Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Readings for 16 December, 2008

I'm back. Many thanks to those of you that periodically drop by here and a thousand pardons, again, for not being able to offer more recently.

Secondary Education as Birth Control - Nature: I've mentioned earlier that children are viewed as social security in developing countries and that children are often abducted and forced into military service. Periodically the argument is put forward that education will solve, seemingly, all problems. One trend that seems pretty convincing is that the more educated women become the more likely these women are to delay the birth of their first child. Delaying this first birth is crucial in a number of ways; for one, there is a reduced strain on what are already, typically, strained health care systems. More importantly, there is less poverty when women delay the birth of their first child because these women are able to pursue careers (not necessarily Murphy Brown-type careers) with minimal damage to their society. Your typical first year Sociology or Anthropology student should be able to tell you about that one section of their primer where they learned that, in certain South American cultures at a certain moment in our recent history, teen mothers did not even name their child until the first year because that child was too likely to die before the first year was up. Why was this mortality rate so high? Because the mothers were leaving their children unattended at home while they went to work in factories (making products at everyday low prices, no doubt) so that the mother would not be out in the streets. They cannot afford day care and are likely to be without a social system that can provide for this child if they are one of the masses of people leaving the countryside to the cities where they perceive their lives will be better.

The Human Terrain System Doesn't Work - So Sayeth Nature: I agree with Nature here, but they make no case as to why. I will be posting on this topic in the not-too-distant future.

Let Me Use My Mind Enhancing Drugs, Man!
- Nature: My ass twitches, just so, whenever I read a manifesto like this one from academics. It's unfair, I know, since I am an academic; but what can I say? These guys begin with a great statement and then miss the boat completely. One of the ways that you know to raise your hackles is when social scientists reference Francis Fukuyama, ADHD research, and make strong statements calling for policy change by using BOLD fonts. The argument begins by discussing a phenomenon they think they understand is occuring on college campuses: they hear that students are using methylphenidate and other amphetamines to enhance their performance in classes. "Good for them," seems to be the authors' argument, "because they are adult enough to realize they can maximize their abilities with these drugs." But, they don't really know that. They don't have evidence that this is what is meant when the students tell them they do this (as someone who recently graduated from college where plenty of kids with money were buying Ritalin and Adderal, I have my doubts about the authors' appreciation of their students' lived experience). They also don't know what the actual mechanism at work is here. ADHD research is the most widely published topic in psychology in the world and they don't know what the disease is. Period. They don't know how these drugs work, they don't know how to measure the effectiveness of the treatments, and they don't know how to collaborate (thus the field continues to churn out garbage where people publish minor modifications to existing work and state that they've developed a new method or scale). So, they call for evidence-based assessments of what might be the benefits of allowing people who don't get prescribed methylphenidate, etc. and what might be the long term problems associated with this usage. I agree that drug laws should be changed, but I disagree with the authors here. Where do they really miss the boat? They don't even address the nature and meaning of being educated. It is assumed that education means "this," and then they proceed to talk about education being enhanced by people feeling more organized or focused. I wouldn't disagree that focus and organization are the lynchpins in successful academic endeavors but I would not also consider you well-educated if all you were really skilled in was organizing and staying on task. But maybe that's beyond the scope of their argument.

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