Innovations in Education Conference

by Siegfried Othmer | June 30th, 2004

I reported on this conference in Salt Lake City two weeks ago, and here is another installment. On the second day of the conference there was a lot of discussion about juvenile probationers. Ron Muir presented on an innovative Charter School that he had started for probationers, which despite many handicaps was producing some excellent results with a program focused almost entirely on the kids’ educational needs.

Jerry Ross and Mike Phillips presented on initial outcomes of a demonstration program in Orem Utah for at-risk youth. This comprehensive program was based on earlier successes of Narconon, an anti-drug program started under the aegis of Scientology. This parentage made a lot of people uncomfortable, but I was there to see the data. The program involves detoxification combined with nutritional intervention, along with other aspects of the program that addressed educational and social needs.

Jerry Ross presented as the expert on environmental sensitivities. He had spent more than ten years working at the famous Dallas treatment facility for environmental sensitivities, which was run under the direction of Bill Rea. Jonathan Walker invited me to address the medical staff at that center many years ago, and everything went swimmingly until I brought up the fact that most people suffering from environmental sensitivities have trauma histories. That’s when Bill Rea left the trolley, and I never got him back. The people he treats have such obvious physiological impairments that to invoke any kind of emotional involvement as cause instead of as consequence just made no sense to him at all. We find ourselves currently having to make the same case in connection with chronic pain, and we may run into similar problems with our mainly medical audience.

Ross therefore had much experience on the benefits of detoxing individuals with chemical sensitivities quite independent of the Narconon program. We can think of these individuals as the canaries in our society. Ross points out that we are all on the way to becoming essentially toxic storage vessels, by virtue of biological concentration through the food chain and just through direct exposure. (Ok, he really said we are all becoming toxic dumps.) Perhaps a quarter of all learning disabilities may be traceable to toxic loading. Ross shows data on a decline in cognitive skill performance with a level of toxic concentration that is beneath conscious detection (although the EEG is clearly affected).

I began to realize that this is another area where one does need to pay explicit attention. Things left to themselves will not turn out for the best, and adopting a “tough-guy” attitude of “I can handle it; it doesn’t really bother me” is perhaps not the most prudent attitude. This came home to me particularly strongly as I was watching the soldiers in Iraq portrayed in Fahrenheit 9/11, after having just read the book “On Killing.” The tough-guy attitude is worn like a uniform; there is time for Gulf War Syndrome and PTSD later. Ross pointed out that simply bringing a suit home from the dry cleaners and hanging it in your closet fills your house with toxic fumes from the cleaning fluid at a significant level. Thus sensitized, I suddenly realized that I was reacting very strongly to the smell of some flip-flops that I had just bought. I had been sub-consciously telling myself that “I can handle it” message. I decided to stuff them in a plastic bag so I wouldn’t have to smell them.

Sue had recently remarked on the fact that the staff at the local Staples seemed unusually disengaged. People seemed to be almost sleep-walking through their roles. Then the last time I set foot in the place it hit me. What an awful industrial smell pervaded the place. Could there be toxic exposure involved that is putting all these people into a half-sleep?

Ross showed sobering data on the loss of cortical perfusion with apparently minor exposure to some toxic materials to which a person had been sensitized. Of course this kind of sensitization likely happened in a toxic exposure, an unusual event that differentiates these people from the rest of us. But are we a factor of ten or twenty better off, or only a factor of two to four away from measurable declines in function?

The fact that detoxing appears to be such an important and effective part of the recovery program not only among the chemically sensitive but also among the at-risk youth makes it likely that this is an issue for many of the people who come to see us. I am clearly not yet on top of this subject, so this is intended just to get the discussion started.

In reflecting back on this conference, as well as the earlier Lindamood-Bell conference, I can now count a number of programs-four-in which major inroads have been demonstrated on youthful criminality. One program emphasizes reading competence; one emphasizes educational competence generally; another emphasizes physiology as part of an overall program; one addresses itself to the blocks to normal learning. Each of these programs leaves an element out that is at the heart of another of the programs, yet they all succeed. Do they succeed with different sub-populations? Perhaps. Should these programs be combined? Most likely.

But I think there is a common element already in these programs that has not been discussed. It is the emotional involvement of the people in these programs. Remarkably this was hardly touched on. It was of course the heart of my presentation over lunch. The most significant dimension we bring to the table with neurofeedback is the emotional warming and the improved emotional regulation of the child. I was looking for this in the other programs, and whereas this was often not explicit, it was clearly an implicit part of the program because of the intensely personal engagement of the staff with the kids.

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