Social Sciences / Education

Jury rejects lawsuit by Sandy Hook denier who was fired by university

Florida Atlantic University prevails in suit by professor it fired.

Anthropologists consider challenges of teaching in a red state

Scholars talk strategy, setbacks on teaching in a field that often aligns with progressive policy goals.

Battle broadens over archives for scholars to share papers

Scholars feel pressure to remove their work from research-sharing platforms like Academia.edu and others, as publishers’ battle with ResearchGate rages on.

Follow-up to study on misconduct at academic field sites says clear rules of conduct and enforcement are needed

Study finds patterns of harassment and sexist treatment of scholars in far-flung locations that offer few of the protections of campuses.

A professor's lesson wasn't actually about pomegranates

Here’s a textbook example of why not to judge a professor on a quick video clip.

Drexel places controversial professor on leave

Drexel says it acted out of concern for safety of George Ciccariello-Maher, whose tweets anger many. But he and others say academic freedom is at risk because of university’s action.

Review of Claire D. Clark, 'The Recovery Revolution: The Battle Over Addiction Treatment in the United States'

Not long after moving into the building I’ve called home over the past 20-odd years, I heard that it had once been occupied by a cult. Longtime residents soon confirmed it, but they were hazy about the particulars. No one could remember the name of the group, only that its members were strange and menacing. Nor could my neighbors recall the circumstances under which the cult had departed. The latter struck me as a potentially important piece of information: if reclaiming the cult’s old property was part of an apocalyptic scenario, I wanted plenty of notice.

The millennium ended without incident, and in time the mystery slipped my mind entirely -- until just a few years back, when the solution turned up one day by surprise. It came from a book about Synanon, a drug-rehabilitation program that started in California during the late 1950s. It was inspired by Alcoholics Anonymous, as the name suggests, although Synanon went off on very much its own course by taking in heroin addicts and the abusers of other hard drugs. In handling such tough customers, Synanon modified AA’s therapeutic methods considerably. Another difference was that Chuck Dederich, the founder, was as eager to encourage publicity as Bill W. was to avoid it.

By 1965, there were two books about Synanon by academics as well as a Hollywood film (starring Eartha Kitt as a junkie) along with an enormous amount of print and television coverage -- all highlighting Synanon’s remarkable success in turning self-described “drug fiends” into sober, productive citizens. Just when and how the group went off the rails is a difficult question. But it did, and the effort to establish an East Coast headquarters by taking over my apartment building (noted in Rod Janzen's The Rise and Fall of Synanon: A California Utopia, published by Johns Hopkins University Press in 2001) was not even the most bizarre and disturbing thing Dederich and his followers did in 1978. That distinction would go to the attempt to silence one of the group’s critics in California by placing a rattlesnake (its rattle cut off) in his mailbox.

Synanon’s multifaceted and highly successful public-relations efforts during its first dozen years are recounted in detail in the first two chapters of Claire D. Clark’s The Recovery Revolution: The Battle Over Addiction Treatment in the United States (Columbia University Press). Clark, an assistant professor of behavioral science at the University of Kentucky, leaves no room for doubt about the depth of Synanon’s influence. The group has been defunct since the early 1990s and is long since forgotten for the most part -- except for the rattlesnake incident, perhaps.

The group’s spectacular degeneration is incidental to Clark’s interest in it. She places Synanon in the wider history of American attitudes toward dependency on highly addictive substances -- swinging between framing the problem in terms of morality or of physiology, to be addressed as a crime or as a matter of public health. To simplify a bit, the high rate of relapse from medical treatment tends to bolster the sentiment that the one sure way to minimize addiction’s social cost is to lock addicts up, while the general effect of locking them up is to reinforce the subculture of addiction. (Another by-product of incarceration: addicts who leave prison with stronger criminal skills and connections.)

The genius of Dederich in creating Synanon was that it combined the therapeutic promise of Alcoholics Anonymous with his firsthand knowledge of addicts’ deviant socialization. Joining meant moving into group housing and entering “the Game” -- marathon therapy sessions in which participants ruthlessly challenged one another’s pretenses and defenses. For hours and sometimes days at a stretch, ex-addicts tore away the lies, rationalizations, self-pity and anything else that they recognized, from experience, could lead back to using. And it worked.

“The longer residents stayed in Synanon,” Clark writes, “the less likely they were to drop out: the dropout rate fell to 40 percent for those who stayed three months, 32 percent for those who stayed six months and less than 25 percent for those who stayed a year or longer. As of 1964, of the 1,180 members who had joined Synanon since 1958, 463 (39.3 percent) were in residence or had graduated in good standing. By the standards of Synanon’s contemporaries, that cure rate was more than respectable.”

Public attention to Synanon was not a result of its success rate alone -- or even of the founder’s willingness to let journalists, celebrities and the occasional sociologist sit in on the confrontational Game, though the voyeuristic appeal must have been a factor. In analyzing Synanon’s development from its founding in 1958 through roughly 1970, Clark brings into focus how the group exemplified, and sometimes anticipated, the cultural themes of the period. It was a counterinstitution, run on a principle of anti-expertise, without input from the medical or judicial professions, and the implication soon became clear that the Game was radically antiestablishment in spirit, demanding greater honesty and authenticity of participants than was the social norm.

At the same time, Synanon advanced what Clark identifies as a “retrograde moral philosophy” -- dedicated to hard work, frugality, self-control and maturity -- against the supposed “new morality” of the period, with its countercultural and consumer-society values.

It was quite a contradictory package -- and as such almost perfectly suited to meet, in the author’s apt phrase, “nonaddicted spiritual seekers’ seemingly conflicting desire: to transform society by dropping out of it.” Perhaps the least bizarre thing about Synanon’s course after 1970 (the point at which Clark rather abruptly drops the subject) is that it attempted to claim tax-exempt status as a religion.

