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September 24, 2014

On Grading, A Sensible Compromise

For many moons, the Editorial Staff have labored mightily to point out the many and diverse bad arguments put forward by the WARONBOYS!@!!ELEVENTY!!! crowd. First, there was the "But.... but... we musn't expect boys to work hard in school because it's so.... BORING!" meme:

Note to parents: the world, whether it manifests itself as a prospective employer, a boss, a professor, or a spouse, is under no obligation to rearrange itself to keep your child amused and entertained.

Our own job contains many tedious and even unpleasant tasks, and the notion that one needn't complete assignments unless they are designed to be personally fascinating (or worse, that we need only do things we "see the point of") is about as good a recipe for a lifetime of chronic unemployment and failure as we can imagine.

Adults are - or ought to be - capable of drawing the line between spineless obedience and entitled narcissism. What gets most of us to the point where we're able to make such choices wisely is a lot of experience (much of which involves having our own stupidity and lack of foresight pointed out to us by older and wiser humans).

Children, on the otter heiny, rarely have the wisdom or experience to see the point of most things adults ask them to do. If they did, kids would be running the world and adults would be going to their 10 year olds for pocket money.

As bad arguments go, this one is particularly destructive. It's right up there with the equally preposterous notion - sadly prevalent when we were just a rosy-cheeked little Editorial Staff - that girls won't read unless they are fed a special diet of Things Girls Like to Read. It must be nice to live in a fantasy world where people seriously believe the world exists to make them feel important and valued, employers will cater to their every whim, and workers will only have to perform tasks that amuse and entertain them.

Then there was the chorus of folks who clamored that boys were doing worse in school over time. This is true only if you magically change the definition of "worse" to make improvements over time look like something bad:

1. More young men (both in absolute numbers, and as a proportion of all men) going to college than before.
2. Half as many boys dropping out of high school.
3. Boys/men are getting better grades than they used to.
4. Math SAT scores for boys have risen over time.

The debate got so silly that people were seriously suggesting that boys - apparently because "fairness" demands that we lower expectations for anyone carrying a Y chromosome - should not be expected to show up for exams or meet deadlines because they are special snowflakes whose every whim must be catered to by the educational establishment:

The solution:
Woodward supports the contention that grades should not be based on behavior unrelated to learning and knowledge.

Grades should not be based upon attendance, punctuality, or behavior in class.

Grades should not be used to reward or to punish students. The purpose of the grade is to represent what students have learned.

Homework completion should not be a part of the grade. For many reasons homework completion is not an indicator of what was learned.

Based on this seminal (pun fully intended) research, the Editorial Staff have decided to eliminate all deadlines from the workplace... but only for male co-workers, who cannot be expected to follow rules, complete assignments on time, or - apparently - even be at work during normal working hours. The poor dears - one must make allowances...

All of these arguments had previously been put forward by feminists looking to redress gender-related disparities in educational outcomes. They were bad arguments then, and they're still bad arguments when the opposing side uses them. We on the right should know, having dismissed them as worthless just a few years ago.

So imagine our delight to see (finally!) a sensible suggestion that (we think) would help both boys and girls become better students and more well rounded adults:

Teachers realized that a sizable chunk of kids who aced tests trundled along each year getting C’s, D’s, and F’s. At the same time, about 10 percent of the students who consistently obtained A’s and B’s did poorly on important tests. Grading policies were revamped and school officials smartly decided to furnish kids with two separate grades each semester. One grade was given for good work habits and citizenship, which they called a “life skills grade.” A “knowledge grade” was given based on average scores across important tests. Tests could be retaken at any point in the semester, provided a student was up to date on homework.

Here's why the Editorial Staff like this suggestion.

The purpose of grading is to provide information about a student's level of performance, subject matter mastery, and preparedness to move to the next level. Having tutored college algebra, stats, and calculus in college, we often saw students who had passed tests at the previous level - but who had not mastered the material, nor the skills needed for more advanced math - fail Calculus. As a wee lass (and up until her 30s) the Editorial Staff were - in matters academic, at least - far more like a boy than a girl. Put simply, we aced tests (often getting the highest grade in the class on exams) and were terrible about doing homework or turning in what we considered to be "boring" or "pointless" assignments.

A student like that may have memorized the material, but he or she has serious deficits in the skills study after study has found are crucial to long term success:

What Drs. Seligman and Duckworth label “self-discipline,” other researchers name “conscientiousness.” Or, a predisposition to plan ahead, set goals, and persist in the face of frustrations and setbacks. Conscientiousness is uniformly considered by social scientists to be an inborn personality trait that is not evenly distributed across all humans. In fact, a host of cross-cultural studies show that females tend to be more conscientious than males. One such study by Lindsay Reddington out of Columbia University even found that female college students are far more likely than males to jot down detailed notes in class, transcribe what professors say more accurately, and remember lecture content better. Arguably, boys’ less developed conscientiousness leaves them at a disadvantage in school settings where grades heavily weight good organizational skills alongside demonstrations of acquired knowledge.

The thing is, conscientiousness can be taught. That may well be the primary task for parents and teachers: passing a test is like having a fish. Mastering the skills needed to succeed across the board is more like knowing how to fish. Guess which one is more predictive of life success?

Having raised two sons to adulthood, the Editorial Staff are pretty sure that lowering expectations for boys (and worse, failing to teach them self-discipline and self-control) is not the answer. The military knows this - that's why the armed forces consistently turn around lives and produce so many successful men and women:

When video of Adm. William H. McRaven's 2014 commencement address at the University of Texas at Austin was posted online, the speech went viral. Millions of viewers will remember the core message summed up in his memorable line: "If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed."

The Navy SEAL veteran recalled that "if you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can't do the little things right, you will never do the big things right. And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made—that you made—and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better."

Attention to detail counts, and conscientiousness - widely poo-poohed by conservatives when doing so supports the WARONBOYS message, but lauded by them when it comes in handy for explaining disparate outcomes in other areas of life - is a trump card, beside which most other traits pale in comparison.

The real world demands that adults pay attention to their surroundings, pay their bills on time, perform boring tasks well and thoroughly. A grading system that allows students to take credit for skills they've mastered (taking tests, completing assignments on time, or hopefully both) is more accurate and informative than one that makes it impossible for employers or colleges to correctly assess a student's strengths or weaknesses.

We've often thought that most girls may need coaching to test up to their potential and most boys probably need help with following directions and completing tasks on time. Wouldn't it make sense for grades to explicitly track performance in both areas?

Discuss amongst your ownselves, haters.


Posted by Cassandra at September 24, 2014 07:59 AM

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Sorry ADM McRaven, I'm still not gonna make my bed in the morning. I saw the point of it in the Army, but now? No thanks. Plus, my wife's normally asleep when I leave in the morning, it might make her grumpy if I made the bed while she was still sleeping in it.

Posted by: MikeD at September 24, 2014 10:21 AM

FWIW, I don't always make my bed in the morning either :p

I took that to be a metaphor for "take care of the small things, and the big things will follow", and I think that's generally true, though.

The older I get, the more I see the value of habits and routines I "routinely" dismissed as silly when younger. I may not conform to someone else's scheme on which little things matter, but I do think a general mindset of paying attention to details and having some sort of routine is useful.

On exercise, for instance, it's habit that makes people exercise regularly. If exercising is a decision you make every day, the vast majority of folks procrastinate.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 24, 2014 10:41 AM

It appears to me your perspective may be too much... what... l’ecole en rosa?

pretty sure that lowering expectations for boys (and worse, failing to teach them self-discipline and self-control) is not the answer. The military knows this...

In this particular, if it isn’t the answer it is, nevertheless, the modus operandi. In defense of your position you offer personal experiences; allow me the same.

When in the charge of nuns, obstreperous boys, the likes of me, for whom adrenalin had become a drug of choice, were not, in turn, drugged with Ritalin. The Sisters, with whom I had numerous contentions, behavioral and scholastic, had deciphered the Rosetta Stone of maledom – they hadn’t learned it in Teacher’s College or a DOE manual. To such boisterous boys as myself – and ethnic Catholic schools were rife with the type – was given responsibility. We’d be recruited, and sometimes our services volunteered for us, as altar boys, patrol boys (crossing guards), to police the grounds, to tutor the slower and younger (after school). I had served in each capacity at one time or other. We were given responsibilities. It was a great beginning. What is done with such boys now, caught in the maw of the public school, the politicized school board, the treacherous DOE? Ritalin is not the answer, nor is lowering expectations, nor is the war on boys...

