legislating away accountability is that whether or not a child performs is no longer up for discussion. What matters ultimately, is the excuse given for not meeting expectations. A label changes everything.

But labels can be quite damaging for those assigned a disorder. Imagine patient McMurphy talking to Nurse Ratchett in the story, One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest. The 2002 Patient Confidentiality Law does not even give an individual the right to see his/her own medical records. Being labeled as a mental case certainly compromises a person's credibility and in the worst case, can get a person committed. McMurphy gets a lobotomy in the end.

Who decides what is in the range of normal?

There are 374 Diseases listed in DSM IV, including, "Math Disorder," "Shopping Disorder," and "Disorder of Written Expression." Psychiatry doesn't require "the identification of physical symptoms to diagnose a disease." The medicines used to treat these alleged problems have been scientifically proven ineffective, but they are associated with some horrible side effects such as violent behavior or psychosis. This could explain some of the school violence in the form of shootings over the last 10 years. It's hard to imagine that there is no proven, "genetic/biologic cause of any single mental illness, but no tests have conclusively proven chemical imbalance because there is no identifiable chemical balance.

Programs such as, "Title One of the Federal Code", "Children With Disabilities Act" and the "Supplemental Security Income" provide, schools additional funding for each child diagnosed with a "disorder," giving schools "an incentive to identify more kids with "special education" needs.

Behavior disordered children who aren't expected to achieve and do not adopt a moral code are perceived as victims of their upbringing. But in the long run, misbehavior and disrespect for authority in the classrooms translates to crime in the streets. How many parents are afraid to spank a child for fear of being cited for "child abuse?" "Tolerating" a child's excessive behavior is seen as a positive parental trait. Educators, not students, are supposed to adapt to any given situation. Given these circumstances, everyone in the whole village is needed to take responsibility for the child except for the family.

Judicial Activism, bad pedagogy, and labels all erode the individual rights and responsibility necessary to maintain our system of government. We are sacrificing the freedom to pursue life, liberty, and happiness by shirking our responsibilities and giving the decision making power to the government and not the people. One must play the cards that are dealt and make the best of a given situation. Excuses do not keep the trains running.

Nancy Salvato is a Research Associate with Americans for Limited Government. She is an experienced educator and an independent contractor with Prism Educational Consulting. She serves as Educational Liaison for Illinois' 23rd Senatorial District. She works nationally and locally furthering the cause of Civic Education. Her writing is widely published on the internet and occasionally in print venues such as the Washington Times. Her opinions have been heard on select radio programs across the nation. Additionally, her writing has been recognized by the US Secretary of Education. Copyright © Nancy Salvato 2004

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