"A child's learning is the funtion more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Friday, January 07, 2011

Seligman's Brainwashing Is Not Just for Captive KIPPsters Anymore

Jason Leopold has a great piece up at Truthout on the former CIA torture advisor and KIPP compliance guru, Martin Seligman, aka "Dr. Happy." 

Seems that Seligman has leveraged his research on brainwashing poor schoolchildren into full-time happy scholars into a $30+ million dollar no-bid contract to pass the happiness bug to GIs who are coming back after multiple tours of duty with PTSD and worse.  

Hey, if it can work in Philly to make children love their poverty and their abusive schooling, why can't it work in Kabul to make GIs unaffected by putting their comrades' pieces into bodybags?  According to Seligman, "we're after creating an indomitable Army."

Now when GIs are done with being indomitable in the theaters of war, they can roll all that positivity into the Troops to Teachers movement--and the cycle can begin all over again.
. . . ."Learned Optimism"
Seligman, a past president of the American Psychological Association (APA), began consulting with General Casey in September 2008 about applying the research he and his colleagues have conducted over the past decade to the benefits of his theories on "Learned Optimism" to all of the Army's active-duty soldiers. Seligman then met with Cornum in December 2008 to discuss creating the foundation for CSF as a way to decrease PTSD.

"Psychology has given us this whole language of pathology, so that a soldier in tears after seeing someone killed thinks, 'Something's wrong with me; I have post-traumatic stress,' or PTSD," Seligman said in August 2009. "The idea here is to give people a new vocabulary, to speak in terms of resilience. Most people who experience trauma don't end up with PTSD; many experience post-traumatic growth."

According to a report published in December 2009 in the APA Monitor, Seligman believes that positive thinking methods taught to schoolchildren who "were [conditioned] to think more realistically and flexibly about the problems they encounter every day" can also be taught to Army soldiers and the results will be the same.

Seligman said he is basing his theory on a series of 19 studies he conducted, which found that teachers who "emphasized the importance of slowing the problem-solving process down by helping students identify their goals, gather information and develop several possible ways to achieve those goals," increased students' optimism levels over the course of two years "and their risk for depression was cut in half."

But unlike studies conducted on schoolchildren, there is no research that exists that shows applying those same conditioning methods to the Army's active-duty soldiers will reduce PTSD. Seligman, however, seems to be aware that is the case. That may explain why he has referred to Army soldiers as his personal guinea pigs.

"This is the largest study - 1.1 million soldiers - psychology has ever been involved in and it will yield definitive data about whether or not [resiliency and psychological fitness training] works," Seligman said about the CSF program.

"We're after creating an indomitable Army," Seligman said.

Positive Psychology's Critics
While positive psychology, a term coined by Seligman, has its supporters who swear by its benefits, the movement also has its fair share of critics. Bryant Welch, who also served as APA president, said, "personally, I have not been able to find a meaningful distinction between [positive psychology] and Norman Vincent Peale's Power of Positive Thinking. Both emphasize substituting positive thoughts for unhappy or negative ones."

"And yet the US military has bought into this untested notion to the tune of [$125] million," Welch said. "This money, of course, could have been used to provide real mental health care to our troops. Instead, it is being used to tell military personnel that they can (and, thus, presumably should) overcome whatever happens to them on the battlefield with the dubious tools of Positive Psychology."

PTSD "is is not a mental state that can be treated by suggesting to the patient that he or she simply re-frame how they think about the situation, as Dr. Seligman suggests," Welch added.

Other notable critics include authors Chris Hedges and Barbara Ehrenreich, both of who say the practice has thrived in the corporate world where the refusal to consider negative outcomes resulted in the current economic crisis.

Hedges, author of the book "Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle," wrote, "positive psychology, which claims to be able to engineer happiness and provides the psychological tools for enforcing corporate conformity, is to the corporate state what eugenics was to the Nazis."

"Positive psychology is a quack science that throws a smoke screen over corporate domination, abuse and greed," Hedges said. "Those who fail to exhibit positive attitudes, no matter the external reality, are seen as maladjusted and in need of assistance. Their attitudes need correction."

Hedges added that "academics who preach [the benefits of positive psychology] are awash in corporate grants."
Indeed, Seligman's CV shows he has received tens of millions of dollars in foundation cash to conduct positive psychology research.

According to a report published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, "People credit a large part of positive psychology's success to the solid reputations of the field's leaders - and Seligman's ability to get science-supporting agencies interested."

"The National Institute of Mental Health has given more than $226-million in grants to positive-psychology researchers in the past 10 years, beginning with just under $4-million in 1999 and reaching more than nine times that amount in 2008," according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Seligman has equated his work for the Army to assisting the "second largest corporation in the world."

Multimillion-Dollar Contract
Seligman's biggest payday came last year, when the Positive Psychology Center received a three-year, $31 million, no-bid, sole-source Army contract to continue developing the program. 

According to Defense Department documents, "the contract action was accomplished using other than competitive procedure because there is only one responsible source and no other supplies or services will satisfy agency requirement[s]. Services can only be provided from the original source as this is a follow-on requirement for the continued provision of highly specialized services."

In 2009, several months after receiving the green light from Casey to develop the CSF program, the Army paid Seligman's Positive Psychology Center $1 million to begin training hundreds of drill sergeants to become Master Resilience Trainers (MRTs), "certified experts who will advise commanders in the field and design and facilitate unit-level resilience training across the Army."

More than 2,000 MRTs have been trained since CSF was rolled out in October 2009. The Army intends to certify thousands more MRTs.

The Defense Department's justification for the no-bid contract said Seligman's program "possesses unique capabilities, in that, [it is] the only established, broadly effective, evidence-based, train the trainer program currently available which meets the Army's minimum needs."

Seligman's program was "explicitly designed to train trainers (teachers) in how to impart resiliency and whole life fitness skills to others (their students)," the contracting documents state. "Other existent programs are designed to simply teach resiliency directly to participants. The long-term outcomes of [Seligman's program] have been examined in over 15 well documented studies."

"Without the Army's Resiliency Master Trainer Program [as taught by Seligman and his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania] the exacerbated effects of multiple wars and other stressors result in a weakened corps and this directly impacts the Army's readiness and ultimately compromises the national security of our nation ... This program is vitally important to our forces deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan."

The contracting documents go on to say that "market research ... mostly through a thorough web search and networking with subject matter experts both within the Army, across services and in [academia] into other "positive psychology" programs was conducted between August and October 2008 before the Army decided to award the contract to Seligman because his program met the Army's immediate needs.

Cornum said in July 2009 that similar resiliency tests used by the University of Pennsylvania for the general public would be "militarized" by the Army.

A Difficult Challenge
But according to Griffith, the atheist Army sergeant, the Army did not do enough to remove the religious connotatitions from the spiritual section of the test.

Even Seligman's colleagues acknowledge that attempting to separate spirituality from religion is a challenge.

"Mapping the conceptual distinctions between what we refer to as 'religion' and what we refer to as 'spirituality' can be difficult," wrote Ben Dean in an article published on the University of Pennsylvania's Authentic Happiness web site.
Griffith said there's a simple solution: "Scrap [the] spiritual aspect altogether."

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