Sunday, October 19, 2008

Oppositional Disorder

Oppositional Disorder

The original version was published in  educational Horizons

©2021 Gary K. Clabaugh

edited 9/16/2021 

See, also, Poisoning Educational Practice

Once upon a time parents said to lack the courage and/or interest to set limits and impose responsibilities were thought to produce ‘spoiled’ children. "Brat" was the common parlance. Happily, it’s now known that a child's upbringing has little or nothing to do with such an unwelcome outcome. Children who behave like "spoiled brats" really are suffering from “oppositional disorder.”

Yes, indeed, according to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Disorders, oppositional disorder’s symptoms include:

(1) violations of minor rules 
(2) temper tantrums 
(3) argumentativeness 
(4) provocative behavior 
(5) stubbornness

No wonder kids afflicted with this ailment are often thought of as ‘brats.’ The malady mimics brattiness with uncanny accuracy. That’s precisely how it escaped detection until the late 20th Century. Today, however, there is a growing awareness of the disorder's existence. So enlightened parents who used to "cure" Johnny by sending him to bed without supper, now realize that he needs: clinical diagnosis via psychological testing and assessment, chart notes, a case history, test reports, psychotherapy and/or behavior therapy possibly combined with psychopharmacological treatment using drugs such as: Ritilin, Xanax, Librium, Klonopin, Tranxene, or Valium.

This syndrome is not easily grasped by the unenlightened. I certainly misunderstood my own children's symptoms. I remember the time I asked my adolescent son to take out the trash. He rather snottily retorted, "Why should I?" I emphatically replied, "Because I'll kick your butt if you don’t’ He responded, ”That’s a good reason!" and took out the trash. At the time I thought I was following the Biblical admonition to raise up a child in the way he should go. I now realize he required treatment, not threats. 

In adult life the young man in question has been doing very well. Still, I suspect his college major, philosophy, and his minor, art history, were symptomatic of oppositional disorder. Plus I’m certain this infirmity was why, in high school, he cut gym class, refused to join the Young Republicans, disliked Pat Boone, opined that Reverend Oral Roberts was a con man, and refused to wear a pocket protector. Now I worry that this insidious malady might, like the shingles virus, lye dormant within him just waiting to re-erupt and cause more trouble.

Social Neanderthals claim kids ‘diagnosed’ as disordered typically need little more than smart love, consistent limits and a good old-fashioned spanking if their disobedience nearly gets them killed. But the enlightened realize such close calls are really a cry for help. 

Reactionaries opine that the therapeutic model is popular because it lets weak-willed parents off the hook, enriches clinicians, and pumps up big pharma’s profits. But the enlightened have come to realize "brattiness" is an outdated, even dangerous, coprolite of a by-gone era that must be abandoned in favor of the therapeutic. 
To examine these and similar issues further, see articles at

Sunday, October 5, 2008

What Blocks School Improvement

Before No Child Left Behind was even a glint in the nation's eye, Bill Clinton proposed Goals 2000 (the Educate America Act)in the early years of his first term. Originally its focus was on the formulation of national educational standards; but this emphasis quickly failed. What happened?

Education Week claims “Fears that the program would lead to federal control over local curriculum decisions drove Congress, governors and school administrators to move Goals 2000 away from its standards emphasis toward a loosely affiliated series of projects and computer purchases.” But was fear of federal control the real bugbear?

I don’t think so. We shy away from meaningful national education standards because every attempt at their formulation collides with the elemental fact that there is no consensus regarding what American kids should know and be able to do; nor is there agreement on how they should do it. When we launch national educational goal setting efforts, they inevitably founder on this rock of disagreement.

An alternative, imposed by No Child Left Behind, is to require states to set standards. But that doesn't alter the fact that there is little or no deep agreement at the state level. As soon as state legislators begin to define the details the whole thing tends to either break down into acrimonious haggling or we end up with standards that lack broad public support.

What about generating standards at the level of the 16,000 plus school districts? After all districts are often far more uniform than entire states can be. Nevertheless, in the vast majority of districts deep agreement still is non-existent. Try to reach agreement on any truly fundamental matter, say at a school board meeting, and just watch blood pressures rise as consensus evaporates.

This fundamental lack of agreement concerning the means and ends of public schooling is the basic reality that has troubled, presently troubles and will continue to trouble every serious effort at school improvement. The only way to generate consensus, and it will be a superficial one at that, is by formulating goals that are so vague as to be practically useless.

Google a sample of school district mission statements and see for yourself. Every one of them will rely on happy talk and buzz words. In this way a shallow and practically useless consensus is maintained. And as soon as we press for details the whole thing falls apart.

What is to be done? Continue to concoct superficial, warm and fuzzy goals and then ignore them when real work needs to be done.

Trouble is that strategy puts real pressure on superintendents, principals and, especially, teachers. That's because the closer you get to actual classroom practice the more useless, or even counterproductive, vague goals become. When its time to teach reading, for example, detailed decisions have to be made. That's why every classroom teacher should adopt Harry Truman's motto, "THE BUCK STOPS HERE!"

To further examine these and related issues, see articles at