Students on Drugs
[The following is taken from the "Reader's Write" section
of the
Sun Magazine for August 2011.
The subject was "Paying Attention."]

Jody calls it her "vitamins;" Cole, his "M&M;" James, his "focus pill." It's the medication they each take every day so that they'll pay attention in my sixth- grade classroom. Thanks to drugs, these students are able to sit in their seats while I train them to pass the high-stakes state-wide tests they'll take in April.

Given the issues many of them deal with outside of school --- neglect, poverty, violence --- it's a wonder they can listen to a word I say. I teach formulaic responses to essay prompts they'll encounter on the state exams, then hand out practice tests and drill them on how to answer multiple-choice questions. My classroom is more factory than learning environment, but I have little choice.

Legislators are proposing that the students' scores on these tests be linked to my job security. If you were to ask me if I wanted my entire class on medication, I'd say yes. If a student starts acting out or is unable to sit and focus, I'll suggest to the parents that they obtain from their pediatrician an ADHD checklist, which I'll use as I observe the child's classroom behavior.

Occasionally a parent will argue about the wisdom of medicating a developing child. I'll listen patiently, then pull out the child's practice scores or mention the prior year's test results, perhaps even risk a prediction about how he or she will do this year. It's tough to argue with numbers.

Once armed with the checklist, I'll watch the student for signs of "impulsivity" and "distraction," check the appropriate boxes, and before long that child will be medicated too.

After thirty years of teaching I know how hard it is for any twelve-year-old to pay attention for long stretches of time. Being impulsive and getting distracted are as much a part of early adolescence as pimples and growth spurts.

But these days I try not to think about that. I have to do whatever it takes to keep my job.

--- Name Withheld
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