Poor Brain-damaged Teenagers

One of the consequences of the medicalization of everything is that we’ve come to define adolescence as a medical condition and treat it aggressively. Some day people will look back on what we are doing to kids the same way we look back today on the lobotomies and electroshock of decades ago. Until then, I guess we’ll keep buying snake oils. This article discusses the lack of scientific basis for the Ritalin binge we’re on. It’s a shorter version of the argument and evidence presented in the three-part series in last year’s The New York Review of Books by a different doctor.

Children’s A.D.D. Drugs Don’t Work Long-Term – NYTimes.com:

THREE million children in this country take drugs for problems in focusing. Toward the end of last year, many of their parents were deeply alarmed because there was a shortage of drugs like Ritalin and Adderall that they considered absolutely essential to their children’s functioning.

But are these drugs really helping children? Should we really keep expanding the number of prescriptions filled?

Oddly enough this question is completely off the table in my school. You can’t pose it in class because so many students are on Ritalin or other drugs. All of the weight of our medical institutions have told them they get bored reading two sentences in a row or confused when doing algebra because something is wrong with them. They have a condition. They can’t help it. Take this pill, and school will be over soon. Challenging this approach is seen as discrimination: these students have a condition and need to be accommodated. So teachers and student-oriented admin are reduced to wringing their hands about how to help all these poor brain-damaged kids sit dazed through classes long enough to be given a diploma.

If we took our jobs seriously, we be figuring out how to teach ordinary, bursting-with-energy and interested-in-other-things-than-school teenagers the basics of adult communication: how to listen to others and how to speak, read and write with basic care and formality. These are not natural skills. You learn them. You used to learn them (at least in part) in schools. Yet, when our school brought in a speaker to discuss students with special needs, the three most common “disabilities” they identified among our student population were stress, anxiety and feeling overwhelmed.


Really? Students learning a variety of new material in a new school meeting new people, all while working, and going out with friends and having dramatic, messy first relationships feel stressed, anxious and overwhelmed? I believe it! Those constitute a medical disability? Now way. Or to quote Big Daddy, “Bull!”; and Brick, “Mendacity!” These are normal, healthy symptoms of teenage life. They go away as teenagers learn adult skills like planning, making responsible choices, deferring somethings for later, saying “no,” and as they become better at the reading and writing skills they need to do well in school. In other words, as the teenagers learn and grow up, they will be fine.

Most students will not find learning these useful skills from middle-aged teachers fun. And it certainly isn’t easy to teach them. Not least because, if you start making headway, students will express their interest by 1) showing up to class and 2) acting not interested. And oftentimes, the more interested they are, the more disinterested they will act. Because they don’t yet know how to express interest like an adult! Is the situation frustrating? Yes. But then, does anyone on the planet think teaching teenagers will not be?!? That’s the job though.

The challenge is figuring out how to deal with your frustration so you can teach what you have to teach. Role-modelling and not being a dick when you’re at the front of the class will go a long way toward making everything work better. But I suppose we could just give all teenagers speed too.

Ugh. Rant over.

1000 Monkeys & Algorithmic Deconstruction

In The Digital Humanities and Interpretation, Stanley Fish writes about some recent efforts to conceptualize the method and purpose of “digital humanities” (i.e. letting computers “mine” books for data rather than reading them). He surveys what various people have proposed. Confronted with the question of how to (and implicitly, why) read through a computer, Stephen Ramsey responds:

“The answer is not to go to the text “armed with a hypothesis” but “with a machine that is ready to reorganize the text in a thousand different ways instantly.” Each reorganization (sometimes called a “deformation”) creates a new text that can be reorganized in turn and each new text raises new questions that can be pursued to the point where still newer questions emerge. The point is not to get to a place you had in mind and then stop; the point is to keep on going, as, aided by the data-generating machine, you notice this and then notice that which suggests something else and so an, ad infinitum.”

