At the request of the author, this post was briefly taken down in order to obscure the name of the school and of one student.
Do students have the right not to be subjected to emotional and psychological abuse? If pressure and chronic stress raise test scores, are they acceptable?
A group of mental health professionals prepared the following report. It is long. It is painful to read. This is what many schools are doing to our children. They must be stopped. This borders on criminality. Wake up. It is happening in many states and communities.
This is very Orwellian, but we wanted you to know about it.
I have attached a copy of report that I and several other university and mental health professionals in Texas schools have prepared.
We would like to ask your help in bringing awareness to this problem.
Joyce Feilke, Counselor Austin Independent School District
15 October 2013
To: Senator Jane Nelson & Committee for Health & Human Services
From: Joyce Murdock Feilke, Counselor, Austin ISD
Re: Report of Psychological Abuse in An AISD Elementary School
Dear Senator Nelson & HHS Committee,
I am writing to report my observations of psychological abuse in a public elementary school in AISD. I am providing this report to your committee
as my professional responsibility and according to the Texas Family Code. The conditions and methods described in this report can be confirmed by mental health experts as factors which are known to contribute to mental illness and criminality when used for conditioning and shaping behavior in young children.
During the past 30 years as a school counselor, I have observed a steady decline in the elementary school environment. This decline has resulted from complex reasons, but primarily from the obsession with statewide testing and corrosive school politics. Children in most elementary schools of Texas are being forced to function in an environment of chronic stress. Chronic stress is known to change brain chemistry in children and can lead to mental illness. Many of these young children with genetic predisposition to autism and other neurological, sensory, and developmental delays are experiencing chronic traumatic stress and will suffer even greater psychological harm. The demands for high test performance ratings are causing these children to be exploited and experimented on as if they were caged mice in a science lab. They are being psychologically abused on a grand scale that will impact the mental health of future generations.
It is common knowledge among educators in Texas that punitive methods of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), which are known to cause psychological harm, are being used in many elementary schools across Texas to enhance test performance; however, I will focus my report on the one school where I have observed this psychological abuse – XXXXX Elementary school in Austin ISD.
XXXXXX Elementary School is a Title I School, which means it has a low socio economic population of minority students. Last May it received an
Exemplary performance rating on statewide testing as a result of a system that was implemented into the school over a three year period. That system, called The New 3 R’s, is said to mean: The Right Resources, The Right People, and The Right Systems.
The New 3 R’s System was designed by a former structural engineer who became a principal in AISD. He designed his own program of behavioral
engineering and experimented on the general elementary school population of minority students ages 4 – 11. It was a successful and efficient method of getting high performance on tests, and led to his school receiving an Exemplary performance rating on statewide testing and national recognition for his school. This high performance recognition led to the Austin ISD allowing another Title I school principal to implement the same New 3 R’s System. After the 2nd school implemented the program over three years and received an Exemplary rating on statewide testing, AISD allowed the principal to train other principals in Title I schools. AISD allowed this program to be implemented into Title I schools without adequate review by mental health experts who would have recognized the potential for psychological harm to young children.
The New 3 R’s System of behavioral engineering that AISD is celebrating and perpetuating uses the same methods of punitive classic conditioning that are known to enslave children for child labor and sex trafficking, and for obedience training for dogs and zoo animals. It is the same dysfunctional system that kept the black culture of the South submissive to oppression for the hundred years after the Civil War. It is the same dysfunctional system that led to the Nazi Regime in Germany prior to WWII. The New 3 R’s System has the same sophisticated dysfunctional dynamics and abuse of power that can be observed in every poisonous pedagogy that has ever woven its way through history. It can be observed in families, cults, and countries. It is efficient, and it does result in high performance, but at the expense of great psychological damage to its victims.
The use of punitive ABA methods for conditioning young children in a controlled environment is a violation of human rights. It is unethical,
immoral, and illegal. It is psychological abuse which research has shown to have high potential for mental illness and personality disorders that will manifest in young adulthood, but are known to have roots in childhood.
Positive methods of ABA are designed for use in specific educational settings by specialists with demonstrated expertise in the field of psychology and behavioral sciences. They are required to have certification by a regulatory board: Behavior Analysis Certification Board (BACB). ABA uses therapeutic methods of re-learning and management for autistic, disabled, and/or violent children with special needs, addictions, OCD, and other disabilities which may respond to positive ABA treatment. When ABA methods of punitive classical conditioning are used in a controlled environment on healthy young children whose brains are still developing, it can lead to permanent psychological damage. Those same methods can be observed in the dysfunctional dynamics of families with battered-person syndrome, and are sometimes known as mind control, or Stockholm syndrome.
