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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Killer Expectations


If I don't stand as their voice and their protector then who will?
*What follows is one mother’s point of view about the American education system, possible over-reliance on attention medication and concerns regarding the heart of the problem. I seek to analyze, learn and understand, I hope you will come with me on my journey.*

We live in America. 

The land of opportunity if –

You are driven
You relentlessly push yourself harder than others.
You work longer, faster and more efficiently than the next guy.
You get a jump on everyone around you in terms of education. If you do these things, and likely a thousand more I'm forgetting to name, you can to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Georgetown-you name it.

If you are the best. The brightest. Have the highest test scores. Can list the most extracurricular activities at the end of your senior year.

Pressure to hurdle the if’s and grab the American dream seems to be coming younger and younger, in my humble opinion. I have two young boys, so I can only speak of my firsthand knowledge based on my experiences. You know that Bob Dylan song,“Times they are a-changin.” If you don't go to You Tube. I can't help but think we create some changes for the worse.

When I started  kindergarten it was about developing empathy, learning to get along, drawing and coloring for exploring your imagination (forget staying in the lines), listening to the teacher and cultivating a love for school. I adored kindergarten. Who wouldn’t back in the ancient times of the 70's where kids were allowed to still be kids. We painted, played, sang songs, read stories, created countless things with hands-on experiments and well, heck, just had fun.

Kindergarten today, at least in my neck of America, seems to be about worksheets, sitting still for countless hours, killing creativity, pushing timed test and more information faster and earlier than it was pushed the year before and the year before that. What my children are expected to know now is equal to what kids three grades ahead of them were expected to know ten years ago. At the rate America seems to be progressing our children will be expected to have mastered middle school information by the time they finish with kindergarten.

Times definitely are changing, but are they changing for the better? America is trying to keep up with all the countries that are surpassing our kids in terms of test scores, productivity, or just plain old producing intelligent adults who create the amazing inventions of the future or become the next scientist to make a discovery that will change our lives as we know it. Yet, isn't it telling that Finland ranks well above the US in education scores, holding one of the top spots of all countries in highest education scores. Children don't even start school in Finland until age seven. The philosophy is, "Children in Finland only start main school at age seven. The idea is that before then they learn best when they're playing and by the time they finally get to school they are keen to start learning." Please go to this link for the full BBC article

Do you ever wonder if the surge of children diagnosed with ADD has anything to do with our pressing unrealistic expectations on these children and not much to actually do with many of these children themselves? I know I do. I’m no expert but it seems forcing children to sit still, be quiet and learn higher concepts before they are developmentally ready might just lead to attention problems.

I’m not saying I don’t believe there are not genuine cases of children who have this attention disorder which require medicine for them to concentrate. What I am saying is if you will take the time to search out books written by experts in the fields of child psychology, pediatrics and medical disorders you might be shocked to learn the staggering statistics of how many children are on medication to help them concentrate and how many renowned physicians think we are over-medicating our children.

As a mother of two active boys, I worry about the amount of pressure we are putting on our children. How much pressure is too much? At what point does the pressure to fall into some preconceived notion of what the rising stars of America perform like at five, six and seven become unhealthy?

 I believe many children need the medicine they are on, but I also believe we are a nation of people that want fast answers and easy solutions who rely too much on medicine and not enough on seeking alternate solutions or even looking at the heart of the problem itself, which to me is the fact that we are expecting too much from our kids too soon.

You don’t have to believe me or even agree with me. I wouldn’t presume to ask you to. Go out and research for yourself. Educate yourself. If you have children it’s your duty. I have been educating myself and I plan to continue to do so. A few of the books I’ve read are Boys Adrift, Ten Days to a Less Disobedient Child, Raising Cain, Raising a Spirited Child and Gender Matters.


How do you feel about the issue of schools expecting more and more from children every year? Do you believe this is good? How do you feel about the abundance of children on medication to help them concentrate these days? Do you have books you recommend that address either side of the issue? I’d love to hear your opinion, no matter what side of the issue you land on.

21 comments:

  1. Children are asked to learn more at an earlier age, but I don't know that I think it's necessarily a bad thing. Asking it in Kindergarden is too much, however. For many kids, it's their first experience being around other kids and they need to learn how to socialize. But learning is easier when the brain is more elastic, which is the reason I don't understand waiting until middle school to teach a foreign language.