...which I believe to be extant. When it comes to the matter of data - that demonstrate grades, achievement, advancment - what of it? Two points: one, the data - the grades, achievements and advancments - should be of no interest to we few who had been educated and remember fondly having learned something of our past, of our place, our possibilities. The regnant theories of the educrats that have proliferated over the past fifty years are now unified in Common Core. I take it as felony abuse of children – as I do the use of Ritalin (for which data seems scarce, as though there was something to hide).

Two, it seems to me highly unlikely that a progressive education, pushing every Liberal/Left trope, neglects Feminism in the inculcation process – and Feminism is a war on men/boys. The educational establishment has, as its sole purpose, the making of nothing more than Dewey eyed clerks of tomorrow. In the process, the girls are shortchanged; the boys, the males, disagreeable by their very nature, are denatured.

Posted by: George Pal at September 24, 2014 11:53 AM

George, anyone who begins an argument with "we don't need no stinkin' data" isn't starting from a position of strength.

I take it as felony abuse of children – as I do the use of Ritalin (for which data seems scarce, as though there was something to hide).

And yet you seem to think it's a significant problem. The percentage of ALL school-aged boys who have been on ANY medication for at least three months.... for ANY reason! is...

drum roll...

15%.

Now keep in mind that this includes conditions like asthma, diabetes, allergies, depression... and ADHD.

So it seems highly unlikely that ADHD drugs explain much of anything on a large scale.

Secondly, you can continue to contrast private school with public school, but they're different animals. I know, because I paid for private school for my boys. It's great that you got to go to Catholic school, but blaming public schools for not being like private schools (or pretending that most boys went to private schools in the past) doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

Yes, it would be just lovely if all kids got to go to private or Catholic schools, but they don't and never have. Your "past" isn't typical, and feminism isn't to blame for that :p

Posted by: Cassandra at September 24, 2014 12:49 PM

What's the ideal form of this compromise, do you think? Do we pass people for academics or citizenship, or only the combination of both, or only one or the other? My sense is right now we sort of pass for either -- tests are weighted highly enough that you can blow off the homework and still get by (which is what I did in grade school), or if you can't do that, you can float your test scores a bit by working harder on the other stuff.

I was very much a high academics, low conscientiousness student in grade school. Turns out I'm very good at conscientiousness once I'm making the decisions about what my duty entails, and very bad at it when it's been assigned to me from on high without anyone consulting me.

It may be that the best form is higher standards, period. It'd have been better for me if I'd been challenged enough that I couldn't pass without the homework, because the work was hard enough that I needed the practice to master the material. That's what life is really like.

But then you have to accept that a lot of students will fail, and fall out without a high school degree. If you won't let them fail, you're really finding a way to let them float -- which is what I think we mostly do now.

Posted by: Grim at September 24, 2014 01:54 PM

It may be that the best form is higher standards, period. It'd have been better for me if I'd been challenged enough that I couldn't pass without the homework, because the work was hard enough that I needed the practice to master the material. That's what life is really like.

I think that I agree with you, Grim :p [brace yourself] When I was in a gifted program, I *did* have to do more of the homework to pass, and that was a very good thing for my character. Same was true in college.

There are two advantages to making the breakout explicit:

1. You can tell how much of the grade was test scores and/or major papers (which are like exams in a literature course) and how much was other stuff. I don't know if it would make more sense to have overall GPA split out this way (4.0 tests/papers / 2.5 life skills stuff)? That way, a teacher can't make life skills 90% of the grade for particular class and 10% in another.

I think a split grade would be better for college admissions too. Kids with high test scores but low study skills have very high college dropout rates.

2. You get a better sense of what the student's capabilities are across the board.

For instance, I expect employees to master work-related knowledge, but if they do that and can't handle routine assignments too, they're worthless to me. I'd actually prefer a less smart/more diligent employee who I knew would try hard, because people like that can be used on more tasks.

When I stop to think how important the ability to pass a test is at work, I have to say, "Not very". The ability to persevere until you master something, though, is priceless.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 24, 2014 02:10 PM

Cass,

I am not unsusceptible to data but it must be relevant to the assertion. That diminished academic knowledge - you know, the three Rs, History, Geography, Science, - should be elevated to University participation and certification does not impress me.

And yet you seem to think it's [Ritalin’s] a significant problem.

I am not the lone gunman. And though the percentage is small the numbers are great and the crime – administering psychotropic drugs is criminal negligence at best, treacherous at worst.

Private and public schools were not the black and white of my contrast – past and present were. Presently, even private, even Catholic, schools and universities are more than a little suspect.

Feminism is certainly not to be blamed for my past no longer being typical but it is among the co-conspirators for the typicality of the present – whole broadcloth, warp and woof.

Posted by: George Pal at September 24, 2014 03:01 PM

There's still the possibility that conscientiousness tends to develop later in boys -- I think that's a conclusion well supported by what I've read. The military does wonders in part by developing it, but in part it develops it so well because it gets the boys a year or so after the schools are done with them.

Maybe if we broke it out we'd see that in a data form. It could be that it would make sense to return to educating boys and girls in separate institutions, as we used to do, because their developmental patterns are not similar enough to justify a unified approach. (To say nothing of trying to get them to focus on algebra at 14 with a flowering example of the opposite sex before them and another behind, and one to the left and one to the right.)

Posted by: Grim at September 24, 2014 03:29 PM

There's still the possibility that conscientiousness tends to develop later in boys -- I think that's a conclusion well supported by what I've read. The military does wonders in part by developing it, but in part it develops it so well because it gets the boys a year or so after the schools are done with them.

And yet... I think it's YAG who has pointed out that much of the immaturity/lack of self-control/self-discipline we assume are normal for boys aren't all that common in poor nations.

Which rather supports George's point (which I agree with) about giving boys responsibility.

Study after study has shown that first of all, the overall numbers are being skewed by very poor scholastic performance in minorities (IOW, it ain't middle-to-upper class white boys who aren't doing well). So looking at averages can mislead, and - per my post - even the averages don't support the notion that boys are doing worse over time in school. They just don't.

Notably, a lot of the numbers I pointed out in my post on whether boys are doing better or worse over time were broken out by race/ethnicity and they show this very clearly.

I am not a fan of single sex education and would never have wanted my sons in it. The real world is full of people of the opposite sex, and children aren't fragile flowers who must be raised in profoundly non-realworld conditions, lest they blow a gasket.

One of those life skills boys (and girls!) need to learn is how to get along with the opposite sex. I would never dream of trying to stop parents who want single sex ed for their kids from paying for it, but trying to force that down my throat as a taxpayer (or parent/grandparent) virtually guarantees an ugly fight.

The data simply isn't there to show a clear benefit. The problem is that kids in single sex schools are a self-selected sample and you have to control for those other factors first.

Secondly, studies show that [conceal your shock] parental expectations are the single most important factor in student academic performance. I'm mightily perplexed to see so many right-leaning and libertarian leaning folks suggesting that somehow public schools can/should make up for the lack of parental interest.

Kids get their values from their families. I have no problem with schools failing kids who don't meet the standard (that can be a powerful motivator for both parents and kids). But I'm not sure how you subvert the influence of a parent who doesn't care about school?

Posted by: Cassandra at September 24, 2014 03:55 PM

...though the percentage is small the numbers are great and the crime – administering psychotropic drugs is criminal negligence at best, treacherous at worst.

Maybe, maybe not.

I tend to think any problem (and inability to sit still or pay attention is a BIG problem in life) will be better dealt with by working harder at learning to cope than by taking a pill. Yet I have known parents who chose the medication route and found that it really did help their child succeed. Usually these were parents who were already doing most things right and found their child really did have a medical problem.

I suppose they could just insist that their child work harder (or conversely, insist that the rest of the world bend over backwards to accommodate their special snowflake). I chose the, "Hey, you're very smart but you have to work a LOT harder at focusing" tack.

