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Problem Child Paradigm PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jenni Person, BT Contributor   
March 2017

Teachers and parents work with an ADHD diagnosis

Mbigstock-Thoughtful-Girl-Sitting-On-The-170157959 kids are much better students than I ever was. And I’m not just talking about grades. I find it mind-blowing that they do their assignments. I have very little recollection of ever doing any homework in first through 12th grades. And as early preschool, I was being traipsed around New York City to various educational psychologists and learning specialists.

The school I attended first through seventh grades was built upon the pedagogy of progressive education and required rigorous intellectual testing for admission. Barefootedness was the cultural norm, along with no formal grading, calling teachers by their first names, and smoking pot in the hallways -- but every student sported a required high-end IQ.

At the end of seventh grade I was asked to leave that school. My parents were told that I needed serious help. I spent my days in classes daydreaming and staring out the window, and this was not acceptable. The school recommended another school that interwove therapy into the curriculum. Their understanding was that I had some serious mental disorder that could only be addressed this way.

My mother, an educator herself, decided that was absurd. She understood the conclusions of all the assessments and believed that I just needed more structure. And so I began eighth grade at the local Country Day School. She was probably correct, because this was a much more rigid learning environment, a formal and traditional prep school, where there was a lot less opportunity to get away with doing nothing.

The minute my modus operandi of letting the work go through me rather than taking it by the horns, the teachers, deans, and advisors were all over me. When my grades didn’t match my perceived capacity as a thinker, I was in the 125-year-old, dark-wood-paneled offices shrugging as to why this was, as blue-blazered adults politely interrogated me and threatened summer school. Holden Caulfield had nothing on me.

I spent those next five years bumping through, getting A’s in humanities classes and clinging to the edges of everything else. I was lucky to have sympathetic and loving math teachers who made themselves available to me after hours for the one-on-one attention I needed, having missed what had happened in class. I had the same teacher for all my required high school science classes, who, while everyone else called me J the P (for Jenni the Person), openly called me J the PA (for Jenni the Pain in the Ass) and gave me passing grades, regardless of my work, believing that I was smart, otherwise capable, and just needed to get through this to get on with my life.

With my arts practice mostly honed outside of school, I filled my time there very active with extracurriculars, like starting a peer counseling program and creating a literary supplement for the school paper.

And believe it or not, I played on and lettered in three varsity sports. I know, right? And because of the Country Day School philosophy, this was all supported and affirmed.

By senior year, I got into the college of my choice through early decision, landing myself back in the world of progressive education at Bennington College. And indeed, I got through that -- and much later, graduate school at Goddard College, also rooted in progressive pedagogy.

Needless to say, my genes replicated these learning traits in my own spawn. The issue arose at different times and in different ways for each of them. I was very grateful when, shortly after he arrived in first grade, faculty and administration at my son’s school witnessed a disconnect in him.

With compassion for his emotional development, they expressed concern that a child whom they assessed as extremely bright, required his teachers’ complete attention, reprimanding and redirecting him during classes.

They didn’t want him to begin to think of himself as a problem child and damage his self-esteem, and they were very sure that this behavior wasn’t something over which he had control. We were referred for psycho-educational and psychiatric testing, which both confirmed that my son is graced with ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder), just as his own mama was diagnosed in the early Seventies, when nobody was really talking about that -- and my mother refused medical intervention for it.

Luckily for my son -- and eventually my daughter -- it isn’t the Seventies, and parents and educators and mental health practitioners and doctors and even employers are much more aware of and open to different learning styles and needs. And now my lucky daughter also has a teacher who openly and lovingly calls her a pain in the ass and allows her to read her own book in the back of the class as they read aloud the book she finished on her own two months earlier, engaging her perspective into the conversation occasionally to keep her on her toes.

 

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