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Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Best Medicine for ADHD Ever....

Teachers these days really struggle with ADHD kids. They don't sit still, they're easily distracted they don't obey orders and they have far too much energy. Little wonder teachers want to drug them. Some say ADHD is an imaginary mental disorder. Some say, "These kids just need a belt applied to their hindquarters."

As an ADHD kid myself, I can tell you what these kids need and that ain't it. What they need is time. Modern educators and parents have convinced themselves that because kids can learn things at an incredibly young age that they ought to learn school stuff when they are very young. I wonder why no one seems to have wondered whether all that early learning capacity wasn't designed for something else besides learning numbers, shapes, ABC's and quotations from Voltaire.

Kids have to learn an incredible lot of stuff in an incredibly short period of time. They start out totally self-centered eating machines, unable to walk, talk, do higher math or diagram sentences. So, of course they have to have the ability to learn quickly. Children pick up languages at an incredible rate for instance and they need all their available brain power to do so. 

I think God knew what he was doing with kids, giving them the capacity to learn what they need to learn when they need to learn it. I don't believe he intended for us to train our children to be factory workers and yet that is precisely what the German Kindergarten graded school system is designed to do. Kindergartens were designed to teach young German students to show up on time, sit in one place all day, shut up, do repetitive work, and not question authority. There's a reason for that. Do you remember what Germany was trying to prepare for in the late 19th/early 20th century.

At any rate, I think it's a bad system, especially for American kids. In the United States, the ADHD gene, whatever that is, is present in a larger percentage in the United States than any other country in the world. That's because ADHD adults couldn't get along in places like Germany - they were too restless and came to America to get away from all that.* So with a huge number of our progeny having the restless, high energy genetic makeup. What do we do? 

Some children (actually all children, I believe) should not be forced to show up for school on time, to sit in chairs all day, to do repetitive work and not speak or question authority. Now I suppose it would be a useful system if you were training our kids to be worker drones in a war materials factory as the Germans were when they created the educational system the United States adopted whole hog at the beginning of the 20th century.
It was a mistake. Americans aren't wired that way. Look how fast we shoved manufacturing jobs like that over to China, Mexico and India. Americans don't like those jobs and I don't blame factory jobs when I was working my way through school. I've done them and hated every minute. They're mind numbing and soul-destroying jobs.

Some children, the ones that are considered ADHD because they can't sit still in class, should not go to school until they are at least 10 years old, maybe even 12. If you let them outside to run and play and exercise the full scope of their imaginations, to learn social skills, to learn language and to reach a point where they are ready to learn, they will catch up and blow past the kids that started school 3 to 5 years earlier. The dirty little secret with the way the school system is setu up is that for the first 5 or 6 years, teachers spend a good deal of their time reteaching things the kids learned last year and forgot over summer vacation. A kid who has been under parental care and who has learned from nature, from play and from taking responsibilities at home, is far more ready to learn than a child who has been pushed along on the edge of his or her abilities and forced to learn things he or she has no interest in and was not ready to learn.


About the time the hormones begin to kick in, a child is ready to learn career skills in earnest. I think we ought to test them abour then to determine what sort of things they are interested in and should begin immediately learing career skills right alongside reading, writing, arithmetic, history and the arts. Children would learn faster because, if they've had decent parents, they would have developed more mature social skills and an interest in learning. 

We should allow them to learn at their own pace in subjects like reading and mathematics and grammar. I believe you'd find that kids would roar through these subjects if allowed to work at their own speed. Subjects like history, science, literature and art should be long leisurely classes facilitated by historians, writers, scientists and artists. Businessmen should teach accounting and practical math skills. Retirees with actual experience doing things would make wonderful teachers and would do it if asked. 

Physical education should go back to activities and games that are played for a purpose to teach teamwork, strategy and fair play and to build physical strength, flexibility, grace and stamina. Basic vocational skills should be taught early. Schools should set up cottage industries where the kids could build things and do things and to buy and sell goods and services on the open market (teach 'em to use eBay, Etsy, Amazon and other online resources to market their goods). No child should finish high school without a marketable skill. No child should be allowed to drop out until he has completed at least one skill certification that can get him a job. Physical education and so-called vocational education should work together. Take the kids into the forest and show them how to clear brush, handle tools and to work safely.

