Saturday, 30 May 2009

Oppositional Defiant Disorder


Work in wax by a 15 yold student diagnosed with ODD and ADHD

The loss of the village

In his blog "Obedience" Andrew Old beefs about disobedience in the classroom, and rightly so. Without students' accepting that the teacher is the alpha person education is impossible. Andrew's arguments point at a ubiquitous slackness in Western culture. An African saying tells us: "It takes a village to raise a child". Apparently we are no villagers any more and children are at a loss in a highly individualised global city. The result is mayhem in the classroom.

Extreme behaviour

In the extreme the problem is represented by the definition of Oppositional Defiant Disorder:

  • frequent temper tantrums
  • excessive arguing with adults
  • active defiance and refusal to comply with adult requests and rules
  • deliberate attempts to annoy or upset people
  • blaming others for his or her mistakes or misbehavior
  • often being touchy or easily annoyed by others
  • frequent anger and resentment
  • mean and hateful talking when upset
  • seeking revenge

This behaviour is connected with neurological disorder. This makes sense: in all cultures of all times some people have been behaving anti-socially. These troublesome kids are in real danger of becoming criminals, or greedy bankers for that matter. Every so often we have one of them in our classrooms.

A lot of lunatics?

Albeit, I can't buy the percentage of kids purportedly suffering from this condition: five to fifteen percent of all school-age children. That's an outrageous number and it does not match my experience of over thirty years of teaching. I do not expect all children to be obedient and meek all of the time. I am an educator and it is part and parcel of my calling to correct poor behaviour, laziness, heckles, foul language and solipsistic ideas. I teach young adolescents after all. The predominance of pupils are reasonable and willing to learn, I can communicate with them and enjoy them, knowing that they will outgrow insolence and petulance.

To the detriment of lessons

In my tutor group I have a girl who has been diagnosed with ODD and ADHD. Dutch governmental policy has it to place children with special needs in the normal classroom. This child may benefit from the example of other children, at least she realises that her behaviour is not considered to be normal. However, her condition seems to be contagious. Some other students take pleasure in the aggro caused by her histrionics and one boy shows copycat behaviour. Teachers are harried, parents complain about the learning environment of their children. At the end of this year the girl will have to leave the school because she cannot meet our academic standards and can not be promoted to the next form. I have no doubts about her innate intelligence, she falls behind because she cannot concentrate and work on a daily basis. She does not accept guidance.

The singer in wax

The art work shown in the images above was done by this girl. To my amazement she worked on it for several hours fully concentrated. Whenever she has set a goal for her art work all symptoms of her neurological disorder disappear. Provided she has an interest in the topic at hand she will work at her drawing or sculpture with rapt attention over a prolonged period. I advised her to aim for a career as an artist. She is not extremely gifted, but she is capable of producing interesting work. Even more important, in the arts a highly eccentric personality is not uncommon and will be accepted more easily. This might give her a chance to find a place in society. But she baulked at the prospect of having to spend time on art theory and art history.

Don't blame the teacher

Bearing in mind that ODD, ADHD, PDDNOS and all those other afflictions described in DSM IV do exist and have a base in physical disorders that can be detected and measured by scans, I am inclined to think that the number of students suffering from these conditions is highly exaggerated. By medicalising anti-social behaviour our society denies the underlying problem: too many parents fail to discipline their children properly in a stable and safe environment. Because of inadequate caring, excessive consumerism and lack of rules lots of children do not develop a sound personality. As a result they cannot communicate reciprocally. Emotionally they keep functioning on the level of a three year old child.

Teachers cannot solve this problem at a later stage.


Anonymous said...

Your paragraph about the consequences of this girls behaviour and her future in education was very interesting. Clearly the Dutch education system is very different from the United Kingdom.
Sadly I am forced to write the following.

1. The behaviour you describe is not at all unusual in many British schools.
2. Over here the parents would not complain mainly because they themselves place very little value on a good education for their children.
3. Teachers do complain but only behind closed doors. In most schools asking for help or complaining about behaviour is seen as weakness on the part of the teacher. Talking up rather than about problems in endemic in UK schools.
4. There are no minimal academic standards to speak of here. Children will be forwarded to the next year regardless of their progress in the last.

Joep said...

Thank you for paying attention to my blog and commenting on it. However, your view on parents' involvement does not match the information on schools in the UK that I glean , for example from reading the articles on education in the life-style section of the London Times on line. Parents have to pay dearly for the education of their children in the UK. In the Netherlands education is almost free barring a contribution for field trips, extra curricular activities and so on, amounting to four hunderd Euros at most, not the thousands of quid British parents have to fork out. So I guess parents in the UK certainly want to be sure they get bang for their buck?
Dutch teachers can complain to each other and to their superiors about students, but only up to a point. A teacher who expels too many students will be considered to be incompetent.
Regarding your point four: Yes, we have precise academic standards. If a child does not comply with them he will have to double the year or he will be relegated to a lower level. In the case of the girl I described: she lost the opportunity to proceed towards a university-oriented level this year because her lack of concentration. But I am sure that things like that happen in the UK as well. If a student fails to produce the minimum number of A's she will not get entrance to Oxbridge, will she?

Mister Teacher said...

The statistics ARE really high, but then this behavior has been around for a long time with no label. The term "ODD" is relatively new, right?

Thanks for joining the Carnival of Education!

Aus Andrew said...

In Australia, the example of the dutch education system is held up as an aspirational goal. We are told that all Dutch teachers have postgraduate qualifications, and that the educational output is of extremely high quality.

In hearing your speak, particularly the idea that a failure to meet academic standards may result in expulsion - I am not suprised that you can achieve such results.

So-called "social promotion" is the bete noir of Australian education. There is not even widespread acceptance that a failure to master the current level of educational content is a reason to disrupt the process of graduation. The argument is that the social cost to the student's personal relationships and the damage to self-esteem would outweigh the academic returns of repetition.

On the prevalence of psychological disorders such as (ADD, ADHD, ODD, PDDNOS), I agree largely with your position, but also add that society and schools actively enables parents who fail to reinforce basic expectations of social interactions by not enforcing consequences on the children, families and parents. Students who behave in this manner are "educational thieves" who not only fail to take advantage of the educational opportunites presented to them, but also impede colleagues from benefitting from those same opportunities, either by disrupting the classroom/ learning environment or taking an excess of teacher time (by misbehaviour, or requiring personal instruction in remedial material that should have been mastered in prior studies). This seems to be what you are describing in your story with the copycat boy.

I will be making a point of adding you to my RSS reader, and dropping by your blog as time permits - I find your perspective and experiences as described very interesting - please post more!.

Joep said...

Dear Andrew,
thank you for your comment. It triggered a new post..

Urban School Teacher said...

This is a very intersting post, with many insightful comments. I will be back to read more!

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