Ritalin helps to comply with the system?

I’m deeply concerned by the amount of children who are diagnosed as having a ‘problem’: ADHD, autism, dyslexia, even ‘gifted’ (hoogbegaafd in Dutch). It is a good thing that there is greater interest in the fact that every child is ‘unique’ and deserves its own learning trajectory. But diagnosing 10-25% of children with a “problem” is deeply worrying, especially if children receive medication like Ritalin to make them perform better at school – e.g. be more calm, quiet and concentrated during lessons.
I am convinced we should not look at the problems children have (they might even start to believe that they are a ‘problem child’), but instead look at all their possibilities – and facilitate them in getting more out of themselves than they ever imagined.

[box] A cousin of a friend of mine has always had an amazing talent for drawing. She could visualize all her thoughts and express herself in a fantastic way. She is what you may call a ‘visual thinker’ (‘beelddenker’ in Dutch). However, the moment she went to school, problems started. She was not allowed to make drawings anymore for more than 10 minutes a day. Her pencils were taken away and she had to write words instead. She transformed from being a happy child into a ‘problem child’. Now at age 11 she is taking Ritalin and her parents say that her school results are improving: she is now more calm and concentrated. Which is also why her parents are supportive of using Ritalin: her school results improve, which is “in her best interest”.[/box]

This example makes me so mad, sad and frustrated. We are even prepared to use medication to put children into our standardized system. While the unique talents of this child could be of great value: people who are able to express their thoughts in visuals instead of words are much more valuable in today’s visually oriented society. But simply because we have no standardized means to assess these qualities, we try to limit them and instead develop other skills – which are not her natural ones.

I have also heard that the long term effect of Ritalin has proven to be in the same destructive category as Prozac. If you have backing (or countering) material, I’d love to receive it.

I have also heard that ‘problem’ children have proven to be behaving and performing x% worse than ‘normal’ children, and y% worse than ‘gifted’ children. Even when the labels were switched (the ‘gifted’ became ‘problem’), this effect was measured. If you have backing material for these, I’d also love to receive them.

In the past months, parents have shared very many of such stories with me. Please share yours underneath the blog post on this subject.

CONNECT: part 1 of the Action Plan

The massive amount of reactions on my TED talk showed me three things:

  • Wow, so much is already happening/ done/ figured out – this needs to be shared.
  • I can’t be the only one who is interested but unaware of all these initiatives.
  • To really make an impact, we need to join forces. A very big movement is necessary.

We need to get together, share what works and discuss how to overcome barriers. Each one of us can create a ripple effect, all of us together create a Tsunami.

I would like to propose three form factors:

  1. Offline (face to face, events)
  2. Online (web environment)
  3. Informal – (bi-)weekly gatherings

Please click the links to find more details about the plans.

SHAPE: part 2 of the Action Plan

I firmly believe that we should look at value, defined by how happy you are (because you do things that matter to you) and how much you contribute to society (including your own family or friends) – making use of your own strengths and talents.

What if we could let go of everything education is about right now, if we could start anew:

  • What are the skills and knowledge needed in the world of today and tomorrow? What would children need to learn (until age 18)? [Is it ‘advanced maths’, or rather ‘learn to develop your own path’, ‘learn to become valuable – economically & socially, and get more out of yourself than you’d ever imagine’?]
  • How can they best learn [based on their specific needs, talents, learning styles]?
  • What is needed to facilitate this? [what technology, what kind of facilitators or teachers, buildings etc]
  • How can this be scaled, so that everybody has access to (this new type of) Education?
  • How can it be financed? [Are subsidies needed, or can it be viable on its own? Can 3rd parties provide a solution?]
  • How can it be quickly implemented/ rolled out? [Do national governments need to approve, which can take years, or can it be done differently?]
  • How can quality be assured? [Do we need standardized tests, can you assess differently? Is this still necessary, do the results speak for itself?]

I want to create a ‘charter’ from this, a 1- or 2-pager with starting points. These will become my ‘stick in the ground’, my compass direction for the coming years. It will also help to concentrate all the energy and initiatives – if we all look at the same thing and are not distracted by semantics, we can make this bigger and bigger. It also helps to spread the message if it is clear, compact and achievable.

I will ask the questions above to several people and groups around me, curious to see if these views will differ or not.

Please also share your own thoughts, in the comments below, by mail, through Facebook, Twitter or any other channel that suits you.