A story out of Pittsburgh Sunday and subsequently picked up by the AP highlights the growing problem with the growing number of children diagnosed with ADHD. This is not a new trend; there have been numerous stories over the past year or two characterizing the diagnoses as everything from an uptick to an epidemic.
Most peoples' attitudes about ADHD are heavily influence by personal anecdotes. We know the student who couldn't function in class until he was put on ritalin. Or we know the student who claims ADHD when he doesn't want to do work, but can sit in his tree stand motionless and silent for three hours waiting for a deer. Or we know the student who has been drugged into a zombie state so that he'll behave. Our experience with labeled students leads us to reach a variety of conclusions about how whether ADHD is real disorder that requires medical intervention or a psycho-scam perpetrated by the parents of students who just need to shape up.
I'm an ADHD skeptic. I believe it exists, but I believe that some fairly large percentage of students so labeled have been labeled incorrectly. And I think that problem is going to get worse.
I remember my son in Kindergarten. We had what could be charitably called a student-teacher mis-match, and we found ourselves at several school meetings to discuss his problem. See if you can guess what his problem was. He would arrive for school about 20-30 minutes before class started. The teacher expectation was that he would spend that time sitting quietly at his desk, doing nothing. That's right-- my son's problem was he was a five year old boy.
We soldiered through the year with forbearance that I wish I could retroactively withdraw. Given it all to do over again, I would fight harder for my son. But we did hold the line on one point-- the hint that maybe perhaps he had a medical problem that should be addressed. It would have been easy, had we been less-informed or less confident, to decide that we needed to investigate the possibility of my son having ADHD. We didn't. And on that point, I don't need a do-over.
Early in my career, I read an article that turned a big fat light bulb on for me, and I wish I could credit it now. But I still remember the main idea.
When we are supremely confident in our programming at school, a really bad thing happens. Here I am, in my classroom, delivering a perfect lesson, using perfect materials, teaching like a boss. Chris is not learning. But it can't be me, it can't be my materials, and it can't be my instruction. If everything I'm doing is right, and Chris isn't learning, there can only be one explanation--- Chris is defective.
Let me predict one side-effect of the current reformy wave. As teachers proceed to deliver perfect Pearson-crafted lessonry in CCSS-approved formats, we're going to find ourselves wit a new wave of ADHD and Learning Disability diagnoses.
When we make nine-year-olds sit and do 90-minute-long projects to properly rigorfy them, we will find that many just can't do it, and where we are absolutely confident that our programs are flawless, there will be only one possible conclusion-- we have many, many defective nine-year-olds to diagnose.
We can already see the tip of this iceberg. As Kindergartners struggle with what used to be First Grade demands, the cries are going out. No, not the cries of "this material is developmentally inappropriate." The cries of "Our five-year-olds are not properly prepared for Kindergarten!" And you white suburban moms already know why your children are flunking.
If we're going to demand that developmentally inappropriate programs be implemented, and we refuse to ever examine the possibility that there is something wrong with the program, then we must look elsewhere to explain failure. Right now, we like teachers as an explanation for that failure, but as we put more TFA bodies and fully-scripted teacher-proof programs in place, we won't be able to blame teachers any more. There will be no choice but to blame the children.
CCSS reformy stuff is already delivering the "news" that American children are far dumber than anybody who doesn't work at Pearson or the USDOE had ever suspected. Soon, it will also reveal a previously-unnoticed epidemic of children who are defective in other ways. Your third grader has trouble operating a computer for testing? Kid must be learning disabled. Your first grader can't sit and read for an hour and then write long essays about what he's read? He must be ADHD.
And don't forget-- the plan is that these labels will be attached to your child, via the cloud, until they day they die. George Orwell had no idea.