“She’s flighty.” “He’s a dreamer.”
Should these children be diagnosed, labeled and medicated to make them conform? Are they abnormal, or just marching to the beat of a different drummer? Perhaps she’s flying somewhere and he’s dreaming of something far more interesting than the worksheet of the day. Are we creating standardized children to excel on our standardized tests? Our culture values achievers. Does enduring the weariness night after night that many children feel at finishing their homework count as an accomplishment? How does a child who continually fails, who is labeled as a troublemaker, who never gets the shiny sticker awards, or the stellar grades, develop belief in himself?
When, in the United States, approximately six and a half million of all school age children, one in five of every high school boy, and over ten thousand toddlers are taking powerful medications after being diagnosed with ADHD, it’s time to change the system, not the children. How do we teach both the child and the teacher the difference between bouts of creative distraction, when one thought is allowed to pinwheel into a beautiful display of many thoughts, and distractions that are indications that the child is not connecting, for any number of reasons, to the subject being taught?
It is not likely that the educational system will soon change to accommodate different types of learners, but individual teachers can. It is a teacher who often is the one to bring up the possibility of ADHD to the unsuspecting parent at the first parent/teacher conference. Although the diagnosis is purely subjective, there being no definitive test, either psychological or physical, for this condition, parents assume that the teacher must be right. Of course there are teachers who may be right, who with much serious forethought have made the difficult decision to approach this sensitive issue. But, more often than not, the teacher is wrong and herself a victim of the aggressive pharmaceutical marketing campaigns that are truly shameful considering the grave side effects and the unknown impact on brain chemistry that can afflict a child taking Ritalin, Adderall, Concerta, or any of the other potent psychotropic drugs. In the last 20 years the number of narcotized children skyrocketed from approximately six hundred thousand to over 3.5 million:
Psychologist Dr. Keith Conners, Professor Emeritus at Duke University, who was one of the first researches to bring ADHD to the public’s attention as a neurobiological disorder, states in a 2013 NY Times article, “The numbers make it look like an epidemic. Well, it’s not. It’s preposterous. This is a concoction to justify the giving out of medication at unprecedented and unjustifiable levels.” In the same article Roger Griggs, the pharmaceutical executive and entrepreneur who coined the term “Adderall” after his Orwellian idea of combining “A.D.D.” and “for all”, calls these drugs, “nuclear bombs that should be prescribed only in extreme circumstances.”
Teachers, as first responders, must begin to see that celebrating diversity in the classroom means more than creating an environment that respects those of all cultures and colors. It means creating an equal opportunity classroom in which differences of all kinds are not labeled as deficits. Mastery of a subject often requires perseverance and repetition, but must it appear to the child as boring and without purpose? Most children, even those with diagnoses of ADHD, are able to concentrate with surprising tenacity if a subject interests them. Watch a child build a tower over and over in order to get it to balance, or fathom out a complicated puzzle. What motivates a child to work at these high levels of concentration? This is the subject that we should be exploring, and that all teachers should be striving to understand. How can we spark curiosity and create stimulating lessons that inspire creative and attentive students? Has our society gone so far wrong as to believe that a child not sitting quietly over schoolwork is a deviant who must be drugged into submission? It is time to stop ostracizing the atypical and eradicate the illusion that our childrens’ learning problems can be alleviated with meds. Instead, let parents and teachers unite to do the hard work of examining our current educational system and find solutions that do not label our children as the problem.