But the truth is that no kid gets medicated unless the parent agrees. So your beef is really with parents, not schools. Schools don't prescribe medication, and parents *can* go elsewhere.

It might be harder. They might have to watch other people's kids during the day (as I did) or clean other people's houses (like I did) or mow other people's lawns (like I did) to get the tuition money instead of doing something else. They might even have to move somewhere with more choice in schools.

Finally, most private schools have scholarships for indigent families. I'm sorry, but I really don't understand the expectation that public schools be all things to all families. They're a great benefit that people are free to use or not.

I mostly didn't use them, preferring private or home schooling.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 24, 2014 04:05 PM

I'm going to throw in here as one who both went to public schools (and private up through 3rd grade), AND was diagnosed as ADD AND had a prescription for Desoxyn (a similar drug to Ritalin). Since we're taking anecdote as data here.

First off, psychotropic... George, I hate to tell you this, but those drugs are no more "psychotropic" than coffee. In fact, one of the reasons (other than the ridiculous price tag of $10 per pill in 1987) my parents discontinued the meds was because the effect they had on me was SO mild, the only change they could see in my behavior was that I didn't toss and turn as much in my sleep, so my bed wasn't nearly as messy in the mornings. And that's literally it. I was as scatterbrained at school on the meds as off.

Now, as to that, I was actually in gifted classes while still being unable to focus in very specific ways. One particular test I STILL fail miserably at is being read a list of 10 two digit numbers, and being asked to repeat them back. Now, as problems go, this sounds pretty trivial, but it was one of the particular symptoms I had/have. It's not that I'm bored, or so easily distracted... I recall the very last time at school I was tested and focusing like a laser on the numbers, repeating them orally while trying to retain them, and STILL only getting 7 of them right. That's just the way my brain is.

Yes, I was also frequently bored at school, and daydreamed, and the whole nine yards. I was also a terrible procrastinator. AND I was a complete dilettante about homework. The main reason I passed high school at all is because I am one HELL of a test taker, and I was smart enough to work my way around problems. I graduated with a C average and a 1330 SAT (back when 1600 was the highest possible score). Oh, and there absolutely WERE girls at my schools (distracting hormones and all)

Now, frankly, I've got no patience for the idea that "boys can't learn unless they're catered to" any more than I do for "girls can't learn unless they're catered to". We put men on the moon using the same kind of math I was taught, and no one had to give those astronauts "participation awards" to make sure their self-esteem was good enough so they'd succeed at life. So while I am no fan of some of the stuff they're putting kids through these days in school, I also don't think what they "really need" is more babying. In fact, I think the REAL issue is that they're babied too damn much. Give them challenges, and sure, some kids will fail. That's a life lesson worth teaching. Because regardless of who you are, you WILL fail at something someday. Learn how to deal with it. And DON'T lower standards, that does no one any favors at all. If a kid falls behind the class in a topic, the correct answer is to put that kid in a remedial class, not slow down the rest of the students so he or she can catch up.

Posted by: MikeD at September 24, 2014 04:21 PM

Mike D,

As coffee is not for everyone, neither are psychotropic drugs – neither is appropriate for children. As for your personal experience, it lends itself to the diagnosis that ADD/ADHD are flim-flam does it not?

. . . . At the top of the list of so-called "mental illnesses" among children is attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, which is diagnosed when a child meets six of the 18 criteria described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-IV, published by the American Psychiatric Association, or APA.

. . . . ADHD was determined by a vote of APA psychiatrists to be a "mental" illness and added to the DSM-IIIR in 1987. By definition, children with ADHD exhibit behaviors such as not paying attention in school, not listening when spoken to directly, failing to follow directions, losing things, being easily distracted and forgetful, fidgeting with hands or feet, talking excessively, blurting out answers or having difficulty awaiting turn. The most common ADHD remedy among pediatricians and representatives of the mental-health community is, as noted, Ritalin.

. . . . First approved by the FDA in 1955, Ritalin (methylphenidate) had become widely used for behavioral control by the mid-1960s. It is produced by the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA, the United States buys and uses 90 percent of the world's Ritalin. A U.N. agency known as the International Narcotics Control Board, or INCB, reported in 1995 that "10 to 12 percent of all boys between the ages of 6 and 14 in the U.S. have been diagnosed as having ADD [attention-deficit disorder, now referred to as ADHD] and are being treated with methylphenidate."

I’m never one to call conspiracy or collusion; neither am I one to say such things don’t go on.

Posted by: George Pal at September 24, 2014 05:29 PM

...aren't all that common in poor nations.

My time in poor nations is largely limited to China, the Philippines, and Iraq, but it would not accord with this sentiment. In China especially the Confucian culture is infantalizing to young adults.

Besides, there's a real difference between the duties of poverty and those of education. "You have to go out and tend the sheep" is not bad duty for a lively boy of imagination and energy. "You must sit still, be silent, and fill out forms considering abstract problems in math and grammar for six hours a day" is a very different imposition.

So it may be that the idea of 'conscientiousness' itself is flawed. It could be we're not measuring a single trait, but capacities that vary depending on the demands placed.

Posted by: Grim at September 24, 2014 08:14 PM

One of those life skills boys (and girls!) need to learn is how to get along with the opposite sex.

Well, let me know if you learn how to do it. :)

I'm sure I mentioned that I think I obtained real benefit from having been in a class of 26 girls and 4 boys (myself included). That meant that, from my perspective, right at 90% of the people around me were girls all day long from the second grade on. That went on until the 7th grade with little variation.

So I had to learn to talk to girls, and listen to girls, much earlier than is common. I'm sure it's been of benefit. But you of all people should know how hard it is to make me understand what you mean, even though I'm interested and trying to understand. I often find it impossible to convey what I mean, in return. There simply are things in my world that don't exist in yours, that I can't make sensible to you. And vice versa, I can tell: though I'm not always sure what I'm missing, I can tell it's important to you.

On the other hand, more and more I realize that my 7th-9th grade teachers really set their expectations low in terms of what they could convey to boys and girls of that age, given the sudden influx of sexuality. They were mostly trying to keep us from exploding, I think. Academic expectations could have been a lot higher in a boys' or girls' school -- even if we left them together in kindergarten through the sixth grade, and then put them together again in upper high school or college. That very intense period of puberty is a time when the presence of the opposite sex is a detriment to abstract education.

Posted by: Grim at September 24, 2014 08:23 PM

Next time this comes up, could you post some links to conservatives claiming things should be made easier for boys?

Anecdotal data, but I don't know any conservatives and I've never read any conservative who wanted that, at least, not that I can remember. I've read some that leaned toward different standards, but not lower. I know a number who argue for higher standards across the board.

Posted by: Tom at September 24, 2014 10:55 PM

But on topic, giving separate grades for knowledge and behavior is interesting. I wonder how it would affect advancement? If you had an A in knowledge but an F in behavior, would you move up or not?

Posted by: Tom at September 24, 2014 11:24 PM

As coffee is not for everyone, neither are psychotropic drugs – neither is appropriate for children. As for your personal experience, it lends itself to the diagnosis that ADD/ADHD are flim-flam does it not?

Quite the contrary, I absolutely accept the fact that I have ADD. I don't medicate for it, I compensate. But there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that I have a processing problem that makes it extremely difficult for me to do what others seem more than capable of doing. Listening to someone in a noisy room. If I do not focus on the speaker's mouth like a laser, I literally cannot make out what they're saying. The buzzing of conversation around the room drowns it out. So, I focus like a laser on that one person. If I miss something someone else said behind me, oh well. I cannot process more than one conversation at a time.

As for mental illness, sure, why not. Frankly any abnormality in the brain could be so qualified, up to and including a tumor in the brain. Why? It's an illness affecting your mental capacity. But ultimately I don't find that to be a slander or misdiagnosis. No more than it's a slander to call a slight cough a respiratory illness. It's just a matter of degree.

Now, is it overdiagnosed? Perhaps, I'm not a medical professional who has examined thousands of cases. But may I suggest the truth lies somewhere between "every child diagnosed has it" and "it's a false diagnosis"? Very, VERY few things in life are so binary. Why expect this to be any different?

