Saturday, July 10, 2010

Sitting still

Over the past year I’ve had several conversations with people who work in our school district about our district’s behavioral rewards program (also known as “PBIS” -- those red tickets that I’ve been harping on in this space). Often these people -- many of whom I like and respect -- respond to my concerns with some variant of the following: “Yes, I understand why you don’t like it, and I’m not crazy about it either, but, you know, I work in the schools, and I can tell you, it really does work. The fact is, the teachers need something like this to get the kids to sit still long enough to learn the material.”

Notice the premise: If the kids can’t meet expectations, we need to change the kids. Isn’t it possible that there’s something wrong with the expectations, not with the kids? It is as if that possibility has been removed from the realm of permissible thoughts.

In his latest post, Peter Gray notes that approximately thirteen percent of American boys aged 4-18 have been diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Gray writes:

How convenient that we have this official way of diagnosing kids who don’t sit still in their seats, often fail to pay attention to the teacher, don’t regularly do the assignments given to them, often speak out of turn, and blurt out answers before the questions are finished. They used to be called “naughty”--sometimes with a frown, sometimes with a smile of recognition that “kids will be kids” or “boys will be boys”--but now we know that they are, for biological reasons, mentally disordered.

The whole post is worth reading. Gray’s blog is always interesting because it raises the question that usually goes unasked: What is the great benefit of all this sitting still? Of all the coercion that (increasingly) underlies our system of compulsory education? Where is the evidence that it leads to a better world, or that it makes children more likely to grow into happy and fulfilled adults? I can understand how some people can disagree with him about these issues, but I don’t understand the lack of debate -- the near complete silence -- about this central feature of the way we’ve chosen to educate our kids.

..How can I comment?