Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Today, They Drug Boys Like Me
When I read the NY Times article about the psychiatrist in a poor county in Georgia who was drugging kids who do not have ADHD to help them do well in school, I thought “There but for the grace of God go I. I was lucky I was born in 1946 not 1996. They would definitely try to drug a kid like me in a growing number of America’s public schools.” *****I was the kind of kid who drove teachers and parents crazy. I was a good student and a good test taker, so much so that I ended up skipping two grades and was constantly made fun of by other kids in my tough Brooklyn neighborhood, but I was disrespectful to teachers and always getting in fights with other kids, inside and outside of class. My teachers complained to my parents, and my parents constantly threatened to send me to Yeshiva or military school, but somehow the schools I went to managed to cope with me, and other kids like me, most of them boys, without drugging me or expelling me because they knew how to tire me out and challenge me with physical activities and by assigning me responsibilities that today only adults are allowed to do ******Take physical activity. In the elementary school, we had free play before school and during lunch time where we played punch ball, kick ball and tag, running ourselves into exhaustion. We also had gym every day. But that wasn’t all. My elementary school was open 3-5 and 7-9 every day of the week for supervised activity. I used it regularly to play basketball and knock hockey. When you combined all these activities, it was not unusual for me to be engaged in physical activity in and after school two to three hours a day. Not only did this tire me out, making it much easier to sit still and concentrate on lessons, it gave me something to look forward to other than harassing teachers and fighting. I still got I trouble, but only a fraction of the trouble I would have gotten in if I didn’t have all that physical activity. *******But that wasn’t all, when I got to 5th grade, my teacher assigned me to two important student run activities- the audio visual squad- whose responsibility it was to show movies in all the classes and the Safety Patrol, whose responsibility it was to help younger students cross the street. Both of these activities were given to some of the toughest kids in the school and without exception, they rose to the occasion and did their jobs with great responsibility and pride. Today, these responsibilities are paid positions given to school aides and paraprofessionals but in those years, they helped take young people whose leadership skills were often directed negatively and turned them into positive figures in the school community. They certainly helped me ******In junior high, the same dynamic prevailed. Not only did we have gym ever day and play games in the school yard before school and during lunch hour, but we started to have a whole range of organized activities which gave students an outlet for their talents, ranging from a theater program, to school teams to a band and an orchestra. And though the junior high school was not convenient to go to for after school activity because it was out of my neighborhood, I could still play basketball in my elementary school night center, which was right around the corner from my house. Once again, I was engaged in physical activity at least two hours a day, not including the time I spent playing in the school band. ******In New York City today, and a growing number of public schools around the country, the activities that kept me on course have been eliminated or drastically curtailed, either because of budget cuts, professionalization of what were once student responsibilities or because of pressures to raise scores on standardized tests. I can not think of one public school in New York city which offers its students two to three hours of physical activity a day; many are students are lucky if they get thirty minutes. Few schools below the level of high schools have school teams, bands and orchestras; and even less have after school programs both in the after school and evening. *******So what happens to restless, rebellious students from tough neighborhoods, especially boys. Are they given activities which allow them to use their physical energy constructively. Are they given responsibilities which allow them to be positive leaders or make use of their athletic or artistic talents? Increasingly, the answer is no. They are asked to sit still at their desks hour after hour and try to absorb information that often has no visible relevance to their lives and nothing to spark their interests. And if they rebel and act out, as many of them will be prone to do? Or fail to concentrate on preparing for tests? They not only are jeopardizing their own academic futures, they may be threatening the jobs of their teachers and principals and the very fate of their entire school. *******Given how high the “stakes” are on getting them to perform, or conform, two options seem irresistible to teachers and administrators. Getting them to leave the school, which is not always easy, or giving them behavior modifying drugs, which is becoming increasingly prevalent. *******To me, this is a perversion of education and of the health professions. It is a cruel, cynical short cut to producing conformity to a system which systematically is undermining the health of the children trapped in it. I think of the how many children like me there are in Georgia and Texas and Nebraska and California and New York who will never have a chance to realize that the power and energy that lies within them can transform the world around them because they are being drugged into submission. This is personal to me. And I will expose it, and challenge it with every weapon at my command.