• Drugs and distraction
    May 15,2014
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    Fifty percent of incarcerated Vermonters, men and women, are functionally

    illiterate, whether in Vermont prisons or elsewhere (Kentucky, Missouri, Texas).

    Almost all became public school dropouts who experienced school failure consistently, beginning with the primary grades.

    Typically, they initially were labeled “attention-deficit disorder,” or “learning-disabled,” although new labels proliferate — the point being

    that school administrators often insist upon parents taking their nonfunctioning student-children to medical specialists for medications, ostensibly so they could then learn. Typically, that involves one brief diagnostic evaluation, followed immediately by intense medication, usually Ritalin, currently known as “street cocaine” or “St. Coke.”

    A significant, documentable percentage of Vermonters became incarcerated for an offense that occurred while they were impaired by drugs and/or alcohol. And as could be documented, the very large majority of incarcerated Vermonters, in or out of Vermont, are maintained on heavy-duty psychiatric drugs “to keep them quiet.” Anyone doubting, or wondering about, the prolific use of medication by corrections need only observe the bumper-to-bumper med lines every morning and evening. Obviously, not even politicians would be permitted to observe the damning lines (of the damned). Although 40 years ago, when I was a full-time corrections psychologist and Sen. Richard Sears was a full-time guard, meds in corrections were used but had not proliferated.

    Prior to becoming a psychologist in 1964 with the Vermont Department of Health, I worked six years as a special ed teacher in Pennsylvania, New York and Ohio. Three of those years I taught a class of severely disabled kids, ages 5 to 12. Impairments ranged from quadriplegia, traumatic brain injury, legal blindness, cerebral palsy, but all were disabled and distractible. The point is I found it useful to determine how they learned and taught them accordingly.

    If a child was distractible, we removed the distraction, whether visual or audio.

    If a child rotated letters or words, we used large print “sight-saving” books, which I simultaneously tape recorded to double the input for the student. If a child had further tactile dysfunction or reversals, we used wet sand to learn words with fingers and did the same for seat work, with modeling clay.

    In short, and this was before the era of “pharmaceutical education,” the kids thrived on success, and success is infinitely less expensive than failure. A highly significant percentage of the aforementioned corrections inmates return to jail for a new offense within one year of release.

    It would be highly useful if anyone questioning the incredible proliferation of medical drugging in prisons or in elementary schools were able to visit any elementary school and check the audio and visual distractibility of the typical classroom or library, i.e. elbow-to-elbow circular student work tables and completely distracting wall decorations.

    After doing this, then go to the University of Vermont and visit the medical school library, which is characterized by silence and by screens in front of and alongside every medical student or researching physician’s computer. Pretty amazing that mature and hard-working medical students require freedom from distraction and elementary students of energy do not. (I typically had highly energetic recesses, mid-morn, noon and midday, but the classroom was quiet.)

    Food for thought. None of the aforementioned need cost the taxpayer anything in terms of schools and effective education of children. But the inexcusable failure of corrections, in concert with drugging without accountability, will continue to injure inmates and taxpayers.

    J. David Egner is a psychologist with a practice in Rutland.
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