Not your Grandpa’s Schoolhouse: ADD/ADHD and the Weight of Educational Expectations (1)

If you have been outside of the world of education for a while you can be very certain that the schoolroom that you left behind does not exist anymore. It has probably been replaced by a target driven ‘learning environment’ where so much emphasis is placed on results, tables and rankings that the normal joys of childhood (including the thrill of independent discovery) have been shifted to the periphery. Simply put, more and more are expected of our children at earlier and earlier ages.
The encounter between an ordinary parent and the ‘Brave New Classroom’ of today is brilliantly described in the influential British paper The Daily Mail. Rob Kraitt (a pseudonym) writes movingly about how is son (who did not quite fit into the target driven hothouse that is British education) was almost immediately identified as a candidate for an ADD/ADHD diagnosis. His response to this is brilliantly summed up in the title of his article: “My son’s unfocused and a fidget. Does he really have ADHD? No, it’s because he’s just five.” To which I can just say: Bravo! It is so easy to get caught up in a system that denies the importance of anything that it can measure that it takes a brave man to get up and question the very notion of highly formalized education for very small children.
Kraitt concludes his article, which describes his struggle to get a teacher to accept his son for who he is, with the following indictment: “From primary school, our children are thrust into a culture of stats and results. Teachers cannot give proper attention to those who do not perform or fit in. Nurture has disappeared from early education. And while there’s nothing seriously wrong with our boy, there is something wrong with the system.”
I agree wholeheartedly with this assessment. Forcing kids to grow up way too quickly can only lead to trouble and medicating them into submission is certainly not the solution! Recognizing the problem (massively overregulated learning environments obsessed with results) is one thing. How do we do something about it in cases where our own children are at risk of being labeled, with potentially disastrous consequences? I obviously do not have all of the answers but I can offer some basic suggestions if you are (or think you might be) faced with this kind of situation:
• Keep clear lines of communication with your child’s teacher: It has been shown again and again that parental involvement with a child’s education is one of the most reliable predictors of ultimate success. This includes regularly discussing your child’s progress (or lack of it) with the teacher. In doing so you will hopefully be able to communicate something about your child’s strengths and weaknesses. This will enable the teacher to interact with him/her in ways that are appropriate to his/her personality and abilities. Regular contact will also help to create an environment where you will be better able to have forthright discussions about the weight of expectation that is placed on your child. I recognize that some parents will feel that their child’s teacher is simply too busy for meaningful interaction with individual parents or, worse, is simply not interested. In such cases more radical action may be needed. Most parents will find, however, that simply keeping open lines of communication is a necessary first step towards protecting your child’s interests in the harsh educational environment of today.
• Make sure your child is ready for school: Your child might perhaps be a bit too far down the educational road for this advice to be useful to you personally but it could still be relevant in helping you to assist other parents in avoiding a possible disaster. In previous generations it was almost regarded as a badge of honor if your child went to school early. In the supercharged and results driven school environment of today it can quite possibly be harmful to your child. If you have a pre-schooler in the house I urge you to pay careful attention to the issue of school readiness and to take full and ultimate responsibility for the final decsion. You are the one who knows your child the best and you are also the one who can be trusted to make decisions that are in his/her best interest. If you have the slightest doubt about readiness my recommendation would be to err on the side of caution. Keeping your child out of the formal classroom environment will enable him/her to mature and to continue to utilize alternative play-based styles of learning for just a little while longer.
The two ideas listed above are two of the most basic ways in which you can help your child to survive (and thrive) in the modern educational environment. Please check back next week as we continue to explore this topic.
To read the Daily Mail piece referenced in the article please click here: