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Zydeco Hellraisers

By LeaderTalk Contributor — November 19, 2009 3 min read
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What happens to Attention Deficit Disorder when it grows up?

Sometimes it is channeled into extraordinary gifts. So

Michael Phelps
Picasso
JFK
James Carville
Robin Williams...

...are all reputed ADHD guys. This is hardly an exhaustive list but it’s enough to give you a flavor. I think if they named every person ever diagnosed with ADHD we would be surprised by some of the folks that were on the list-- and yet not surprised at all. We would recognize the extraordinarily talented individuals who have managed to channel the annoying distractability, the daydreaming, the incessant fingers tapping on the desk, the wild-eye passions that seem fueled by IV bags filled with Red Bull.

Jack Nicholson? Paul McArtney? Ellen?

The names give me pause. And patience. So many extraordinary and talented people that it is less of a pejorative label. Or it should be.

But I wonder how we channel the energy of our ADHD kids in the current climate of standardized testing which doesn’t care much about piano players or actors or artists or craftsmen or dancers or point guards or revolutionaries.

Ernest Hemmingway was supposedly an ADHD student who-- like Mark Twain and Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein-- probably would have tanked on the California Standards Test... right after the whole process tied him in knots and drove him to intentionally fall out of his desk and onto the floor. When the art of writing is reduced to multiple choice writing mechanics... real writers are more likely to implode.

I notice that every year we seem to have a kid throw up on his California Standards Test. I feel for our students who have to carve what they know about math and language arts into tiny black bubbles at the end of a number 2 pencil-- when all the while they are jumping out of their skin. I admire their accidental irreverence. I get it.

As we march toward the steadily unachievable AYP benchmarks established by NCLB, I fear that “school” will get more and more difficult for students whose learning styles and interests and modalities do not lend themselves to test prep; and for students who are not particularly strong in- nor interested in-- math and language arts principles that can be freeze-dried into multiple choice questions. I fear that English language learners and children with learning disabilities and learning differences will continue to languish even though they are the very kids we supposedly are trying to not leave behind.

As a school leader, I want to know that we are striking the right balance between excelling on the standardized tests and accelerating authentic learning. I want to match the time we spend conducting formative assessments and spiral reviews and test prep strategies with opportunities for children to play and perform and draw and jump in the air and dive out of their desks.

Kids are good at different things, So at El Milagro we honor what they are good at and try to help them find their way to their innate talents that make them feel whole.

Maybe that is why I have such an appreciation for individuals who channel their creative high-energy into gold. In spite of us. Like Alex MacDonald, the washboard player for Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers.

I first saw Alex perform last Spring on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Since then they have traveled throughout Europe bringing their Creole rhythms and uniquely zydeco sounds to bars and blues festivals around the world. They are all wonderful magicians. But Alex is mesmerizing. Electrifying. His non-stop energy reminds us that at one point he must have been very interesting to have sitting in the back row of your third period American History class. Somehow, he seems like the kid that would throw up on his California Standards Test.

His school probably didn’t have a washboard department, so how he found his way to the Zydeco Hellraisers is anybody’s guess. Nor do I know where he gets his stamina or his lightening fast hands. He defies our labels as he should. He is simply a young man that absolutely revels in his very unique gift.

Perhaps it requires some zydeco hellraisers to remind us to find the balance between the core disciplines that matter for standardized test scores... and the multiplicity of intelligences that matter to our students. Stop and admire their talents even if they struggle with dividing fractions... at least the way we teach it.

Our children learn in different ways. Different styles. They have talents that we can’t even fathom. They will abide our lessons and content standards and standardized test regimes until the moment they are free to dive out of their desk and explode across a zydeco stage.

Kevin W. Riley
El Milagro Weblog

The opinions expressed in LeaderTalk are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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