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

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Cashing In on Happiness Training for Children of the Poor

The ever-vigilant and insightful Alison McDowell has an important piece at her blog on another branch of the vast and growing body of social impact investing.  This one, which will "treat" the youngest victims of poverty, links up a number of mutually-supportive groups: social efficiency zealots, paternalist social fixers, Wall Street investors, and some of the princes and princesses of academic hackdom, e. g. Seligman, Duckworth, and Heckman.

This clip focuses on links between Seligman and the "happiness" centers operating in poor urban districts in Britain.  Do read the entire piece, which represents a major addition to our understanding of this latest social control front.
The fiscal reasoning for the “pay for success” mental health outsourcing rests on research done by Sir Richard Layard, Director of the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics. Similar to James Heckman at the University of Chicago, Layard created an economic cost/benefit analysis that allowed the government to scale a vast expansion of mental health services through the NHS starting in 2006. By estimating the number of lost workdays associated with depression, anxiety, and addiction, the government was able to use the value of that labor as a cost off set to pay the impact investors.

As early as 2001, Layard developed the Wellbeing Programme at the Centre for Economic Performance where he sought to “establish happiness as a desirable and measurable goal of public policy in the UK and worldwide.” Early efforts included importing the Child Resilience Program that had been developed by Martin Seligman, Director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Of course Seligman and his collaborator Angela “grit” Duckworth were the ones who developed the “character framework” used by the emotionally brutal KIPP “no excuses” charter franchise.

The Wellbeing Programme’s most significant contribution was launching Improving Access to Psychological Therapy (IAPT). Under this program drop-in “Happiness Centres” were placed in low-income neighborhoods where Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) was offered, according to one Guardian article, as an “Ikea of the mind” where “the feel good factor was flat-packed for you to take home.” As cloud based computing began to take over the health-care industry, the pressure to digitize therapy grew more intense. In recent years the NHS’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has been investigating “evidence-based” digital therapies, delivered online or by app for depression and anxiety. The claim is that these platforms make therapy more accessible, but they also generate vast amounts of data as all the online interactions are captured in digital transcripts. As with “personalized” online learning, this transformation aligns closely with the needs of the “what-works” “data-driven” service delivery model.

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