The Brooklyn Rail

MAR 2019

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MAR 2019 Issue
Field Notes

Suffocation of the Young: A Report from Brooklyn on Schooling, Childhood and Mental Illness Today

Käthe Kollwitz, Woman with a dead child, 1903, line etching, drypoint, emery and vernis mou with printing of handmade paper and Ziegler'schem transfer paper, with gold-colored, injected clay stone.

At some point during the workday, you may have considered that your role in creating a product or service somehow plays an important part in sustaining the world we live in, even if that world leaves much to be desired. As the Oakland teachers end their strike, quick on the heels of the Denver, Los Angeles county, and red-state revolts, we're reminded that our daily work not only recreates a world of things but also one of relationships and experiences: in short, all that which determines who we are. As far as contemporary schooling is involved in the production of childhood—a modern process that is clearly in crisis—we have a sense of the great stakes involved as the wave of intransigent education-worker strikes rolls across this country.

Childhood appears today as something uncanny. Social commentators and psychologists draw us to narrow parts of its unsettling presence without offering a substantive pattern or underlying explanation. In the US, an astounding one in five children has an attention or learning disability while parent-reported Autism Spectrum Disorder rates are now at 1 in 40. What's more, both of these statistics are thought to be an underestimation of the real prevalence.1 Anxiety and depression in youth are reaching alarming levels and steadily rising.2 Sexual activity amongst youth has decreased by over 20% since the 1980s, while new media make pornography more available to the young.3 Most distressingly, that some children decide to pick up weapons and massacre their peers has become an expected occurrence. As teenager Paige Curry commented after the Santa Fe shootings last year, "I've always kind of felt like eventually it was going to happen here, too."4

Parenthood, in turn, is occupied by guilt and worry, as an industry of advice columnists and child-experts provides a contradictory array of techniques, superstitions, and philosophies to navigate the contemporary situation. US birth and marriage rates across income levels are at historic lows in face of the perilous labyrinth of childhood and economic trepidation.5 Yet the "helicopter parent's" worries and their accompanying gurus are more than just an automatic reaction. The recent intensification of parenting is but a reflection of prevailing social anxieties.

From Productivity to Pathology

With the global economic restructuring that began in the mid-1970s, productivity and wages diverged, a tendency that continues into the present as part of the now familiar story about global inequality and "neoliberalism."6 In order to pay people less while continuing to demand more work and dismantle their social safety net, a doctrine of scorn towards unproductive workers was pushed by conservatives and liberals alike, while capital controls at the level of the nation were removed. Lazy and greedy workers were to be weaned off of state protections and enter into partnerships with management, in competition with workers on a global labor market so as to entice capital from relocating. Meanwhile, as women entered the workforce en masse, childcare needs were stubbornly ignored, with the African-American underclass posed as a diabolus ex machina. The "welfare queen" was soon the quintessential object of scorn across congressional aisles.

Schooling is the locus in the community where these tensions around childhood collide most conspicuously. As motherhood was squeezed by work demands, the school's share of socialization and child development duties increased and became hotly contested. Demand for public after-school programs soared to meet the needs of latch-key kids in the 1980s.7 Despite pressures on government spending, the federal budget for schooling steadily increased through the post-war period into the 21st century, though state spending has decreased since 2008 and federal funding has tapered.8 In the meantime, a battle between conservatives and liberals about how to use education funds was the tragicomic material of presidential campaigns, an open stage for culture war diatribes and meritocratic harangues. As overwork, precarity, and the punishment of working people have continued since the crisis of 2008, women face renewed burdens as mothers. A growing portion "choose" to become stay-at-home moms, pay for historically expensive childcare themselves, or engage in daycare by iPad.9