The “second generation” of therapeutic communities -- as Clark calls groups that borrowed from the Synanon model without copying it exactly -- was more open to involving medical professionals; some combined group-therapy techniques with methadone treatment or other pharmacological interventions, while Dederich had insisted on a total break from substance use. A few post-Synanon therapeutic communities sustained the outlook at the American society was sicker than any junkie. (Some forged ties with the Black Panthers; at least one sounds like it might have joined up with the Weather Underground sooner or later, if not for attracting the attention of the FBI.) But other groups developed working relationships with judges and prison wardens, feeding into what is now an established if underfunded system of drug-treatment and mental-health centers.

As The Recovery Revolution's final pages suggest, it is possible to overstate how well-accepted or mainstream therapeutic communities have become. As the number of drug overdoses has spiked over the past 20 years, the rhetoric of punitive drug policy is always easier to generate than funding for treatment. The history Clark records is of an alternative that has inflicted some black eyes on itself over time, but that has also proven itself in practice and saved lives.

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Colleges award tenure

Naval Postgraduate School

  • Mie Augier, business and public policy
  • Kathryn Aten, business and public policy
  • Naazneen Barma, national security
  • Jesse Cunha, business and public policy
  • Latika Hartmann, business and public policy
  • Bradley Strawser, defense analysis
  • Ryan Sullivan, business and public policy
  • Preetha Thulasiraman, electrical and computer engineering

University of Hawaii at Hilo

Why online professors should be on campus (essay)

In a recent blog post on Inside Higher Ed, Joshua Kim explored the value of telecommuting, rightly suggesting that the proven success of online education means that one need not be physically present to do a job well. “What we’ve learned from online education,” he wrote, “is that with a combination of thought, investment and a willingness to make data-driven continuous improvements, distance is not a barrier to quality.” And he closed by asking, “Should the champions of online learning also be advocating for telecommuting?”

It is absolutely the case that teaching remotely and doing it well is possible, particularly if professors accept that teaching online requires the mastery of new skills, an awareness of online pedagogies and best practices, a commitment to valuing those in digital spaces as much as we value those physically in front of us, and, in some cases more time.  And Kim is right to imagine that using the “methods and tools” of online education can help us improve productivity in workplaces that accommodate telecommuters. Certainly, tools like Slack and the Google suite have enabled synchronous collaboration among remotely situated parties.

But while I see a lot of logic and value in telecommuting, I want to make a case for having online educators, in particular, physically present on campuses. My motivation and reasoning stem not from a sense that physical presence is crucial to student learning (it isn’t), but from my understanding of the political landscape of academic environments.

In many academic departments, online education continues be the redheaded stepchild of higher education. In faculty meetings and curriculum committees, it remains an afterthought, even among faculty members who are not openly hostile to it.

Let me offer an example. Our faculty recently redesigned one of our undergraduate majors, creating a couple of new foundational courses that we hope will better prepare our majors for success in upper-level classes. Beautifully conceived, the new curriculum effectively pulls our major into the 21st century. After voting to approve the redesigned curriculum, the faculty organized into subcommittees that took up the task of framing out syllabi for each of the new courses. Despite the fact that our department now serves more majors online in 7.5-week courses than we serve face-to-face majors in 15-week courses, the committee developed a master syllabus for a 15-week course. Only after a few online faculty members raised questions did the committee sit down to develop a 7.5-week version of the course. Since faculty members had already invested so much time and effort into developing the 15-week course, the development process for the 7.5-week course was almost unavoidably a reductive rather than a creative one.  

Why did this happen? One reason is that non-online educators are disproportionately represented in faculty meeting and on faculty committees. That’s because, in many departments, contingent faculty members are central to online programming. Yet because they often work remotely, few contingent faculty members regularly attend faculty meetings, despite the fact that, in our department, full-time contingent faculty enjoy voting privileges on most matters.

Outside of faculty meetings, fewer contingent faculty members bump into their tenure-track colleagues in the breakroom, and fewer are around for spur-of-the-moment lunch dates -- meaning that casual conversations about teaching and learning tend to universalize the experiences of face-to-face teachers and learners. By virtue of their primarily face-to-face teaching load, the faculty members who established the subcommittees for our new major classes were habituated to thinking in terms of 15-week semesters and serving traditional (18- to 22-year-old, residential) students.

In short, the physical absence of contingent faculty from the halls of our department helps keep online education marginalized in our curricular and policymaking discussions. And that’s too bad because often it is our online teaching faculty who are the most pedagogically creative and most aware of the needs of non-traditional students.

Despite my contingent status, I come to campus daily because I like my work and value the formal and informal interactions I have with my faculty and staff colleagues. To be sure, technology enables me to communicate with my colleagues remotely if need be, which I do when I’m at conferences or even when I don’t want to walk down the hall to ask someone a question.

But my physical presence on campus provides me with insight into the range of issues and challenges -- many of them subtle -- that our department faces, and it means that I am available to serve when the need arises unexpectedly. I bring my identity as an online expert to the table in each and every conversation I have, whether that be in faculty meeting or when I grab coffee with a colleague in an effort to putt off grading for 15 more minutes. My voice in those conversations helps chip away at an educational hierarchy that prioritizes traditional methods and campus-based students.

There are a host of reasons why online educators -- particularly full-time contingent faculty members -- should resist the lure of full-time telecommuting. If we hope to build an educational environment that truly values online spaces and online learners -- not to mention non-tenure track faculty members -- we need to make ourselves impossible to ignore. The best way we can do that is to maintain both an intellectual and physical presence in our academic communities.

Penelope Adams Moon is director of online programs and an associate clinical professor of history at the School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies at Arizona State University.

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