YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

December 16, 2015

The Depression Grand Challenge: UCLA style

Human brain, conceptual computer artwork. HuffPo

Human brain, conceptual computer artwork. HuffPo

The well-funded David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA has issued its monthly fund-raising magazine, this one titled “The Golden Age of Brain Science.” Removing the stigma from genetically transmitted “depression” is one of their major themes. Turns out that “depression” is entirely inherited, and their interdisciplinary team includes no historians or even anthropologists, but not to worry, psychiatrists are included.

Lest the reader think that social responsibility has been abandoned by the new neuroscientists, note that final paragraph in the featured article: it is a typical liberal double bind/mixed message. Has the Nature-Nurture controversy been resolved?https://clarespark.com/2016/02/09/is-the-nature-nurture-debate-over/

As the Golden Age progresses, neuroscience will transform society: Artificial limbs controlled by thought. Enhanced cognition. Drugs precisely targeted to individuals. Understanding of how external forces like poverty affect the brain.

And a looming new responsibility.

Our brain is not just a reflection of our genetics but is also very much a reflection of our environment,’ says [Kelsey] Martin [interim Dean of the David Geffen School of Medicine]. We have a social responsibility to make sure that the environment is one in which human beings flourish.’

Forget socially-induced trauma, forget [Freudians or Kleinians or socially irresponsible Republicans and Milton Friedman-esque advocates of free markets/upward mobility]. UCLA’s message of genetically engineered and psychotropic-drug-induced “hope” will usher us into the Brave New World.

BraveNewWorld_FirstEdition

As for myself, between the bread and circus atmosphere of political “debates” this election season, or the rise of ISIS and the general incompetence of the political class, I hold on to my environmentally-induced anxiety and depression like Captain Ahab’s red flag.

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February 1, 2014

Harvard ed school leads in vaguely dumbing down

ED. cover Winter 2014

ED. cover Winter 2014

The Winter edition of Ed., the journal of the Harvard Graduate School of Education proudly announces in its featured article “All Along,” the existence of an innovation to the curriculum—one expected to remedy the discarded  one-size fits all curriculum and teaching methods that fail, they say, to make allowances for disabled students and those with English language deficiencies.

Using the new neurosciences, Universal Design Learning will supplement Common Core, and allow for true individuality and its associated benefit: “point of view.” (On the Common Core debate see https://clarespark.com/2013/01/05/american-fascism-and-the-future-of-english-and-american-literature/.)

The long article is remarkably vague, however, about whether there is any method to their innovation, which I view as leveling down, while pretending to be leveling up. Dropping the name of Howard Gardner, resident “genius” who, as I have described in another blog,  believes that girls are talented narcissists, while black boys are great at basketball (see  https://clarespark.com/2009/10/05/arne-duncans-statism-part-two/), Harvard is remarkably vague about the actual content being dropped on the newly individualized schoolchildren.

“These days, [Jeff Mundorf, a teacher of fifth grade in Naples, Florida] presents information to students in a variety of ways and lets them present what they’ve learned in ways that fits their learning preferences. For example, during the unit he teaches on the US Constitution, he gives his students a choice of reading or listening to an audio recording from the textbook, watching an explanation that he has prerecorded, viewing a video on BrainPop.com, or listening to a musical explanation of the Constitution on Flocabulary.com. The difference in his classroom has been stark. Discipline problems are “almost nonexistent” because…each student is engaged with learning. “Once you think about it, a one-size-fits-all –approach to the curriculum becomes kind of silly…We need to help students understand their own learning and give kids their own path to explore. I have no control over the standardized curriculum, or who’s assigned to my classroom. What I can control is the flexibility of my goals, my methods, my materials, and my assessments.” (pp26-27)

recommended reading.jpg

Another authority ends the article with this hope: “We want to see this approach to be the norm, we want these tools to be available to everyone. We want to see UDL as a reform initiative, one that we hope will really take hold nationwide and worldwide.” (The author of this piece, one Katie Bacon, has written for such liberal outlets as The Atlantic, the NYT, and The Boston Globe.)

Dear reader, you can wave goodbye to debates over the content of the US Constitution, or whether or not fifth graders are even intellectually ready to grasp the fine points of our founding document.

UDL2.jpg

December 13, 2012

The “Brain Trust” at UCLA

Blue EagleThe discourse on mental health is troubling, for psychosurgery in the form of lobotomies were deployed for many decades before they were stigmatized.  (See https://clarespark.com/2010/11/29/index-to-lobotomy-blogs/.) Moreover, the notion of psychiatrists or other mental health workers proposing medical interventions in the body, particularly the brain, arouses fears that government surveillance (mind-control and/or mind-management, even psychosurgery on imprisoned black people) are the intended outcomes. Meanwhile, amateurs write self-help books that instruct the unschooled masses with remedies that are wild surmises and/or quackery.

