control

Time out! What century is it?

A couple of days ago I blogged about Mental Health Awareness week and schools. I vowed to stop reading the Herald online on account of the atrocious grammar, like someone had their cat walk on their keyboard and randomly cut and paste things half the time, but I risk it now and again. The article I read had my head in a spin, a surge of adrenaline as the fury rose in my body indicated I should not read on, but I did.

This time the grammar held up, it was the content. Children being locked in a small, dark time out room for behaviour management, put into isolation. Now that had me burning for a start, then to find out some of those put into that space were on the Autistic spectrum just turned my anger into a form of transcendent hysteria. To finish me off the dismissive minimising language and rhetoric claiming it was not illegal just ‘outmoded’ and the Ministry of Educations response was about as strong as Donald Trumps credibility as a feminist.

Honestly I have absolutely no hesitation is stating this is nothing but abuse disguised as behaviour management. There is nothing about this practice that is about reducing distress, learning, care or compassion. It speaks to the gross lack of training, understanding and resourcing of education for complex needs. I’m sure some of those teachers thought there was nothing wrong with what they were doing, that is what worries me. There are students who will have challenges regulating emotions and behaviour because of abusive backgrounds or unique neurocognitive functioning, that’s called diversity. Being locked in dark spaces as punishment to experience more distress, fear and isolation is barbaric and totally deplorable. The MOE needed to say that, rather than its ‘monitoring the situation’. WTF is that? We’ll, pay someone, to interview some people to hire a consultant to write a report…

Meanwhile what about that room? I say, it needs to be turned into the only thing it is good for at this point, given its size is fish tank and Lego room. Students might happily go there to find some peace and quiet away from the crazy chaotic over stimulating real world. They might even paint a ‘do not disturb’ sign. I need that room now.

 

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Managing self – by others

Managing self. It’s a Key Competency in the New Zealand Curriculum. I sat in a meeting recently that left me in a state of hysteria – quite literally – complete failure to manage myself. The battle to ensure young people focus, manage their time, ideas, thoughts, emotions, bodies. To fit into the expected regimes of performance, presentation, and to stay inside the lines at all times. But where battle lines of power are drawn there is resistance. Break-away and rogue moments of irony.

This was a particularly intriguing intra-active moment. The diffractive medium was Attention Deficit Disorder and its pharmaceutical solution, Ritalin. There was concern some students were accessing medication they should not have, while others were not able to access it. Evidence was produced that some needed it and that dosages might need increasing. Parents were contacted to address the potential harm of taking it, not taking it, not taking enough of it. Medical authority, school authority, parent authority making decisions on behalf of young people, talked about and not to. Contexts and relational meaning, making way for the grand narratives of individual responsibility, harm and expert knowledge. Juridicial and biopower teaming up. Discipline decided, doctors diagnose and dispense, docile bodies must be fully engaged.

And at the end of the week a bunch of us went for self-medication for ADD – Adult Disillusion Disorder at the pub. Where our conversation bounced all over the place, attention was lost in moments of distraction until more medication was needed.

Schools skirting around issue of uniform

I’ve been waiting for the media to respond to the recent school uniform hysteria with Henderson High School’s unfortunate justification for the enforcement of knee length skirts. I was interested to read a response today and while it touched on some of the issues I was going to raise I became more interested in the comments from the public. It fell into a predictable pattern of ideas about sexual differences between males and females based on their physiological materiality, notions of responsibility and choice as a result of the inevitable outcomes of ‘natural’ male desire and the role of schools to police young bodies in order to mute or eliminate this contamination of learning environments. I have four challenges or provocation to put forward:

First a reality check – all teenager are sexual beings. Schools need to accept that cladding bodies in a uniform will not prevent young people seeing each other in these ways, they will be attracted to each other, and it won’t just be opposites attracting. Sexuality is always present, not at a particular year level, not when certain body parts develop, its part of being a human – even in accounting.

Second – schools emphasise sexual difference through clothing deemed appropriate for males and females. If schools are serious about de-sexualising young people as best they can they would all be in long pants or long skirts – or skirt like attire. There is also the issue of female bodies and breasts – will a school dare to say over a certain size they must be bound or that an over garment will be shapeless and baggy like a sheet. But we might not be able to stop there because people find lips, necks and hair sexual – so we might need to cover them as well (hang on – I have a familiar image entering my head).