I find claims of conspiracy and collusion are frequently thrown out about a wide variety of topics, and almost universally, the ones who accept the claims never are experts in those fields. I say this not as an insult, but to point out that if you are not an expert in a field, it is easier to not understand how or why something is done within that field. And thus, it is easier to accept an explanation that you can understand.

As an example, every single 9/11 conspiracy theorist focuses on how "fire can't melt steel" at some point. Ignoring the poor terminology (yes of course fire can melt steel, they're referring to "an office fire" or "aviation fuel fires") they look at the melting point of steel, they look at the temperature of an aviation fuel fire and because they are not compatible, they assume it's an impossibility. Mind you, there's not a single structural engineer who would fall for this nonsense, since they understand the fact that the steel doesn't need to actually MELT to be structurally weakened. So while the experts immediately understand why "fire can't melt steel" is errant nonsense, the amateurs do not, so they seize upon an explanation they CAN grasp.

So I submit, that perhaps just because it seems suspicious, and you can't understand how this diagnosis/treatment makes any sense, that perhaps it doesn't require a conspiracy or collusion of hundreds of thousands (or millions) of doctors, scientists, pharmacists, psychologists, FDA workers, etc to adequately explain? In truth, when you sit down and think about how very many people would have to be in 100% agreement about "poisoning children" to further such a massive conspiracy, it falls flat on its face.

Posted by: MikeD at September 25, 2014 08:53 AM

I absolutely accept the fact that I have ADD. I don't medicate for it, I compensate. But there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that I have a processing problem

In truth, when you sit down and think about how very many people would have to be in 100% agreement about "poisoning children" to further such a massive conspiracy, it falls flat on its face.

Is a short attention span a mental illness? I ask out of personal dread. If something being read has not got my attention by the throat, my mind wanders and I find myself having to reread. This has been a lifelong contention between us – attention and mind. Also, my memory and I have been on the outs since I was a kid – memorizing the multiplication tables was a bitch – and time consuming – could a been out playing.

Is it not a feature of the human biological experience that nature compensates – we are not all equal. We are, all of us, sufficient in many things, and masters in a few, deficient in a few. The second feature does not make us genius, nor by some odd standard, mentally copasetic; the last does not make us morons, nor, by the same standard, mentally disordered.

It seems, to me, a feature of our society, presently, is that it has become a therapeutic society gone mad. Of things with a moral implication, the immoral act is soothed with I’m Okay, Your’re Okay mantras and dispensations. Of things entirely of a biological/neurological difference we medicate. Sometimes, a few times, it may be called for, sometimes, most times, it is an occasion for the social engineers to experiment in pursuit of equality. As to the point of this thread, no child is to be left behind and all dough must be unleavened – or else.

As to the conspiracy/collusion remark, you make not so much a straw man as a dust bunny. Poisoning children has no constituency. Doing 'it' - it being cloaked in a cloth of fine meander - 'for the children' has a large one.

Posted by: George Pal at September 25, 2014 10:59 AM

Should anyone doubt that Big Pharma and the Therapeutic Society collude there is ">this

Do it for the women is right up there with do it for the children.

Posted by: George Pal at September 25, 2014 11:13 AM

This

http://healthimpactnews.com/2014/mercks-former-doctor-predicts-that-gardasil-will-become-the-greatest-medical-scandal-of-all-time/

Posted by: George Pal at September 25, 2014 11:16 AM

"Grades should not be used to reward or to punish students. The purpose of the grade is to represent what students have learned."

Granted that the purpose of the grade is to represent what students have learned, is there some reason why we shouldn't reward students who demonstrate that they have learned the information we required them to learn?

I like the idea of causing the students' grades to reflect both the acquisition of knowledge and the mastering of conscientiousness skills, clearly and separately. For some jobs, you may care mostly about only one or the other; for others, you may insist on high marks in both. I had some young associates with fine characters, appealing personalities, and subtle minds, but they couldn't meet deadlines to save their lives. It won't do. They could never escape constant supervision and grow; they certainly couldn't be turned loose to manage their own teams or cases.

On the other hand, the most conscientious worker in the world couldn't help me much if he didn't have the horsepower. But then, if he had the horsepower and conscientiousness but for some reason hadn't mastered a body of information, we could pretty easily work around that. We normally had to start almost from scratch with every case, anyway, acquiring the knowledge we needed. That, rather than expertise in a particular area, was our stock in trade.

I'm trying to think if I ever noticed a difference between male and female associates in these respects. I don't think so. I remember the women being as impatient of discipline and boredom as the men. Maybe that was a function of the people I was drawn to work with, or something about law school, or something about our hiring procedures.

Posted by: Texan99 at September 25, 2014 11:22 AM

Is a short attention span a mental illness? I ask out of personal dread. If something being read has not got my attention by the throat, my mind wanders and I find myself having to reread. This has been a lifelong contention between us – attention and mind. Also, my memory and I have been on the outs since I was a kid – memorizing the multiplication tables was a bitch – and time consuming – could a been out playing.

So what if it is? Does having it called that fundamentally change who you are, or indeed anything about you? Would you be worried about any other form of illness? Acid reflux is a digestive disease in the same way, does that somehow make it worse for being called that? If your concern is over the stigma, then perhaps the problem isn't with you, but with the stigma in which mental disease is held. There's nothing worse about it than any other potential disease, nor does having something labelled a mental disease mean that you're "crazy". A chemical imbalance in the liver is somehow just "disease" but a chemical imbalance in the brain is "crazy". Why? I think it's because society somehow believes that while you can fix other chemical imbalances with medication, if it's your mind that is affected that means you're somehow evil, weak, or dangerous.

It seems, to me, a feature of our society, presently, is that it has become a therapeutic society gone mad. Of things with a moral implication, the immoral act is soothed with I’m Okay, Your’re Okay mantras and dispensations. Of things entirely of a biological/neurological difference we medicate. Sometimes, a few times, it may be called for, sometimes, most times, it is an occasion for the social engineers to experiment in pursuit of equality. As to the point of this thread, no child is to be left behind and all dough must be unleavened – or else.

I'm certainly no feel good hippy, and in fact, I am loathe to medicate for anything short of bronchitis. Mostly because I don't like spending money on meds when most of the time, I can just gut it out. Because I'm cheap. But back to your point, do you think it's possible that we reach out to medicate because we actually have medications now that will help with what used to be untreatable? I recall from my childhood when "cancer" was a word spoken in whispers (as if it could get you if you said it too loudly). Now, especially if caught early enough, cancer is hardly a terror spoken of in whispers. We can treat it, so we do. Another example is diabetes. It wasn't that long ago that there wasn't much to be done about that. Now we have insulin readily available, so it is absolutely treatable. And so to with a slew of other problems. Is it somehow more moral NOT to treat a condition that medication can alleviate? I don't see it.

As to the conspiracy/collusion remark, you make not so much a straw man as a dust bunny. Poisoning children has no constituency. Doing 'it' - it being cloaked in a cloth of fine meander - 'for the children' has a large one.

I apologize if you believe I set up a straw man, but I fail to see how "giving psychotropic drugs to children who don't need them" is anything BUT poisoning them. If I were to slip an aspirin into your tea (and was caught doing so), I'd be accused and arrested for... you guessed it, poisoning. Giving someone a medication they do not need is, indeed, poisoning them. And if you're saying that you believe that the practitioners (doctors, psychologists, pharmacists, etc) are all willing to give these drugs to children knowing that they don't need them, then they are poisoning those children.

On the other hand, if you're just saying they do not believe there is a condition of ADD/ADHD but that they want to make little boys conform to their expectations by giving them medications that are otherwise unneeded, then that too is also poisoning them in a legal sense. Prescribing medication to an otherwise healthy patient is not just a violation of the Hippocratic Oath, it's malpractice, and can cause a physician to go to jail. You're saying that they've invented a condition from whole cloth in order to either make money (the pharmaceutical companies and doctors), or as a form of social control (psychologists), and that the government is not only ok with that, but actively assisting them by covering their tracks (the FDA). And that, quite literally, nobody in any of those roles has a problem with it? And forget a single doctor revealing this perfidy, but that even 10% of doctors are unwilling to point out their fellow doctors are breaching the most fundamental medical ethics, just to turn a dime? No. That's a bridge much too far.