Do that and kids like the one up the tree above will learn faster, more thoroughly and to a better purpose. Not every kid needs to be trained for college. They need to be trained to work, to live healthfully, to manage their money and to participate as adults in the world to come. It should begin in earnest in 5th grade (about the time you learn fractions). Do that - create these kinds of purposeful classrooms and ADHD kids will not be bored. Make math, science, English and other languages like video games with instant feedback for doing well and these kids will suck up information like sponges.

We need to give up the idea of rigid classrooms with everybody sitting in rows, all doing the same work at the same time mostly for the convenience of the teacher. We need to hire skilled teachers and pay them better. They can handle more kids at once than the ordinary garden-variety teacher's college graduates they're turning out these days. They would be more interesting than ordinary teachers. From age 10 on, I think kids should have different teachers for different subjects - each teacher having expertise in their fields. Kids should learn to speak and write by speaking and writing. Instead of writing lines, they should be editing stories and writing, composing and printing their own newspapers. Talented kids should learn to work as a team as writers, editors, marketers, graphic designers and produce their own books and magazines. They should learn by doing real things as soon as they possibly can.

We should teach by simulating interest; by doing and acting. Sports should be about fitness, cooperation, sportsmanship and grace under pressure, not about building some coaches win/loss record. We need to stop firing coaches just because their kids don't win games. We should fire coaches who are abusive, who risk the health and safety of our kids for their own reputations and who care more about winning than building character.

ADHD kids are particularly well suited to high-energy careers. Why aren't we training them early to be cops, soldiers, firemen, athletes, forest rangers, pilots, entertainers and such. Why do we waste our time trying to make accountants and pharmacists out of kids that haven't a prayer of making a go of such careers.  ADHD kids make great entrepreneurs too, they just have to hire good accountants and CFOs to handle the paperwork. 

The point is that, if you stop trying to shove kids that are basically round, oval, oblong, rectangular, triangular and free form pegs into the square hole that is our education system, ADHD will virtually disappear in our schools. And those kids problem kids?  They'll simply be your high-energy, highly successful kids and the stars of your schools.

Just sayin'

Tom King
© 2015

* It's no accident that more research is being done on ADHD in Germany than anywhere else in the world. Germany's rigid Prussian culture offers little scope for the ADHD imagination and kids with ADHD are seen in Deutschland as a particular problem that must somehow be eliminated.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Booby Traps in Your I-Pod

Micah's graduation picture - in full kilt!
Within the modern day mp3 archives that we music lovers collect on our I-Pods (or in my case on my cell phone's mp3 music player) there lie little booby traps.  Thanks to we can now buy songs individually for 50 cents to a dollar instead of having to buy a whole album just to get two or three "good ones".  In this way, over time, we amass vast collections of incredibly eclectic music. This always amazes me a little, given that it didn't cost any more to put that big a music collection together 40 years later than it did to collect 45 rpm single records back when I was a high school kid. Not only that, but you don't even have the cost of a trip to the record store to factor in.

You can even collect free music from indie musicians you happen to like but the big record moguls don't particularly care for. As a result, I have banjo versions of Bear Necessities and All of Me, alongside several Doris Day hits, the theme to Dark Star (an obscure 1960s era sci-fi film and all my favorite hits by the Monkees and the Beatles; not to mention a miraculous duet with Placido Domingo and John Denver. I even scooped up an all-acoustic version of the Beatles playing Norwegian Wood. How cool is that?

Today's increasingly off-the-books music distribution system must make record company moguls frantic as they lose more and more control over whether or not an artist's music actually finds its way out to the public. You see, these days, the public listens to what it wants rather than waiting for record companies to tell us what we want to hear. No record company, for instance, would sell me a banjo version of Those Were the Days, the theme song to the TV show "All in the Family". Songs that are "golden oldies" need no longer wait for some "Greatest Hits" collection ot come out in order to get our hands on our favorite music. We can go online, buy and download the songs we like instantly. And I can even throw in a recording of a kid I used to teach in Sabbath School singing Amazing Grace/My Chains Are Gone at church or another one of my son and daughter with some friends singing a song called Miracle that my late son wrote with his brother. That one always makes me cry, but in a good way.

