Experimental Narcotherapy vs Logical Consequences for Chronic Mischief in Classrooms
by David Keirsey
When a child gets up out of his seat at school without permission, his teacher tells him to sit down and get to work. If he is out of his seat every minute or so, say every six minutes in a 360 minute day, that makes 60 times a day. If he's out of his seat that many times each day, five days a week, that's 300 Out-Of-Seat-Without-Permissions (OOSWOPs for short). Now 300 is an impressive total of OOSWOPs. The teacher, now and then, reminds him to sit down and go to work, but with little effect. Pretty soon she adds scolding to reminding. Then maybe she gets the principal to spank him. Then maybe his parents are brought into the act. They either get after the school or their son or both. Maybe they take his bike away from him and send him to bed without dinner several times. Something like that. But all to no avail. No matter how many reminders or scoldings or whippings or deprivations, he still rings up his 300 or so OOSWOPs a week.
But the child doesn't rest his case with just getting out of his seat. There are other kinds of disobedience, other ways to disrupt classroom proceedings. Like making motions and noises while seated. For instance, the disobedient child doesn't raise his hand with restraint like the other children, but waves it wildly and maybe puffs and whistles to get the teacher's undivided attention. And he gets it. By that time the child has had so much attention that just raising his hand won't work, so he's got to distract the teacher's attention from the other kids with extra motions and noises, none of which are permitted. Let's call motion and noise without permission MANWOPs to distinguish them from OOSWOPs. And of course the teacher must remind the child (again without much success) that that is not an acceptable way to get attention. Notice the child's clever manipulation of the teacher: he is doing what he's supposed to do -- raise his hand to get the teacher's attention --but in an unacceptable way. Now since an increase of reminding, scolding, threatening, paddling, and depriving doesn't decrease the frequency of OOSWOPs and MANWOPs appreciably, there seem only two things left to do: remove the child from the classroom, or drug him into inaction. Both work. First, let's look at drugging the child into inaction. To explain accurately what prescribed drugs are doing to our children, I must first describe in some detail just what drugs we are considering. There are many different kinds of drugs, but only those drugs called "narcotics" are of interest here.
Narcotics affect the nervous system and so alter behavior. This effect was first reported by physiologists in the 1920s, followed by a spate of similar reports in technical journals from time to time up to the present. Nowadays physiologists know pretty well what the various narcotics do to the nervous system and how behavior is affected as a result. For instance narcotics like THC (the neuroactive agent in marijuana) is reported to increase the difference in excitation times of adjacent effectors or receptors, while narcotics like LSD reportedly decrease those differences.
The chart below indicates how the various narcotics increase and decrease sensory attention and motor activity:
As shown above, "uppers," like cocaine, give us a high-high, such that we are both more active and more attentive as long as we are intoxicated. "Downers" such as heroin, in contrast to "uppers," give us a low-low, so that we are both less active and less attentive, again, as long as we are under the influence of the narcotic. "Calmers," like marijuana, give us a low-high, which is to say that our activity level is low at the same time that our level of attention is high. Lastly, "confusers," such as LSD, give us a high-low, which means that we get very active, but have great difficulty paying attention to our surroundings.
Depressants like alcohol reduce nerve conduction, resulting in reduced attention and action. In contrast, stimulants like cocaine increase nerve conduction, resulting in greater attention or action. Tranquilizers like marijuana increase excitation threshold time differences between adjacent nerves so that reaction time is slowed and activity decreases, while attention increases. (Incidentally, this is why swing musicians of the 1930s used marijuana: it sensitized them to syncopation and enabled them to catch each note on the "down beat.") Lastly, hallucinogens like LSD do quite the opposite. They decrease the difference in conduction threshold time between adjacent nerves so that they conduct simultaneously or nearly so. On the attention side of the neural system the person sees, hears, feels, smells, and even tastes from a single stimulus -- that's why drugs like LSD are called hallucinogens or synesthetics. The same stimulus can also fire off adjacent motor nerves in rapid succession, resulting in convulsions and cramps. Thus synesthetic or hallucinogenic narcotics result not only in more than one of the senses being affected at the same time, they also result in flexor and extensor muscles contracting simultaneously or in rapid succession.
