Finally, I'm seeing some discussion of the fact that Jared Loughner was mentally ill. He likely was not influenced by the Tea Party or any other living Republicans, and as I've said before, I doubt that he was influenced by his reading choices either. I've had students who were mentally ill and students who were mentally stable--very few of them read anything beyond text messages.
Diane Rehm did a very good show yesterday on these issues, but I'm still intrigued by some of the comments in other various media outlets. I'm fascinated by how many people who assume that Loughner's community college had some mental health resources, places where he could have gone to get care. Are you kidding me? One of the reasons that community colleges are so inexpensive is the lack of these kind of services.
In fact, I've taught in a wide variety of settings, and only the largest universities have mental health services--and even then, those centers are often staffed by grad students. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but let's not kid ourselves about the level of care available. When I was in grad school, we could go to the campus service to talk about our anxieties and depression, but if we suffered severe illness, such as schizophrenia, I'm not sure how the mental health service would have handled that.
At the community colleges where I've worked, a far more useful social service would have been a day care center that was open during the entire time the college offered classes. But again, let's be honest with each other. Adding that very valuable service would likely increase the cost for students and perhaps exclude the single parents who most need training and education.
You might ask why there's not more state funding. Legislators have liked community colleges because they don't cost as much to run as the larger universities. And now, there's not much funding for anyone, no matter how cheaply they can provide education.
I've also heard commentators asking why Loughner's teachers didn't do more. But what would you have them do? Some commentators say that teachers should have alerted someone, but from what I can tell, they did--numerous times. Often when teachers report odd behavior, there's not much the school can do. And the ADA makes the situation more tricky than it once was.
On most college campuses, adolescents comprise the majority of students. It's hard to distinguish mental illness from typical adolescent behavior. I've had many students where I wondered if they needed medical intervention or just the patience required for them to outgrow whatever phase they were in. And even had I, or the administration, or the parents, or the police decided that a student needed medical intervention, it can be quite impossible to force the mentally ill to seek treatment. And again, the discussion circles back to money. Who will pay for the treatment, especially in these economic hard times when local, state, and federal governments are making tough choices?
But most heartbreaking to me is the accusation that the parents should have done more. Again, what could they have done? The child was not a minor--and as one of the guests on the Diane Rehm show points out, even parents of minor children don't have many options. And if there's no health insurance, there are even fewer options.
I have no answers. But I'm glad that we seem to be moving beyond the rather simplistic discussion of heated political rhetoric as the cause of this young man's breakdown.
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