That's what I mean about booby traps. We often salt our music collections with songs that mean something to us - everything from "our song", a relic of our courting days, to one of our kids' favorite songs. One of those got me this morning. In 2006 we lost our middle son, Micah, a big bear of a young man who, at 28, stood 6'4" and was close to 300 pounds. When he was in high school, he wasn't exactly tiny - a big ebullient larger-than-life personality and a fun guy. He was incredibly shy, but covered it by being class clown and something of a show-off.

My mp3 player a few minutes ago rolled out M.C. Hammer's "Can't Touch This", one of Micah's favorite songs. You haven't seen anything till you've seen a kid Micah's size doing Hammer's moves to this song. And the boy had some amazing moves for someone his bulk. He played on his school's basketball team and had some muscles on him that used to fool opponents. These wiry little guys would rush him when he was defending the key, figuring they could topple him pretty easily. More than one wound up sitting on his butt on the boards, having struck what felt like a brick wall. They used to cry to the referees for a foul call. I remember one ref standing over one such prostrate whiner, "Hey dude, you're the one who decide to run into him." He pointed at Micah, "You need a little physics refresher there, son."

Micah also did a creditable "Electric Slide". These tiny little girls would drag him out on the floor at parties and get him to lead the "Electric Slide". It used to make him happy. He was pretty good at it too.

Micah had a lot of sadness in his short life. I think about those young women and the way they pulled him into the center of the action and encouraged him. They gave him confidence and, in a way, the courage, at the end of his life, to recommit himself to Christ. I am so grateful to Micah's friends for their love and acceptance of my son. A lot of big kids don't get that. He did. It's like you all knew somehow, how much he needed your support and love.

Micah (right) leading the girls' basketball team fight song from the stands!

That's why I was standing in my kitchen this morning listening to Hammer going, "Can't Touch This!" and crying like a big, hairy, white-headed 61 year-old baby.
Some people avoid songs that do that to them, even though we inevitably salt our music collections with songs just like that. I don't avoid the emotion when that happens. I let the song run all the way through. Sometimes I turn it up and go ahead and weep without restraint. Sometimes you need that.

It kind of flushes you out emotionally. We miss our lost loved ones. It's good that we do. I don't want to forget a single thing about my son. To me it's evidence that we weren't designed to lose people we love. We were designed to live forever; to always be able to turn around and find those beloved people right there, ready to make another day special and joyous.

I'm ready to see this mess of a world come to an end and to start up a new one. Maybe God will let me plant trees for the new Earth. I always wanted to design a forest. Maybe the kids and I can do it together. Mom can supervise. I'll bring the tunes...

Tom King
(c) 2015

Monday, August 10, 2015

Soccer Would Be So Proud

My wife and I ran a day care center for several years. She taught the four and five year-olds how to do if/then reasoning (the Socratic method). She explained to them who Socrates was and how to figure out if/then problems. The kids really enjoyed doing the little mind problems the lesson called for.

One 5 year old boy, puzzled over a question, struggling to find an answer. Sheila put her hand on his shoulder and said, gently, "Just think it out."  Marcus, a serious looking black boy, wrinkled up his brow and appeared to be thinking mightily.  Then he spoke up.

"I've got it," he said. He explained what he'd decided to do to solve his problem. I don't remember exactly what the problem was, but it was a head-scratcher for Marcus - I remember that. Sheila listened to his explanation and then told him he had done a good job of figuring the problem out.

A light seemed to break out over his face as he looked up at her.  "Soccer would be so proud!" he grinned.

If we can teach 4 and 5 year olds to reason from cause to effect, then how is it that the public school system can't seem to teach that skill to teenagers?

© 2015 by Tom King