In 1972, after graduating from New York's Queens College, I took the New York State teaching exam. My degrees were in Theater and Speech Communications so I took the exam to teach speech. It was a particularly difficult test since it combined both art and science. The surprisingly good news - after five years of "thespianing," partying and cramming, I passed the written and oral exams. The embarrassingly bad news - I failed MY APPLICATION!
My downfall was one simple question: Have you ever used drugs? The application had separate boxes for a simple YES and a simple NO. I simply checked YES!!
You see, having gone to school during the drug crazed 60s and 70s, I was convinced my assessors wouldn't believe my "No" since my wild-hippy-artist-look defined me. Thus I did as any young idealist would – I told the truth – well, the partial truth. I admitted to smoking marijuana, and left it at that. My assessment team was NOT pleased! The reward for my honesty was a series of urine tests and a follow-up oral exam, during which I was ultimately forced to lie. I committed to living completely drug free for the rest of my natural life.
Though I wasn't given a psychological exam, it was apparent my interrogators associated my drug use with my stability and capability to do my job. Some may feel they overreacted. I surely did at the time. But considering the importance of the job I was seeking, my interrogators wanted assurance. Today I understand that my behavior, my clarity, my rationality, and even my honesty, were factored into my worthiness for the job. Rightfully so. Teaching is enormously important. It grants power to one over others. The proper handling of that power requires psychological and emotional health.
Several years ago I witnessed an adult school principal verbally assault a student before a large crowd. On other occasions I witnessed that very same principal verbally assault her staff. She was vindictive, vituperative and irrational - yet she ruled over a very large school. Eventually that principal was fired – but it took a dozen years and the tireless efforts of faculty and other staff before she was removed. As far as I know, there is no psychological test for teachers or for school administrators, although there clearly ought to be. Had there been pre-screening for emotional fitness, this incompetent principal may never have gotten her job.
There are areas of employment that mandate mental health pre-screenings. The police and military come to mind. Both require maturity, responsibility, and rationality for the job. Of course, even with pre-screening, some who are unfit still make it through. Nonetheless, considering the potential for harm to others by those who hold those jobs, it's better to screen before.
This week the medical records were released for Presidential candidate, John McCain. The information was a long time coming. Immediately upon its release, a select group of reporters and medical practitioners were granted access to its contents for a prohibitively short time. They garnered information on McCain's heart, his cholesterol, his melanoma, arthritis, mobility, prostate, polyps, and his oddly disparate heights - 5'6" and 5'9." You can choose which one to believe. From all the reports, the 72 year old Senator is in good enough health to lead. But for any clear thinking voter, the physical health of this candidate, though crucial, pales in importance to his mental health, which in the case of untreated, undiagnosed illness poses a greater threat to us all. Though it's ludicrous to elect a candidate who can't physically perform the job, it's worse to elect a candidate who can't rationally perform the job.
Note this CNN video with Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, describing the effects of depression on President Calvin Coolidge after the death of his beloved son, and staff observations of the sullenness of Richard Nixon leading up to his resignation. We can see how the mental health of a President can directly affect his performance:
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