Sunday, April 27, 2014

No dark sarcasm in the classroom...

I have started typing out three or four blog posts this evening. I keep erasing them. I wanted to be clever and add a commentary on Breaking Bad to correspond with Daniel’s (very interesting) analysis of Mad Men (a show I have never watched).  I started writing a post about mental disorders and the emergent role of a diagnosis on the autism spectrum. While I see a great deal of nonsense about autism appearing on news aggregates like HuffPo and on my Facebook feed, I find it interesting how much emphasis is placed on an overreaction to late capitalism’s stimulus society. For example, I have seen what the inside of a McDonald’s can do to my quirky, very sweet, and mildly autistic nephew. Moreover, I have watched my sister’s family deal with the financial realities of having to home school their kid with the hopes of “mainstreaming” him into elementary school. Unlike so many kids diagnosed on the autism spectrum, there are ample resources in many public schools for kids with other learning disabilities to become “productive.” I will always remember how proud I was supposed to be of my fellow high school student with Down syndrome who I actually observed sweeping the floors at a McDonalds (the one on I20 and Cooper). But more to the point, what does this mainstreaming into public education even mean? Fisher’s discussion of education is not so appealing.

I guess this train of thought leads me to the third topic I keep wanting to write about: teaching. Fisher states that he has “chosen to focus on mental health problems and bureaucracy because they both feature heavily in an area of culture which has becom[e] increasingly dominated by the imperatives of capitalism realism: education” (20). One of my favorite plays deals with the events that take place in a mid-twentieth-century British school. To paraphrase the line spoken by the retiring head master, he says that he never like the word education; he preferred the term schooling. Notions of teaching have come a long way from then to what Fisher now describes: “teachers are now increasingly required to act as surrogate parents, instilling the most basic behavioral protocols in students and providing pastoral and emotional support for teenagers who are in some cases only minimally socialized” (26). By all accounts, the system criticized by Charles Dickens has metastasized except that Nicholas Nickleby can’t help out because he dropped out of high school and is now the evening shift supervisor at Radio Shack.

Fisher is really concerned with student behavior, their mental conditions, and the causes of those mental conditions. I do think that “social systemic causation” is a factor that can cause some form of mental or social dysfunction (21). I am not entirely sure this is always a problem. I also think that the environmental degradation from capitalist exploitation is causing chemical imbalances that lead to mental health problems. However, as a teacher, I know that those students who are more extreme, more histrionic, more willing to push back on my performance and more willing call out bullshit when they encounter it enhance my classes. And no, I am not saying that any of them have been diagnosed with mental differences (though some admittedly have). Nor am I arguing that I am able to effectively deal with every atypical student. That being said, I can’t help but wonder why I don’t ever have an extreme reaction when I walk into a McDonalds.


  1. This was a minor point in your blog, but... Could it be that the capitalist (and drug-induced) frenzy of Walter White's business become so schizophrenic that they arrive at a limit and unravel, leading White to literal nomadism?

  2. Robert I am very much inclined to agree with your post. I must admit I find the uncaveated connection of mental illness to late capitalism generally unpersuasive. That is not to say that I think the environment created and maintained by capital realism adds certain stress, increases depression, and can be the source for a number of psycho-social ailments. A lot of good work has been done on epigenetics (environmental effects on genes). My approval of these general assertions aside, I don't find his fumbled use of self-reporting health characteristics persuasive. Using a comparative approach to reports about stress, depression, etc.., seems to imply that the category is stable. Should we accept the assumption that what we consider the symptoms constituting depression resembles the similarly named phenomena that reported thirty or forty years earlier?. If environmental factors are causing (contributing) to these mental illness, might we also consider the social construction of mental illness? That more students are being diagnosed with dyslexia seems to say more about the unstable category of dyslexia than our pervasive economic system alone.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.