Sunday, 27 July 2014

Student Reductionism: Mental Illness in the Classroom

I have done it! Completely guilty! I remember early in my teaching practice dealing with a particular student and reducing the issue I was having in class to a pre-conceived notion of who, what, where and why I thought my student was based on very simplistic interactions.  Student Reductionism is something that plagues the educational system on an everyday basis.  We have these prescribed notions about our students and sometimes we make rash irrational decisions or actions when dealing with those students.  During the past school year we had a Professional Development Presentation that focused on dealing with students struggling with exceptionalities such as mental illness or students that are learning disabled.  What was really profound in the presentation is some of the assumptions we as teachers make about students and their lives (family, economic, social) before we realize that  there may be more complexities that are affecting the student.  Thus we reduce the student not realizing that the exceptionalities are a huge reason for why the student is the way he or she is.  For example, we may say things such as:
a) He doesn't care about school or learning
b) I believe his issues at home are affecting what he does at school.
c) They need to try more, and spend more time working on their assignments.
d) She is insecure and is just trying to fit in with her friends, that is why she acts like that.

What we may be missing is that

a) He suffers from anxiety and mental illness and has not be tested yet. 
b) The student needs pyschological testing but has nothad any done as of yet because of the rigidness of our educational system.
c) Maybe their learning disabilities make it hard for them to do the work.  Giving them more and forcing them to spend more time may make them worst.
d) Maybe there are deeper inclinations than just wanting to fit in Maybe a student is fighting depression or bouts with suicidal thoughts.

These are just examples, but students lives are even more complex than this with multiple intricacies weaving through these young peoples minds and bodies  We need to be aware this and challenge our assumptions or the different forms of reductionism we apply to our students without knowing the big picture.  We need to refrain from essentializing our students based on limited information:

- Cultural/Racial, Religious- reducing our students issues to their race, cultural, religious values, beliefs or systems
- Economic- reducing or making assumptions about students economic backgrounds as a reason for why students are the way they are.
- Social- reducing our students to their social behaviors and not realizing there may be many other factors in play.

That is not to say that these characteristics do not affect our students lives, but when looking at our students in our classroom we have to be sensitive and cognitive to the fact that some of our students are fighting complex issues that are chemically and biologically apart of who they are.  School based teams, counselors, administrators, and teachers need to work with community groups, medical institutions and parents to find the best possible avenues for our students to succeed.  We need create an awareness campaign for mental illness and realize that it is more than just a lapse, a weakness, or a perversion of normalcy, but that it is a part of our human fabric that needs to be address to make life better for all students and societal members in the world.

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