What to Teach Kids

It’s no secret that education in America is in a precarious place.  If you haven’t seen one of the schlew of documentaries that hit the big screens this year, perhaps you have a friend that’s done Teach for America, or another friend who is a teacher, and comes home absolutely perplexed every day. It’s no secret.  Things are not right.

When I left the public school classroom in 2012, I left still holding onto a host of unanswered questions. And they are questions that still haunt me today:

What should we really be teaching students so that they can be successful?  Why are kids in poverty so hard to teach?  What can be done for kids in the midst of traumatic situations at home?

Is real change even possible?

This weekend, Patrick and I listened to an episode of This American Life while on the way to Sparta, Tennessee to go camping.  The episode entitled “Back to School,” addressed so many of these questions — it actually brought me to tears.

The part that stood out to me the most was a segment that discussed why so many kids in poverty display symptoms of ADD or ADHD.  
Imagine if you suddenly came upon a bear in the woods. Your body would release hormones to combat that highly stressful situation, and to prepare you to fight or run for your life. The hormones will also  impair some of your logical functioning. I mean, to fight a bear, you can’t exactly be thinking straight.
And that’s the state of so many kids in public school, who experience highly traumatic events at home on a regular basis—maybe it’s violence, hunger, divorce, homelessness, or something else altogether.  The symptoms kids display when they are in the midst of this high stress often look similar to ADD or ADHD— an inability to sit still, clammy hands, or the loss of appetite. And all too often, doctors prescribe Ritalin rather than diagnosing the true problem.
If you are a teacher; if you are engaged in the education policy debate in any way; if you have kids that may go to public school someday; if you are an American concerned about the direction of our nation… You need to listen to this. I’d love to hear your thoughts.