As I have shown, there is a basis for such “paranoid” ideation in ordinary people, for the structural-functionalists (misnamed) in sociology and the burgeoning field of social relations at Harvard and other elite universities did draw upon authoritarian social theory and testing to weed out potential radicals and to direct popular opinion along “progressive” lines, i.e. lines that would support FDR’s New Deal and the welfare state generally. (See https://clarespark.com/2012/12/12/white-rage-black-surrogates/, especially the introductory lines identifying the academic pedigree of Dr. Bertram P. Karon.)

Dr. Karon holds that schizophrenia is not a genetic disease requiring sedating medication, but rather (controversially) proposes that psychoanalytically oriented therapy can provide cure. He stresses the widespread need of people generally to have a willing ear to listen to her or his troubles. Given that health insurers (including Medicare) are reluctant to pay for anything but short term counseling and medication, one wonders if willing friends and relatives are not called upon to listen to those of us with emotional difficulties that are manifested in biological symptoms and general misery. For the willing ear, the key would be in not judging the speaker, and in controlling one’s own emotional responses to loaded material, a feat that few of us are up for, especially in our youth (or in the endless youth that the rhetoric of “family” or the fashion industry promotes: see https://clarespark.com/2011/01/26/obama-and-the-rhetoric-of-the-political-family/).

BrainTrust

Yesterday I received a magazine from the UCLA Health System David Geffen School of Medicine, featuring an article by Dan Gordon, “Brain Trust,” a six-page article soliciting support for the Neuropsychiatric Institute as directed by Dr. Peter Whybrow, a celebrity neuroscientist and psychiatrist. The article caught my attention because it represented, as “interdisciplinary” social theory, exactly the same social theory that I had encountered in the UCLA Department of History as I pursued my doctorate. This social theory was “progressive” in that it stressed the “interactions” between genetic inheritance and vaguely defined “environmental” influences.  (See https://clarespark.com/2010/02/10/a-brooding-meditation-on-intimacy-and-distance/.)

But the focus in the essay was obviously to locate “brain disorders” as subject to medical interventions, combining [cognitive behavioral] “therapy,”  molecular biology, MRI scans, genomics, and  pharmaceuticals, while holding out hope for surgery that would cure such ailments as bipolar disease, perhaps even depression, insomnia, obesity, Alzheimer’s and so on.

Here are some representative fuzzy quotes:

“Thomas Strouse, M.D., medical director of the Resnick Hospital, notes that when the NPI first opened its doors, the prevailing theories were that manic depression, severe depression and even schizophrenia were attributable to parental missteps. ‘Now,’ says Dr. Strouse, ‘we tend to understand most major mental illnesses as brain diseases that are the manifestation of a complex interaction between genetic and environmental factors.’

“This recognition of a genetic-environmental interplay comes after a period some 20 to 30 years ago, during which most of the focus was on the biological. ‘Biology is not destiny. That also is something we have learned in this explosion of knowledge that is behavioral neuroscience,’ says Dr. Whybrow. ‘The brain learns from what it encounters. Thus, while the genes inherited from our parents help to shape our path and the vulnerabilities we carry, it is experience and those who nurture us that eventually determine who we are.’

“The implications of this understanding are profound. Where once it was thought that people were entirely responsible for their own mood and behavior, and then it was believed that any aberrant behavior was simply a product of wayward brain chemistry, it’s now clear that both a person’s developmental path and his or her biology play a role, along with a third significant factor: the social environment. Even with medication interventions, the best results are achieved with medication and supportive therapy that calls for an understanding of the person, the family and the environment.” (U Magazine, Winter, 2013, pp.16-17)

The late Louis Jolyon West

The late Louis Jolyon West

What was glaringly absent in the article was the role of flawed institutions in promoting “brain disorders.” The word “institution” was never mentioned. “Lifestyle choices” and hopeful subjection to the regimen of  the federally funded “Nexus Project” (with its “interdisciplinary” and “community” focus), now in progress, were mentioned. In other words, we are sort of on our own, but can look forward to the “magic” of the Neuropsychiatric Institute, according to “Fawzy I. Fawzy M.D., the  Louis Jolyon West Professor of Psychiatry and and Biobehavioral Sciences and executive associate director of the Semel Institute.”

Beggars can’t be choosers.

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