Saturday, February 20, 2010

A question for my elementary school teachers

I’m sure you all meant well and thought you were helping when you told me:

“You’re so smart. You just need to pay attention.”
“If you stopped daydreaming, you could do anything.”
“You’ve got so much potential. You just need to try harder.”
“If you paid attention in class, you could do so well.”
“You could get all ‘A’s if you only applied yourself.”

Didn’t any of you ever stop to think how demoralizing and shaming it is to say those things over and over again to a young child?

So the biggest lesson I learned in elementary school was: “You’re smart, but you’re a defective, lazy kid who can’t be successful.”

Unlearning that has been extremely difficult for me.

Recent studies indicate that 5-8% of children today have attention difficulties, and those are only the ones who are being treated. Like me, 75% of those kids continue to have problems as adults. And the numbers are on the rise.

Other studies suggest that 45-50% of prison inmates have ADHD.

We don’t know what causes this or why it’s rising. It may be genetics, birth complications, juvenile head trauma, allergies or chemical sensitivities. It could be too much television, video games or Internet. While it’s important to learn why the numbers are so high, it’s just as important to stop undermining the self-esteem of those children who struggle with it.

If we add early intervention strategies for dealing with attention difficulties into our elementary schools, there will be fewer expensive special education plans. Fewer children left behind. And fewer high school students who end up dropping out of school.

When we learn to help rather than discourage these children, we'll produce more successful adults and fewer inmates.

That would generate a huge economic return-on-investment for a country with the largest inmate population in the world. With 7% of our citizens in prisons (two and a half million inmates) at an average of $47,085 per year, we spend $117,712,500,000 per year incarcerating them.

It would also make us a much more productive and humane society.

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