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ADD as a Social Invention: Reactions From Readers

To the Editor;

In response to Thomas Armstrong's Commentary,"ADD as a Social Invention" (Oct. 19, 1995), I very much appreciate the analogy that "children who have been labeled ADD are the canaries of modern-day education; they may be signaling us to transform our nation's classrooms into more dynamic, novel, and exciting environments."

As an educational consultant, I know too well that students with the attention-deficit-disorder label are the referral du jour. What I have found to be the most useful theoretical framework is an ecological approach--that is, ADD is a problem because of a poor fit between the individual student and his (usually; her, less often) environment. Change the environment, as Mr. Armstrong suggests in his Commentary, and play to all students' interests and intelligences, and we no longer "need" the label for a few.

Refuse to change the environment, as too many educators do, and the ADD label as a neurological problem can be helpful. It takes the blame off the child and requires educators to think in terms of accommodations. They may not make them willingly, but they will make them because feel they must.

I hate to play this game. But, as a parent of a child who carries this label, I can assure you there is a neurological difference in him compared with the so-called "typical" children I know. Witness his arrival at the breakfast table for nine years in his pajamas, fully believing he already had dressed for school. Other parents of children with the ADD label concur; after all, we're the ones accused of failing to send our preschoolers outside with mittens and hats when the fact is they've already lost six sets before they went out the door.

Difference, though, does not have to equate to disorder. We as educators are too quick to label children whom we perceive to be different; too quick to blame them for their inability to fit into arbitrary constraints instead of seeing how to open doors for them in celebration of their strengths; and too quick to assume that it is they, not us, who need to change.

Until we do teach to all learners, and accept that some of us just have a harder time shifting from one thing to another or remembering "things," or settling down when we're upset, too many of these "canaries" will continue to die, psychologically, in our schools.

Linda H. Rammler
Middlefield, Conn.

To the Editor:

The Commentary "ADD as a Social Invention" helped me recall and then understand a classroom phenomenon that often occurred--when I taught about 50 years ago. When I would give the students a purple ditto sheet, often damp from the alcohol medium that made the master transfer the message to the page, the young men of the room would snatch the sheet to their noses and inhale. I believe I recall a young smile shared with another smile that would say, by facial language, "Fresh!"

Not just today, but then, the growing being wanted action, involvement, experience, all the self, not just eyes and minds, not just the language that had filled my mind.

Henry Bissex
Montpelier, Vt.

To the Editor:

I thoroughly enjoyed Thomas Armstrong's pop-sociology essay on attention-deficit disorder.

As a special literary genre, pop sociology is loads of fun, and one of its most attractive features is that it is a game almost everyone can play, requiring almost no intelligence or specific training.

For example, much is made by lesser pop sociologists (while hyping their books in Education Week) of the fact that ADD is far less frequently diagnosed in Europe than in the United States.

Clearly, lightweights who obsess about this fact are ignorant of the ADD Theory of American Settlement.

According to this theory, ever since 1492, the Western Hemisphere has been largely populated by successive waves of European immigrants who were the most hyperactive, restless, dissatisfied, unsettled, and impulsive people of the continent.

These people, with what we now recognize as ADD, were relatively unsuited for steady work in their homelands, but admirably equipped to take a chance on a new life in a wild and novel place.

For them, taking a chance was the name of the game every day of their lives, after all.

Their migration to America explains why there are so few Europeans with ADD anymore.

However, this is only the beginning of the story:

Once they had arrived in America, these un-settlers--a much better word than settlers--at once began to mate (no doubt impulsively in some cases), thus breeding ever more hyperactive and impulsive offspring, who set about pushing and shoving at the frontiers of settlement almost as soon as they were able to toddle.

Thus, in fairly short order, a continent was subdued, with the attention-deficit-disordered always in the vanguard of westward expansion.

They went West, quite literally--they could go no farther, which explains why California is like it is--awash with channelers, astrologers, ersatz gurus, crackpot movements (the Berkeley of the '60s was no geographical accident), and the sort of feckless intellectual shallowness so evident in Mr. Armstrong's article.

See how much fun pop sociology is?

Robert H. Chesky
Brighton, Mich.

Gaps in Geographical Skill Predated Today's Students

To the Editor:

In regard to your Oct. 25, 1995, headline "Students Fall Short in NAEP Geography Test," I would like to offer additional findings from another study: Most of the students do not have the faintest notion of what this country looks like. St. Louis was placed on the Pacific Ocean, Lake Huron, Lake Erie, the Atlantic Ocean, the Ohio River, the St. Lawrence River, and almost every place else.

As regards history, covered in the same survey:

A large majority of the students showed that they had virtually no knowledge of elementary aspects of American history. They could not identify such names as Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, or Theodore Roosevelt.

Scandalous, eh? The New York Times, which commissioned the study through Columbia University, thought so. It put the results on the front page. Right next to its other large headline of the day, "Patton Attacks at El Guettar," on April 8, 1943.

What makes these results especially noteworthy is that they come from college freshmen. In 1943, fewer than 50 percent of an age-eligible cohort graduated from high school, and only a tiny elite of them attended college. And yet, this elite knew nothing.

I do not write to defend ignorance. This is not the Forrest Gump defense of public schools. It is, though, a defense anchored in the history of American education. While we have never been a nation of learners (look to the inscription of the Statue of Liberty to see why), public schools show, from the time that public schools were founded, almost unbroken progress toward that end.

Gerald W. Bracey
Alexandria, Va.

Georgia's Textbook Process Alive and Well, Thank You

To the Editor:

The report of the death of Georgia's state textbook-approval process ("Buy the Book," Special Report, Oct. 25, 1995) is greatly exaggerated. The change this year is that Georgia's school districts are no longer restricted in how they can spend state textbook funds.

Purchase of state-adopted textbooks with state money is now only recommended, not mandatory. However, the fact that 32 publishers participated in this year's state adoption, submitting over 250 titles for evaluation, would indicate that the publishing industry still acknowledges the importance of Georgia's state process.

Changed, yes; discarded, no.

Jerold Pace
Textbook-Adoption Coordinator
Georgia Department of Education
Atlanta, Ga.

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