As the economic drive for production and profitability required an intensification of parenting, so did the intensification of parenting imply increased demands on schooling. During the period spanning the last two major global capitalist crises, fueled by cheap loans and finance capital, a speculative panacea for economic worries was displaced onto children, their parents, and schools. The amplification of work and competition has produced little social return, spurring dominant ideologies to explain the larger predicament of a stagnant American Dream. In recent iterations, policy was implemented to have children "maintain America's competitive edge," now that they were posed to compete with students "from all across the globe for the jobs of tomorrow."10 The outcomes of this development have been devastating. The convoluted national Common Core Learning Standards forced teachers to push children to and beyond the developmental limits of their age.11 The privatization of schooling, an ultimately unrealistic task, was meant to break the unions of "lazy" teachers to facilitate the introduction of market-mediated pressures on the public school system, lowering wages and deskilling teachers. Management in schools has surged by over seven-fold since the post-war period and by 50% since the early 90s.12 No Child Left Behind (NCLB) reduced teacher interactions with pupils and replaced them with the imperative to collect data within an almost wholly scripted curriculum and overcrowded classroom, changes in the experience of schooling that underlie the community-teacher revolts we see today. Since their inception, critics from across the political spectrum have recognized that these currents were cultivating an uncreative and anxious competitive spirit that is educationally counterproductive, if not disastrous. The result, along with broader changes in childhood today, are factors in the nationwide increase of the number of disabled children since 1990, which has increased nationwide by about two million, above all those with a certain set of mental pathologies.13

Even today, as politicians frantically seek to reverse NCLB and Common Core at the state and city level and teachers take to the streets, the central axioms remain: an institutionalized obsession with data, a bloated layer of management, the systematic deskilling of teachers, overflowing classrooms, and a plague of disabilities. Though some have sought to biologize the definition of disability, recent federal education legislation—specifically the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)—was enacted to create a parallel psychosocial and legal world to match its medical counterpart. Students are "classified" instead of diagnosed, at the behest of the school psychologist, yet able to receive medical services, accommodations, expensive placements and in some cases collect social security funds. Diagnoses and classifications may vary, but the emerging profile of these newly disabled has now become familiar to educators.

Observations in Schools

As a psychologist and ex-teacher in Brooklyn public schools, as well as a former student there, I've seen many of these changes first hand. At a certain school in Bedford-Stuyvesant we've witnessed a dumbfounding one in three students classified with various pathologies.14 The children of the Sumner and Marcy projects spend their first ten school-aged years at this local magnet school just off the South Williamsburg border. Parents enroll their youngest children for its kindergarten dual language classes, or because they themselves spent their ten years there. Many simply enjoy the convenience of a school within walking distance of their home. It is surrounded by hip new cafes and bars, but not one of the local gentry have made their way into this typically segregated NYC school.

Ever threatened with closure over failing state test scores, the competitive spirit looms large here. Urgency is impressed onto students through teachers who are themselves constantly disciplined by a swollen layer of principals, district administrators, and consultants. The pressure comes early and so do the referrals—with new expectations even in kindergarten, hyper-vigilant teachers press their five year olds with long hours on workbooks and refer hypo-active children to the mental health team. In some early grade classrooms, up to half of the class find themselves in lengthy psychological evaluations. If the teacher referral is rebuffed, the parent might request a mandated evaluation. In turn, as in most schools across the country, management justifies their own role by berating teachers for not raising scores in packed classrooms, and these competitive tensions trickle down to students. Reels of bureaucratic "data-monitoring" pile high on educators' desks with pressing compliance dates and constantly shifting jargon, the threat of excess or harassment always imminent. Despite the demands to perform, even in this prekindergarten through middle school, a sense of foreclosure over the future is already apparent. Parents, older siblings, and extended family transmit the realistic expectations of survival in New York City. Parents today are notoriously spread thin, working multiple low-paying jobs or relying on dwindling public assistance, and these stresses are felt by even the youngest children. Yet every year the pace quickens, the curriculum becomes more convoluted, the self-regarding bureaucracy thickens, teachers strain, and the disabilities spread.