    I asked my husband what he thought since he is a child psychologist and he said he thinks ADHD is over diagnosed in some sense and under referred to specialists who can do a better assessment and accurate diagnosis. So basically, primary physicians are prescribing without a thorough work-up, which doesn't make sense to me as a parent of a child with ADD. There are many factors involved with making a diagnosis and sometimes anxiety can present as ADD, but with further evaluation by a specialist a true diagnosis and more effective treatment could be available. And it may not involve medicine at all. The problem is some insurance companies won't pay for a work-up or alternative treatments. We had no coverage for our son's evaluation, but our insurance will pay for med checks appointments with the pediatrician and medicine. :/

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    1. Great point about foreign languages, Samantha! I totally agree with that. What I don't agree with us expecting children to master math concepts that they are not developmentally ready to master, and other academic concepts. Nor do I think it's fair to ask them to sit still for three hours straight, which is what many school expect. I also agree that too many general physicians and not enough specialist misdiagnosis ADD. I live that you have your husband to ask things like this. I want to pick his brain!

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  2. What a phenomenal blog! I connected with this as a mother and as a teacher. As a mother, I struggle with the content drive, the move away from creativity and free-thinking into strictly text-based 'generic' questions that crush a child's free spirit. I worry about my son who by the name of his intellectual disability will most likely not attend Harvard, or Princeton, or Yale...but when I dream of what I want for him, it's what I'd want for any child...I want him to learn to socialize and be creative and have fun and be challenged in ways unique to him. And I think schools used to do that, but no more. As a teacher, I struggle with it for not entirely different reasons. I feel that standards are being created to 'push' students...but push them towards what? perfection? Excellence? We are living in an age where competition seems more important than individual success and meaningful learning. It's heartbreaking on so many levels.

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    1. I do see the standardized testing as a bad idea because it often puts teachers in a box. However, I see phenomenal things in my kids' schools where creativity, community, and critical thinking is valued. I think we're lucky because (1) due to past financial planning and management, our school district has a surplus to use (2) we live in a relatively stable area, so we don't have a lot of families moving in and out (3) we have a strong PTA and group of volunteers that support the school. I think it has to do with living in a smaller community. Anyway, I love to hear the wonderful things my daughter's elementary school is doing. They have time set aside to do more relationship building, creative teamwork, etc. My daughter told me one day the class was outside doing some kind of pattern work where they had to step on certain blocks. Her teacher suggested one of the special needs boys have partner, but then he went through the pattern quicker than anyone else. At the end of their activity, their teacher asked what they learned from the exercise then he went on to share what he had learned, not to judge by appearances and how he had made that mistake with the boy in the their class. My daughter was so excited telling me about how great the boy did. It was really cool to see. :)

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    2. Thanks, Christie! My dreams for my son mirror yours. I want them to be challenged, learn to socialize and basically be happy adults who are productive members of society. I too struggle with the question of what exactly are we pushing our kids towards. If it's perfection then America is failing, and imo, should take a look at Sweden's philosophy on education.

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    3. That's awesome, Samantha. I love to hear stories like that. Let me be clear than my kids have really great things about their schools. We are lucky to live in a community where the schools are very well funded. My oldest son currently has a phenomenal teacher who thinks way outside of the box and makes learning a blast. My son adores her and frankly, so do I. They are learning exactly what they need to but in a way that doesn't force them to sit for hours or do busy sheets. This seems to be more of an exception than the norm, though.

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    4. I agree that sitting for hours is not conducive to learning. I think I read some place that adults pay attention for about 1 1/2 - 2 hours at most before they can't take anything else in. And that's adults. I know I'm antsy at the end of two hours. What's really odd to me is that no one will say a word if an adult gets up and wanders out of a classroom, but a kid is supposed to stay focused. I stared out the window and made up stories a lot in school. :)

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  3. Wonderful, spot on blog post! Julie I agree with you. Its very sad what is happening in education today, and the way parents put phenomenal pressure on their children. I see young children scheduled for every minute of their day, language lessons, sports, dance, theatre, etc. When do they get time to play? My daughter had a friend whose parents wouldn't let her out of the house, because she had to study for the SAT's. I am so not a helicopter mom, very much the opposite. Our children need to learn to think for themselves and make their own mistakes. With that comes their love of learning and creativity. Learning for the sake of testing is tragic and is shortchanging our children.
    One of the reasons I chose the school both my children went to (My daughter graduated and my son is in high school now)is because it doesn't have grades. they get written reports every quarter about their progress.