Posted by: MikeD at September 25, 2014 11:26 AM

Sorry for dropping out of this discussion temporarily - have a bunch of stuff going on at work I need to deal with first.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 25, 2014 11:57 AM

Is it somehow more moral NOT to treat a condition that medication can alleviate? I don't see it.

It is if the alleviation comes at an unacceptable cost. The side effects of these drugs include hampering growth, which includes brain growth. Now what does that mean? Nobody knows, because there hasn't been the kind of study into the effects long term.

As a father, though, I think you'd be taking a terrible risk to elect short-term behavior gains at an unknown cost in long-term development. In fact, I think the drugs should be banned for use on boys outside of volunteers for limited longitudinal studies, as the structure of the gamble is itself unwise. It's the same structure as Pascal's Wager except that the harm isn't potentially infinite, but it is potentially lifelong.

Posted by: Grim at September 25, 2014 12:52 PM

It is if the alleviation comes at an unacceptable cost.

To whom? To you?

In fact, I think the drugs should be banned for use on boys outside of volunteers for limited longitudinal studies, as the structure of the gamble is itself unwise.

You really feel comfortable making that decision, not just for yourself but for all parents, children, and adults with ADHD? That seems a bit extreme.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 25, 2014 01:00 PM

Well, obviously not, Cass, since I said "for boys" and "outside of volunteers." That would omit adults, as well as parents/children who opt in for the purpose of studying the long term harm to their son.

But the structure of the gamble is bad. It's illogical and unwise to take a risk structured this way, especially with your child. Are you familiar with Pascal's Wager? It may be clearer what the problem is if you think about it in terms of that problem.

Posted by: Grim at September 25, 2014 01:04 PM

I suppose I am surprised to see you wishing for a law here that would limit other people's choices when you have so often wondered how we got to the point of having too many laws?

I will confess to a similar confusion wrt discussing laws that would create stiffer penalties for police who beat their wives than for regular people who do exactly the same thing.

This is how we get what many people feel are "too many laws" - using laws as a fix. And that's not always the wrong remedy, but it just seems odd to me to complain on the one hand that there are too many laws and on the other hand, say that if you had your way, there would be yet another law.

I don't see a strong case being made for why the law is needed, and I think one ought to be able to make such a case without referring to Pascal's wager :p

Posted by: Cassandra at September 25, 2014 01:13 PM

Here's a question: are you suggesting that the people currently are taking these drugs aren't doing so voluntarily?

What would be the purpose of such a law?

Posted by: Cassandra at September 25, 2014 01:14 PM

Often they are taking the drugs under compulsion: their parents say to do it, because the public school says that they will expel them if the parents refuse. Parents who lack other options re: private schools are nevertheless required by law to educate their children or go to jail. So, they are under all the ordinary compulsions -- legal, judicial, financial -- to yield to the demand.

The purpose of the ban would be to give the parents protection against the school district's demands here. A secondary purpose is to clarify just how unknown the risks are. We really have no idea -- I can tell you that having studied the issue closely for a while for a very personal reason that's easy for you to imagine. It's not that there are proven harms, although there are proven changes to the internal structure of brains (like increased Dopamine receptors) the effects of which are not known; and the stunting of the physical growth of the whole body, including the brain.

What are the effects of that on your child, over the course of their lives? We really have no idea. There hasn't been a study to give us data on it. That being the case, it's a situation like Pascal's Wager, in which you are electing a short-term, limited gain against a potential long-term, unliimted loss. The only reason to accept such a wager is that you are completely certain that the loss will not occcur; but we have no reason to be certain, nor even a capacity to guess at the odds.

Posted by: Grim at September 25, 2014 01:27 PM

...because society somehow believes that while you can fix other chemical imbalances with medication, if it's your mind that is affected that means you're somehow evil, weak, or dangerous.

A non sequitur. Medicate to the heart’s - or mind’s content... if it’s the brain that’s affected. If it’s merely the vagaries of the panoply of human gifts and abilities, fortes and foibles, that’s being got at, then... expletive deleted ‘em.


I fail to see how "giving psychotropic drugs to children who don't need them" is anything BUT poisoning them.

Come now. Quit palming the pea. It is poisoning them - that is my contention. Though it is not the contention of the narrative. And the narrative prevails.


You're saying that they've invented a condition from whole cloth in order to either make money

I’m saying conditions exist – my short attention span and recalcitrant memory, among many others which God, or fate, or my genetic heritage had excused me from hosting. I suspect a local lobotomy, or sparking some dead synapses, or drugs might help. I frankly think that, could I remember only a third of what I’d read I could pass as an intellectual giant. But no thanks. Not for me. I am content. Think there’s a medication that could cure that?

Posted by: George Pal at September 25, 2014 02:02 PM

As an aside, but a somewhat relevant one to your contentions George, schizophrenia has long been held to be a disorder. But recently genetic evidence suggests that it may really be eight different things, not one thing at all.

I suspect that quite plausibly ADD/ADHD are similar to that: genetic research or fMRI research may find that a number of different things are going on with what we are treating as a pair of discrete 'disorders.' We don't really know; all we know for sure is what we observe, which is the particular friction that is created when these people interact with the social systems into which we'd like them to fit.

Posted by: Grim at September 25, 2014 02:39 PM

Often they are taking the drugs under compulsion: their parents say to do it, because the public school says that they will expel them if the parents refuse. Parents who lack other options re: private schools are nevertheless required by law to educate their children or go to jail. So, they are under all the ordinary compulsions -- legal, judicial, financial -- to yield to the demand.

I'm confused: according to what I've read, that's against the law:

December 3, 2004, The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) was signed into law by President Bush. Incorporated within this Act was the first of its kind Federal legislation called the “Prohibition on Mandatory Medication Amendment”. This new law prohibits schools from recommending or requiring that a child take a Controlled Substance (Includes all stimulants: Ritalin, Adderall, Concerta, Dexedrine, Dextrostat, ect.) in order to attend school.

That was 10 years ago. What am I missing?

Posted by: Cassandra at September 25, 2014 02:40 PM

And just as an aside, I think we need to be extremely careful here.

One of the more alarming things my daughter in law dealt with as a 2nd grade teacher was the complete and total inability of schools to remove disruptive and even violent students from the classroom.

Now obviously there can be situations where the school is being completely unreasonable, but there are also situations where the child really *is* causing problems and the parents are completely unreasonable. What continues to bother me so much about these discussions is that they tend to be one-sided. I have to say that I think schools have a duty to protect kids under their care.

If a child is regularly disrupting the classroom, I don't think the school should be barred from removing that student from class. But that's why I paid through the nose to put my kids in private schools that could (and did, regularly) kick kids out. And had one of my sons been causing problems, I would have expected them to get kicked out, too - for exactly the same reasons.

How many special conditions are teachers required to accommodate? I'm not unsympathetic to parents of special needs children - not by any means. But when we begin to complain about public schools, we ought perhaps to consider that they are being asked to do TONS of stuff they didn't have to do when we were kids: feed kids because their parents can't be bothered, watch them after school, deal with physical and mental disabilities, you name it.

This is a real problem. How many laws should the federal government make that limit the ability of schools in different states to run things as they see fit? Isn't this the very sort of big, intrusive government we've been complaining about?

Posted by: Cassandra at September 25, 2014 02:48 PM

A non sequitur. Medicate to the heart’s - or mind’s content... if it’s the brain that’s affected. If it’s merely the vagaries of the panoply of human gifts and abilities, fortes and foibles, that’s being got at, then... expletive deleted ‘em.

Your mileage may vary, but this strikes me as close to the argument that deaf children shouldn't be given cochlear implants because it denies they access to deaf culture. "Differently abled" is a non-starter for me. I accept the reality that I have more trouble processing audible information than my fellow man (or woman as the case may be). The fact that I have learned to work around this does not mean that the condition isn't real, or that others may choose to be medicated in order to help cope with similar issues. The fact that medication has been shown to help alleviate this difficulty also indicates that it is chemically treatable. If it were shown that there was a drug that could help people with dyslexia, would you be against that? Oh, and for the record, dyslexia is also a mental defect, just like my auditory processing problems. That doesn't hold a moral component. It just is.