What the New 3 R’s System calls good discipline, is actually punitive ABA. The signs of psychological abuse that I have observed from chronic stress in this system usually begin by age 6 – 8. The most common symptoms begin with signs of desensitization, anxiety, loss of imagination,
loss of spontaneity, loss of humor, regression, irritability, self injury, inability to concentrate, and dissociation. However, the most destructive effects of this psychological abuse will not manifest until the children reach their teenage years, or early adulthood. At that time, their conditioned emotional repression from victimization of institutional bullying and positive/negative ambivalent role modeling can lead to mental illness and criminality.
Children’s symptoms from chronic traumatic stress are the same symptoms as High Functioning Autism. It is the observation of this counselor, as well as a growing number of other mental health experts, that there is a relationship between the elementary school environment of chronic traumatic stress and the increase in psychiatric disorders that are known to co-occur with High Functioning Autism, especially anxiety, depression, mood disorders, and thought disorders. It is our believe that the elementary school environment of chronic traumatic stress is the environmental factor causing soaring rates of High Functioning Autism in children who have a neurological genetic predisposition to autism.
The elementary school environment of chronic traumatic stress is believed to be a cause of the increase in personality disorders, especially Narcissistic, Borderline, and Antisocial Disorders, which often lead to criminality and violence. These disorders do not manifest until adulthood, but are known to have roots in early childhood, with symptoms beginning around age 5. These symptoms can be observed in children who have no emotions of empathy or guilt, no emotions of pleasure, imaginative play, spontaneity, or humor.
In addition, symptoms of complex chronic traumatic stress can result from entrapment in dual environments of institutional bullying and ambivalent role modeling at school, and also at home. The psychological damage can increase with a lack of positive behavior modeling from teacher/caregivers and a lack of social and emotional attachments to teacher/caregivers and peers. This entrapment from psychological abuse in their total environment, and expectations which the child can never fully meet, are thought to lead to Dissociative Disorder as well as personality disorders.
Mental health professionals categorize these disorders into the following types:
Antisocial Personality Disorder
Avoidant Personality Disorder
Borderline Personality Disorder
Dependent Personality Disorder
Histrionic Personality Disorder
Narcissistic Personality Disorder
ObessiveCompulsive Personality Disorder
Paranoid Personality Disorder
Schizoid Personality Disorder
Schizotypal Personality Disorder
In 2008 the rate of personality disorders in the US was estimated at 1 in 10, and described as a major public health concern requiring attention by
researchers and clinicians. It is estimated to have steadily increased during the last five years and an elementary school environment of chronic traumatic stress is highly suspect as a leading cause.
The following descriptions are methods of the New 3 R’s System that I have observed in use at XXXXXXXX Elementary during the past two years. These methods are recognized as having potential for psychological harm.
ABSOLUTE CONTROL IN A CONTROLLED ENVIRONMENT
Absolute teacher/caregiver dominance in a controlled environment using punitive classical conditioning to shape behavior through fear, humiliation, and shame are the hallmarks of the New 3 R’s System. This poisonous pedagogy has been demonstrated throughout history to produce efficiency in human systems and gain desired performance, but at the same time repressing vitality, creativity, and emotions in children. This extreme form of discipline takes away any opportunity for self directed learning or original thinking. It represses children’s individuality and independence. It causes them to feel helpless and dependent. It breaks a child’s spirit and represses their imagination. It prevents the development of higher level thinking skills. Research has shown this pedagogy to cause children to become obedient to abusive authority, self destructive, codependent, addictive, mentally ill, and have deviant behaviors. It is institutional bullying.
PUBLIC HUMILIATION IN THE CHILD’S COMMUNITY
Any child with unfinished homework on any given day is singled out in the cafeteria during their lunch, in front of their school community, as punishment for not having completed their work. This method of shaming and humiliating a child during their lunch, in front of their peers, teachers, mentors, school staff, parents, and others, is a method known to cause psychological harm to children. It causes scapegoating and social isolation, and causes a child to become labeled as an “offender”. Many of the younger children cry when forced to sit in isolation by themselves in front of everyone in the cafeteria. Some of their peers show signs of sympathy, while others make sarcastic comments or looks, and others fear the same could happen to them. Most of the children see the injustice, and feel helpless and sad for the victims. This method of humiliating children causes strong emotions of shame, anger, and resentment for both the victim and the bystanders. By using this method, teachers are modeling negative behavior of “bullying”, while presenting it to the child as “good discipline”.
