Saturday, November 15, 2008

Actions speak.

I know I've not been a very active participant in the edublogosphere of late. Life takes over sometimes. We edubloggers write a lot about how schools must change, shift, engage, integrate technology, project-based learning, 21st century literacy, authentic learning....
I don't think I've read too much, though, on the teacher blogs I frequent, about the other things that our schools are modeling.  I'm thinking about the way we live. 

Here's what's on my mind:
•We teach about Earth Day and "REDUCE*REUSE*RECYCLE" while we go through more copy paper than ever. My particular school is selling reusable bags as a fundraiser. We claim that we're "going green" but we don't even recycle at the school. The student council has vowed to take this on as their project this year, as we have to hire a private company in order to get our recyclables picked up. My fingers are crossed. It would be a step in the right direction.
•We just observed "Red Ribbon Day" where students are taught to SAY NO TO DRUGS, and yet the ranks of students on ritalin or adderall increase daily. I know I'm treading on dangerous ground here. We Americans do not like anyone questioning our pharmaceuticals. We had a doctor come speak to our faculty last year about how these ADHD drugs are saving children. It's all very compelling. What no one can answer for me is this- Why do so many children now seem to "need" drugs in order to succeed in school? I've been disturbed by this for quite a while now, and I feel alone in my concerns. I happen to work at a school that, as a private school, does not have to find ways to adapt to the needs of students. Either the students adapt (often through altering brain chemistry) or find another school. 
This has now gotten personal for me, as my 4 year old, pre-K son, is showing signs of impulsive behavior, inability to conform to the group. The pressure has been tremendous. For years now, I've been pushed to "take him to a doctor to be evaluated." I already know that he will be diagnosed with ADHD (I've seen the checklists they use, and he meets plenty of the criteria). The doctor who spoke to our faculty, when asked about alternatives to drugs, told us that she's seen all the alternatives tried and nothing works. Only drugs. Miracle drugs. 
Which brings me to my next point-
•We "teach" students about the human body and good nutrition. We reward them with sweet treats and junk food. Our school lunches are salty, cheesy, fatty, junky. Our school serves ice cream on Fridays, and it's not even real ice cream (that would be too expensive.) My son's preschool complains about his impulsive behavior, yet for snack they serve doughnuts, saltine crackers, graham crackers, junk. He often gets a piece of candy for cleaning up. Their "cooking projects" often involve sugar, artificial sweeteners, colors, etc. They did start a weekly fruit basket where parents donate fruit for snack each week (as it is too expensive for the school to provide on a regular basis) and for this I am very grateful. 
What's gone wrong here?
I am not blaming. I think we are all at fault. It's really hard, as a parent, to take a stand. I'm guilty, too. Our society wants the quick fix.

I'm really concerned, not just with HOW we're teaching our children, but with WHAT we are teaching them by the way we live.


pcone said...

I really like what you had to say, Andrea. Very true. I teach in a rural Saskatchewan school with a commitment to environmental issues. We do recycle paper, but we have trouble recycling it now that the town has moved the recycling bins to the dump which has restricted hours. Metal recycling still isn't happening.

I like what you had to say about treating behaviour with pharmaceuticals. There are no easy answers or solutions. While reading your comments, I thought of my oldest step-son, who for a time was also one of my students. He had all the classic behaviours. As an adult, he was diagnosed with ADD (or whatever) and given a prescription for ritalin if he wanted it. I often wonder how his life might have been different had he been given the choice of medication as a youngster. From his adolescence, he has chosen to self-medicate with alcohol and street drugs. Interestingly, even though ritalin does help him concentrate, and would facilitate his completing his secondary studies (he's 27) he doesn't want to use it. He has made his choices and all we can do as parents is treat him with respect and not rescue him from negative consequences.

I have asthma. I use steroid-based drugs to allow me to maintain a normal life which includes going to work and participating in recreational exercise. I know I'm at risk for osteoporosis and other steroid-related complications. I've made my choices and I'll live with the consequences.

Good luck. If you come up with any great solutions to eliminating unhealthy food and beverages in schools and workplaces, please post them. I have a cholesterol problems and have a heck of a time resisting some of the treats that pass through the school!!!!

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Andrea.

It's a sad tale you relate. 'Twas ever thus.

My recent post touches on this whole general topic, probably more from a technological point of view.

But really, what you are mentioning here is also technologically related - food analysis, recycling, environment care, pharmaceuticals etc.

I've thought long about this. If I had an answer, I'd fill your comments space with it. I think we need to be patient.

Ka kite
from Middle-earth

CB said...

Refreshing post.

I'd love to see some enterprising student start a national or global "student councils with teeth" type organization lo encourage more student leaders worldwide to care about more than proms and pep rallies.

And your entire post pushed me back toward the wisdom of home-schooling, though that's fraught with problems too.

Good luck, Andrea, and thanks for using technology to write about more than technology '-) Yesterday I wondered if that's like using a pencil to write about pencils.

Andrea said...

@pcone-thanks for sharing your story. It's so hard to know the right thing to do. I go back and forth. I've seen kids who weren't doing well thrive after going on drugs. I want what is best for my son. I'm not against better living through chemistry. But I think that we've also created bad biochemistry within our bodies through the fake food we eat. I don't know. I just feel frustrated that the mainstream presents drugs as the ONLY option instead of one possibility. It's definitely easier to stick a ritalin patch on a kid then to impose dietary changes.

@Clay I consider homeschooling a viable option, one that I am considering. Of course, every solution creates new problems, and I know that homeschooling would be a huge change for my family. But it might be amazing in ways I can't even imagine. I feel that I owe it to my son to explore, at least mentally, as many options as possible before even taking the first step on the drug-path.

Anonymous said...

I shot you this on Twitter...but my friend has been through a great deal with her little boy as well. She's a good resource and said she'd be happy to drop you a line and connect.

I feel for you.