Failure at Fundamentals—Education and Addiction

Interventions that don’t address social psychological reality will fail.

Posted Dec 03, 2019

I wrote a series—Things We Can’t Change—beginning with education. Ten years ago, I argued that two fundamental dynamics in American society dictated America’s educational decline. First is social inequality and the deprived environments in which a substantial portion of Americans are raised. The second is that, in the larger society, critical consciousness has been depreciated—indeed, consciousness of any sort. Now the preferred escape from mindfulness is non-stop video games, cell phones, and social media.

Comes the 2019 year’s end NY Times headline:

Test Scores Cast Doubt on U.S. Education Reform

The performance of American teenagers in reading and math has stagnated despite the country spending billions to close gaps with the rest of the world. (My emphasis)

We can try every educational novelty in the universe (lately, in education, charter schools) and we won’t move—we haven’t moved—the educational needle.

Likewise, ten years ago, I spoke about the myth that addiction is a treatable disease.

Despite decades of new claims about discoveries about addiction as a brain disease, almost exactly concurrent with these “discoveries” we have seen drug deaths accelerate to new peaks. Thus, since NIDA Director Alan Leshner announced in 1997 that “Addiction is a brain disease,” drug deaths have increased by 600 percent, and three-quarters of a million Americans have died (as I discussed recently in Filter e-magazine).

Nonetheless, the Surgeon General has doubled down on a national campaign to convince people that drug use causes people to lose all control of their behavior. Even “radical” drug policy reformers now tell us that the only hope for curbing addiction is addiction-fighting medication, leading to the following tragedy:

Over the last several years, Missouri has received $65 million in federal grants to address the opioid crisis, [researcher Rachel] Winograd says… They’ve focused on expanding access to medication-assisted treatment…

“The fact that the numbers didn’t go down and that people were dying at an even higher rate—it was devastating.”

In the face of such self-destructive inanities, I have discussed in Psychology Today what we need to do to impede addiction: improve people’s lives and defang the idea that addiction and drug use cause an uncontrollable disease.

We are doing neither of these things, but rather the reverse.