In contrast to the technical names above, the people who use narcotics for their highs and lows (the "addicts"), and the people who try to stop them (the "narcs") have street names for them. For the addicts and narcs there are "acid heads," "speed freeks," "coke heads," and the like. Calmers are called cannabis, grass, hemp, indian hay, pot, snop, snoose, snuff, etc.; confusers are called angel dust, orange sunshine, PCP, LSD, etc; downers are called barbs, big H, booze, horse, sauce, etc.; uppers are called bennies, black beauties, charlies, coke, crack, crystal, dexies, footballs, heart, MDA, snow, white cross, etc.
There are of course great changes in behavior when people are under the influence of narcotics. This goes for stimulants or "uppers," all of them. No one doubts that cocaine is a powerful narcotic if enough of it is taken at once, especially if this continues over a long period of time. Whatever the kind of stimulant, the effect on one's behavior depends more on the amount than on the kind. A little bit intoxicates a little bit and a lot intoxicates a lot. The effect is a high-high, that is a high activity level and a high attention level. When the effect wears off, there's a crash. The withdrawal from stimulants is said to be far worse than withdrawal from the other three kinds of narcotics. A "speed freak," whether on bennies, dexies, crystal, or coke, is addicted according to the amount taken and the length of time that amount is taken. And the agony of withdrawal is proportional. People who drink, say, twenty cups of coffee a day are in for a crash when they quit and for painful withdrawal effects. Of course, many won't admit they're addicted and they certainly would not like being called "speed freaks." Incidentally, many are also addicted to nicotine and alcohol, so they're hooked on three narcotics at once, but still refuse to recognize their drug dependency. Such denial is particularly sad, but the truth is their addiction is their problem because they hooked themselves, however innocently.
But when the physician, with the approval of parent, teacher, and psychologist, risks the side effects and the addiction of children, that's everybody's problem. After all, these children are innocent of any desire for intoxication. Narcotics do temporarily quiet some children and heighten their attention level, but surely the "cure" is worse than the "disease." Along with the "cure" comes arrested growth, brain atrophy, drug dependency, and severe damage to the self-image -- loss of self-esteem, self-respect, and self-confidence. Maybe the child is "cured" of hyperactivity in school, but the price seems terribly high.
The bad names that are currently given to children who disrupt classrooms are Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity (ADHD). Precisely the same misbehaviors used to be called by other names, such as Aphasia, Asymbolia, Brain Damage, Cerebral Disrhythmia, Dyslexia, Hyperactivity, Hyperkinesis, Minimal Brain Damage, Minimal Brain Dysfunction, Learning Disability, Organic Brain Damage, the Strauss Syndrome, and others. Beginning in the mid-forties those writing about abnormal behavior understandably began to change the name of the suspected "cause" of such behavior as soon as the name stigmatized the children it was applied to. You see, these professionals believed that there was something wrong with the brains of the children who were too active or too inattentive for the educator's taste. So they went along with those physicians who wanted to experiment on such children with narcotics like benzedrine. Not only did they approve of this practice, they even aided such physicians in their experimentation. The practice spread, slowly during the late forties and fifties, and then very rapidly during the drug-culture days of the sixties. By the eighties and nineties the practice had become epidemic throughout America, as many as a million children per year on stimulants. Some large elementary schools admit that they have as many as fifty children on stimulants at the same time. Can there be that many children with defective brains? And all boys? In the late eighties some physicians were even narcotizing preschoolers with stimulants while they continued to prescribe this narcotic for those adults that became dependent on it when they were kids in school.
Nor are physicians unaware of the risks involved in drugging children. Pharmaceutical manufacturers are careful to warn them, just as have many research reports over the years, of the dangers of prescribing cocaine-like narcotics to children. The long list of horrific consequences of stimulant therapy are now well known: insomnia, fatigue, listlessness, sadness, dizziness, withdrawal, tremors, tics, spasms, skin rashes, nausia, headache, stomachache, increased heart rate, high blood pressure, cortical atrophy, growth suppression, addiction to narcotics, and worst of all, severe damage to the child's self-image.
