Sunday, April 30, 2006

Brainy Nonsense

The techno next door is keeping me awake for the 16th week running, but rather than get angry about it again I figured I'd spend this early-morning time (for which I'd be up anyway) paying attention to my poor neglected blog.

I drank my day away at a very fun end-of-year gathering on the lake. The food, company, and amusements were all brilliant and I was on the whole very happy. Some wrong turns en route to the house, however, led to heated tempers, which distracted the driver enough that she made some spectacularly reckless errors that would have proved painful had other people not been paying attention and shouting "BRAKES!" I say "other people" 'cos it sure as hell wasn't me--I forgot to eat before getting in the car and was at that point the mental equivalent of jell-o.

After I'd eaten though I realized that the person in question is routinely a dangerously distracted driver. She runs red lights, sits at green lights, crosses intersections without looking, gets lost easily and is known for her tendency to gradually decelerate on the freeway as her foot wanders from the pedal. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I was risking my life letting her drive as one day her errors might prove fatal.

What makes this somewhat funny is the fact that I believe a lot of this distraction is on account of a medication she takes to prevent it. The pill in question is called Aderol, and is prescribed by psychiatrists to patients who appear to have difficulty paying attention, or "Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)." Somehow it rearranges the taker's chaotic neurological firings into logical sequences that lengthen his or her ability to focus. Many hyperactive, disorderly, and ill-attentive children have shown marked improvements in their behavior and grades with the introduction of Aderol or other ADD medication to their cereal, and it is a well-known study aid among collge students around exam time.

That said. (Intro my opinion.)

ADD is a myth. It is a pathetic excuse for poor parenting and a child's genuine disinterest in academic pursuits. ADD's counterpart, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), is an indication of even worse parenting and a complete failure on the part of society to properly and effectively teach desirable behavior in children. In no way does a child's inability or unwillingness to pay attention to or care about academic pursuits indicate that there is something wrong with their neurological function or that they require mind-altering drugs in order to do well in school.

There are several behaviors that are mistakenly diagnosed as AD(H)D. I wish to itemize a few of them here and give my opinion on them.

Example 1: Apathy-Related "ADD"
Little Timmy is not doing too well in school. He is not interested in maths or history and he rarely does his homework because he's too easily distracted by the TV, the video game console, the dog, or even the carpet. His teachers have commented that Timmy seems distracted and irritable in class. Little Timmy's parents worry that he will not go on to be a brain surgeon like his father. Hell, at the rate he's going chances are he won't even pick up any literature more mentally taxing than People Weekly after he graduates.

Guess What, Mr. and Mrs. Brain Surgeon--Its OKAY!!

Timmy is not handicapped. He's not a bad child, he's not stupid, and there's nothing wrong with his teachers. Timmy is one of billions of human beings who just DONT CARE ABOUT ACADEMICS. Timmy doesn't read books because he simply doesn't enjoy reading. He doesn't pay attention in math class because frankly, math is the least interesting abstract concept in the history of thought. Timmy got in trouble for dicing the frog he was supposed to be dissecting because it is more fun to hack things to pieces than to identify their components. Timmy doesn't want to do his homework because its a FREAKING BEAUTIFUL DAY OUTSIDE. Lets face it--school is boring. Timmy has every right to be bored.

Something we, as a society, have lost appreciation for is non-academic intelligence. Timmy may be very capable in pursuits which we have deemed un-intellectual. Perhaps he has a knack for running, building cabinets, painting, or plumbing. The fact that Timmy has no innate ability for memorizing names and dates of historic figures does not mean that he is stupid--he just doesn't belong in the kind of school he is required to attend by law. It is unfortunate that many blue-collar type jobs are sneered at in todays society while pointless number-crunching money-moving jobs are idealized when its the blue-collar folks who are actually productive.

Schools today do not teach anything that will benefit most children in adulthood. They teach pointless abstractions (mathematics), generally useless trivia (history), and even leisure activities (literature). The second two have no practical value, and the first is really only useful in mechanical design, which most people don't do anyway.

If a child seems bright--not just to a parent's eye--but doesn't give a rip about school, chances are he's not learning anything that interests him.

No amount of Aderol is going to make Timmy like or care about school. It will only make him hyper-focus on whatever you put in front of him. That doesn't mean he's interested in it. You've just drugged him to make him conform to an education system that he has no business being in. Square peg, round hole.

Modern society's insistence upon putting all children through an identical education system is less an effort to make us productive members of society and more an attempt to make us all conform to some silly ideal of how a human is "supposed" to think and behave. Fact remains, there is no "right" way to do anything, because "right," "wrong", and "supposed to" are abstract manifestations of the intellectual elite. People are different. Many people are not intellectual.

