The Age of Reason

“I can stand brute force, but brute reason is quite unbearable. There is something unfair about its use. It is hitting below the intellect.” ~ Oscar Wilde, “The Picture of Dorian Gray”

 

The 18th century saw the rise of the Age of Enlightenment. The great thinkers of the era brought with them the idea that reason stood as the key to knowledge, and ultimately greater truths. Psychology had much earlier roots in history, but the ideas of those such as John Locke and George Berkeley, among others, contributed to the form we recognize today. The schools of Empiricism and Rationalism both contribute to this idea that truth is the destination, and reason is the path to get there. This mindset, however, is being challenged.

 

An article in the New York Times discusses emerging theory that reasoning is merely a tool, evolved by humans to help win arguments. Now, I realize that this is a gross simplification of the theory. To better grasp the concepts being discussed it may help to read the article, or the original research paper, found here.

 

Suffice it to say, this theory appeals to me. The idea that reason is simply there for winning arguments instead of personal betterment is a tough pill to swallow. However, from a cognitive psychology standpoint, this theory makes sense. Debate is, in a sense, a human analogue to two wild bucks crashing horns; the winner comes off feeling superior, the loser slinks back into the darkness. Truth is, there is a lot more at stake than just winning or losing. In terms of arguments, often times cognitive dissonance comes into play.

 

Cognitive dissonance, in the briefest sense of the term, is a bad feeling one gets when how we perceive the world does not match up with reality. PsychCentral has an interesting look into this phenomenon. Basically, when presented with something that causes dissonance, either our perceptions change, or we justify our current ones. With regards to this new theory, reasoning can be seen as a means of dealing with new information; giving us the tools to either assimilate or reject ideas. So, for example, when a friend comes up to me and describes the latest Harry Potter movie as “the greatest movie ever made,” the dissonance caused by this idea can be reasoned away. Perhaps, I’ll reason that my friend is right, assimilating his position as my own. Or, more likely, I will think he’s a little nutters and try to “reason” with him a little. In either case, it will be interesting to see where this theory leads.

 

Increase in Developmental Disabilities

A May 23 article by the Los Angeles Times piqued my interest the other day. It discussed some results of the National Health Interview Survey that suggests that  the prevalence of childhood developmental disabilities has increased over the last 10 years. The Times piece points out that the a majority of the increase came from cases of autism and ADHD. These increases, as suggested by the article, could potentially be due to changes in the way these two are diagnosed or their being over-diagnosed.

 

For a while, I have felt that both of these disorders have been the subject to false diagnosis. Often, I’ve seen parents use ADHD and autism as an excuse for misbehaving children, even when the child clearly does not meet the criteria listed in the DSM-IV. ADHD, in particular, seems to be an oft used catch-all for many different types of unruly behavior. Unfortunately, this has the effect of lessening the impact of these disorders by making them little more than excuses for bad behavior. Even among some of my peers, I’ve heard autism and ADHD reduced to little more than a label placed on the socially awkward and absent-minded, respectively.

 

Luckily, with the DSM-V on the horizon, some of this should change. The diagnostic criteria for both ADHD and autism are under review, and with years of scientific study since the last addition, we’re sure to get a better, clearer picture of the disorders. At the very least, this should help stymie some of the negative associations with autism and ADHD and make false diagnosis less prevalent.

 

For more, check out: ADHD, autism fuel developmental disabilities increase – Los Angeles Times.

Special Education and Full Inclusion

Special education programs within a school system can range anywhere from “full inclusive,” in which students with disabilities spend their time in general education classrooms with their non-disabled peers, to “non-inclusive, in which special needs children are taught in completely separate class rooms. A couple months ago, the US Department of Education’s blog featured a story about a visit to Beers Elementary School in Washington, DC. While a visit to a school by officials from the higher echelons of the educational system may be special, Beers seems like a special case. What sets Beers apart from other schools is its use of a fully inclusive educational program [1][2].

 

The idea of inclusive schools is not a new one, and as such, its lack of prevalence within the school system seems rather strange. A case study by Ryndak et al. suggests that inclusive education programs are more successful in creating positive, long-term outcomes, than their non-inclusive counterparts [3]. It would seem that if a program were successful, that it should be implemented throughout the entire system. However, this does not seem to be the case.

 

The problem, it seems, lies in the amount of money and support that it requires to implement an inclusive program like the one Beers is running. David Weitzel, an elementary school professor, suggests that special needs programs are generally underfunded and the implementation of full-inclusion within a school places a great deal of financial burden on the schools [4]. Research by Koegel, Harrower, and Koegel states that while inclusive schools work, their successfulness is dependent on adequate support procedures [5].

 

Given some the problems associated with implementing and successfully running a fully inclusive school, it will be interesting to see if the trend toward full inclusion continues its slow climb.

 

 

1. Brenchley, Cameron. (2011, March 15). Duncan and team get first-hand look at successful inclusion of students with disabilities. Retrieved from http://www.ed.gov/blog/2011/03/duncan-and-team-get-first-hand-look-at-successful-inclusion-of-students-with-disabilities/

2. U.S. secretary of education visits beers elementary school, discusses best practices . (2011, March 16). Retrieved from http://www.film.dc.gov/DCPS/Learn+About+Schools/School+News/
U.S.+Secretary+of+Education+Visits+Beers+Elementary+School,+Discusses+Best+Practices

3. Ryndak, D. (2010). Long-term outcomes of services in inclusive and self-contained settings for siblings with comparable significant disabilities. Education and Training in Autism and Developmental Disabilities45(1), Retrieved from http://daddcec.org/Publications/ETADDJournal/ETDDDetailsPage/tabid/80/ArticleID/38/Default.aspx

4. Wietzel, D. (2004, April 28). A problematic philosophy of “full inclusion”. Retrieved from http://www.newfoundations.com/PracEthics/Weitzel.html

5. Koegel, L.K., Harrower, J.K., & Koegel, R.L. (1999). Support for children with developmental disabilities in full inclusion classrooms through self-management. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions1(1), 26-34.