Monday, December 14, 2009

Fix Boring Schools, Not Kids Who Are Bored

When I came across The Best About Me Page You’ll Ever See on my Twitterfeed I expected to see some funky ideas I could use for my own rather dull “About Me” page. Especially since the “About Me” page belongs to Aaron Iba, the now former CEO of AppJet, the company who created EtherPad which I recently mentioned in 8 Free and Easy Ways to Begin Educating Innovatively. Followers of my blog, Twitter, and Facebook know Etherpad was just acquired by Google for a reported $10 million. Instead of that funky cool idea, I saw a picture of Iba as a child and a link to a clinical psychology report from a 7-year old Aaron that was very similar to my own clinical psychology report my mother shared when I first entered school.

Both reports are trying to diagnose and fix kids who score well academically but were brought in for diagnosis because they don't succeed in school because they are "bored," "hyperactive," and "don't focus or pay attention."

From the report: Aaron's playful attitude toward all school learning will make academic progress very difficult.

It breaks my heart to think about how many bored students are out there whose schools are trying to fix the playfulness, energy, passion, out of them, so they will do school well. Here are highlights from the clinical report for the brilliant, innovative, multimillionaire, Aaron Iba who was referred to a clinical psychologists office to “shed light on the underlying causes of his overly active and impulsive behavior which has begun to present a serious management problem in school.” In his evaluation the clinical psychologist reports:

Regarding school he complains that he feels ‘bored’ he ‘hardly enjoys anything much except lunch.’ He talked freely and showed exceptionally advanced expressive language skills. Often he was quite dramatic in describing his excitement when playing his many Nintendo computer games. Throughout testing he made constant reference to them, as if nothing else in his life mattered or could capture his attention.”

The report also notes that he performs poorly on certain parts of the test because of the inability to focus on a task he did not much care about and suggests that his inability to focus on tasks he does not care about mirrors his “difficulties in settling down in class.” It also indicates that he is oblivious to the reality demands made in a school setting.”

He is diagnosed with “being troubled by an attentional deficit disorder with hyperactivity.”

They find another problem to be that “he readily feels bored and can be expected to function best in a one-on-one situation in which the pace is geared to his needs. The final diagnosis is this:

Aaron and I had similar experiences. These experiences are what lead me to pursue a career that helps others educate innovatively. This is an excerpt from my mom describing my experience as a pre schooler.

Your nursery school called me in to speak to them because they thought you were slow or retarded. They said I should take you for a professional diagnosis because when observing you during classes they noticed you were not participating or doing your work, you were rarely paying attention, you often slept, and that you were not interacting with others the way you should. They were concerned on several levels. They said they thought perhaps you were mildly retarded, your hearing might be impaired, or you had ADD (though I don't think they called it that in those days).

I took you to our pediatrician who referred me to UCLA - Fernald Child Study Center where they talked to you and gave you tests for about 8 hours. 3 weeks later they called me up and asked me to come into the office for a consultation. I met with them and that's when the three doctors (child psychologists etc) told me that the tests all showed that you were not slow OR retarded only BORED. All the tests showed that you were performing well above grade level academically.

I took you and the report to the preschool. They advance placed you into Kindergarten based on UCLA'S REPORT and they wanted to advance you even further, but, I didn't feel that would benefit you socially so I said NO.


Aaron and I both had educational experiences where schools were trying to fix us because we were bored, not paying attention, disengaged etc. Not surprisingly, like Aaron I was also cured once you put a game in my hand, though at the time I enjoyed the pre-Nintendo games on systems like Atari and Intellivision as well as a variety of handheld games that captured my attention for hours. I’m not sure what Aaron endured to “fix” him. In my case they felt moving me to work with students who had a different date of manufacture might help. Fortunately in the 70s ADD/ADHD was not yet a widely available condition so I was not victim to the drug dependency doctors are now pushing to treat today's bored and disinterest kids. Unfortunately, like me Aaron likely spent the rest of his school days bored, sleeping, daydreaming and wondering why meaningless information was shoved down our throat. Like me I imagine Aaron was disappointed that not a single teacher cared about, asked, or helped students discover/uncover/explore passions or talents...and that our love of games and electronics was brushed aside as a nuisance, distraction...whose power was never tapped into and harnessed.

My frustration about this all is what lead me to my career and this blog. I hope to help other innovative educators and parents do what they can to ensure we stop trying to fix the student to fit in the setting of the school and start fixing the schools to engage our children. We need to help students find their passions using tools they choose, use, and know will help them grow their wings and soar to the heights which most of their teachers and parents were never allowed to reach.
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