October 01, 1998 3 min read

Disappearing Act: Leave it to Samuel Freedman, author of Small Victories, one of the best books ever written about a public school teacher, to document a little-noticed moment in history: the end of the era of the Jewish educator in New York City’s public schools. “Never again... will Jews dominate and define public education as they did from the Great Depression nearly to the present,” Freedman writes in the August 10 issue of New York magazine. “Whether the schools of the future will be better or worse than those shaped by Jews, they will surely be different.”

Freedman tells his story through the eyes of Milton Fein, the just-retired principal of P.S. 7, an elementary school in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. “Being Jewish was part of being a teacher,” says Fein, who first began teaching in 1958. “People in Judaism are taught going to school is a good thing. School and shul-the place for praying-are the same word. And that attitude becomes part of your soul.” Jews, Freedman writes, “virtually created the institutional culture of meritocracy and union power. When both of those ideals came under attack in the decentralization war of Ocean Hill-Brownsville in 1968, Jewish educators more than any others bore the blame for public education’s failures in the black and Puerto Rican slums.” The “lingering wounds” of that incident, which pitted the United Federation of Teachers against blacks, Puerto Ricans, and white liberals, “help explain the odd silence that surrounds the Jewish disappearance from the school system,” Freedman notes. Meanwhile, the system is losing educators like the 63-year-old Fein, who, Freedman writes, “has been a radical, a union man, a bureaucrat, a politician, an innovator, a cutup, a lover of culture, and, finally, an anachronism.”

New Thoughts On ADHD: Just what exactly is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD? Experts now believe that it is not merely a disorder of attention, as its name implies. “Rather it arises as a developmental failure in the brain circuitry that underlies inhibition and self-control,” writes Russell Barkley, director of psychology and professor of psychiatry and neurology at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in Worcester, in the September issue of Scientific American. In other words, children with ADHD “are less capable of preparing motor responses in anticipation of events and are insensitive to feedback about errors made in those responses.”

The exact cause of the disorder is not clear, Barkley writes, but studies have shown that in children with ADHD, several areas of the brain are “significantly smaller” than in normal children. Those areas, it turns out, are the very ones that regulate attention. “As most children grow up,” he writes, “they gain the ability to engage in mental activities, known as executive functions, that help them deflect distractions, recall goals, and take the steps needed to reach them.” But children with ADHD “seem to lack the restraint needed to inhibit the public performance of these executive functions.” Drugs such as Ritalin have been shown to help, but Barkley believes that “treatment for ADHD should include training parents and teachers in specific and more effective methods for managing the behavioral problems of children with the disorder. Parents and teachers must aid children with ADHD by anticipating events for them, breaking future tasks down into smaller and more immediate steps, and using artificial immediate awards.” Although there is no cure for ADHD, Barkley writes, “much more is now known about effectively coping with and managing this persistent and troubling developmental disorder.”

--David Hill