Summer may be ending; soon children will be out from underfoot.
The watching, the worrying about accidents, the tending to
injuries, the searching for things to do are all coming to
an end. But no longer does Labour Day elicit a sigh of relief
from weary parents.
Classrooms are not what they used to be; places where children
are taught and tended by teachers concerned with lesson plans,
grades, and discipline.
And no longer do parents fret only about whether Johnny learns
to read or Mary learns to add. Now they must ask themselves
whether Johnny is too active, or Mary is too quiet, or whether
Tommy cares too much about getting an "A." Maybe
Johnny needs drugs to calm him down, or Mary needs a self-esteem
program, and maybe Tommy needs to stop all this worrying about
Such is the parents life now that psychology has gotten
its fingers deep into the educational system, convincing teachers
that they can look for psychological excuses for classroom
problems and student failures.
Remember when students made careless mistakes in schoolwork,
or didnt listen, or fidgeted in their seats, or daydreamed
as they stared out the window? Then they were told in no uncertain
terms to "settle down" and pay attention or they
would have to stay after school.
Now these same children are being diagnosed as suffering
from Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and
being sent to the doctor instead of the principal. ADHD, the
most popular of a variety of available learning disorders,
has a medical sound but it has no known biological basis.
It is a label applied to a collection of observations made,
most often, by frustrated or over-concerned teachers.
Convinced in workshops and training sessions of hidden explanations
for problems and armed with the latest checklists to identify
these disorders, teachers have become vigilant. If Johnny
"does not seem to listen when spoken to directly,"
or Sally "often talks excessively," then give them
each a checkmark. And if either of them gets six checkmarks,
their parents should be told that they have ADHD and, according
to current practice, need Ritalin.
But do these children really have a medical disorder? High
energy is normal for many children, especially boys, and it
is often found with those who are intellectually gifted. Too
often now, it is misinterpreted as a psychological disorder,
leading to the misuse and overuse of drugs.
Health Canada reports that use of Ritalin has increased 456
percent since 1991. Some teachers say that up to half of their
students are taking this drug to quiet their behaviour. But
do they need it?
Maybe not! One pilot study from Torontos Sick Childrens
Hospital found that only two of every ten children diagnosed
with ADHD really fitted the diagnosis. Even the United Nations
has warned all governments "to exercise utmost vigilance
in order to prevent over-diagnosing ADHD."
And if very active Johnny isnt Mom and Dads worry,
then its quiet Mary. According to many psychologists
and teachers, she may be suffering from low self-esteem.
The popular "me-first" psychology which pervades
society frightens teachers and parents into believing that
low self-concept can contribute not only to educational failure,
but also to crime, violence, substance abuse, teen pregnancy,
child abuse, and chronic welfare dependency. Such
a belief led the California State Assembly to establish a
task force to investigate self-esteem. Despite
discovering that low self-esteem did not seem to be associated
with these dire consequences, they poured money into an effort
to artificially increase self-esteem.
Positive self-esteem is now considered so important for children's
well being that many school systems declare it to be the
primary goal of education. The authors of one school curriculum
said that "nothing is as important as self-esteem to
a childs well-being and success." Not writing;
not reading, not arithmetic!
An international study found that American students, who
ranked last in international comparisons of math abilities,
ranked first when asked how they felt about their math abilities.
It would seem that the modern maxim in education is "Its
not what you can do that matters, its how you feel about yourself
that counts." Any attempt to link feeling good about
oneself to achievement is considered to be potentially damaging
In a recent magazine article about kids and stress, parents
were encouraged to avoid pushing their kids to succeed. A
counselor suggested that one way to do this was to change
grades given by teachers. "If I knew he did his best
and still got a grade of seventy-five, I'd write an A below
his teacher's mark."
Some psychologists are taking this idea one step further,
suggesting that when schools put an emphasis on grades, they
may be forcing children to cheat. In a recent article, Anderson,
concluded that "when adolescents learn in environments
that stress competition and grades, some students may begin
to use cheating as a means of survival."
So, parents who encourage their children to do well in school
can worry that, one day, they may be accused of forcing their
children to cheat. And, of course, any teacher who grades
according to performance risks being blamed, not only for
a childs poor self-esteem but also for any guilt feelings
experienced by cheaters.
How are parents to cope with all of these psychological notions?
How will our children turn out when they are taught to use
drugs to fit in, or to delude themselves with a false sense
of esteem, or to blame others for their dishonesty?
I am left with an image of a classroom in which no one fidgets,
all the children feel good about themselves and no-one cares,
or even knows, how well or poorly they are doing in any subject.
Now that is something for all of us to worry about!