We continue to create a horrible world…

Dear Governor: Lobby to Save a Love of Reading – SchoolBook

Dear Governor: Lobby to Save a Love of Reading – SchoolBook:

An interesting piece about New York state (that could apply elsewhere), calling on the Governor to:

“lobby to protect their natural curiosity and love of learning from the onslaught of anti-intellectual, ends-oriented teaching practices forced on our educators by over-emphasis on standardized tests.”




Moon by Duncan Jones

I’d wanted to watch this for a while because good sci-fi is so hard to find, and this movie had received such good reviews. I could never find it where I could rent it rather than buy it though. Finally, it showed up in Netflix over Christmas.

I’m glad I saw it, and the story is not what I expected at all, which is surprising because I had a pretty clear idea of what I thought I was watching. Jones builds a small, original story, shoots it well, and cuts it together cleanly. He expects you to watch closely, follow what is going on and to put two and two together on your own. It’s great storytelling. I also liked the skillfully used, very low-fi special effects.

I didn’t love this movie—in the end, the story, however well told, is too small—but I’m eager to see what this guy will do next. There’s either a lot of potential here, or he’s thrown the one game-winning hail-Mary he had in him first time on the field.

Holiday Whatnots

More holiday movies:

Devil wears Prada

The Devil Wears Prada was good but Streep was in it much less than I remembered.


Never Let Me Go is an odd adaptation of an odd book. Both are well made but I’m not sure either are very good. We watched the film in two parts–the donor angle was dropped earlier than in the book and was too over-bearing to handle. My interesting discovery: Alex Garland wrote the adaptation.

Pulp Fiction

Pulp Fiction was even better than I remembered it. With the years its white-hot cool has faded, and it’s easier to see the merits of the film more clearly. This is talent-in-spades moviemaking pointing to the way that talent will be squandered in nearly-as-good but equally pointless movies later on. I wish QT was interested in more interesting things.


Predators was pointless and boring. I honestly don’t know what anyone at any stage of this production could have thought would be worthwhile in what they were doing. That I can imagine some dark corner of geekdom loving the “lore” makes me hate geeks and any movie that makes me hate geeks is a big, steaming turd. The upshot is that the too-painful-to-watch hetero-love-angle made me realize how much the first movie was an unabashed and unapologetic sweat-based-bonding-in-the-woods man-bomb. I know: duh! Still…

i like my body — ee cummings


i like my body when it is with your
body. It is so quite new a thing.
Muscles better and nerves more.
i like your body. i like what it does,
i like its hows. i like to feel the spine
of your body and its bones, and the trembling
-firm-smooth ness and which i will
again and again and again
kiss, i like kissing this and that of you,
i like, slowly stroking the, shocking fuzz
of your electric fur, and what-is-it comes
over parting flesh . . . . And eyes big love-crumbs,
and possibly i like the thrill
of under me you so quite new

–E. E. Cummings, from & [AND] (1925)


Over the holidays I skimmed some movies I’d already seen. Nothing much to say here. Most were disappointments. They include:

[Lost in apocalypse.]

Secret of NiMHThe one exception was The Secret of NIMH. Hand painted animation is beautiful. And the story really is quite good. This is a children’s story, yes, but there is variety of character and emotional response here that is really amazing to see. Our sense of what people can be in movies, especially movies for children, has changed. Thing is, those kids grow up, and then, what kinds of characters will we see in movies for adults?

This last one I’d never seen. It’s a VOD mockumentary on Netflix that is pretty bad–actually, no, it’s awful–but its final scenes take place in Montreal. There was plenty of street photography, and there is no denying that Montreal, on screen, just looks great. Especially in winter.

[Lost in apocalypse.]

Adorno & Kant

I don’t want to lose the pdfs of these two essays so I’m posting them here.

The first is Theodor Adorno’s “The Essay as Form.” It is here. The second is Immanuel Kant’s “What Does It Mean to Orient Oneself in Thinking?” It is here.