The Blackboard Jungle

days spent beating back the seeds of doubt

Monday, May 24, 2004

The estimable Boyhowdy of Not All Who Wander Are Lost presents this fascinating yet terrifying summary of Kerzner's theory of education's increasing Sisyphus Syndrome:

"Time deprivation disorder and stress: Impact on parent, child, and teacher resiliency," led by Arnold Kerzner, a physician and child psychologist who co-authored several books on child-rearing with Berry Brazelton. In his overview, Kerzner described our schools as fast-paced, where we set high expectations for teachers and students, while providing little in the way of support. In such an environment, our ability to manage stress is destroyed. Learning is impaired, and our physical and mental health are jeopardized. Kerzner used the phrase "cultural post-traumatic stress disorder syndrome" to capture the devastating effects on all aspects of our well-being.

Especially sobering was Kerzner's observation that boarding school administrators, teachers, and students are particularly vulnerable to this disorder. It is not enough merely to use technology, he said, we are also seeking to emulate it through "multi-tasking." Our concentration is diluted; we lose the sense of accomplishment because we never quite finish anything. Administrators, students, and teachers, moreover, are expected to excel in a number of areas, without appropriate institutional support. By taking on too much, by multi-tasking our way through the day, leaving too much undone at the end of it, we develop what Kerzner called "time deprivation disorder."

As a physician, he mapped the effects of "the Sisyphus syndrome." The Greek gods understood human nature when they doled out their punishments. Sisyphus, you will recall, is forever doomed to push a boulder to the top of a hill, only to have it roll down again before he completes the task. The Sisyphus syndrome describes how one feels waking up in the morning, tired, stiff, with weight on one's shoulders. The fatigue lasts all day, as if one can't get a second wind. One has headaches, digestive upsets. We know that stress increases cortisol, and the effect creates a particular kind of anxiety: the belief that despite our best efforts, something will go wrong. One lives with a constant sense of "consternation," hyper-vigilance; as he put it, "waiting for the other shoe to drop." Too busy, we begin to feel isolated - does anyone understand? We develop cognitive rigidity - we see things in black and white - "Give it to me straight, what's the bottom line?" and make administrative decisions that reflect this.

Reading up on Kerzner's online work, he's a sensitive professional who does much to protect adolescent psychology from the assaults of government, educators and parents alike, by pointing out their similarities.
To quote an entirely different sort of a source "the unfortunate, yet truly exciting thing about your life, is that there is no core curriculum. The entire place is an elective. The paths are infinite and the results uncertain." (Source) Kerzner seems to believe in studying the corrollary emotions required of everyone encumbered with an adolescent, to rise to the challenge of those infinite paths.

But I digress.
Let me repeat that single most frightening line: "It is not enough merely to use technology, he said, we are also seeking to emulate it."

How true.