Who is abusing whom? Clearly the child is not abusing the persons who are drugging him. Peter Breggin, a noted psychiatrist, calls such experimental narcotherapy "Psychiatric Oppression," putting it in the same category with shock, lobotomy, and other barbaric practices, thus challenging the justifiability of treating problem behavior with physiological methods, whether child or adult. In his latest exposé of psychiatric barbarism he says:
"It seems to have escaped Ritalin advocates that long-term use tends to create the very same problems that Ritalin is supposed to combat -- "attentional disturbances" and "memory problems" as well as "irritability" and hyperactivity. When children are prescribed Ritalin for years because they continue to have problems focusing their attention, the disorder itself may be due to the Ritalin. A vicious circle is generated, with drug-induced inattention causing the doctor to prescribe more medication, all the while blaming the problem on a defect within the child." (Toxic Psychiatry, page 307.)
It is true that drugged children stay in their seats longer and make less commotion. The trouble is that, aside from the spoiled identity, growth suppression, brain atrophy, and drug dependence the physician is warned about, the child's restful sleep is diminished. Just as many adults do not sleep well if they take too much caffeine, so children who take too much stimulants do not sleep well. It is also true that these children seem to sleep as they did before medication was begun, but the sleep is not restful as it was before. That they're tired when they go to school and are much less inclined to get into mischief should come as no surprise. This docility is usually mistaken for obedience by the principal, teacher, parent, psychologist, and physician, who then congratulate themselves on this "miraculous cure" of the child's dread case of ADD. One of the interesting things about this solution is that docility is such a relief to all concerned that they don't seem to notice that the child continues to be unproductive, unfriendly, and unhappy at school. Some physicians will admit that the drugged child doesn't get to work and doesn't learn like the other children, but they seem satisfied with reports by parents that the teacher isn't complaining about too much activity any longer.
For almost everyone involved, in fact, this drug treatment is a comfortable solution. If the child is "brain defective" then his parents and teachers are not to blame for his misbehavior. And the fact that the misbehavior disappears when the child is drugged seems to prove the physician's case that the child's brain is indeed "somehow" defective. At least it proves it for those who have a stake in believing it. So everybody's off the hook. A neat and tidy solution to a knotty problem.
Nor can the child be blamed now that it is "proved" he has something (vaguely) wrong with his brain. For how can you blame a child for misbehavior or expect productivity or friendliness or happiness from one so afflicted? He can now play Eric Berne's game of "wooden leg." After all, what can be expected of a boy with a bent brain? There is a terrible irony in this: by stigmatizing the child the adults in his life relieve both him and themselves of responsibility. In that sense even the child is off the hook.
But there's a problem: even though the child has been drugged into submission he is still friendless, unhappy, has stopped growing, and is not learning. So neither he nor his parents are content. But if narcotherapy is discontinued he will resume his disruptive behavior. The question is: how can he stay in class without disrupting it? The answer is simple. Let him disrupt the class only once a day by dismissing him after his first disruptive act. For example, out of seat, out of school -- and nothing more.
When I say "nothing more" I mean that everybody involved -- teacher, principal, parent -- agrees to say nothing and do nothing. No admonishment, no punishment. Children may have a right to belong to a family, but not to a class. That is a privilege, the most valuable of all the child has, and no child can safely be allowed to take it for granted. That's what is meant by a "spoiled child," a child who takes a privilege for granted. The only way to unspoil a child is to take whatever privilege he abuses away immediately and unconditionally upon its abuse. In the case of abusing his class membership privilege, that privilege should be lost solely because it was abused. Once a child is convinced that's really the way it is, then in order to keep the privilege he'll stop abusing it.
During those twenty years of using the abuse it--lose it method in three school districts, in kindergarten through the 12th grade, I found it effective in all grades. Moreover my students, supervisees, and colleagues have through the years reported continuous success with the method, whether they worked in rural, urban, or suburban school districts. Happily, children are much alike in this one regard. They all want to belong. It's just that some of them don't know that and have to find out the hard way. When the truth dawns on them, they stop bothering their teacher and classmates. Guaranteed. Fast.
It's interesting how age determines how fast children will stop fooling around in class when their disruptive behavior is the direct and immediate cause of their dismissal. A rule of thumb is that kindergarteners take one or two days to stop, first graders two or three days, second graders three or four days, and the rest five or six days. Of course high school kids take up to two weeks, if only because the abuse it--lose it rule has to be established in several classrooms. Added to this, of course, is that older children have had a lot more experience maneuvering adults into reminding, scolding, threatening, and punishing to stop them from abusing their privileges. So they take longer, but even they take, say, ten school days, at most.