Teachers, psychologists, and parents observe the new type of educational illness that children experience as a new set of symptoms. Once prevalent were the outwardly directed behaviors, overtly aggressive or uninhibited and taking direct aim at a teacher, peer, or property. But in this school—following the national trend—kids have become less disruptive, loud, and angry and what were classified as aggressive "behavioral disturbances" have decreased more than any other disability.15 ADHD has risen but prevalent now is the "inattentive" subtype, a new diagnostic presentation that contrasts with the old behaviors. The hyperactive diagnosis was all the rage in the '90s—and the pharmaceutical industry took note with a long campaign for stimulants.16 Those diagnosed as inattentive today are forgetful, have a hard time following even simple conversations or directions, complain of not being able to concentrate, and are constantly distracted. More and more these symptoms first appear in the midst of the anonymous classroom with its intensifying demands from anxious teachers, yet they persist within the child at home and take on a life of their own. Even for a skeptic, it's hard to deny the psychic reality of ADHD symptoms in the presence of a child who cries of painful emptiness, loses their favorite toys or their cell phone on a daily basis, or can't recall the details of a basic narrative.

Alongside inattentive ADHD, we observe an ever-expanding population of children who are feared to be "on the spectrum." Bypassing a discussion of the mysterious origins of autism, the overdiagnosis of the disorder has become a topic of concern even for mainstream psychologists.17 Quirky, aloof, and socially awkward children who are cognitively sound but need "consistent prompting" are now observed by teachers and parents everywhere, and it's hard to deny their muted cry for help. Beyond autism itself, clusters of "autistic defenses" are rampant—everything from the enduring avoidance of eye contact to rocking on the floor with hands over ears has been observed to manifest in children in particularly stressful classrooms. Yet sometimes, within a year, given intensive emotional and environmental interventions, these symptoms may relieve entirely. The controversial yet pervasive "Sensory Processing Disorder" also fits the new constellation of symptoms. Not found in any official diagnostic manual, the disorder comes with a corresponding pseudo-scientific mythology of "proprioceptive" and "vestibular" needs to explain and treat the growing set of children who have a hard time orienting themselves in the classroom's space, along with features of inhibition and inattention. These children concentrate their symptoms in their bodies and are overwhelmed by sounds or the feel of certain textures, they bump into walls and doors and seem confused in the classroom. Along with these common manifestations of the new type of illness which tend to overlap, we see an array of somatizing, withdrawn, or disorganized presentations which are first observed at school-age.

We observe new trends in themes of fantasy life, discovered through the use of pictures and play for the youngest, and enactment and free association in adolescents. For the new emotionally disturbed, we often observe fantasies of hollow or nested objects, mazes, layers of emptiness, and dismemberment. During socially stressful moments, aggression and apathy tend not to find expression in outbursts, but rather in forgetfulness and a lack of "executive functions"—a trending term in cognitive psychology which describes the management of some basic functions of thought. Concrete language, marked discomfort with ambiguity, and a resistance to even the suggestion of interpretation are common in these children. An adolescent asked to create a short narrative about certain drawings stares blankly at card after card for long periods; a child may escape parallel and imaginative play when others are around, banging their dolls and toy trains haphazardly until they can begin their secret play alone. While colleagues describe increasing rigid self-regulation in response to competitive anxieties with respect to elite private schools, inhibition and dissociation—detachment from physical and emotional experiences—are common themes of the new type of school-born illness for the rest of our kids.18 Bullying, a hot topic in today's school mental health pop literature, isn't due to increased cruelty in children but is observed to affect the new wave of socially inept students.

It cannot be stressed enough how a consistent, attentive, and responsive relationship with a caring adult or group of peers can miraculously "cure" a child of their symptoms, to the disbelief and amazement of everyone around them. In dramatic case after case, we have observed children even with psychotic features, sudden breaks with reality, autistic defenses, or patterns of self-harm transform radically in small special classes with a committed and loving teacher or with the help of a paraprofessional and reliable psychodynamic exploration. While the outpatient clinic's therapist may claim to affect a child during 45 minute weekly sessions, the relationships built at school—or their neglect—take up the greater part of the most formative years of life. Indeed, today's educational illness in schools elicits holding, recognition, and integration on one end of the therapy spectrum—the fundamental need that someone truly sees, hears, believes and makes sense of you as a child. Mental health staff must interpret and navigate what is often the first bounded yet intimate relationship with an adult that a child may experience. Younger children must develop a bond of trust in order to safely suspend reality in play. This aspect of intimacy and stability is constantly threatened by the instrumental designs of the administrators in the waiting room.

