Sunday, December 27, 2009

We Can Do Better

I’ve written here before about my concern that traditional schools do a poor job of accommodating perfectly normal children whose brains process information in ways that are not conducive to learning in the educational model of sitting quietly at desks facing forward. It frustrates me that we feel a need to hang labels on them like “ADD/ADHD,” “OCD,” or “autism spectrum disorder” as a way to blame the child for his struggle to learn, rather than take critical look at how we are trying to teach these children.

Experts estimate that some 20 percent of professional athletes could be diagnosed as ADD or ADHD, which is four times the rate of the general population. All of us are genetically programmed to learn, and because these kids learn best by using their whole bodies they are often drawn to sports. The theory is that the focus required to develop physical skills has a calming influence on their minds allowing them to learn some remarkable things.

I have no way of knowing this, but I suspect that there were more than a few adults who tried to hang a label on Drew Brees as a boy. Not only has his body learned to do things that seem superhuman, he has also come to a practical understanding of physics that is far superior to anything the rest of us ever learned from textbooks:

The same could also be said of Sasha Vujacic , who can do blindfolded what most of us could never dream of doing period:

I wanted to share these videos with you as examples of the extraordinary things that can be learned by not sitting at a desk facing forward. And this is just athletics. Artists, dancers, circus performers, and musicians have also learned remarkable things by using their whole bodies instead of just their eyes and ears. 

Preschools are full of children who think best on their feet. I spend my days surrounded by kids who use their whole bodies to learn.

We live in an era when school districts are choosing to cut physical education, sports, art and music budgets in favor of yet more sitting at desks facing forward. Sadly, we are instead increasingly segregating or drugging children who need this kind of education; treating them as if their struggle to learn is their fault rather than ours.

As I’ve suggested before, I believe that we do a good job of accommodating a full spectrum of learning styles at Woodland Park, but each year we send children off to kindergarten who I know are going to struggle with the status quo. The advantage these kids have is that their parents are aware, engaged, and able to advocate for their child’s educational needs.

Not all children are so lucky and only a tiny number will become professional athletes. So we label them. We can do better.

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Jenni said...

You hit it so well. In preschool we teach to the child. We allow them to explore at their own pace and add information to build on their understanding and draw out conversations to build on their reasoning skills.

Oh if elementary schools and higher could just get on board with us. It is a constant struggle I have in the classroom. On the one hand I want to give children then knowledge and allow them to build that knowledge through play and exploration. On the other hand, to make sure they are truly ready for the shock of kindergarten, do I need to give them some of the "academic" setting? Making them sit at tables for short periods of time to do "work".

Nope, I just can't do it. It's not right. Things must be changed for children to make learning fun and meaningful again.

FYI, in my 19 years of working in preschool, I have come across 2 children who were truly ADHD and we did NOT medicate and about 5 children who were truly on the autism spectrum, and so much so that they would never be able to live on their own. I have had an uncountable number who were "diagnosed" as ADHD and on the autism spectrum; but I saw no need for the labels...although, also in my experience, these children get IEP's and, well, let's face it, because of that they actually get a bit better experiences in school just for that form so, while I know these children don't need the label, I know that they are benefiting over those "non labeled" children. It's sad where we've gone.

I don't knock the children who truly are on the autism spectrum or have any other disability, but at times I find it a bit "trendy"...I don't like trendy with kids.

(Sorry about a long comment, you hit a hot topic with me and I hope I don't offend)

Jason, as himself said...

Fantastic! Now will you please just convince the people behind standardized testing?

Pumpkin Delight (Kimberly) said...

Ditto to Jason's comment.
As you and I have discussed, it's not the teachers, the schools, or even the school districts that cause the removal of the arts and PE, only to be replaced with more academics. It is an effect of standardized testing. When the state and/or federal government cut education's budget and then add high-stakes testing, there's only so much that the those of us at the district and site level can do. Most of us work our butts off to get all of it (including the PE and the art) in.
I strongly disagree with the first commenter that schools and parents want these diagnosis because it's trendy. This is not something that anyone (I know at least) wants for any child. It is the nature of the beast that is education.
And, before I get off my soap box, I'm also going to add that "back in the day" school had a lot more "sit in your desk and shut up while the teacher lectures". Sure there might have been more time for art and PE, but brain research and information about the way children learn wasn't available. Teachers are trained in that, and as stated above, really do try to balance it all out with testing. But what wasn't happening back then was all the overstimulation that happens in the home these days. Video games, HD televisions, 1000 channels, dvds IN THE CAR TO GO TO THE GROCERY STORE all add a hand in kids not being able to sit still. Children don't have to think for themselves, day dream, make believe, or entertain themselves. Going back to the trendy argument, I don't think it's trendy. A lot of it is environmental.
I guess my point is that there is a lot that needs to be changed in order to educate every single child to his or her fullest potential, but it's important not to only blame the schools and districts. We are all in this together.

jlo said...

Yes, yes, and yes!

Deborah Stewart said...

You bet - we can do better! My niece has trouble sitting still in her classrooms and what does the teacher do about it? Take away her recess. Now that just doesn't make any sense to me. My neice thrives on action and taking away her opportunity to play doesn't teach her anything - it just makes her even more wiggly:)