Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Gift Of ADHD

Sam Grossman grew up thinking he was stupid, lazy and irresponsible—"a screw-up," as he puts it. Struggling with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), he constantly disappointed his parents and teachers alike.
Our current, typical K-12 education, public or private, is not designed for people like Sam. In fact, it we tried to create an environment to frustrate Sam we couldn't do much better job that a k-12 class room. For Sam, those classrooms can be torture chambers. Thus the reason he seems stupid, lazy and irresponsible—"a screw-up,"
Distractibility, poor impulse control and emotional sensitivity have flip sides that are actually strengths—namely creativity, energy and intuition... A mind that flits easily from one thought to the next may not be good at mastering the material for a biology test, but the authors contend that a nonlinear mind can excel at combining ideas in new ways.
How people think and learn comes in a wide spectrum. We design classrooms for the middle if the bell curve, and neither end is well served. Most educators were themselves successful in the existing system, and thus don't get why Sam finds the system frustrating. When you bring this up to them, most ignore what you're saying and some get defensive. Very few empathize.

The reason that the Sam's of the world sometimes succeed as entrepreneurs is that they finally get to create an environment that matches their strengths, in particular their nonlinear thinking that excels at combining ideas in new ways. It's also why you often see them matching up with a strong operating partner to compensate for their weaknesses. Most K-12 education doesn't help Sam develop his full potential. As Sir Ken Robinson has clearly articulated, we spent 12 years systematically beating creativity, energy and intuition out of Sam.

Having a wide variety of educational alternatives that meet the needs of a wide spectrum of students isn't going to come from the top down. Variety never does. It's going to come, if it comes at all, from educational entrepreneurs who seek to create novel ways of delivering education to students not well served today. To empower that system, the money in education needs to follow the student.

If you are suspecting that I have lived this struggle both as a student and a parent, you are right.


Doug said...

I can agree with this both as a parent and as a person with ADHD. The schools have failed us here. I was so bored I became a trouble maker and dropped out. I went into the USMC where I learned discipline. Later the Army (long story) taught me electronics. I taught myself computers and nailed a job in that industry as it was starting. I got lucky.

For most young adults today the doors are closed if they fail to go on and get a degree. Those belonging to the middle of the bell curve will not allow those who are above them in the curve to succeed without it. That is a sad fact of human nature.

The challenge then is getting around the incumbent Teachers unions and their mediocrity and attitude of tossing money at the problem as a resolution. Innovative educators have proven results are not dependant on dollars.

We have seen how difficult it is to change the system to something like the Belgian system where the money flows with the student and the parents can spent it where they please. Too many view it as a prelude to formalizing the subsidy of religious studies. Yet if a large majority of the local population wishes to send their children to a school that meets the academic standards yet is religious in nature, why not? There will still be some who wish to send theirs to a more secular institution. It should be our choice. It is us and our children who are suffering from this failure.

So where does the answer lie?

Marsha said...

I also agree. I feel that my son with ADHD is often failed in the present school system. It's a sad travesty that this occurs.