A much more effective education system that has, unfortunately, been abandoned in favor of state-regulated assembly-line style schooling was the apprenticeship system. Children who appear to have an aptitude for or interest in some field study under a master in said field until they can do it too. Likewise if the child is interested in academics he or she is sent to an academic institution, and if he or she has no apparent useful aptitude, interest, or inclination, he or she can join the military. Zing.

Example 2: Pain-in-the-ass Brat
Suzy Q makes noise. she bounces around incessantly, hits other children, makes farting noises with her hands and generally makes a nuisance of herself. She spends more of her day in time-out than her desk and has to take notes home to her mother regularly to have signed. She rarely finishes tests before turning them in and is distracted by shiny objects. She has difficulty carrying a conversation and shouts when she wants to be heard.

Two words--Bad Parenting. Suzy is one of millions of American children who have been raised by a television set, day-care center, and parents who's jobs or personal lives get in the way of establishing a good relationship with their daughter.

The constant flicker and color of the TV display have established a basis of activity to stimulate Suzy's mind and keep her interested, making sitting quietly while the teacher reads Where The Red Fern Grows intolerably boring. Nothing is moving! Where are the flashing lights? Dancing numbers and singing puppets? Chances are if she goes to any school that doesn't require its teachers to have a MFA in performance she is going to get frustrated. She will fidget, she will look around, she will tap her fingers and eventually ask, impatiently, for the teacher to pick up the pace already.

Many children who grow up in day care are loud. They have to be if they want any sort of attention from the staff--there are simply too many other children around for them to be heard any other way. Suzy has to compete constantly for any sort of attention, and when she actually gets it she's going to soak it up in a distinctly spongelike manner. Positive or negative--it doesn't matter. She craves any sort of attention she can get from grown-ups because by the time mommy and daddy get home at night, they're tired, hungry, and as much as they love their daughter, they just can't muster up the energy to play with or talk to her. Suzy may become angry with her parents for not loving her enough, and when she brings this up (in her day-care style) they may become frustrated and shout at her. Because mommy and daddy know that they're neglecting her, but they also know they can't afford to live in a nice neighborhood where Suzy is safe if they don't both work full-time. They feel guilty for not having a good relationship with their daughter, they hate the insane costs of day care, they have no idea what she's eating most of the time, but they can't find any other way to make ends meet. Suzy barely knows her parents and has never encountered real, consistent, understandable discipline from them. Sometimes she gets shouted at for talking, sometimes she's completely ignored, and on some occasions she's even encouraged to yell and run around.
No, Suzy is being raised in a group of thirty by one frazzled primary school teacher who simply does not have the opportunity to give any child individual attention unless there's a problem. (I have a new name for ADHD: SWS. Squeaky Wheel Syndrome.) At night she is entertained by children's television, the bright colors and flashing lights of which would give an adult a seizure. And in the morning she eats pink-marshmallow cereal because, though her mother knows it isn't good for her, she feels guilty enough for neglecting her child to buy her whatever she wants.

I recognize that "good parenting"--a situation in which the parent is in control of a child's diet, takes responsibility for the child's behavior, is helpful in the child's intellectual and moral growth, and inspires the child to imagine and hard to come by. its simply too expensive to raise children in America for a parent to leave work and do any of said raising. I recognize that education tailored to each child's strengths and interests is impossible in America because of rampant overpopulation, strictly enforced statutes of universal conformism, consistently under-staffed schools and under-qualified teachers...but is drugging children the right means of accommodating this problem?

So. The kids who are already here--i feel for you. I understand how hard it is to be you, with society and the media molding you one way and school expecting you to behave in another. I know your interests rarely include theorems, sentence diagrams, the life cycle of trees, or Willard Fillmore's contributions to the American welfare state. And you know what? This kind of knowledge won't get you anywhere anyhow. Its what you learn when you earn a liberal arts degree--the degree that overeducates and underqualifies you for every job on the planet. You might as well not learn it, without frustration or guilt.

But to those adults thinking of having children--stop. Think. Can you afford to have kids and raise them too? Can you be home when they're home? Can you say No without crying? Can you keep them out of day care? Can you help them with their homework? Can you play with them outside? Can you be present to influence their growth and development? If you're not sure, or if you're sure you can't...maybe you should reconsider. Our population is in no danger of collapsing. Why have kids just so they can be drugged and brainwashed by governments and corporations?

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