To get quicker results from lesser-paid unskilled staff, complex behavioral modifications, "interval reinforcement," "behavior intervention plans," and medication can be applied to adapt the student to homogenous 50 minute work periods. Intricate systems of aversives and rewards are an easy and cost-effective way of changing a child's outwardly directed behaviors—and the mental health industry has taken note over the last half-century, applied as a replacement to costly therapeutic relationships in schools over the last twenty years. An extreme version of such "cattle prod therapy" seemed to produce miraculous and quick changes in aggressive behaviors at the Judge Rotenberg Center in Canton, Massachusetts, where New York City children made up 90% of its student population, sent along with $30 million just a few years ago.19 When such treatment is successful, internal conflicts will be repressed but will inevitably reappear at a later age in an equally intense but perhaps more conspicuous form. If unsuccessful, the child might lose control and be pressed down the school-to-prison pipeline to a more "structured environment."

The destinations of those children deemed unable to adapt to the mainstream classroom are a group of schools scattered across the city called District 75, one of which I worked at for some years in Brooklyn. Children might be moved here on their way to a day treatment program or residential center, eventually leading to a last stop in prison. Extremely little has been exposed about these intermediate contemporary warehouses for the city's youth underclass. There used to be an open battle in many NYC neighborhoods, which the old guard who worked in District 75 remembers all too well. Their role was to reform or suppress the discontent of the most obstinate and angry children from the city's underclass by any means necessary. Teachers in District 75 used to be trained in classroom management: takedowns, pins, and restraints.

These separate, self-contained, special education schools for the "profoundly disabled" housed kids who once openly sabotaged schooling and actively resisted the rhythms, norms, and curriculum of the mainstream classroom. They attacked any authority figure who got in their way and tore up whatever narrative that followed—any teacher soapboxing about meritocracy would be met with laughter and be marked down as a sucker. In some respects, these children were mature far beyond their years, not only considering what they've experienced, but in their understanding of it. One renegade teacher here witnessed restlessness and aggression drop away year after year during challenging semester-length investigations of the history of class society and the everyday politics of the street—discussions that slipped through the cracks in these transitional schools where teachers are less disciplined by administration assuming they are able to manage behaviors effectively.

Considering the role these institutions played, it was a shock that Principal Rudolph Giuliani—first cousin of the ex-mayor with the same name—of Brooklyn's largest group of District 75 schools retired last year, six-months after a New York Post investigation. A 200-pound teacher had shoved a 9-year-old's face into a radiator, though an anonymous source explained that the child was being "verbally abusive."20 The teacher had had over a dozen investigations made against her over the years, along with many of the old guard there, but nothing ever happened. After all, if a parent or teacher made a complaint, Rudy would lead the inquiry himself, which meant he would trash it and forget all about it. An allegation of child abuse was an ugly mark on the school and the Giuliani legacy.

Rudy would warn time and again at orientations that the children were changing, observing the rise of the new type of educational illness. He would remind his staff that they were becoming "more clinical" at every occasion. Everyone seemed to notice it. At the same time, the old ways—traditional physical restraints, berating, corporal punishment—stood out as outdated, with policy and prosecution to follow. Rudy must have been kicking himself when the news broke.

Back in '96, the New York Times pointed out the irony of Rudy taking a job as principal of a District 75 school while his cousin criticized special education for "absorbing 13 percent of the city's public school students."21 Today those numbers have more than doubled in some schools. The NYC Teaching Fellows program almost exclusively channels career changers into special education teaching. Around half of the UFT's active members service special education students.

The numbers have increased radically but, more important, the psychic landscape has changed. Internalized, dissociated, "on the spectrum," inattentive, attention-seeking, self-harming, passive-aggressive—now psychoeducational reports are peppered with these quasi-formal descriptions instead of "oppositional defiance disorder." As with the trend in the general education schools from which they are sent, instead of focusing their aggression directly at a teacher, these kids quiet themselves, limit their motions, abilities, and ways of linking to others. Aggression is rarely verbalized today in District 75—speech disorders abound now, for "unclear" reasons—but the trace of hostility is more present than ever.22 Anxiety and attachment problems dominate the classroom, along with autistic defenses. The fighters have turned to criers. Here in District 75, weighted blankets and vests—effective in calming autistic students—have been expanded for use with all the new symptoms. In a depressing cycle, some children have been witnessed to chronically attempt to elope from class partly to provoke physical restraints in order to feel some containment and connection. Standardized cognitive-behavioral style observation forms invariably lead a school-based mental health team to "attention seeking" as the root of problem behaviors in children coming from today's overcrowded and over-tested classrooms. Problems with "transitions" are a common observation of these children as movement from one setting to the next induces fear instead of excitement.