The cognitive and emotional conflict from such ambivalent positive/negative role modeling from teacher/caregivers causes confusion and distorted thinking in young children. They do not have adequate coping mechanisms to process the strong emotions this victimization produces. This ambivalent role modeling by teacher/caregivers is sometimes called “crazy making” by psychologists. The child who is victim of this institutional bullying will try to save face in front of his peers by denying his strong emotions of shame, anger, resentment, and self pity. Both the child who is victim and the children who are bystanders will learn that cruelty and disrespect from teacher/caregivers is acceptable and normal. It teaches children to deny and repress their own strong emotions, while keeping up the positive appearance and expectations of the teacher/caregiver. This “splitting” or distorted thinking (separating cognitive and affective) is considered a defense mechanism leading to personality disorders and regression. It distorts perception of reality. This method of the New 3 R’s is strongly associated with psychological abuse causing Narcissistic, Borderline, and Antisocial Personality Disorders.
Since children perceive themselves as they think others see them, this method of public humiliation and disrespect teaches them to devalue and disrespect themselves and their needs. It teaches them to fear and disrespect their teacher/caregivers, while at the same time working hard to gain their acceptance through their own performance and appearance of compliance. Teacher/caregivers who abuse their power and manipulate children’s emotions with this ambivalent method are demonstrating a lack of empathy and disregard for the dignity of the child. Teacher/caregivers who use this method are recognized as insensitive and cruel. They are modeling unhealthy behavior, while presenting it as positive discipline. They are teaching children to trust and depend on authorities who mistreat and disrespect them.
Since young children still have a developing brain and a fragile sense of self and identity, experiencing the strong emotions of victimization of institutional bullying over time will cause desensitization to cruelty and mistreatment that was modeled by teacher/caregivers. Years of this chronic psychological abuse can cause a child to become emotionally desensitized to the point of having no empathy for others who are mistreated. The child will be conditioned to perpetuate the same cruelty to themselves or others without guilt, since they learned this behavior to be normal and acceptable.
The child who suffered the most punishment with this method last year due to chronic homework problems, was also a victim of impoverished family circumstances. Her name is XXXX, and she is the oldest of five siblings. Her mother is intellectually handicapped. As a forth grader, XXXXX had assumed the role of parenting her younger siblings. They were a homeless family and had slept on the floor of a friend’s two room shed for two years. XXXXX spent time in cafeteria isolation on a regular basis. She was the victim of a cruel method which only increased her social isolation and
distrust for her teacher/caregiver, and enhanced her feelings of helplessness and worthlessness.
As counselor, my efforts to point out the harm in using this method and the psychological damage it could cause were ignored. I protested to both the
principal and the Social Emotional Learning Chairperson, and to higher AISD administration. The principal defended this method by calling it good discipline and one of her methods of success in the 3 R’s System.
Later, I was told by an AISD legal administrator to either support all the principal’s policies or leave. This punitive method of ABA illustrates callous disregard and professional ignorance by any administrator who would approve it to be used with young children and call it good discipline.
The discipline called Friday Assessments is a marathon of weekly testing sessions lasting up to four hours every Friday. This non stop testing begins at the start of the school day on Friday and lasts until lunch and up to four hours. This weekly four hour test is said to be a need to check student progress; however, it has all the characteristics of a simulated STAAR test, which last four hours. The children work in isolation behind triboards as they do during the STAAR for security. This disguised Simulated STAAR is mentally and physically exhausting for young children. It causes them to become desensitized and lethargic. While the purpose is apparently to condition them with test stamina for STAAR, it is robbing them of imagination and original thinking. This Simulated STAAR is an example of exploitation of children for the unrealistic demands of an administrator who lacks empathy for children and who does not understand their developmental needs. If the Friday Assessments were actually for the purpose of determining children’s weekly progress, then the children could be tested on different days for shorter periods of time. Four consecutive hours of testing every Friday for young children is not developmentally age appropriate or healthy, nor does it illustrate good professional judgement from an administrator. It is mental and physical cruelty. For children, it is torture.
NEW 3 R’S DAILY TIMED MATH DRILLS
The New 3 R’s uses morning math timed drills to start each day. These daily drills generate anxiety and set the pace for capturing absolute control of the child’s thinking and attention for the remainder of the day’s drill.
Many children develop anxiety disorders from being hurried on work that can be frustrating when they are not developmentally ready for excessive timed tasks. The chronic frustration of excessive tasks with limited time at an early age can lead to anxiety and somatic disorders, performance anxiety, fear of making mistakes, perfectionism, and self defeating behaviors. Such rigid regimens cause children to become passive and pressured. They lose the capacity for spontaneous imaginative play and a pleasure in intellectual discovery. This method of beginning each day with a regimen of anxiety, then holding children’s attention captive with absolute teacher dominated forced rote learning of test material for the rest of the day, resembles brainwashing. It creates feelings of helplessness and entrapment. Children are conditioned to shut down their own original thoughts and ideas and become a receptor for the teacher’s programming.
