One of the top emailed stories this week on www.nytimes.com hits on a subject that affects many of the students in our classrooms here in DC Public Schools. How do we best help students who come in to our classrooms facing the effects of poverty? In the article entitled “Attention Disorder or Not, Pills to Help in School” Alan Schwarz explores the use of ADD and ADHD drugs to that end. The article focuses on low income families and their schools and doctors who are trying to help children succeed in school in an unconventional way. They are giving drugs to students who don’t necessarily have ADD and ADHD; they are treating the effects, not the root causes. One of the ideas is that the ADD and ADHD drugs are taking the place of individual focus by staff, because the price of fixing the causes of the issues (such as large class sizes, lack of resources, etc) is too high. These drugs come with many temporary side effects. Long-term effects are unknown.
As a teacher, taking this approach is intriguing while being simultaneously appalling. This story says to me that those who are looking to education policy and funding to change children’s lives have started in the right place, but the need goes deeper. We need to look at all the ways children are affected by policy and ask questions like, does it really make sense to have Medicaid fund ADHD medication for four children, two of whom the parents admit have no need for it, or can we use that money to give parents workshops on better ways to help their children through these rough moments and to create a classroom environment that is more flexible and adaptable for students who learn differently and face the challenges of poverty? The whole child approach needs to reach its way up into policy.
Teacher, Francis-Stevens EC