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    1. Nancy,
      I'd love to talk to you about your children's school. I'm fascinated by the amazing and unique approaches some schools take that really seem to be working very well. My kids love sports as many of their friends do, so we allow them to play one sport per season. We make them pick. Why? Because they have to have time to play. I made the mistake this season of letting the do one full time sport and one sport that was supposed to be leisurely and a warm up for the real season. I learned quickly there is no such thing as "fun" sports anymore.

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    2. Any time Julie. It's a great system. I found out during the college touring process it's one of the only schools in the country like it. It cuts down on that competitiveness and allows children to learn for their own love of learning. They also mix grades in high school, so you can have 10th graders and 12th graders together, all on the same learning curve.

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  4. I wholeheartedly agree with you, Julie. My son was in first grade when his teacher recommended he get tested for ADD. His teacher!! It boggles the mind as to why she believed she might be an expert on ADD. I went to the doctor to discuss it and turned down the diagnosis. I knew my son didn't have ADD. He was bored with the curriculum. He was so far ahead of the rest of the class that he was bored (which is quite often the case.) Now he's 21 years old, works at a full-time job, and owns his own business on the weekends which is getting very, very successful. I shudder to think what could have happened had I let them convince me that he was ADD. He wasn't focusing because he was bored. And while there are great teachers out there, perhaps teachers can make the class curriculum more engaging, versus just text and reading, it might help. And I know there are some super teachers who do just that, but perhaps we may want to encourage more teachers to do the same. Great thought provoking blog and I love that you brought you this up. If there is one thing that unites us in this country it's our love for our children.

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    1. So true, Suzie! We do love our kids! That infuriates me that the teacher recommended your son be tested at four. Any specialist will tell you you cannot realistically test a child for ADD before the age of 7, and some experts even recommend older than that. What really bothers me is that so many people don't seem to realize, and neither do their physicians that there is a long, exhaustive list children need to meet to actually be diagnosed ADD. Most children do not meet all the requirements of the list, but they get ADD meds anyway. Those who do meet them, DO need them. I used to be a teacher and I've seen first hand very realistic cases of ADD. I also taught children who didn't need it, but got the meds anyway.

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  5. Awesome blog, Julie! With an almost-4-year-old, this is a topic that comes up almost daily. I'm mostly concerned with how the elementary schools have become so focused on test scores. I mean...WHAT?!?! There's a school in our area that has a 10 rating (out of 10) but when you read parent reviews, you learn that the place is like a military school, drilling them on how to take tests and not cultivating creativity or free thinking or even making learning FUN!!

    On the topic of ADD/ADHD, I believe that some (not all!) might be diet related. We have crap in our food that hadn't even been invented when we were kids. Red 40 has been linked to hyper activity and ADD, yet parents would rather put their kids on Ritalin than take away their gummy bears. MSG, autolyzed yeast, HFCS, GMOs...this is not stuff we had in our food 20/30 years ago. They are foreign to our bodies and cause all kinds of problems, and yet we pump our kids FULL of them! And THEN we put them on medication with even MORE foreign agents for our bodies to figure out because it's easier than reading the labels at the grocery store.

    Phew. Sorry. I'll come down off my soapbox now. lol. Again, I don't think this is all cases, and I'm always very encouraged whenever I hear from Samantha Grace on these topics :) You're not alone in your concern for what's happening in our school systems, Julie!

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    1. Jerrica,
      I'm with you on diet truly being a part of the rise in ADD. I undertook changing out all our plastics this summer and buying glass or plastics that were free of known ADD causing agents. I knew abut Red 40, but I need to look into MSG and the rest of the ingredients you listed. Our family eats pretty clean, but I'm sure I can do better. I'd love to chat with you about it when we both have a moment!

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    2. I would love to, Julie!! This is something I'm super passionate about!!

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  6. Oh Julie, I so agree with you! My children have been doing book reports, dioramas, & projects since 1st grade. We didn't do any of that until 4th in my school! I hate all the pressure kids are under. Where it is easy for one of my children, another stresses all the time about being 'smart enough.' And she's my witty motivator! It's very frustrating for kids and their parents. :(

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  7. My 3rd grader said, "chemical transformation" last night. I wept.

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    1. Wow! Chemical transformation? Certainly now what U studied in science in the third grade.

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  8. I wish I'd noticed this sooner, because it's a great conversation. It's also relevant to what is happening to my kindergartener. Thanks for this.

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