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The Therapeutic State: More about “Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance: Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century”

Privacy is one of those outdated concepts that must be discarded in favor of closing achievement gaps and supplying workforce needs. Or so the authors of the U.S. Department of Education draft document (named above and cited in a previous post) would have us believe.

Attributes, attitudes and dispositions are “essential” to developing an individual’s full potential. Intellectual prowess and content knowledge are insufficient guarantors of success. In the words of the authors, non-cognitive factors are both “malleable and teachable” when student data is matched with appropriate technologies and strategies. The following excerpts from the Department of Education draft paper elaborate on what these would be.

Perhaps the most familiar and widely used measurement approach for noncognitive factors is self-report. In such measures, participants typically respond independently to a set or sets of items that ask for ratings of their perceptions, attitudes, goals, emotions, and beliefs.

Student reactions to such questions cannot be known. But, in the “tell all” Internet world of Face Book and Twitter, resistance (unless prompted by parents), seems as unlikely as objections that self-reporting violates privacy.

The authors suggest a “Character Report Card” be compiled “based on ratings pooled from multiple teachers on factors such as grit and self-control.” They also suggest that data “be linked across systems- school, social services, foster care, youth development programming, juvenile justice.”

“Character Report Cards,” if compiled, would become part of students’ permanent records. The authors do not say whether parents would have access to the “Character Report Card,” would be able to lodge objections and make corrections, or even know of its existence.

Another section of the paper notes researchers…

have used physiological response data from a biofeedback apparatus that measures blood volume, pulse, and galvanic skin response to examine student frustration in an online learning environment.” There is even a camera that “captures facial expressions… While this type of tool may not be necessary in a small class of students, it could be useful for examining emotional responses in informal learning environments for large groups, like museums.”

The field of neuroscience also offers methods for insight into some of the psychological resources associated with grit, especially effortful control. Using neuroimaging techniques, such as fMRI, it is possible to examine which parts of the brain are active during times of anxiety or stress and the effects of some interventions.

Thus are “neuroimaging techniques” seriously considered to help inject “grit” in a student’s psyche.

In a previous post this writer commented on the Obama administration’s hiring of a “behavioral insights team” to research ways to encourage “good” citizen behaviors (the ones government approves). Reportedly, the White House “is already working on such projects with almost a dozen federal departments and agencies.” But imagine how much easier the task would be if longitudinal personal data were available to assist in shaping desired behaviors. An added advantage, should such records also influence educational and job opportunities, would be the ability to impose penalties for non-compliance.

In 1963, Psychiatrist Thomas S. Szasz, a well-known critic of medicine as a means of social control, defined the therapeutic state as collaboration between psychiatry and government in which disapproved actions, thoughts, and emotions are repressed (“cured”) through pseudo medical interventions.

Szasz wrote:

The therapeutic state swallows up everything human on the seemingly rational ground that nothing falls outside the province of health and medicine.

The therapeutic/nanny state is a perfect fit with the progressive ideology of the Obama administration. Everything the government disapproves can be “cured” by interventions of one kind or another. Politically incorrect speech is subject to public condemnation, as are religious beliefs that interfere with progressive policies. Crime, overeating, smoking, and political heresies, among other behaviors judged dysfunctional, can all be cured by the state.

Szasz believed such thinking undermines individual responsibility and invites coercive paternalism. He died in 2012 at the age of 92, having lived to see his fears realized.

At the end of their paper the authors indicate they are aware of “critical ethical considerations” concerning their proposals and recommendations.

As new forms of measurement emerge and new types of personal data become available, the field must also deal with critical ethical considerations. Of course, privacy is always a concern, especially when leveraging data available in the “cloud” that users may or may not be aware is being mined. However, another emergent concern is the consequences of using new types of personal data in new ways. Learners and educators have the potential to get forms of feedback about their behaviors, emotions, physiological responses, and cognitive processes that have never been available before. Measurement developers must carefully consider the impacts of releasing such data, sometimes of a sensitive nature, and incorporate feedback mechanisms that are valuable, respectful, and serve to support productive mindsets.

There now, don’t you feel better?


1 Curtice Mang { 09.25.13 at 2:52 pm }

Some years back there was an ad campaign for an anti-perspirant that had the tag line “never let ’em see you sweat.” Apparently, for the Common Core \corps, not only will it be required for students to “let ’em see you sweat,” it’ll be recorded and stored in a massive database. Must be going now, goosestepping practice starts in an hour.


2 Curtice Mang { 09.25.13 at 2:53 pm }

Some years back there was an ad campaign for an anti-perspirant that had the tag line “never let ’em see you sweat.” Apparently, for the Common Core corps, not only will it be required for students to “let ’em see you sweat,” it’ll be recorded and stored in a massive database. Must be going now, goosestepping practice starts in an hour.


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