NPR’s Morning Edition had <a href="http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=94727139">a story</a> yesterday about Pacific Lutheran University student Emily Algire. Emily was diagnosed with <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attention-Deficit_Hyperactivity_Disorder">ADHD</a> as a child, much to the confusion of her very organized mother.
This reminded me of <a href="http://theaestheticelevator.com/2008/08/12/does-public-education-kill-creativity/">my August post</a> where Sir Ken Robinson cites Gillian Lynn, who choreographed Cats and Phantom of the Opera. I didn’t elaborate on this story in that post — as it was getting long — so here it is in brief.
<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gillian_Lynne">Gillian Lynn</a>, who grew up in the 1930s in Kent, England, was suspected to have a learning disability by her school. The school wrote to her parents in order to state their suspicion; Lynn couldn’t concentrate. She fidgeted in school. "Now they’d say she had ADHD," Robinson notes. "But this was the 1930s and ADHD hadn’t been invented, you know, at this point. It wasn’t an available condition. People weren’t aware they could have that."
As a disclaimer, I’m compelled to say that the following isn’t intended to slight or make light of anyone’s personal struggle with ADHD. I’m not personally afflicted with said condition, and actually know very few people who are (in fact, I can’t name anyone off-hand). I’m by no means a doctor and have done extraordinarily little reading on this subject. Herein I’m merely theorizing as an outside observer.
However, I often wonder if ADHD isn’t something that was realized on account of our very rigid public education system. Yes, I said it: I’m not sure ADHD is real. That’s it. Those of you with divergent opinions, let it out. Civilly, please, and with solid rhetoric. References to medical journals are great so long as they’re in plain English.
Even though I didn’t and don’t suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder, I found the public school process to be a generally less than ideal manner of education. I’m an artist, a designer, a creative person. I work with my hands. Most K-12 classes are book and lecture-based affairs. You sit, you listen, you take notes and then you do your bookwork.
I know I didn’t and don’t have ADHD because I did fine in school despite being a hands-on learner. My grades hovered in-between A and B on the common scale. But I was most definitely bored. I was uninterested. At the same time, however, I was a self-starter. After I’d get home from sitting in lectures for six or more hours I would — of my own volition — draw or make attempts at other kinds of art. I drew animals and eventually began drafting floor plans of houses. I would sit for five or six straight hours <strong>creating</strong>. Tracing paper, t-square and compass in hand I devised Georgian mansions and modern vacation homes.
I took as many classes as I could in high school that lent themselves to the creative process, but it wasn’t enough. I understand the need for math and English and history, but aren’t there better ways to teach it to people like me who thrive in a hands-on setting? How hard would it be to mix in more field trips to a history class or a simple engineering project as a math assignment at the high school, or even junior high level? Maybe we need different kinds of schools and different kinds of teachers for different kinds of learners. Maybe the system needs to better identify different kinds of learners — instead of lumping every kid into the same kind of classroom environment — and set students off on tracks that help them flourish instead of just get by. Once in a while I hear about this latter kind of track based school, though it very much appears to be the exception rather than the rule. No such thing was ever offered where I attended.
My thought is that a lot of people diagnosed with ADHD simply learn <em>differently</em> than public education allows for in most instances. This was the case for Gillian Lynn. Gillian and her mother went to see a specialist. After the specialist outlined to the mother all of the problems the child was having in school, he told Gillian he needed to speak to her mother privately. The doctor and the mother left the room. As they left, the doc put some music for the child.
The two watched Gillian from the other room. As soon as they’d left, the girl was on her feet moving to the music. After a few minutes the doctor turned to the mother and said
<strong>"Your daughter isn’t sick. She’s a dancer."</strong></div>
"Take her to a dance school." From what I can tell, Robinson is working on a book titled Epiphany for which he recently interviewed Lynn. Lynn recounted to Robinson in an interview how wonderful it was to be in a room with a lot of other people like herself upon arriving at the dance school. "People who couldn’t sit still. People who had to move to think."
Robinson goes on to list Lynn’s achievements. She founded her own dance school, choreographed some of the most renowned musicals, became a millionaire. "Someone else might have put her on medication and told her to calm down."
Is it really so bad that some people just aren’t wired to sit through a lecture, let alone five or six consecutive lectures in a ordinary school day? Or is it just that, for the sake of ease, the public schools in America won’t tolerate anything outside of the status quo? What will it take to change the bureaucratic behemoth that is public education so that it teaches everyone equally well according to the pupil’s standards, not some government regulator’s standards?
Some people have to move to think. And that’s OK.