Come now. Quit palming the pea. It is poisoning them - that is my contention. Though it is not the contention of the narrative. And the narrative prevails.

So wait... I'm now honestly confused. I thought the "poisoning children" was a straw man, now you say it's your very contention? You'll need to explain that to me then. But the point remains, you're saying that it fits the definition of poisoning children, but because the "narrative" is that it's for the good of the children, that the vast majority of the medical community is just peachy keen with a fundamental violation of their ethical practices? You must not know too many physicians. Because anyone who'd be a willing accomplice to that level of malfeasance and malpractice is a scoundrel of the first water. And every medical professional I know does not qualify as such.

I’m saying conditions exist – my short attention span and recalcitrant memory, among many others which God, or fate, or my genetic heritage had excused me from hosting. I suspect a local lobotomy, or sparking some dead synapses, or drugs might help. I frankly think that, could I remember only a third of what I’d read I could pass as an intellectual giant. But no thanks. Not for me. I am content. Think there’s a medication that could cure that?

If you are satisfied that you've got sufficient coping mechanisms to aid with your poor memory and attention span (as I indeed am) that you don't think medication is required, then I for one would not second guess you. Only you can say for sure what is good for you. But like me, perhaps you don't suffer as acutely as others. Many others DO feel that they benefit from medication (and not just children), and I for one won't second guess them (nor their parents) either. Because I do not know what is best for them. That's not my place. What is my opinion is that there is no vast conspiracy to give medications to children in a sinister effort to keep them compliant.

Often they are taking the drugs under compulsion: their parents say to do it, because the public school says that they will expel them if the parents refuse. Parents who lack other options re: private schools are nevertheless required by law to educate their children or go to jail. So, they are under all the ordinary compulsions -- legal, judicial, financial -- to yield to the demand.

Were this actually true, and the schools demand the child be medicated, else they're too unruly to keep in school, then the parent has a cast iron excuse to force the school to draw up an IEP and provide special needs services for that child. In other words, if a school system orders the parents to medicate their child, then the school system is legally obligated to provide (at the State's expense) services for that child. Something that school boards are loathe to do, as they guard their budgets' jealously.

Posted by: MikeD at September 25, 2014 02:49 PM

It is poisoning them - that is my contention.

Again, I'm confused. Parents decide whether to medicate their children or not. The school doesn't prescribe medication and it is, as far as I can see, against federal law for a school to withhold education from a child unless they take medication.

Which raises an interesting point: if the medication truly doesn't help, then the child would behave just as badly and the school gains NOTHING by medicating him/her. If, on the other hand, the child's behavior improves on the medication, it becomes rather difficult to argue that the medication does nothing and is "poisoning" the child.

Either way, the child cannot legally be denied a [free] education.


Posted by: Cassandra at September 25, 2014 03:00 PM

The way the school gets around that is simply by not demanding anything. The parents are free -- free, of course! -- to make whatever decision they like. We just recommend you do it in accord with the advice you get from your doctor. Of course.

But if you won't, you know, we have a range of disciplinary options available to us. We can be very supportive and work with you, if you'll work with us. And if you won't, well, we can be much less supportive. Very quickly, we can move your child along to expulsion -- if you're lucky. That would cost you a fortune in private school fees, if you're lucky; or you might lose your job and have to home-school. Or go to jail yourself.

And that's not actually the worst thing that can happen at all. We could call the school's resource officer, and have your child arrested for the disruption. We'd hate to do that, especially since it gets DFACS involved and (while I don't mean to suggest any course of action!) I have seen how often take children away from parents who won't medicate them and put them up for adoption.

But of course you're free to decide. Do whatever your doctor recommends.

Posted by: Grim at September 25, 2014 03:07 PM

So you're saying a child who has not actually done anything worth being expelled for, will be expelled?

Absent evidence of an expulsion-worthy offense?

And the parents have no recourse but to put their child on a drug that (from what I'm hearing) will make no difference whatsoever to the child's behavior because the child has no medical problem? I guess I'm still confused. Is there a medical problem or not?

If there's no medical problem, then we're dealing with misbehavior that any child could be expelled for. Isn't that a discipline issue?

Posted by: Cassandra at September 25, 2014 03:20 PM

Why do schools view medication as a solution if it doesn't, in fact, *do* anything and it's not indicated?

Posted by: Cassandra at September 25, 2014 03:22 PM

And just as an aside, I think we need to be extremely careful here. One of the more alarming things my daughter in law dealt with as a 2nd grade teacher...

I think that may be part of it. The schools are also under legal obligations they can't avoid. Some of this use of threats and intimidation may be bluffing by an administration that really doesn't know what to do if they can't convince you to drug your child.

My family have often been educators, including my mother and sister. I get their side of the story too. What I maintain is that, given the state of our knowledge, no rational person should choose the drugs for their children. It is the kind of wager a rational person should never take.

So if that's not the answer, it's not the answer. The problems still exist, and still need answers -- just not this answer.

Posted by: Grim at September 25, 2014 03:24 PM

And the parents have no recourse but to put their child on a drug that (from what I'm hearing) will make no difference...

I didn't say that it makes no difference. George may have said that.

But it certainly does lots of stuff to the body. Natural growth drops 12% over unmedicated children. After three years, children are an inch shorter and nearly five pounds lighter than their peers. And, yes, their behavior changes.

I haven't said the stuff is poison, but that's consistent with poisoning: the body's additional struggle to deal with the poison would tend to depress behavior as well as damaging natural physical processes like growth. The fact that it does both is not surprising if it is a poison.

But the distinction between poison and medicine isn't always helpful. Arsenic is clearly a poison, but my grandmother took it for years in regulated amounts for its beneficial effects. I don't want to argue over the question of whether it is or isn't a poison: indeed, just because we haven't got the data to talk about long term effect, we really aren't in a position to evaluate the question.

Posted by: Grim at September 25, 2014 03:32 PM

By the way, if you don't like the Pascal's Wager analogy, the risk structure is also that of Nassim Nicholas Taleb's "Fourth Quadrant." This was a system he developed to avoid destructive market crashes resulting from irrational leveraging.

It's a simple system. He divides the kind of risks on which you might wager in the market into four kinds:

1) Risk is known, potential loss is known.
2) Risk is known, potential loss is unknown.
3) Risk is unknown, potential loss is known.
4) Risk is unknown, potential loss is unknown.

As an investor, the first quadrant is very safe. You can make extremely rational decisions here, and leveraging yourself may be reasonable to do. In the second case, even though you're facing an unknowable potential loss, you can still evaluate reasonably what kind of risk you're running. In the third case, you can't evaluate the risk, but you know you won't lose more than a given amount -- so it might be worth doing.

But in the fourth quadrant, you should be very wary. You should certainly never leverage a bet in the fourth quadrant.

That's where we are here. We don't know how to evaluate the long-term risk because we lack information. The potential loss to our child is also unknown -- lifelong, but how much? We don't know.

In this quadrant, you shouldn't bet anything you can't afford to lose. Your child is too much to wager.

Posted by: Grim at September 25, 2014 03:50 PM

Mike D,

Your mileage may vary, but this strikes me as close to the argument that deaf children shouldn't be given cochlear implants because it denies they access to deaf culture.

Come now. Close? You’ve left the troposphere and are now in the stratosphere. Is it your intention to return?

I'm now honestly confused. I thought the "poisoning children" was a straw man, now you say it's your very contention?

You are indeed confused. Your use of “poisoning children” invites the supposition that the very ghastly phrase, those very words, could ever have been a bone of contention in the public square. That it, they, had not been used, could not have been used, makes your introduction of them an introduction to a straw man.


Because I do not know what is best for them. That's not my place. What is my opinion is that there is no vast conspiracy to give medications to children in a sinister effort to keep them compliant.

Nor is it my place. I concede medical decisions to the medical profession. I will not concede that the medical profession is incorruptible, personally or corporately. And I think it quite likely that it is, corporately, corrupt. That is my opinion.