Third (and perhaps my most provocative point) – of course teens are experimenting and taking risks sexually and experiencing desire with their bodies. Figuring out sexuality however doesn’t begin and end at high school. High school are places where lot of sexual beings exist, including adults – and some teachers are barely out of high school themselves. Schools and teacher training institute need to be more proactive in talking about the very real phenomenon of teacher-student attraction without fear of it dissolving into a moral panic. Our shame about sex and sexuality in general as well as the real power imbalances between adults and young people should be more open to discussion. However I fear we’d rather maintain the institutional paranoia around sex that maintains silence and gendered assumptions which make the teaching environment a vulnerable space particularly for male teachers who’s interactions and behaviour will always be under scrutiny for ‘inappropriate’ interactions.

Finally. Rape is a violation – a violation of respect and is often an act of extreme violence with traumatic outcomes for survivors. But we need to stop linking uncontrollable sexual desire in men and the sexual provocation of women to some predetermined natural outcome of sexual difference that rape is part of. It enables and maintains justification of date rape, sexual conquest a a right of passage and a ‘scoring’ of masculinity points. While sexual difference has largely focussed on male desire, female desire and sexuality has largely been ignored or misrepresented. Finding out more about how male and female bodies are similar in spite of the more obvious differences will not stop rape but might begin to open space for challenging the assumptions that support rape as a natural outcome of sexual difference.

It is time to stop skirting around the bigger questions and for educators to boldly step into a genuine critique of the purpose of uniforms and what ides schools hang onto in order to justify their continual gender normative policing.

 

 

International zombie day

Today is international happiness day (no link to my previous blog). Watch out for the smiling zombies. I’m cool with that, but if I fail to be demonstrating my happiness in ways that others approve of then I’ll probably be deemed aloof, surly, detached or depressed. Why does happiness get it’s own day? I don’t think that is fair on all the other emotions, the full spectrum that is. They are all part of a normal healthy balanced life. To be honest I find happy people scary, I get a little freaked out by what I call the ‘happiness evangelists’. It comes via their profound sense of happiness always being a choice and that positive thinking is the antidote for negative feelings. At the ‘evangelical’ end of the spectrum anyone who is suffering, feeling down, alone worried, sad, angry are promptly told to appreciate life, be grateful and turn that frown upside down.

For me, this disavowal of the full range of feelings and states of mind is like a psychic genocide, where we segregate people who do not comply with the stated acceptable ways of being in the world and do all we can to ensure they do not contaminate society. There are other ways to quarantine these people in society, we diagnose them with disorders, put them in support groups to talk to each other so they can fit back in when they are ready.

It’s not that I don’t want people to experience being happy, crikey it’s not a great look for a counsellor. What I worry about is how these special days of celebration fragment our understanding of life. Why not a day of sadness? That might be more productive and meaningful, to talk about the things that hurt, that are about the darker places people go and do not get permission to share. Opening the door to empathy is about being alongside people in their moment of pain. We need more of this from society rather than the sugar coated pill of positivity.

If you are celebrating today take a moment also to recognise that happiness can only be known in relation to it’s opposite and that our lives are richer when we are able to be more authentic with emotions. Perhaps a day of vulnerability?

Will have a beer later and think it over – that makes me happy.

Twit Bit

There is a quiet take over happening. Wrists are no longer places where a simple watch rests. No the wrist is now a monitoring device, communicator and even connects your forearm to your hand! The Fitbit is a hit with a wide array of people interested in tracking their physical activity.

For many it’s a great way to stay motivated to exercise, create comradery and feel a sense of achievement and satisfaction. In the wrong hands (wrists?) it can invite a perpetual monitoring of the body with feedback triggering worry, fear and anxiety. Those already with a tendency to intensify a focus on measuring up or perfectionism might see devices like the Fitbit as a way of ensuring they maintain the perfect body.

It was interesting to see the New Zealand Herald run a piece on concerns about Fitbits in schools. I’m not sure about the intention of the author but I wonder about the technique of seeking two polar opinions interspersed with quotes (or facebook posts) as a reasonable representation of a phenomena. But what irked me most was one Principals response alluding to counsellors making issues out of nothing.

I imagined being a counsellor at that school (if they have any given the clear disdain expressed) and thought what I might have hoped for from a school leader speaking to the media. It occurred to me that it was the perfect opportunity for someone to have seized the chance to demonstrate the high levels of professional integrity and respect for the ‘on the ground’ awareness of issues that counsellors in schools become aware of and linking in with Health and PE curriculum leaders, working collaboratively, taking a critical approach and drawing attention to very real and current concerns.

