Monday, June 28, 2010

Call me skeptical

I've been hearing a lot about "executive functioning disorder" lately. Here's part of a comment from a thread entitled "Executive Function" on the dc urban moms forum:

In the first quarter DS [7th grade] had gotten 4 A's and 2 B's, and this teacher said that DS was capable of better grades but was hurting his grades by forgetting to turn in homework that he had done meticulously and on time and that he had brought to school in his binder, or forgetting to write down homework assignments or extra-credit problems that were on the whiteboard every day, etc. His grades were suffering especially in a math class in which the teacher required homework to be placed in a bin as one crossed the threshold -- if one turns around after class had started, the homework is docked points for being late.

Now, when I read this I don't say to myself, "Wow, that kid needs to be tested for a mental disorder." I say to myself, "here's another kid, who is most likely normal or even gifted, being penalized for insufficiently organizing a huge load of pointless busywork."

The saga continues:

We took DS to two pediatricians, one recommended by the school. One (the one not recommended by the school) said that DS's grades were just fine and that she thought the school (and we as the parents?) was just trying to get DS medicated to improve his performance and make the school look good. The other recommended a battery of tests.

That's a nice racket. The school recommends pediatricians who will support the school's agenda.

The saga continues, with the school-affiliated pediatrician:


He recommended not medication but behavioral strategies for dealing with the all-important transitional points in DS's day, e.g., when he switches classes, or when he gets in our car to go home. We had to organize his binders with a special place where his homeworks would go. When he got in the car to go home, he had to open his backpack and visually check, with me, that he had the required items for homework on each subject. At the end of doing his homework, he had to check in with me and show me where he put each item of homework. I know it sounds exhausting, and it was and is. DS and I have been doing this "mindfulness" routine for almost two years now, but it has paid off. DS gets straight A's.

I thought what we were doing was extreme, but then I found by talking to other moms that just about everyone does the car routine, checking the backpack for items subject by subject.


So the "problem" is "solved" by Mom taking on the role of homework cop.

Probably DS will have these challenges for the rest of his life. We're told that there's a genetic component, and DH is definitely a lifer when it comes to problems with executive functioning! DH married an organized woman like his mother, and I fear that DS will have to do the same.

So it's a woman's job to organize all the petty crap in her son or husband's life that he can't be bothered with.

You'll notice that nowhere in this sorry tale is the issue of actual learning addressed. It's all about whether the kid can comply with the ridiculous control-freak demands of his school. If he can't, it's presumed to be his problem, to be solved either by putting him on meds or offloading the organizing job onto his mother.

If that's not depressing enough, here's a follow-up from the original poster:

i was wondering about academic performance which is really what we care about. i'm sure the before after test is interesting and helpful. But, to be crass, I'm wondering how much, if at all, grades improved after taking aderall or other stimulants.

Holy cow.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

What is a Kid-Friendly School?

A kid-friendly school is a school that puts the kids first. A kid-friendly school is one where kids are happy, healthy and learning.

I've had more experience with kid-unfriendly schools, so I can describe them in detail. I live in a well-regarded, very wealthy, suburban school district, which I now know enough to call "nominally high-performing." In our district, you will meet some kids who are depressed, anxious, stressed-out drudges, and others who are brittle, show-offy game-players. These are the good students, of course.

In our district, achievement trumps learning, and reputation trumps reality. If many of these kids get accepted to high-status colleges, this is considered proof that the school system did a good job. But I ask, how does it profit a child, to gain Harvard and lose her mind? I never again want to hear a parent brag about getting her child in to some competitive college, only to have the child suffer a nervous breakdown the first semester and come back home.

If the "great" public schools are really terrible, how terrible are the "bad" public schools?