Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Education and What the system Did For Me

"Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” – Albert Einstein

The Education system seems to be a very passionate subject for people. I wanted to give you a peek into my world in hopes that maybe you’ll see it from a different side.

I was diagnosed with ADHD almost 2 years ago. I know that many people believe this a made up problem, but I can assure you it is not. I do believe that far too many children are diagnosed with it when in reality the problem is that they are kinesthetic learners in a world with a lack of educators who don’t know how to engage them. Whether this is really the issue I can’t say but I can now look back on my formal education with a clearer understanding of what I needed vs. what I was given.

I think the number one problem is where the education system places its value. Unless you are in an art school (which there is far too few of) you’ll find the importance on Math, English, Science and History, and at the very bottom are the arts.

The second problem is how we teach children. The school system seems to cater to the visual and auditory learners, but what about the kinesthetic learners, the ones that have to move to think? I know many programs are trying to improve this, but it’s easy to improve something that was almost non-existent.

Then there is the issue that we were not all made to be mediocre at the subjects deemed worthy of importance. A system structured for general knowledge doesn’t allow time for the individuals who were blessed by other gifts to be extraordinary.

I want to be clear that this is my story, somebody with ADHD that is a kinesthetic learner and who is gifted in the performing arts. There are many people with ADHD who learn different ways, like my brother, niece and even Albert Einstein. Not all people are hyper active in their outburst like so many people generalize. Many are hyperactive in the way their brain is always on the go with out the ability to push the break peddle. The creative ability associated with it does not always show itself in performance art. Creativity comes in all forms such as sports, science, math or writing.

From the very beginning I struggled. I was in the lowest reading class, the lowest math class and was even placed in a special program were kids like me went to for some extra help. So from a young age I felt I had been marked with a big x on my forehead that said “I’m the stupid one” and YES, it was embarrassing! There were a few artsy teachers that would have music time or do plays but the kids that got those teachers were the ones that were a bit “brighter”. To me it felt like it was a reward to being smart.

I studied! I didn’t want to be stupid. Who wants that? But regardless of the time and energy I put into studying, when I got my test back, I would cry over another wasted attempt. Many times I was held in from recess to go over missed answers or to finish a test. I know that the system was trying to help me but all their help only made the problem worse. For all its attempts at teaching with the wrong approach it was destroying a love for learning. At a time when a child’s view of themself is shaped by the situation around them, the view of my intelligence was being set in place by the institute that tells us “Do good in school, get good grades and you will be successful in life”.

Middle School and High School weren’t much better. I once asked a question in class and my teacher responded with, “Seriously are you that stupid?” She never gave me the answer and as I held the tears in, I vowed never to ask another question. I know everyone has their off days, teachers included, but her statement solidified what I felt for so long. It was said in a room full of kids that I grew up with, and for 13 years every test score, every class ranking, and every system that divided our intellectual abilities found me lacking.

Because of the education system I believed myself to be stupid. If it weren’t for my parents reiterating to me that I was gifted in so many other ways, I’m sure I would have shriveled up. Unfortunately I think many kids have fallen prey to believing this barbaric interpretation of what is smart and many are not given a chance to find their gift.

We are all born with the ability to be creative but an upside to ADHD is that we excel creatively. Studies have shown that the performing arts in particular. I’m not sure how accurate that is considering the characteristics that manifest through an artist are more visual then somebody whose creative abilities lie in a more introverted subject like math or writing. I fall into the group of performing arts. This is the place were we are free to be us, the place were we can release our inhibitions. The place were we finally have the upper hand because we do not have this mental block of what is the right answer, because to us we see endless possibilities. But what the system has done is placed the arts at the bottom of what is considered important. This leads many to believe that what we have to offer has no value.

The moment I was diagnosed with ADHD it was like all this garbage that I didn’t realize I had been carrying around was finally disposed of. The lie I believed of being stupid, which I had come to accept in so many ways, couldn’t be further from the truth. My brain can find lots of ways to interpret a question or to see multiple answers to a question, even find different ways to come to my answer; this is something I had to defend and explain to my teachers. Now I’m learning this is to be considered genius? (Excuse me while I try to digest this, I’m still coming to terms with the fact I’m not stupid)

I don’t think I could ever put myself in the same category as genius. Average is nice and I like it there. The word genius conjures up negative feelings of the kids that got all the praise and rewards for something that came easy to them. The people I still find myself measured to. Regardless of my understanding of myself, I will probably struggle with my ability to communicate with these linear thinkers for a long time. Until the moment I discover somebody has some artistic gift or at least a deep appreciation for the arts, I can’t fully relax or be myself.

I do believe the school system has its place. There are many that are truly benefited by its factory style approach. But this ridged approach will never give someone with ADHD a chance to optimize their learning potential and let them fully comprehend or see things a bit deeper then a linear thinker would. Because of this set schedule, most people will never be aware of this unique function that can be both a good and bad thing. It’s the ability to hyper focus, and because it is not given a chance in a school setting people will go on having ignorant assumptions that we all have learning disorders (I’ll save that for another post)

The best chance a child with ADHD has for the future is for a parent or adult to recognize the child’s learning style, strengths and weaknesses and give them the opportunity to thrive while giving them value and worth. Then we can help the child learn to use their unique abilities in a positive way.

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