Friday, April 18, 2014

The Pathology of Education, Part the Second

When last we convened, we had just "discovered" that our youngest child, Monkey, "has" ADD. Yes, those are strategic quotes. IMO, what we have is a normal healthy 8YO who needs a lot of physical activity that current educational pressures don't allow time for, but those aren't traits that help children excel in school. To be fair, there are also some academic concerns, so when our HMO asked at a routine well-child visit if we had any other concerns, I said that we did - and they referred her for an assessment with blinding speed. Her difficulties really came to the forefront during the state-mandated standardized testing in March, recounted here.

Long story short: while Bookworm's middle school worked with us to navigate strategic absences during test-taking times and we found a procedural loophole that allowed Bookworm to NOT sit for the test during makeups, Monkey's school wasn't having any of it. They sat her for the test regardless, and she lasted only a few minutes before boredom kicked in and she took it anyway. That afternoon and evening at home, she was a mess: fidgety, weepy, wild-eyed - I haven't seen her like that since we got artificial food colorings out of our food, and that behavior was WHY we got them out. Second test session was the next day and the pattern repeated itself: testing for much of the morning in dead silence, punctuated by short breaks (also in silence, in case adjacent classrooms were still testing) before resuming. Some test sessions were so long that her lunchtime, already pretty late in the day, had to be delayed ANOTHER 30 minutes to ensure that all students would be finished in time for lunch. Again, weepy and wild-eyed, combative with her sister and argumentative with her parents.

The third day was a day off testing for her class, and we were just about getting our now-normally-sullen child back by the end of the day Wednesday, so I made the decision to not subject her to another day of testing that Thursday. I emailed the school and told them she'd be in late, and brought her in time for lunch. That afternoon, she related to me that she had been pulled from classroom instruction and sat in a small room, alone with one adult, and administered the test anyway; at least when the middle school got to the point where Bookworm would have had to sit the test, they called me and gave me the opportunity to take her home! And true to regulation, when she had finished a section before the allotted time, she was made to sit, IN SILENCE, until that time had passed; there were 3 segments given to her that afternoon and she finished them all early, according to her, and I'd estimate that she spent half the time she was missing classwork - and taking a test that we had made it VERY plain we did NOT want her taking! - she was sitting and staring at the wall in dead silence. And yes, she was a mess again that afternoon and evening. We made the decision to allow her to take the final segment, simply because we could see that she was patently upset at not WANTING to take the test but feeling as though she HAD to (technically she didn't, but at 8YO didn't have the stamina to stare at the wall and do nothing for the whole testing time); her relief at just "ripping off the band-aid" was evident when we suggested it to her.

Exhausted yet? Welcome to my world, with my brain and its 100 tabs open All. The. Time. LOL

So..... to get back to the neuro assessment: According to the developmental pediatrician, my kid should have, among the other recommendations, frequent opportunities during the day for physical exercise. On a regular day, she's in a sustained 90-minute math block and a sustained 120-minute reading block. They used to have specials 4 days a week, but this year, the weekly trip to the media center has been removed from the third-grade schedule, so there are only 3 deviations from this format during the week; on non-specials days, there's time for science and social studies. With sustained blocks of time in her 6-1/2-hour school day PLUS the hour (and frequently MORE) of homework she is expected to do daily (and that is a post for another day before I get sidetracked any further!), she already has too little time for activity. I frequently find myself wondering how I managed to become a productive member of society with a Masters degree when I had THREE, count 'em, THREE recesses daily through elementary school: morning, lunch, and afternoon, 15 minutes each (actually, the lunch recess may have been 30 minutes). Additionally, from Kindergarten onward, more and more of the blocks are spent at desks receiving direct instruction, when in Early Childhood, children are "hard-wired" to learn PRIMARILY - not "occasionally," but PRIMARILY! - more through self-directed experiential learning. Picture kids playing in sand, or stacking sticks, or playing in water - and take that all out of Kindergarten and never use it again. THAT is what our kids' elementary school experiences in the US (and the UK) are becoming. Conversely, in Finland, whose international test scores are the envy of most of the developed world, formal sit-down education doesn't begin till 7YO, and even then the first year is half-days, with academics in the morning and free play in the afternoons. Children have shorter school days with lots of breaks for physical activity. Why does it work? Because it works with children as they come wired to learn, instead of pushing against kids' natural proclivities in the name of Early Literacy and Early Numeracy.

I know, this is getting long, so let's wrap this up: Small children need to MOVE. They need to PLAY. They need to be able to direct a lot of their own learning, and they need interaction with models (which is NOT the same as receiving direct instruction). This isn't just ADD/ADHD children; this is ALL children. Their hands are still developing musculature for writing and drawing, and 5+ hours a day with pencils and crayons and scissors in hand is NOT appropriate. Their brains are still working, in many cases, on matching letters and sounds, so writing paragraphs with topic sentences in Kindergarten is NOT appropriate (and neither is hours of computer-based testing!), let alone "thinking critically" about what they've read. (On a side note, I can't help but notice that Common Core and the ease of getting a referral and diagnosis have coincided remarkably; I'm not going so far as to equate correlation with causation, BUT it's worth noticing IMO.)

Wanna know the REAL reason my kid is fidgety, and weepy, and doesn't smile any more?

I'd bet you've already figured it out.

And I bet you've also figured out that she's very possibly NOT really ADD - she's Eight. Years. Old. Does she really need ANYTHING that ANY 8YO doesn't need to succeed in school and life? Unless the upcoming speech/language assessment reveals something else going on, then not really, no. So why the hell should I have to work to get her a LABEL in order to get her an 8YO-appropriate education? Shouldn't she already be getting one? Why aren't we fixing education instead of pathologizing childhood?

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Please keep it clean. Differences of opinion aren't a problem for me. Rudeness is. Thankyouverymuch. :-)