No place for Tom and Huck

If Tom Sawyer were a schoolboy today, he’d be diagnosed with ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), writes Anne Applebaum in the Washington Post. And maybe CD (Conduct Disorder) too.

“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.

Tom “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.” Of course, he skips school.

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.

Tom turns out OK, Applebaum points out. Huck Finn, who runs away from his foster home, plans to head out to “Indian territory” when “sivilization” gets to be too much for him.

There’s a lot less leeway these days for impulsive, fidgety, reckless boys, writes Applebaum, the mother of two boys.

These days Tom and Huck would be on Ritalin. And Aunt Polly would be on Prozac.

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  1. With a properly designed program for Response To Intervention, Tom could be helped and remain a regular student. With a good social worker, Huckleberry Finn would be a productive participant in school.

    Sorry, Aunt Polly would still need the Prozac.

  2. Last year we had a student with a particularly foul mouth.

    One day during his gardening class when he refused to curb his tongue, the teacher turned the hose full blast on his face and then soaked him him head to foot.

    This intervention strategy wasn’t in his IEP and it wasn’t suggest by the Student Study Team.

    It was just a spontaneous act by a well respected teacher and it did the child a world of good.

  3. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Forget Tom Sawyer… there’s no place for me or my friends in today’s school. I can think of about seven dozen things that we did over the course of four years in high school that would have gotten us expelled, arrested, sent to counseling, put on drugs, or all three.

    Who knows… maybe it really would have been for the best. But I like to think it wouldn’t have been.

  4. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Re: Previous Post

    “three” = “four”


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