Thursday, August 12, 2010

Tom and Huck today

According to Anne Applebaum today Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn would be in Special Ed, probably medicated.
...[T]ry, if you can, to strip away the haze of nostalgia and sentiment through which we generally perceive Mark Twain's world, and imagine how a boy like Tom Sawyer would be regarded today. ....

...Tom is not merely ODD: He clearly has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as well, judging by his inability to concentrate in school. "The harder Tom tried to fasten his mind on his book, the more his mind wandered," Twain writes at one point. Unable to focus ("Tom's heart ached to be free") he starts playing with a tick. This behavior is part of a regular pattern: A few days earlier in church (where he had to sit "as far away from the open window and the seductive outside summer scenes as possible"), Tom had been unable to pay attention to the sermon and played with a pinch bug instead.

In fact, Tom manifests many disturbing behaviors. He blames his half-brother for his poor decisions, demonstrating an inability to take responsibility for his actions. He provokes his peers, often using aggression. He deliberately ignores rules and demonstrates defiance toward adults. He is frequently dishonest, at one point even pretending to be dead. Worst of all, he skips school — behavior that might, in time, lead him to be diagnosed with conduct disorder (CD), from which his friend Huck Finn clearly suffers.

.... Although ADHD and ODD are often dismissed as recently "invented" disorders, they describe personality types and traits that have always existed. A certain kind of boy has always had trouble paying attention in school. A certain kind of boy has always picked fights with friends, gone smoking in the woods and floated down the river on rafts. .... [more]
Applebaum worries that, although there were opportunities for such kids in the 19th century, they don't exist any more. I worry that every behavior problem is medicalized and every eccentricity is defined as a behavior problem. As a teacher I found ODD [oppositional defiance disorder] particularly annoying, since it seemed to provide an excuse for bad behavior and turned perpetrators into victims.