When children face adversity they find resilience in fundamental social processes like love, fusion, identification, play, and rebellion—signs of depth in personality—but in a changing New York, these are all less available. Despite their pitfalls and broken promises, a family, crew, school, or community, even if ephemeral, gives a social foundation for development. The war waged on the poor by Mayor Giuliani and President Clinton dismantled much of the resilience this city offered its youth, paving it over with the new Brooklyn. Giuliani created a massive settlement fund for the police force and wrote terror explicitly into their program. Stop-and-frisk, broken windows, and police raids tore apart much of Brooklyn's culture where kids earlier found some shelter and sense of identity, while the city became sterilized, policed, and corporate. The violent history of mass incarceration and displacement that followed is hardly recognized by those who enjoy Brooklyn as a hipster playground.

Childhood Reconsidered

Schooling as the institution of literacy since the 16th century corresponded with the birth of childhood itself—a development visible in the fact that every infant and child painted before this period resembles an ornery old man. With the spread of literacy, especially amongst the burgeoning merchant class and Protestant movement, "the child [gained] a different nature and different needs, which required separation and protection from the adult world."23 Sexual taboos governing relations among children and probably between children and adults were instated in Western civilization as late as the 18th century.24 Shame, self-control, and cultivation were established as tenets of childhood and schooling while childhood became an object of bourgeois consumption and decoration.25 Adulthood, in contrast, developed into a world of literate consciousness filled with secret written knowledge, accounting, attention, restraint, and logical sequence.26 Although this experience of childhood, along with literacy itself, belonged to the emerging bourgeois class and its Enlightenment ideals, they became universal ideals as history progressed, especially as reading and writing were found to be important skills for the working population. Before the promulgation of universal education acts in England, for example, 19th century working-class children daily spent "12 hours in the warm and pure moral atmosphere of the factory."27

The late 19th century world of the hysteric encountered by Freud and described in his early "seduction theory" was largely a product of the separation that literacy helped establish between childhood and adulthood—combined with the division of humanity along class lines and capitalism's totalizing regulation of body and soul. For Freud, the enigmatic chasm between parent and child was the birthplace of fantasy and the origin-point of mental abstraction.28 The development of core mental faculties and their frustrations were ultimately expressions of long-standing social tensions vis-á-vis early relationships. In the first half of the 20th century, pioneering clinician-theorists followed in this tradition by way of direct work with schools and children, as part of their investigation of the modern psyche.29 Meticulous observation, clinical encounters and experimentation outlined the integral role of schooling in the creation of the contemporary child and the depth of her mental life and cognition. These thinkers found that the seat of reality-testing, exploration, and curiosity—the range of activity that underlies the mature individual's complexity—were indirectly expanded in the process of education, though sometimes inhibited in the face of objective anxieties.30

Today, we witness an inhibition of this range of activity as a fundamental theme in myriad and growing childhood pathologies which are set in schooling conditions that provoke anxiety and regiment children with intensified and confusing demands to match a deeply conflictual political-economy. Modern schooling as a way of reproducing, disciplining, and cultivating a work-force has always responded to the demands of a changing labor market. In the post-war period this meant developing the "human capital" skills that was needed for segmentation of the labor market into various strata.31 The current curriculum's demands for quixotic global competition, service economy social skills, and digital fluency are all impressed on children through increasingly market-mediated competitive anxieties and expressed indirectly by unconvinced teachers and overstressed parents. Meanwhile, the dominant appearance of society and its therapies affect our ways of explaining and intervening with the mentally ill. With the profit-driven overuse of behaviorist modalities, medication, and reductionist scientism, the old special role for childhood, its relationships, and its psychology become less and less obvious to adults. As we lose these perspectives on childhood, we are in some sense also losing the privileged place of childhood itself, rendering the young more vulnerable to anxiety and the threat of inhibition.