PUBLIC DISPLAY OF CHILDREN’S DAILY BEHAVIOR REPORT
Each child’s daily behavior report from the teacher is posted on the board for peers and others in the school to see. This is a punitive method of ABA for motivating children with fear and intimidation. This causes a child shame, anger, and resentment, as well as fear of additional punishment from home. This method serves as a threat throughout the day, and causes chronic stress and loss of trust in the teacher/caregiver. This method singles out a child for scapegoating by peers, and it conflicts with a child’s need for healthy attachment to the teacher/caregiver. This method of the New 3 R’s is a violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).
EXCESSIVE REWARD & PUNISHMENT FOR PERFORMANCE
The 3 R’s method of emphasis on performance rewards for young children neglects their most primary social and emotional developmental needs. Emphasis on performance rewards creates competition too early and hampers development of authentic self and identity. Young children perceive themselves as they think others see them; therefore, when only performance is rewarded with neglect of ongoing emotional validation, they begin to think of themselves as a test score, since that is what matters most to their teacher/caregiver. They will become conditioned to perform for their teacher/caregiver, while denying their own emotions and needs. Young children are not developmentally ready to have their performance depend on rewards/punishment since they have not yet learned coping skills for disappointment. They learn from behavior modeled by teacher/caregivers. When a young child sees others rewarded for performance while they are not, they are left with the strong emotions of sadness, jealousy, anger, resentment, and failure, which they are unable to process. The method of constant rewards for test performance reinforces negative emotions of winner/loser and competition for children too young to process the emotions. It does not allow children to learn intrinsic motivation.
MESSAGES OF MISTRUST AND INCOMPETENCE
There is intimidation and fear from constant surveillance, requiring children to carry a behavior checklist with them for all movement outside their contained classroom, such as library or lunch when supervised by someone other than their primary teacher/caregiver. This punitive method creates disrespect and lack of emotional attachment to the teacher/caregiver. It teaches children that the teacher/caregiver does not trust or believe in them to control their own behavior. The children will learn to think of themselves as incapable of controlling their own behavior without someone always monitoring it. It validates the teacher/caregiver’s mistrust and diminishes opportunity to learn self regulation and to function independently. It does not illustrate mutual respect. This method leads to paranoia and fear of making mistakes, as well as creating dependency and lack of opportunity for behavioral decision making.
THE RIGHT PEOPLE
The New 3 R’s uses a selective process for teachers and staff in order to
implement the program effectively into a school. There is a process of weeding out all teachers and staff who have objections to the methods of the system or who have recognition of the potential for psychological harm.
The Right People means that everyone on the faculty must agree with the principal and not express any opposition or disagreement to the methods.
The gradual selective process of the Right People begins with flight, fight, or freeze, which are the normal reactions to a threat of abuse of power.
FLIGHT: Those teachers who were not indoctrinated into the system by the end of the second year, either transferred, retired, or were terminated.
FIGHT: The school counselor is the only one left on the faculty at present who has continued to point out the psychological abuse in the system. The counselor filed two formal grievances of child mistreatment to AISD Human Resources last school year, but no changes were made in the system. At this time the counselor has experienced the full victimization of bullying by the principal and AISD higher administration: Threats, scapegoating, alienation of faculty, and retaliation continued until the counselor was forced to take leave on 17 September. The counselor filed an EEOC
grievance against AISD for retaliation on 17 September 2013, and is continuing to advocate for the children who are being exploited in an
environment of psychological abuse.
FREEZE: Teachers who remained in the school are desensitized and loyal
to the principal and the New 3 R’s System. They do not object to any of the punitive harmful methods nor do they empathize with the students. Teachers who function in chronic stress have similar symptoms as the students. They function in a “survive” mode rather than a “thrive” mode. They are robotic and scripted, emotionless, lack spontaneity and imagination, lack humor and flexibility. They are rigid and controlled. Their performance is measured by the test scores of their students, so they are dedicated to programming their students according to administrative directives. They obey orders without question. Many walk on eggshells for fear of making mistakes or displeasing the principal. They work very hard to keep up with the principal’s expectations and focus on their own performance. They are stern and demanding. They have lost the ability for imaginative play.
The New 3 R’s System is a rigid system of behavioral engineering that uses punitive methods of ABA which are known to cause psychological harm to young children. Some of the methods are known to cause mental illness and criminality. The New 3 R’s is a sophisticated system of bullying.
AISD administrators allowed the New 3 R’s System to be used in elementary schools for the purpose of obtaining high performance ratings on statewide tests, but without adequate oversight of mental health experts who would have recognized the potential for psychological abuse.
AISD has allowed administrators to use punitive methods of ABA in violation of certification requirements and with methods known to cause
psychological damage to young children.
AISD administrators ignored the counselor’s reports of the New 3 R’s methods as being psychologically abusive to children, and retaliated against the counselor.
Children in Texas public elementary schools are entitled to have their mental and physical health protected by state law. There are currently
no agencies with adequate laws in place to protect the rights of these children.