When a child is dismissed daily for weeks you can be quite sure some adult --usually the parent or teacher -- is reminding, threatening, scolding, or punishing. Adults have to be reminded to stick to the abuse it -- lose it rule, because of their cherished belief that surely enough of the right discipline will change the child's behavior. It didn't and it won't. Despite good intentions their solutions are ineffective.
Those in the "Role Psychology" school of thought, such as Alfred Adler and Rudolf Dreikurs, explain the effectiveness of the abuse it--lose it-and-nothing-more method in terms of a principle they call "logical consequences." This immediate dismissal method of classroom control was reported in the mid-fifties in a paper read to the California Association of School Psychologists by this author. Since then there have been thousands of school children, many of whom were extremely disruptive members of extremely dysfunctional families, stopped from being disruptive and started in being productive, enabled to be friendly and happy in class. Without drugs.
When asked why they continue with experimental narcotherapy for overactive and inattentive children -- knowing of the clear and present risks of addiction, growth suppression, and damage to self-regard -- physicians claim that no one knows what to do about these children other than drug them. This is understandable, since they seem unaware of the existence and success of the abuse itÑlose it (and nothing more) method. People kept bringing them children they could control with drugs, so they invented a disease, ADD, to fit their cure. We can hardly blame them for doing that. After all, pediatricians and psychiatrists have little training, if any, in how to control behavior with psychotherapeutic methods, but a good deal of training in how to control behavior with drugs.
But given a trained professional using the principle of logical consequences and the method of abuse it--lose it, where children temporarily lose the privilege they abuse, it is relatively easy to stop them from getting out of their seat without permission and from making motions and noises without permission, and, as a bonus, to help them become happy, productive, and friendly students. With this simple, effective solution available to us, why should we risk the crippling and irreparable effects of drugging our children into the illusion of obedience?
Indeed, some parents whose children have suffered the horiffic con-sequences of stimulant narcotherapy, plus the inevitable wounding of the self-image, are now beginning to ask the courts to decide whether or not such experimentation is malpractice. After all, this experiment has been going on for over forty years. We might think that after drugging millions of children over that long a period the physicians would be able to tell us what they're doing and why they're doing it. But stimulant narcotherapy is epidemic across America with as many as a million victims per year -- a multi-billion dollar windfall to narcotic manufacturers and their accomplices. Physicians are neither discontinuing experimental narcotherapy, nor admitting that it is an experiment, nor giving a rationale for proceeding with the controversial experiment. Do they not owe parents and educators an explanation for this highly lucrative but highly questionable behavior?
As a final note let us review the lessons the child learns, depending on whether he is treated as a defective person who must be drugged, or as a very active person who must learn how to control himself to keep that wonderful privilege of having a teacher and classmates:
|I can't control myself
||I can control myself
|I can't learn without drugs
||I can learn without help
|I can't win friends
||I can win friends
|I can't become competent
||I can become competent
|I'm not OK
- Breggin P., Toxic Psychiatry, St. Martin's Press, NY, NY 1991.
- Brown J., Bing S., Drugging Children: Child Abuse by Professionals, in Children's Rights and the MentalHealth Professions, G.Koocher (ed), Wiley, NY, 1976.
- Coles G., The Learning Mystique:A Critical Look at "Learning Disabilities," Pantheon, NY, 1987.
- Keirsey D, Abuse it -- Lose it: Logical Consequences for Teaching Self-Control to Mischievous Children , Prometheus Nemesis Books, Del Mar, CA, 1991.
- McGuinness D., Attention Deficit Disorder: The Emperor's New Clothes, Animal "Pharm," and other Fiction, in Fisher & Greenberg (eds), The Limits of Biological Treatments for Psychological Distress, L. Erlbaum Assoc., Hilldale NJ, 1989.
- Offir C., Are We Pushers for Our Own Children? in Psychology Today, December 1974.
- Scarnoti R., An Outline of Hazardous Side Effects of Ritalin, Internation Journal of Addiction, 21, p 837-41, 1986.
- Schrag P., Divoky D., The Myth of the Hyperactive Child, 1975
- Spotts J. & C., Use and Abuse of Amphetamine and its Substitutes, National Institute of Drug Abuse, Rockville MD, 1978.
- U.S. Congress Federal Involvement in the Use of Behavior Modification Drugs [Ritalin] on Grammar School Children, Government Printing Office, Washington DC, December 29, 1970.