For example, the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget saw the importance of play as part of the developmental sequence that led to abstract thinking and sociality.32 Separately, the Soviet cultural-historical psychologist Lev Vygotsky saw play as central to early childhood development and learning, giving us the generalized emergence of emotions, regulation of impulses, symbolic thought and the unconstrained imagination.33 The English pediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott also reserved an integral developmental role for play in his landmark Playing and Reality. 34 Play was an expression of the "transitional object," the principal method of connecting with the reality beyond the child's internal world of representations. In all these articulations, play was understood as providing the child with a safe way of feeling real or authentic, with insight into the breadth and depth of their self.

Despite what was once an obvious and detailed need for play, there is significantly less time reserved for it in schools today, even at the earliest grades. A major national longitudinal study of kindergarten classes between 1998 and 2010 found increasingly less choice and time spent in self-directed and creative play. Expectations for testing had taken its place. Topics that engaged children were jettisoned for increased use of textbooks and workbooks.35 Today, kids are no longer required to read books in school.36 Common Core Standard-aligned curriculums developed by Pearson or competitors break skills into scripted units with text fragments to match. Pre-packaged lessons are difficult for even the most well-meaning teachers to be enthusiastic about, and the inattention trickles down to their pupils.

The pervasiveness of new media is another factor in the disappearance of childhood. Whatever social conservatives may think, aggression in video games is hardly a reason to be worried. Murderous aggression in fairy tales and in children's own fantasies is unexceptional. The real problem observable in many children's video games and the children's descriptions of them is a limiting of creativity, spontaneity, and sociality in favor of repetition and a compulsive pleasure.37 Indeed, the WHO recently classified video game addiction as a new diagnostic category.38 Equally interesting, two-thirds of adults also play video games.39 Additional factors in the threat to childhood regard sexuality. The gamut of human sexuality is discovered on the internet at early ages but the bodies of the young are simultaneously less physically intimate.40 The CDC showed major long-term decreases in sexual activity among teens and adults alike.41 Meanwhile, social media and a rise in smartphone use have led to feelings of loneliness and depression. 42

The transitional space between the adult and child as discrete entities is changing. This was the location of enigmatic fantasy and inspiration for Freud, where the child relied on fantasy and creativity to build their psychic life. Winnicott named this space a "holding environment," where the adult world that conditions the child's survival is largely unknown, allowing children the energy and room needed to focus on internal developmental tasks at their own pace. Without the conditions for providing a sufficient holding environment that allows for the child's safe transition, the pervasive imposition of this world suffocates them within our own arms, at home as well as school.

A Way Forward

This article has sought to make sense of the dramatic changes in the experience and self-presentation of young people today. Conditioned by economic crisis, the dismantling of the welfare state, and fictional narratives about meritocracy and the Midas touch of future industry, schooling is today a bewildering institution. This disorientation is even more pronounced considering the dilemma of reigning economic and political ideologies. In today's schools, the useless intensification of achievement pressure, the ethereal diffusion of marketplace anxiety, and the undermining of the teacher-student relationship have helped lead to a reduction in the complexity of the psyche of some children. The range of the self is restricted by the internal offensive of diffuse yet intense objective anxiety, aggression is battened down by "evidence-based" behavioral modifications or medication, and resilience is largely arrested, deprived of its conditions. In a social context comprised of developments such as the decline of play, new forms of media, shared literacy, early encounters with virtual sexuality, and mounting pressures on the nuclear family, childhood as a discrete holding environment to protect and deepen the young psyche is altogether threatened. Despite the dominant and cost-efficient attempts to understand and care for our young through trends in parenting and therapies, our anxious embrace of the uncanny children of today seems to offer them nothing but suffocation.

