A Predictable Tragedy In Arizona?

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January 12, 2011 by esarsea

In an OpEd piece that appeared in today’s Wall Street Journal, Dr. E. Fuller Torrey writes that the recent shooting rampage in Tempe, Arizona is but one of an ongoing series of tragedies steming from five decades of failed mental health policies. You can read the full text here.

Dr. Fuller maintains that we started emptying state mental hospitals in the 1960s, “…but failed to put in place programs to ensure that released patients received treatment after they left. By the 1980s, the results were evident — increasing numbers of seriously mentally ill persons among the homeless population and in the nation’s jails and prisons.”

Reading this article caused me to think about the policy of mainstreaming and/or inclusion in our public school system. You can read more about mainstreaming and inclusion here

My wife has had several mainstream and inclusion kids in her elementary school classroom over the years, with varying degrees of disabilities. I can certainly see the value in mainstreaming kids that are high-functioning autistic, or having Asperger’s for example. I have however often wondered about the value of having  profoundly mentally handicapped kids in a standard classroom.

My wife has had kids in her classroom that were (at the risk of sounding insensitive) incoherant droolers — wearing diapers, non-communicative and seemingly oblivious to their surroundings. These kids are wheeled into class and propped up in a desk and essentially, “babysat” by a full-time assistant who cares for the child independent of classroom activities.

I understand that the two situations are different; untreated schizophrenics shooting up a political rally vs. mainstreaming developmentally disabled kids in elementary school. Yet they may share something in common too.

Is there a philosophical parallel between moving away from mental hospitals where those afflicted might receive expert and/or professional assistance, and the decision to place mentally disabled children in a standard public school classroom vs. in an environment where they might benefit from the services and talents of persons specially trained to address these kid’s special needs?

In the end I suspect it all comes down to funding.

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14 thoughts on “A Predictable Tragedy In Arizona?

  1. torqdog says:

    Interesting, speaking off the top of my head (or maybe out of my ass) I seem to recall the ACLU’s involvement with the closing of mental institutions. The mindset went along the lines of not locking up people simply because they’re crazy (no crime had been committed). Remember the days when people were admitted because someone had “committed” them? I could be wrong.

  2. Stu says:

    The whole thing does open up some interesting and difficult questions. I don’t support simply warehousing the mentally ill. Like I said, it probably has a lot to do with funding. The public school system has to provide, at their own expense, the full-time assistant who sits with each inclusion kid, every day – throughout the entire school district, not to mention the entire state. That’s got to be a ton of money with no real benefit to the kid outside of having a caretaker. I’ve got to think that money could be better spent establishing a program that would better serve these kids’ special needs, improving the chance that they can develop into functional adults capable of independent living. I’m no expert though…

    • Jane says:

      I’m not expert either but i do have friends that work in the field. I see some of the points you make however i think the point of inclusion partly IS to help them develop into functional adults capable of living in society, whether independtly or not.

      I really don’t see much of a relation to the tragedy in Arizona though, from the info I have heard and read. i think the guy was fairly normal in high school, as far as disabilities that were diagnosed go but I haven’t studied the case.

      the part that was predictable though was what his targets were, IMO.

  3. Bill says:

    Do you have a link to that ACLU story? I would be interested in reading about it. In Utah, conservatives have budget-cut social safety net programs to the point that special-needs kids are ending up in public school classrooms because there are no other options for them. That’s what’s happening in Utah. ACLU had nothing to do with it. A Republican-controlled legislature gutted those programs here. The people in need were kicked to the curbside, but at least we can say that we aren’t a “nanny” state. Our public school teachers get to become the Nanny. In a state that ranks at the bottom of per-pupil spending and over-the-top classroom sizes. But, hey, we cut those nasty entitlement programs.

  4. Becky says:

    I didn’t have time to read this at the beginning of the week, but had to come back to it, because I’ve been involved in education for 20 years. The inclusion law came into play to say that every child deserves a free and equal opportunity for an education, no matter what their needs may be. I agree with you, Stu, that it is a benefit for the higher functioning special needs kids, and it is good for the “normal” kids to interact with these kids. And, if you have well-trained special ed. teachers, the inclusion process can work quite nicely. I also agree that there are some children too needy and costly to be in the public school, and aren’t going to reap any benfit from it. More and more responsibility is put on public schools and then they get blamed when test scores are low. With Wisconsin’s caring new governor, the schools and teachers will be devalued even more.

    There was talk on our WPR station about the lack of mental health services available to this man. Also the availability of guns and the political rhetoric and the violent media, etc. The same sort of talk we hear after school shootings, which I fear could happen any time in my own community. I don’t know what the answer is. My son’s friends’ whacky parents think the rapture is near–seriously. This is an all-too-common crazy ideology out there and the future scares me in so many ways.

    On that note, cheers to the weekend! Have a good one.

    • Stu says:

      The public school system frustrates me to no end. Mary-Anne’s school is a Title 1 school, and has been for years. I believe nearly 80% of the kids there qualify for free lunch as well. The building is full of excellent, caring, and hard-working teachers. but funding remains an issue even with the Title 1 funds.

      There appears to be a churning of curriculum with no good reason. A few years ago the reading scores were so high at her school that the Washington State Govenor actually came to visit the school. The achievement and governor’s visit was covered by the local media. The school district administration’s response to this previously unmatched success? They changed the reading curriculum the very next year and mandated its use. Reading scores dropped significantly. And no, it’s not because the previous curriculum featured a softer grading matrix or lower expectations.

      To discard the already-purchased text books and instructional materials of a highly successful curriculum, and incur the expense of replacing them with all new materials, makes me wonder if one or more of the administration and/or school board aren’t in the pocket of some educational products vendor.

      • torqdog says:

        There inlies part of the problem Stu. When you have govt. beaureaucrats that are in essence accountable to no one, they tend to get very wasteful when it comes to spending the “people’s money”. And yeah, throw in some corrupt, “in the pocket of some educational products vendor” officials and you have the ingredients for a degradation of test scores while the price of education spirals out of control. Then when someone comes along with the courage to finally do something to get things back under control, they’re labeled as “mean-spirited” and all the other usual cliches that are bandied about with knee-jerk callousness and recklessness.

        What to do ……. what to do?!!!

    • torqdog says:

      Here’s another scenario to worry about that doesn’t get much attention ……….. the terminally ill loon who’s been driven to the brink of insanity and takes his “revenge” out on the innocents. I mean, what’s the person got to lose?

      It hasn’t happened yet but I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of these events hosted by a whack-job with a death sentence already in place sometime in the not too distant future.

  5. Bill says:

    Jesus! What does that mean?

  6. Becky says:

    What does what mean?

  7. torqdog says:

    It depends on who Mr Bill was responding to. If it was me, it means nothing, just speculatin.

  8. Becky says:

    And if I don’t make sense, I’m always happy to clarify. I often spew out thoughts as they come to me and asume others understand.

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