In the Press
In the November issue of The Atlantic, the writer Alfie Kohn contends that scientists in fact know very little about a disorder familiar to many educators: hyperactivity.
More formally known as "attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder," the condition is characterized in children by restlessness, distractibility, inability to concentrate, and fidgeting, among other traits. It is commonly thought to affect at least one child in every elementary-school classroom.
But disagreements about the diagnosis of hyperactivity raise questions about whether it is really a distinctive disorder at all, Mr. Kohn maintains.
Scientific estimates on the prevalence of the condition vary markedly--from 1.19 percent to between 10 and 20 percent of all children, according to Mr. Kohn.
And the criteria for diagnosing the disorder are largely arbitrary: Many of its characteristics, he writes, occur just as frequently in non-hyperactive children.
Such issues, he says, spark "a flicker of doubt about the integrity of the diagnosis itself."
In addition, Mr. Kohn notes, scientists have yet to find any biological basis for the condition.
"Can we in fact be confident," he asks, "that any child has a disorder called hyperactivity?"
Yet 1 million children across the country regularly take drugs, such as the strong stimulant known as Ritalin, to control their hyperactive behavior, Mr. Kohn reports.
While the medication helps increase the amount of time a child can spend "on task," it often produces no improvements in learning, according to studies cited by Mr. Kohn.
Other research described in the article indicates that the behavioral improvements brought about by Ritalin could just as easily be attributed to a placebo effect.
In many cases, Mr. Kohn suggests, the better solution may be to employ behavioral interventions that attempt to address possible underlying problems in the affected child.
Concern about the diagnosis and treatment of hyperactivity, he concludes, may provoke "larger, more disturbing questions about the theory and practice of mental health in the United States."
Whittle Communications' controversial Channel One project is only the "latest and most ambitious example" of efforts by business to sell goods to students through the schools, says the Nov. 6 cover story in U.S. News & World Report.
Channel One, the 12-minute news program for high-school students set to debut nationwide next March, has been criticized by many educators for carrying two minutes of paid commercials for such products as jeans and candy bars.
While the debate about Channel One has attracted wide attention over the past year, businesses have devised numerous other ways to tap the enormous spending power of young consumers, the magazine points out.
Such strategies include sponsorship of electronic scoreboards by Coca-Cola or Pepsi; in-school wall posters, with advertisements, developed by Whittle and other companies; book clubs; and sponsored teaching materials promoting everything from Bic pens to Mott's apple juice.
"Taken individually, most of the commercial activities in schools may seem harmless," observes U.S. News.
"But altogether, they start to look a bit like a once scenic highway now cluttered with billboards."
According to the article, schools are open to this "creeping commercialism" because officials, "preoccupied with issues like drugs and poor test scores, are only dimly aware of how successful and sophisticated companies have become at promoting products to and through schools."
But while school boards, administrators, and parents should become more cognizant of the dangers inherent in such transactions, they should also recognize the opportunities offered by "commercial tradeoffs" like Channel One, suggests the magazine.
"Considering the sorry state of the nation's schools, the refusal to let schools try out Whittle's program seems unreasonable and less than enterprising," the article concludes.
The curricular shifts advocated by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, which appear to represent "the wave of the future in education reform," are as unlikely to improve students' mathematical abilities as the ill-fated "new math" of the 1960's, argues Caleb Nelson in the November issue of The American Spectator.
The earlier reforms, which he maintains exert a continuing influence in curricula, are "at least partly responsible" for students' poor performance in international comparisons, writes Mr. Nelson, who is assistant managing editor of The Public Interest.
"Unfortunately," he comments, the nctm's Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics "represents a curious but familiar mixture of trendy relativism and trendy absolutism."
For example, he notes, the standards emphasize problems that have no clear-cut answers, and "show scorn" for computational problems, which do.
In addition, he says, although mathematics has remained distinct from the humanities because of its exactitude, the document blurs the distinction between the disciplines by encouraging students to learn the history of mathematical disciplines, write stories about math problems, and keep journals describing their mathematical experiences.
Mr. Nelson suggests that the council recommends such activities to keep students from being bored and shuns exercises requiring definitive answers to avoid the possibility of harming students' self-confidence by their being labeled "wrong."
"But though the nctm can banish drudgery and failure from school," he writes, "it cannot banish them from life."
"In the real world," he says, "perseverance and accomplishment--not lowered standards--are what is 'personally empowering."'
"Old-style math education has not failed our children; of late, it simply hasn't been tried," he concludes.
American young people see themselves as optimistic, competitive, patriotic, and family-oriented, according to a wide-ranging survey commissioned by Seventeen magazine and published in its October issue.
The poll, conducted by Market Facts Inc., an independent research group, asked men and women between the ages of 14 and 21 to respond to questions about education, family, money, social and political issues, sex and dating, and religion.
Young people are "up in arms about the quality of education in America," the magazine reports: 60 percent of the survey's 2,046 respondents regarded education as one of the three most pressing problems in America, and 20 percent said that improving the educational system would be their top priority were they elected President tomorrow.
Seventy-two percent of the respondents said they believe a college education is a prerequisite to career success, and 23 percent said they would cheat on an important exam if they were sure they would not be caught.
Despite a sharp increase in the number of children whose parents are divorced, 92 percent of the girls and 88 percent of the boys said they plan to get married someday, and an almost equal number reported a desire to have children.
According to the survey, American youths are also very concerned with financial security: 91 percent of the respondents said saving money for the future is important.
Forty-eight percent of today's young people, the survey found, believe that money brings happiness, and 44 percent said they would sacrifice a satisfying job for one that paid more.
The "hallmarks" of this generation, concludes Seventeen, are its open-mindedness, patriotism, and belief that it will make the world a better place.
Vol. 09, Issue 15