Social crises offer us hope that we might cast aside dominant and cumbersome notions of human life. We should look towards the creative and social potential of the present moment's new literacy that the young are free to access and operate, full of incredible possibilities inconceivable just a few decades ago. What could be the shared horizons for the process of adulthood and childhood alike? What new transitional spaces might allow access to the objective world without being suffocated by their weight? Schooling, as a result of the social structure around it, has taken on a kaleidoscopic array of new forms with the same old components.43 Adding another conception of education without changing the world around it risks taking part in this ongoing charade.

Yet ignoring schools also allows their sterility to undermine the very possibility for aggression, attention, and depth, the lack of which marks the new generation of educational illnesses. As parents, education workers, and students, where we cannot work against schooling directly we must seek to develop and deepen resilience in relationships, spontaneous play, and a culture of thoughtful rebellion amongst children. As the Los Angeles teachers have shown in their community partnership, simple and seemingly innocuous demands like smaller classroom sizes and resistance to managerial control are profound and far-reaching when contrasted with the deadening logic of education today. Counselors, psychologists, and social workers must do their part to reject cost-effective, brief, manualized therapies that treat children anonymously and expose the detrimental meta-psychology of education today. As an example of a practical sabotage, mental health practitioners in schools should constantly inform and enlist parents in the fight against the worst aspects of schooling, which are often defended by administrators who have written off the disabled child. Helping parents to advocate for time-intensive and human-sized quantities of therapeutic services on legal documents like the Individualized Education Program will force union grievances, parental action, and conflicts when these services are inevitably (and illegally) denied by administration. The corrupt party that isolates the NYC teachers' union just smothered an opportunity to enter the national project now underway, despite our own special crisis brewing.44 As teachers continue to set an example for children through their protests against the effects of abysmal education policy, let us hope that more of us will take part in the strike-wave and bring attention to our own reproduction of all aspects of this world.

This article is an expansion of material developed by the author in Damage Online Magazine and Hard Crackers: Chronicles of Everyday Life.

1. Horowitz, S. H., Rawe, J., & Whittaker, M. C. (2017). The State of Learning Disabilities: Understanding the 1 in 5. New York: National Center for Learning Disabilities.

2. Denizet-Lewis, B. (2017, October 11). Why Are More American Teenagers Than Ever Suffering From Severe Anxiety. New York Times. Retrieved from:

3. Center for Disease Control (2018). Trends in the Prevalence of Sexual Behaviors and HIV Testing 1991-2017. Retrieved from:

4. Brittney, M., Berman M., and Achenbach, J. (2018, May 18). Ten Killed in Texas High School Shooting were Mostly Students; Police say Suspect Confessed. The Washington Post. Retrieved from:

5. Swanson, A. (2015, June 23). 144 Years of Marriage and Divorce in the United States. The Washington Post. Retrieved from:

6. Roufos, P. (2018, November). Tapping Into the Unrealized Futures of the Past: Quinn Slobodian with Pavlos Roufos. The Brooklyn Rail. Retrieved from:

7. Rosenberger, G. (1985, August 18). The Schools; Letting in 'Latchkey Children'. The New York Times. Retrieved from:

8. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (2017, November 29). A Punishing Decade for School Funding. Retrieved from:

9. Landrum, S. (2018, February 9). More Millenial Women are Becoming Stay-At-Home Moms—Here's Why. Forbes. Retrieved from:

10. Jerald, C. D. (2008). Benchmarking for Success: Ensuring US Students Receive a World-Class Education. National Governors Association.

11. Strauss, V. (2013, January 9). A Tough Critique of Common Core On Early Childhood Education. Washington Post. Retrieved from:

12. Scafidi, Benjamin (2017, May). The Great Teacher Salary Stagnation and the Decades-Long Employment Growth in American Public Schools. EdChoice. Retrieved from:

13. National Center for Education Statistics, Statistics of Public Elementary and Secondary School Systems, 1977-78 and 1980-81; and Common Core of Data (CCD), "State Nonfiscal Survey of Public Elementary/Secondary Education," 1990-91 through 2015-16. 