Posted by: George Pal at September 25, 2014 04:04 PM

I think that may be part of it. The schools are also under legal obligations they can't avoid. Some of this use of threats and intimidation may be bluffing by an administration that really doesn't know what to do if they can't convince you to drug your child.

It's not just a *legal* obligation, Grim. It's a moral duty as well. Or at least it ought to be.

Unless of course we're willing to accept a world in which adults stand blithely by as innocent children are attacked right in the classroom (not making this one up - it's from a situation my daughter in law witnessed). Teachers have to be able to maintain some semblance of order in the classroom.

Pretty much my Dad's whole side of the family are teachers: my Grandmother (who is deceased) and my two aunts and many of their children. My uncle was a principal on an Indian reservation. A lot of military wives are teachers and substitute teachers. I've heard horrifying stories over the years about substitutes being physically attacked in the classroom by students.

Do other people have any rights at all? I know you believe they do, and so do I. So much of this is a question of where one individual's rights end and other people's begin. I view it as a basic duty of parents to ensure that their children aren't making it difficult/impossible for other students to get an education. And if a student is frequently disruptive, I'm not terribly interested in *why*. It really doesn't matter, because at some point the needs of the one don't outweigh everyone else's.

I don't buy off on the notion that individual rights extend to infringing on other people's rights. If a student is causing so many problems that the school is willing to kick them out, there's either evidence of this or no evidence of it. I don't see a societal solution or law that will resolve or prevent every dispute between schools and parents and students.

The law is a framework, within which such disputes can be adjudicated. It contains protections for various parties. There's really nothing that can be done to keep people from having to advocate their position if there's a dispute, and that is unpleasant and difficult. But no law will change that, and I don't believe laws that make it impossible for schools to deal with the often difficult situations they have to deal with help at all.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 25, 2014 04:54 PM

So, no one has advocated that students be allowed to disrupt class or attack people. What I have advocated is that this particular kind of drug is not the answer.

That's a reasonable position, even if you're "not terribly interested in why" the students are disruptive. Presumably you accept some limits on the school's right/duty to stop disruptive students from being disruptive, e.g., shooting the students dead. That would work! But it would be an absurd position to adopt (as well as an immoral one).

So, there are rational limits on the use of coercive powers to enforce school discipline. Here is an argument -- several, including the "Fourth Quadrant" argument -- that this use of medication is not acceptable by ordinary rational standards. That doesn't eliminate the problem, but it does narrow the range of solutions by one.

Posted by: Grim at September 25, 2014 05:37 PM

So, no one has advocated that students be allowed to disrupt class or attack people. What I have advocated is that this particular kind of drug is not the answer.

You haven't told us what *is* the answer, though. And you haven't really persuaded me that this particular drug (and there's already a law that forbids schools from doing what you claim they are doing) is a completely unreasonable alternative.

I absolutely accept that you as a parent might decide the risks aren't worth the benefits, but I Googled the research and the study you cite was done by a man named Swanson many years ago. He had longitudinal results that were supposed to be available in 2009. They're still not out, five years later!

Another study (endorsed strongly by Swanson) found no permanent growth differences:

Researchers looked at medical records from people born in Rochester, Minn., from 1976 to 1982. They identified 340 children diagnosed with ADHD, and tracked them into adulthood. Each person's medical record was then compared with those of two other people, matched for age and gender but otherwise randomly selected, who didn't have ADHD. (All were participants in the Rochester Epidemiology Project, a long-term data collection and research collaboration.) The 171 children who took stimulants for ADHD started at an average of about 10 years of age, and took the drugs for about 4 1/2 years. (The study didn't look at newer, nonstimulant drugs like Strattera, which wasn't approved until 2002.)

Neither an ADHD diagnosis itself nor treatment with stimulant drugs was linked to a significant difference in growth or final height, compared to the average for that age and gender, says Dr. William Barbaresi, lead author of the study and a developmental-behavioral pediatrician at Boston Children's Hospital. The only significant effect was that, for boys treated with the drugs for at least three years, the medicines were associated with about a six-month delay in the peak growth spurt. But there was no significant effect on the ultimate height of those young men, says Barbaresi.

So it's far from clear to me that there's a slam dunk case to be made that these drugs are harmful. I do accept that you might not want to take the risk, and that's fine. My sons took Accutane and it has some pretty serious side effects too. I read about them ahead of time and we decided together that the benefits outweighed the risks.

But I don't see the point of creating yet another law to prevent something that is already illegal.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 25, 2014 05:57 PM

I concede medical decisions to the medical profession. I will not concede that the medical profession is incorruptible, personally or corporately. And I think it quite likely that it is, corporately, corrupt. That is my opinion.

And you're entitled to your opinion, George. But when you imply that an entire profession is corrupt, that's a charge that requires more than your opinion to support it, much less persuade others. It's a serious charge, and "because that's what I think...so THERE!" isn't terribly convincing evidence that there's any merit to it.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 25, 2014 06:15 PM

So it's far from clear to me that there's a slam dunk case to be made that these drugs are harmful.

From me too! I haven't argued that they are. I've argued about the structure of the wager given that we don't know. :)

Posted by: Grim at September 25, 2014 06:24 PM

I'm not even sure that we agree on what we don't know, Grim.

If I take your position, it's this:

1. You're not saying the drugs don't actually work.

2. You did say that they stunt growth (by one study, that wasn't finished yet and hasn't reported the final results). If we accept the study as dispositive, OK - that's a risk. For some folks, giving up an inch or hitting puberty later would be a quite acceptable risk.

The truth is that we don't know the long term risks of pretty much every drug out there. There are several studies of ADHD drugs, so there's not "no knowledge" - just a kind of incomplete knowledge that is common with all sorts of drugs.

So the right framing, it seems to me, would be:

Risk is partially known, potential loss is partially known.

...not:

Risk is unknown, potential loss is unknown.

Life is full of risks. We take them every day. You have said, "You shouldn't bet what you can't afford to lose. Your child is too much to lose".

But that seems like an extrapolation far beyond the known risks. It is possible only if you seriously equate "losing your child" to "a possible but unproven long term risk of stunted growth". The two simply aren't even close to being equivalent.

You feel so strongly about this that you suggested creating a new law to ban the use of these drugs on boys (but presumably, not girls! That's interesting...) for anyone but "volunteers" in longitudinal studies. When I ask the purpose of such a law, you say it's to prevent schools from doing something there's already a law on the books to prevent them from doing.

Can you see why I'm having a problem with your arguments?

You say (on the one hand) that there are no proven harms, and on the other that these drugs stunt growth. You say we lack studies, then cite a study as evidence that they stunt growth.

I think parents should be able to go to doctors and decide what their situation and child require. I don't think laws designed to prevent something that's already illegal are a good idea.

I don't believe that parents and the entire medical profession are evil and out to drug helpless boys.

I do believe that some kids have chemical imbalances in their brains that make fitting in difficult.

I don't believe drugs are always the answer, but sometimes they might be. I've known a few people who function just fine on psychotropic drugs, but whose lives are wrecks without them. I know two who have tried to kill themselves when they went off their meds.

I don't think laws purporting to protect those folks from other unknown and unproven risks are helpful.

I believe life is risky, and the risks from normal doses of Adderall or Ritalin are probably a lot less than the risks of other things parents routinely let their kids do without so much as a thought. But I think the decision has to lie with parents and families, not legislators.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 25, 2014 06:45 PM

Well, life is risky. Taleb's structure assumes you'll be taking risks all the time. It's intended as a tool for risk-takers, to help you decide when and how to gamble (and, especially, when to leverage your wagers in the market).

The point on which Taleb's model and Pascal's wager agree is that you shouldn't accept wagers for small gains in return for assuming unknown risk of unlimited costs. So we're talking about small gains in short-term behavior -- which I have observed, and don't deny -- in return for... what?

At what cost, potentially or actually?

I said boys and not girls because there is a real desire to control and medicate boys. But girls are at risk too, potentially: some of the studies I've read suggest that girls are at particular risk of increased suicide rates. But that's just one study, so far unconfirmed.

