What needs fixing? The focus of our students, or the focus of our approach?
You would be surprised what we find morally acceptable to do in order to “make kids learn” these days. I often hear folks harken back to ye old days when it was perfectly acceptable for a teacher to whack students in order to get those little ruffians to pay attention or to follow directions. Thankfully, we have progressed just enough here in the States so it’s not an everyday occurrence that children are beaten at school. Amazingly, you’ll find more than a few adults who still think a stranger with a teaching degree should be allowed to use violence in a classroom in order to get children to do what they’re told. But then again, progress comes slowly, folks.
Now, we could agree that violence is not exactly a first-rate pedagogic practice. Nevertheless, I wonder why we still think it is perfectly permissible to drug our students into paying attention. Is physiological manipulation less violent because it’s less visible?
The question is, would we rather beat students into submission, or drug them with chemicals? The defenders of this would say that using drugs like Ritalin is the lesser of two evils; and completely necessary to focus student learning. Yet, I’m pretty sure that the lesser of two evils still kind of falls into that “evil” category (especially when it falls under a Schedule 2 substance, alongside cocaine, morphine, opium, and barbiturates).
America consumes 90% of the entire world’s Ritalin production (here). That’s right, 4.4% of the world’s population pops 9 out of every 10 pills of those mind-altering pharmaceuticals; drugs used primarily to sedate kids into some “learning” state of mind.
To be fair, perhaps the kids here in the West are just that much harder to work with. Perhaps all those worksheets are just a little too exciting for kids to sit still. Perhaps weekly tests stimulate the frontal lobe so much that kids haplessly fall victim to fidgeting in uncontrollable spasms of delight.
Or maybe kids are bored with school.
So, if that’s the truth, I see two divergent paths: We can keep doping kids through the drudgery of standardized classroom approaches, or we can actually engage kids at their level; with things they are interested in learning about. That might mean we need to reexamine our curriculum, our school day, our practices, and a lot of other hard changes.
But it’s worth it. Our kids are worth it. Our future is worth it.
Learning isn’t hard. Learning is easy. Learning is innately stimulating; no drugs are needed when there is intrinsic interest involved. You and I don’t need drugs in order to mentally engage in something we already find interesting; why would it be any different for kids?