Accountability For–and From–the Mouths of Babes

27 06 2010

True story about the power of schoolthink to shape lives, for life. Nothing much has changed except that now, between well-meaning researchers and profit-meaning test corporations, almost all kids are being labeled for dysfunction. Not just actual orphans. I’ll make this a “First Thinks First” link too.

ACCOUNTABILITY FOR WHAT CHILDREN LEARN:
An Essay from an Academic-Turned-Unschooling Mom

by JJ Ross, Ed.D.
(as published online by the Indiana Home Education Network)

Maybe I need a regular alarm clock.

When I wake to news radio as is my custom, the golden-throated stories I hear in half-consciousness stay with me, imprinting my mood and thoughts. Yet the accurate details of which news is made — facts my fully alert mind would have recorded and filed for recall — escape me almost entirely. Thus I’m left with a sort of deja vu sense of the story, sure that I “know” but off-balance about how I know. (Could this be the way divine revelations are experienced, as beyond explanation or objective proof?)

In any case, as an academic, I’ve been embarrassed over less. Fortunately parent-directed education is not a traditional academic setting!

It happened again, as I awoke this morning. Suddenly my mind was filled with stuttering orphans used for 1939 experiments, in the then-nascent science of speech pathology at some university in the Midwest — Iowa? As I said, I was half-asleep — and it turns out that the orphans weren’t stutterers at all. They were purposely TOLD by the university they needed speech therapy to correct a tendency to stutter, given a few weeks of “sessions” to see if the bogus diagnosis and intervention could create stuttering rather than curing it, and subsequently were returned to their regular orphan lives with the only noted effect being a new hesitancy in their speech. (Itself a sign of stuttering, I mused, but then I wasn’t really conscious.)

The news story continued. Some 50 years later, a journalist discovered the dusty thesis and tracked down a few of the now-elderly participants, who had never doubted what they’d been told as children by those university experts. This “educational experiment” had caused them to live their lives believing they had a scientific tendency toward communication problems, a diagnosis some say was destiny, making them hesitant and reclusive, removing some options, limiting their identity.

But here’s the truth, the journalist says — it was all a lie in service of experimental research. You could have been a contender!

Lawsuits are pending.

The university named a building after the now-dead “father of speech pathology” who supervised the orphan stuttering studies. His protege, Mary Somebody (told you I was semiconscious, remember?) says she regrets that ethical standards in 1939 weren’t what they could have been. There are some quirky legal points about sovereign immunity in place at that time in that state, whichever one it was but that’s not the part that imprinted me for the day.

My own random-abstract take on it is not legal or even scientific, but educational. Power of Story. Humans are impressionable, especially children. Facts and ideas and judgments can enter a child’s mind and lodge where they land, almost like radio news flowing into a brain whose daytime defenses are asleep.

This educational research was high-minded, meant to help children Read the rest of this entry »

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