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

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Meducation Letters

Both letters published in the NY Times about “meducation” (Stephen Colbert’s term) missed the point:

Here is a little of the original article, the two letters that were published, and the three that were not published:

The article (introduction only):
CANTON, Ga. — When Dr. Michael Anderson hears about his low-income patients struggling in elementary school, he usually gives them a taste of some powerful medicine: Adderall.
The pills boost focus and impulse control in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Although A.D.H.D is the diagnosis Dr. Anderson makes, he calls the disorder “made up” and “an excuse” to prescribe the pills to treat what he considers the children’s true ill — poor academic performance in inadequate schools.
“I don’t have a whole lot of choice,” said Dr. Anderson, a pediatrician for many poor families in Cherokee County, north of Atlanta. “We’ve decided as a society that it’s too expensive to modify the kid’s environment. So we have to modify the kid.”
Dr. Anderson is one of the more outspoken proponents of an idea that is gaining interest among some physicians. They are prescribing stimulants to struggling students in schools starved of extra money — not to treat A.D.H.D., necessarily, but to boost their academic performance.
For more: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/09/health/attention-disorder-or-not-children-prescribed-pills-to-help-in-school.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all

The two letters that were published:
If prescribing stimulants to children with or without attention deficit helps them learn, it is imperative to understand the two most important lessons we are teaching them with this response: first, that drugs are a way to solve all sorts of problems, as the epidemic of substance abuse shows; and second, that our society would rather medicate children than assist them in growing up with “authenticity,” as one of the doctors quoted so aptly put it.
As a child psychoanalyst and the director of a mental health clinic for children, I know that there are better and more authentic ways to help children meet the challenges of growing up and learning. Mental health professionals need to work with educators, policy makers and others to ensure that we as a society provide what children need, not what is “cost effective” in the short run. This is not even penny-wise and it is definitely pound-foolish.
Chicago, Oct. 9, 2012

Amid the sadness of trying to “solve” social policy with medication, it occurs to me to ask why performance-enhancing drugs are banned in athletics, but accepted in the classroom? Just as “clean” athletes are disadvantaged by cheats, so are those “clean” children whose parents decline to medicate in pursuit of grades.
New York, Oct. 9, 2012

I was hoping at least one of the following would make it into print:

Letter to the editor submitted by Susan Ohanian:
Medicating children to fit unfriendly environments is one more step in the grand plan of standardization: We're becoming a society that doesn't tolerate squeaky wheels, blaming the children instead of looking at the environment.

The U. S. Department of Education requires states to embrace the Common Core Curriculum in order to receive federal funds. As schools reduce recess, art, and music to increase rigor, no wonder children have to be drugged in order to make them sit still for six hours. Among other things, the Common Core slashes fiction and tells children, in the words of Common Core architect, David Coleman (who never taught), "No one gives a sh*t what you think." Demands for drugging will increase. The medicos call this "impulse control." I call it Brave New World.

Speaking as a longtime teacher I suggest that instead of doping children with drugs about which no one knows the longterm effects, we should change abusive school environments. To speak to children's needs, I recommend increased recess instead of increased rigor and regulation.

Letter to the editor submitted by Joanne Yatvin:
Recognizing that something other than ADHD may well be hurting students’ ability to do well in school, doctors around the country are prescribing stimulants for healthy children. As one says, “We¹ve decided as a society that it¹s too expensive to modify the kid¹s environment. So we have to modify the kid.”

The educators quoted in your article claim that the problem is inadequate funding which has produced oversized classrooms and drastic reductions in student services. But, as an independent researcher in high poverty elementary schools, I see other forces at work: the pressure on all students to acquire knowledge and skills far beyond their age capabilities and the disregard for the power of poverty to handicap over 20% of our children.

As a nation, we have become so obsessed with international competition over student test scores that we have adopted an elitist version of school standards and practices that blinds us to our socio-economic inequalities and the realities of childhood.

Letter to the editor submitted by Stephen Krashen and Brian Cambourne
ADHD meds, such as Adderal, are now given to children without ADHD to help them concentrate in school. (“Attention Disorder or Not, Pills to Help in School,” October 11). This medication is clearly the antidote for intense boredom created by a mindless decontextualised curriculum.

Will Adderal ads now say that it meets common core standards?



  1. Odds are the kids who "benefit" from a stimulant to stay awake and pay attention in class aren't getting enough sleep at night.

  2. These unpublished letters are quite right. However, I do find Dr. Anderson's comment quite interesting: “We’ve decided as a society that it’s too expensive to modify the kid’s environment. So we have to modify the kid.”

    I certainly don't agree with his "fix."

    It seems clear that as we comment away that we are missing the very real point. There is no morality or ethic that is not readily fitted to someone's "progressive" idea of the "good society." The "fix" is what the progressive yearns to achieve.

    But really don't we have to ask why we don't realize that these are socially valid actions performed by men and women who believe they are designing a society as they see fit? That no matter what perspective we wish to bring to it, it is the perspective of those in power, and in social management, that needs to be understood (or at least that we need to try to understand it). It seems to me that things are working out just fine.

    Acculturation to drug use is a very good thing for drug manufacturers as well as social managers who will use this as a conduit to create new "social management" drugs that all children should take. It's certainly "rational" if not quite humane.

    We are all the rats in the maze after all. It's just that most of us don't know it and many of us believe that there are ways to influence the social managers to be more humane, though I am not one of those.

    Now what?

  3. My older brother (DOB 1961) was on Ritalin for years as a kid. He hated it. He had issues, sure, bot none that couldn't have been dealt with without the drug.

    He killed himself a few years ago. I am not conflating Ritalin with suicide. (http://stevensugerman.blogspot.com/)

    Or, maybe I am.