I am not one that ever wanted to be classified as a psychometrician though I did study school psychology and have done my share of testing. It’s funny though that in so many of the psychometric protocols they use the term “normative range” to define behavior that was normal, abhorrent, adjusted, maladjusted, average etc. I remember those days and just had a thought. In light of today’s social and political climate, the back stabbing, back biting, viciousness, endless lies and innuendo compounded by years of “reality” tv shows and the glorification of people who you would never want to live in your neighborhood (planet?) that perhaps we need to take another look at these instruments to make sure that they in fact reflect society standards. I imagined a few scenarios and wanted to share one of them.
Scene: - a typical IEP meeting at Anytown USA: Hello I’m Doctor Testalot, thank you for coming to the meeting today Mr. and Mrs. Whoareyou. Let the record reflect that we are here today to review the IEP for Jimmy Whoareyou, to update test findings and review his plan and make adjustments as needed.
Teacher: “I am very concerned about Jimmy, last week I caught him sitting quietly doing math work during texting class. I am afraid that he is not taking his studies seriously, I mean when it comes to texting he is all pinkies; though we have tried to tutor him he just cannot remember any of the texting shorthand, nor has he learned to punk out his peers. Though I have encouraged him, he cannot start rumors without a script and to top it off, just last week he encouraged a peer who was having difficulty! Not once will he refer to his girlfriend as his future baby mama. On top of that he says such things as please, thank you, and may I have…”
Guidance counselor: “I encouraged Jimmy to get involved in the student government in order to help his self esteem and to help him adjust to his new school. I tried to help him form a superpac to help discredit that little tramp Suzy Sleepsaround but he would have nothing to do with it. He said, and I can’t believe I am saying this in an IEP, please excuse the language “I want to win on the issues and on my platform; I WANT TO EARN IT (said in a condescending mocking tone).” I encouraged him to call her a communist socialist fascist based on the fact that she supported the lunch lady when she made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for the kid who had no lunch money. Why would she support such blatant class warfare and the redistribution of wealth? I asked and he said he agreed with her. I mean, I just don’t know what to do with him at times.”
School psychologist: “Jimmy tested as maladjusted on the XYZ inventory. On socialization he received his lowest score which means he is likely to do such abhorrent things as show compassion, hold doors for people, help those in need etc. I am afraid that if all the seats were taken on the bus and an elderly or disabled person came on; he would likely give up his seat to that they may sit down. Intervention strategies of failed thus far, have you bought him the box sets to Jersey Shore, the Kardashian’s or any of the other items on the list I provided at our last meeting?”
Parents: “We have tried everything to help Jimmy. We got him a tattoo that reads ‘authority sucks,’ introduced him to strippers, drug dealers and Kevin Federline, all to no avail. When that failed we sent him to Kato Kaelin’s camp ‘hangerson,’ but he still insists that he is going to get a job, get married and have kids one day…”
While most of us use an internal moral compass to help guide us through the many twists and turns of life, we as counselors need to remember that sometimes folks look not to themselves but to pop culture for guidance, which can explain oh so much. This is not new in the least, a generation or two ago (depending on your age) children and adults walked around wearing cowboy shirts and either wanting to “be the guy in the white hat” or the “guy in the black hat.” I personally was influenced by characters from such things as M*A*S*H*, Cheers, Frasier and several other shows (although in real life Frasier would have lost his licensed several times over for his behavior). While I had a period of “being the ladies man” in High School ala “Sam Malone” I think I turned out alright as I had other role models in which to learn from. Still, I worry that with the glorification of polarized politics, “faux news” programs that promote “facts” but obsess with conjecture, partisan hack job segments and sensationalism not to mention superpacs that hide behind privacy and launch zany attacks at anything they feel like at the time (I am waiting to hear that Obama is not only an illegal alien but a space alien or that Romney is the secret love child of PT Barnum and Elvira) that some of us will lose our rudders. As clinicians we need to remember that some of our clients never had proper guidance from their parent, lacked outside moral guidance and may have lived in a world without real news, facts or morals and instead were fed an unhealthy diet of only faux news, reality “stars” and who know the courtroom better than they know the classroom. If we can better understand where they are and where they were, we can better understand how to get them where they want and need to be. And this my friends is how we may be able to redefine normal.
Warren Corson III (Doc Warren) is a counselor and the clinical & executive director of a community counseling agency in central CT (www.docwarren.org).