May 01, 2001 2 min read

Small Schools Now: Add Anna Quindlen to the growing list of commentators who believe American public high schools have become too large and impersonal. Writing in the March 26 issue of Newsweek (“The Problem of the Megaschool”) about the recent shooting in Santee, California, she notes: “Like Columbine, Santana High School, where [Charles] Williams is accused of killing two, has almost 2,000 students. Five high schools in San Diego County alone have enrollments of more than 3,000.” Quindlen concedes that school size may be only one factor linked to school violence. “But unlike parental devotion, or individual impulse control, it is a factor that can be changed on a large scale for the good.”

Prescription for Success:Business Week‘s March 19 cover story touts seven ideas that can “fix America’s schools.” (“How To Fix America’s Schools?”) Number one on the list: “Pay teachers for performance.” The traditional method by which teachers are paid, the article asserts, has become a “straitjacket” that is stifling schools. “The solution: Pay teachers more, and scrap single salaries for a system that rewards teachers for what they contribute to student learning.” The magazine’s other ideas: Make schools smaller, hold educators accountable, offer more variety, provide adequate funding, increase time in school, and use technology effectively.

No Easy Answers: An estimated 3 million children in the United States, including some 200,000 between ages 2 and 4, have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and as Arthur Allen observes in the March 18 Washington Post Magazine, the disorder remains highly controversial.

He explains in “The Trouble With ADHD” that some argue that it’s wrong to view hyperactive children’s behavior as pathological, charging instead that it’s the result of “overcrowded schools, stressed-out parents with little time for the children, and a society that wants to dull its rough edges and is intolerant of anything but success.” Others acknowledge that ADHD exists but believe it is overdiagnosed.

Allen profiles several parents who’ve grown wary of medical treatment, including those of 13-year-old Andrew Fraser, who was diagnosed with ADHD when he was in the 2nd grade. At age 11, he was taking an enormous daily dose of Ritalin, the stimulant commonly prescribed to treat ADHD, plus two antidepressants and another drug to counter the side effects of the Ritalin. When he continued to have problems, a psychiatrist suggested putting Andrew on a fifth drug, an antipsychotic whose side effects include tics, tremors, and the risk of permanent brain damage. Andrew’s parents balked. Instead, they took their son to see Peter Breggin, a psychiatrist who believes that ADHD is essentially “a bunch of behaviors that make it difficult to teach kids in a big classroom. That’s all it is!”

Breggin took Andrew off his medications, one by one, and the boy’s parents moved him from a public school to a small private school created expressly for kids with promise who have trouble sitting still or paying attention. Andrew is improving-slowly. But even the school’s principal wonders if going without medication is the right thing to do: “He’s very easily distracted. Does that mean it’s not worth continuing to try being off them? I’m not sure. Ultimately, is this the right place for him to be as a student, medication aside? We don’t know.”

—David Hill

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