14. The school will not be named for reasons of confidentiality.

15. U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs IDEA Static Tables; U.S. Department of Education; Education Week Research Center. Retrieved from:

16. Schwarz, Alan (2013, December 14). The Selling of Attention Deficit Disorder. The New York Times. Retrieved from:

17. Blumberg, S. J., Zablotsky, B., Avila, R. M., Colpe, L. J., Pringle, B. A., & Kogan, M. D. (2016). Diagnosis lost: Differences between children who had and who currently have an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis. Autism20(7), 783-795.

18. Henderson, Sal (2018, November 19). The Psychoeducational Middle School. Damage Online Magazine. Retrieved from:

19. Vogel, H. and Waldman, A. (2014, December 23). New York City Sends $30 Million a Year to School With History of Giving Kids Electric Shocks. ProPublica. Retrieved from:

20. Cuillton, K. (2017, August 3). Brooklyn Special Ed Teacher Allegedly Smashed Student's Face Into Radiator, Policy Say. Retrieved from:

21. Steinberg, J. (1996, September 25). Children, Please Welcome Principal Rudolph Giuliani. The New York Times. Retrieved from:

22. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (2014, August 21). New Pediatrics Study Reveals Dramatic Increase in Speech Problems in Children Over Past Decade. Retrieved from:

23. J. H. Plumb (1971) The Great Change in Children. Horizon, 13(1), p. 9 in Postman, N. (1994). The Disappearance of Childhood. New York: Vintage Books. 

24. Fishman, S. (1982). The History of Childhood Sexuality. Journal of Contemporary History, 17(2), 269-283.

25. Postman, N. (1994). The Incunabula of Childhood. The Disappearance of Childhood. New York: Vintage Books, pp. 37 – 51.

26. Ong, W. J. (1982). Orality and Literacy. Milton: Taylor & Francis.

27. Marx, K., Engels, F., Mandel, E., & Fowkes, B. (1990). Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. London: Penguin in association with New Left Review, pp. 337.

28. Laplanche, J., & Pontalis, J. B. (1968). Fantasy and the origins of sexuality. The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 49(1), 1-18.

29. See especially the work in schools of Siegfried Bernfeld, August Aichorn, Anna Freud, Melanie Klein and Eric Erikson.

30. These thinkers generally referred to this activity as "the ego".

31. Bowles, S., & Gintis, H. (1976). Schooling in capitalist America: Educational reform and the contradictions of economic life. New York: Basic Books. 

32. Frost, J. L., Wortham, S. C., & Reifel, R. S. (2012). Play and child development. Boston: Pearson, 46-47.

33. Bodrova, E., & Leong, D. J. (2015). Vygotskian and Post-Vygotskian Views on Children's Play. American Journal of Play, 7(3), 371-388.

34. Winnicott, D. W. (1989). Playing and reality. London: Routledge. 

35. Bassok, D., Latham, S., & Rorem, A. (2016). Is kindergarten the new first grade?. Aera Open2(1).

36. OUPblog (2010, March 29). Let Them Read Whole Books. Retrieved from:

37. Christine Anzieu Premmerreur, the child psychiatrist and director of the Parent-Infant program at Columbia Center for Psychoanalytic Training, voiced this observation in a talk on 1/15/19 titled "Growing up in an X-box: The Child in a Detached World."

38. World Health Organization (2018, September). Gaming Disorder. Retrieved from:

39. Entertainment Software Association (2017). Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry. Retrieved from:

40. Horvath, M. A., Alys, L., Massey, K., Pina, A., Scally, M., & Adler, J. R. (2013). Basically... porn is everywhere: a rapid evidence assessment on the effects that access and exposure to pornography has on children and young people.

41. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2018, January 5). Sexual Intercourse Among High School Students – 29 States and United States Overall. Weekly. Retrieved from:

42. Miller, C. (2018). Does Social Media Cause Depression? Child Mind Institute. Retrieved from:

43. This metaphor of pedagogical theory comes from Siegfried Bernfeld writing in 1925 and is as relevant today as then.

44. Prosen, K. (2018, November 6). Viewpoint: With No Contract Campaign, New York Teachers Wasted the Moment. Labor Notes. Retrieved from:


Juan Chabrier

Juan Chabrier is a practicing school psychologist and native of Brooklyn, New York.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAR 2019

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