Guest post by Douglas W. Green, EdD
I grew up in a small town in Western New York where the available drugs in high school were alcohol and nicotine. High school in the 60’s didn’t even feature the caffeine laced Mountain Dew let alone Red Bull and the other high energy drinks.
While there may have been other drugs floating around town, none were very mainstream or available. When I started college in 1965 things weren’t much different. By the time the late 60s rolled around, marihuana had hit big time. My fraternity parties went from seven kegs a night to two with a big room upstairs where you could get high without actually smoking anything.
Another drug innovation of the time were diet pills. I went to Clarkson University in rural Potsdam, NY, which was 95% male and 95% science, business, or engineering majors. Across town was Potsdam State. It was mostly women and the most popular major was education. It was the rare fraternity date that didn’t come from “State.” While the boys at Clarkson had to get by with alcohol, weed, and nicotine, our girlfriends became a source for uppers in the guise of “diet pills.” I’m not sure of the exact name of the drug in question, but it was certainly a member of the amphetamine club. At the time I had a girlfriend who could ill afford to lose any weight, but that didn’t stop her from scoring diet pills from the college infirmary.
While I suspected that the girls were popping pills for fun and for study reasons, they were happy to share them with their boyfriends. Word got out around my fraternity that we should use these babies on nights when we had to study. This is exactly what I did. Thanks to my girlfriend’s study drugs, I’m sure that I scored much higher grades on a number of finals during my junior and senior years. Fortunately, my brothers and I never got into these recreationally. That was no doubt a good thing.
Fast forward to today where we find “study drugs” being passed out in elementary school. I’m glad that ADHD hadn’t be invented when I was a kid. Now that it has, we have kids taking drugs so they can “focus” in class. For the most part, this means that they are more likely to be able to sit still and be compliant, which is what the adults prefer. Once a child demonstrates behavior that is inconvenient for the teachers, some teachers with the help of administration push parents to take the kid to a doctor and ask for ADHD drugs. Unfortunately, many doctors are only too happy to comply.
Rather than adapt to students who have a hard time sitting still, many teachers push the young version of study drugs. It’s important to note that some teachers see this drug push as bad for students. They adapt by allowing restless students to stand while they are working or letting them sit on exercise balls. They also make sure that teacher talk is limited to ten minutes or less at a time and make direct instruction available online.
On the parent side, we see poor parents being bullied into getting drugs for their kids. Unfortunately, these are the kind of parents who are less likely to make sure that their kids take their drugs on a regular basis. They are most likely to forget to refill the prescription and see that the school nurse gets the lunch time doses every day. There is also the temptation to take these drugs for recreational purposes or sell them on the street.
Then there is the matter of fairness where these drugs are concerned. When it comes to high stakes tests, these drugs do seem to work in the short term. It certainly wasn’t fair that I had access to study drugs in college when many of my classmates didn’t.
Likewise, it isn’t fair that some kids get to take test drugs while others don’t. If you haven’t guessed it by now, this is a very strong analogy to the situation is sports where some players take performance enhancing drugs, while others don’t. In baseball, for instance, we have already seen how players with a known record of taking PEDs have been denied Hall of Fame status.
Is there any doubt that some students made it to elite colleges thanks to their access to study drugs? Should they have an asterisk next to their names like Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, and other steroid users?
In addition to the fairness factor, I have no doubt that some kids who take ADHD drugs will suffer from side effects. If education is a sport, it’s time to clean it up. Stop giving drugs to kids who can’t sit still. Teachers need to create classrooms where kids can stand and move about so that they don’t stick out as kids who can’t sit still.
Kids with ADHD have attributes that can allow them to succeed after school, and there are many successful adults who can testify to this. If you as a parent don’t have access to enlightened schools, and your teacher is pushing drugs for your kid, fight back. If you can, look for charter or private schools who understand how to deal with antsy kids. Also consider home schooling where kids don’t have to sit still for most of the day.
At the same time, teachers and school leaders need to build in more opportunities for all kids to move during the day. In the school where I use to be a principal, even kindergarteners are expected to focus on reading instruction for ninety continuous minutes every day. For many kids, this looks like a recipe for getting more kids to hate school sooner.
This academic push is happening because the adults in the system think that the more academic work they give students of any age, the better they will do on state tests, which is primarily in the best interests of the adults. The use of drugs and long periods of strictly academic work are good for adults, but in my opinion, bad for kids. Recent news reports indicted that ADHD drugs can lead to the use of more powerful versions such as methamphetamine. It’s time to stop this madness.
ADHD Drugs Make Big Money, But We Still Don’t Know the Risks. Be sure to watch the video [2:12] that lets you follow the money. Teachers: let your kids move rather than sit still, WIRED online.
The opinions expressed in Work in Progress 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.