But no. Moment lost. However I have an alternative to the Fit Bit – care of the inspiration of this article. It is called the Twit Bit. You stick it in that jeans pocket that no-one really knows what it’s for (but now thanks again to the journalism of the NZ Herald we are enlightened) and it cues off micro changes in arrogance and ego – much like a lie detector. Then sends you a potential alternative statement or thought.

The idea is not to get to 10 000 a day. Can think of a few people who could benefit from a Twit Bit, including myself.

Taking a trip

It’s New Years Eve and many will be out to celebrate. Some will plan and expect to be in a form of altered state, a buzz, feeling good in some way shape or form. Common combinations or at least socially sanctioned (to a degree) buzzes involve alcohol, dancing and sex, statistics don’t lie just take a look at the number of people who have birthdays on or around September 30th. While moderation will be exercised many will vomit, pass out, coma and all completely legal we see it as a right of passage for mates to have a near death experience consuming alcohol. But anyone caught getting stoned with the potential side effects of scoffing anything they can get their hands on (watch out for your weetbix campers), while giggling at nothing for hours will be deemed a criminal.

Indeed, anyone seeking to enjoy themselves or the world around them through other sensory parameters are deemed irresponsible, selfish, reckless, unstable psychologically, immature or lacking a moral compass. Desire and pleasure seeking for nothing other than the pure experience is a no-no. In fact we police this better than anything and we do it from birth through to death – we can’t even choose how we transition to the after life.

We’re a confused bunch when it comes to the right to experience our embodiment and all the parameters of that, especially the perception of the world and reality. And yet some brave researchers and scientists are asking why the pervasive fear of things like psychedelics. Palliative care has started to go there with LSD and psilocybin. But there is one substance pushing the boundaries from all angles and that is DMT. Ironically it is naturally occurring in our bodies and it has been nick named ‘The Spirit Molecule’ and there is a good documentary about it with real scientists doing actual controlled studies.

What we can and cannot talk about or explore is limited by available knowledge in the public sphere. Schools take an understandably conservative approach and can only teach critical thinking and decision making around notions of legal and illegal substances. Risk and preventing harm dominate with minimal acknowledgement of the reasons why human beings seek connection and sometimes use molecules to achieve this. I say molecules because that is at its most basic, stripped back beyond the paranoia and politics.

Science fiction has gone for example Neromancer, but my favourite is the spice from Dune, talk about a direct, overt reference to mind and body altering substances! I remember stumbling across some incomplete scenes from Avatar and being surprised at one in particular. It involved the ceremony where Jake becomes one of the tribe. We are led to believe this happens through some body paint with swirly patterns. However this couldn’t be further from the truth, the scene is shamanic in context and seems to allude to a serious out of body experience, one that transcends time and space. Jake ‘sees’ the truth. But for reasons unknown it was left incomplete, yet could have shifted the tone of the movie toward a far deeper understanding of why this culture (albeit an fictional one) had a relationship with nature that was profoundly different to the sky people. Back in ‘real world’ I think the Sky People represent the western military industrial complex with its overarching driving force of consumption and competition.

But it’s NYE, its unlikely anyone will read this, and if they do I just hope they read it with the intention it was meant – not as a judgement. So if you are out there tonight enjoying yourself in whatever ‘pop up’ community you join, look after your friends if they have taken on too many molecules of whatever substance. Suspend judgement of others who choose other molecules regardless of their legality, but don’t suspend action of someone is at risk or in danger. Substances and driving or swimming are risky. Being out of it shouldn’t be seen as a crime but simply taking an internal journey, a trip, and Kiwis love a good adventure. Inner space and outer space and spaces in-between are all territories to be explored. Let’s afford ourselves and each other some room to travel differently at different speeds.

 

Flippering Out

Helmet fastened securely and body poised to dance with the mechanics of movement. Determination etched on the young face before me. Nervous moments as muscles tense and the single wheel beneath responds, Newtonian physics is unforgiving. And the incongruous footwear of flippers on pedals turns mastery into exploration and uncertainty. The part of me that wants to say ‘you can’t ride a unicycle in those’ is gagged internally with a quick risk analysis – which inevitably suggests the real risks probably do outweigh the perceived, but the balance of that is the exhilaration of the unknown. Awkwardly wobbling with delight and joy. She just might be a fish on a bike. We got it wrong, it’s not about what a fish needs, it’s what a fish is free to experience.