Posted by: Grim at September 25, 2014 07:06 PM

Sorry, that last bit is not typed correctly. I meant to say that one study said that, not that 'some studies' did.

My own empirical observations suggest that there is a mild improvement in behavior, and that the stunting of growth is very much confirmed by my own observations. Is it permanent? I don't know.

My fears -- and here I leave what I can observe or prove entirely -- are that the medication actually does harm the students by preventing them from growing naturally. The brain doesn't grow in size if the head that houses it doesn't. That much is clear and observable. What isn't clear is if it misses out not just on the chance to get bigger, but the chance to develop the very things a more immature student might be lacking.

I believe in discipline as the answer, not medication. I think students need to be forced to develop the internal capacities they need to do what they need to do. I don't think that medicating them helps them do it: at the very least, it helps them avoid having to practice the work of being good in the current instant. The medicine takes away that need.

In the long term, it could be -- and we don't know -- that it stunts the development of the brain in ways that permanently weaken the development of these capacities. It certainly removes a lot of time during which they would otherwise be forced to practice. It certainly keeps the brain from growing at the age when it should.

What else does it do? No one really knows.

Posted by: Grim at September 25, 2014 07:24 PM

OK, that helps me understand your position much more clearly.

I believe in discipline as the answer, not medication. I think students need to be forced to develop the internal capacities they need to do what they need to do. I don't think that medicating them helps them do it: at the very least, it helps them avoid having to practice the work of being good in the current instant. The medicine takes away that need.

I agree, up to a point (the point where the chemical imbalance is SO pronounced that the child is rolling a rock uphill). But I don't believe that describes the vast majority of children with attention or impulse control issues.

FWIW, I made the same decision - that regardless of the cause, the solution was to try harder to learn coping skills. So that makes perfect sense to me.

But I really can imagine cases where a child has a far worse problem where maybe medication would give them enough of a handle on things so that discipline and teaching have a fighting chance of working.

And I am not willing (absent strong evidence) to conclude that medication is never the answer. I have known people who, for whatever reason, just struggle so much with ordinary challenges and social demands. If those people are helped by medication and they decide it's "worth it" (whatever that means), I don't want to prevent them from getting help.

I do see the dangers of abuse.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 25, 2014 07:34 PM

Cass,

My implication is not that the entire profession is corrupt but that it is sufficiently corrupt to be essentially corrupt. There is more than a sense of it that forms my opinion. I take it as given that there is a triangulation at work here: Med Inc, Big Pharma, government franchises.

The government franchises, bureaucracies – FDA, CDC, HHS are corrupt, the foremost objective being an extension of the franchise, size, power, and money. In the case of the FDA – from Thalidomide to Gardasil; the CDC - recently discovered to have engaged in statistical fraud by hiding data; the HHS - a political and ideological juggernaut, as far removed from health and human as Andromeda is from the Milk Way. Big Pharma, the pushers, will get you anything you want to alleviate not just any disorder in the DSM but any symptom.

Med Inc., the Medical Associations, exhibit little to no conscience. The Psychiatric Association delisted homosexuality; I expect, sooner than later, opposition to homosexual lifestyles will be considered a disorder. Just a year or two ago, the board responsible for the DSM, entertained a contingent of psychiatrists petitioning the board to delist pedophilia as a disorder. Seems that pedophilia, naturally occurring in human populations, is, ipso facto, natural. I believe “do it for the children” may soon hit the wall. Med Inc could not have been more suspect if they had drooled, at the prospect of sex reassignment surgery. Surgery and Meds; KA-CHING, KA-CHING.
And abortion. How further to demonstrate corruption, venal and vitally moral, than the fluid ease with which the medical profession ceased to administer to life and took up the cause of death. I suspect euthanasia – end of life, quality of life - is just around the corner; I suspect the troika to be fully on board.

Posted by: George Pal at September 26, 2014 10:56 AM

I've read about half and run out of patience.

ADHD/ADD is real. For some people (~80-85%) who have it, stimulants (Ritalin, Adderall, or both) may help them control their attention (and other frontal cortex executive functions); the others must use other, less effective, methods. Stimulants work on ADHD by moderating the dopamine re-uptake, effectively providing the patient the effect of either more dopamine and/or more dopamine receptors. There are several known mechanisms why this variation in dopamine effectiveness exists; there is (as of yet) no known way to directly change those.

Used correctly, the drugs will help the patient develop those executive functions and will no longer need them. Rather like crutches or eyeglasses (some never really get to the point that they can do without stimulants.) It is important that children learn these skills early, as without them, they cannot really learn the social monkey skills needed to be successful social creatures. There's a reason that ADDers are frequently "first picked on, last chosen." We don't fit in, we're the green monkeys.

If we are smart green monkeys, we learn to mostly fake being a social monkey, doing consciously what others do unconsciously. For a while, it was said that the age at which you were diagnosed with ADHD in years + 100 was an approximation of your IQ.

It's been long known that energetic exercise is one of the other "treatments". A school did a study and found that having the children do active games for a half-hour before school, and for a half-hour at lunch, and during recess, improved ADHD children's various academic scores by roughly 25%. Surprisingly, non-ADHD students scores also improved, but only about 10%. ADHD students who used stimulants only had increases (15%), but not as large as those who exercised; those who used stimulants and exercise had improvements larger than both combined (40-50%). [NOTE: figures are illustrative, not actual; I don't have access to the studies here.]

Yes, I have ADHD. I can't take prescription stimulants because of my history of epilepsy. I do better those days when I drink two or three quarts of strong coffee a day, and even better when I'm smoking two or three packages of cigarettes, too. (Yes, nicotine patches are being studied as an ADHD treatment.)

Ultimately, the patient has to learn to work around his or her executive function deficiencies, with or without stimulants.

Finally, I think ADHD is mis-named. It should be called Attention Control Disorder, because we usually have attention, we just can't keep it focused where it needs to be.

Posted by: htom at September 26, 2014 03:03 PM

One of, if not the largest, problem with ADHD is diagnosis. Many treated do not have it, having some other condition where better treatments are known. Many are untreated or mistreated because they are thought not to have ADHD. Good diagnosis is tricky, there are over a score of things that can present as ADHD that aren't. And a bright patient might be thought to be just goofing off. That's what happened to me; testing showed I had ADHD, but the doctors thought I was just goofing off, and didn't have it. Forty years later, knowing the demon that's chasing me, life is better (and I still haven't taken up nicotine again; it's tempting, though.)

Posted by: htom at September 26, 2014 03:17 PM

Thanks, htom :)

My Mom likes to tell people that when I was a little girl she took me to the doctor because I was driving her nuts.

He told her that I needed a LOT of exercise, and she should put me in gymnastics. She says it worked like a charm. Your comment helps me to understand why it worked :p

Posted by: Cassandra at September 26, 2014 04:03 PM

Several times a year someone comes to our Adult ADHD support group and towards the end of the (their first) meeting they say "I hoped coming here would show me that I'm not crazy, or that there's a cure. It's better than that, we're all crazy, and I can cope with that! The hardest part was being crazy and alone." Yup.

Posted by: htom at September 26, 2014 05:06 PM

"For a while, it was said that the age at which you were diagnosed with ADHD in years + 100 was an approximation of your IQ." That made me chuckle, thinking of one of the smartest guys I ever worked with, who was diagnosed very late in his career.

Cassandra: now we know the real story behind your recent trampoline-induced knee injury. How is your knee doing, anyway?

Posted by: Texan99 at September 26, 2014 07:51 PM

Sorry for the delayed response - I was away most of the weekend and then got another migraine yesterday, so I slept the entire day.

The knee is doing much better now. I had a tough time the first week at my son's because they bought a lovely old house and the stairs were very steep. But it was a good thing once I got past the initial soreness.

I can do pretty much everything now - walk downstairs without holding on, walk 3 miles, etc. I'm ready to start jogging.

It's surprising how long it took to recover, though, even with therapy. Probably should have gotten the new tendon from a cadaver (yuck) - less invasive and less trauma to the knee. But I figured if I was going to have surgery, might as well get it right the first time.

Thanks for asking :)

Posted by: Cassandra at September 29, 2014 08:16 AM