Sir Ken Robinson’s piece on “Changing Education Paradigms” is an alarming deconstruction of the roots of our educational system’s current malaise. Born out of a crossbreeding between the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, Robinson argues our public education system was formed out of a dual need within labor forces to educate the masses while effectively training the next generation of workers. It was, as he calls it, “a revolutionary idea” and in theory a mutually beneficial one. But because our education system was “modeled on the interests of Industrialization and in the image of it,” we have a structural system of education built upon a shockingly outdated model.
The adherence to standardized testing has only further disabled the ability of educators to evolve and restructure our schools. Conformity is valued not just for student success but also for schools to maintain their accreditation and funding. As a result, we have created a massive chasm between those who have adapted to the constraints of the system, and those who have not.
But this archaic, inflexible thinking is not only prevalent in our educational system, but in the medical treatment of the often labeled “epidemic” of ADHD. Prescribing medication to children without addressing the root of their lack of focus perpetuates a system of need that only benefits the pharmaceutical industry. Perhaps the over-preponderance of big pharma on the east coast could be linked to the map that Robinson shows that indicates the number of prescriptions for ADHD in the country; the east coast is heavily overrepresented. Nonetheless, his argument that the rise in ADHD prescriptions is linked to a rise in standardized testing seems a bit convenient and not the biggest reason for the “anesthetizing “of our youth, as he so boldly puts it.
We have never before been surrounded by so many engaging tools at our disposal– and our children are growing up in this same environment. The technological innovations of the present have the power to connect and entertain, as well as to deeply distract. Although I have never personally been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD in my life, over the last several years I have noticed it has been increasingly hard to concentrate on singular tasks. By surrounding myself with more interactive and social technology, my mind has been trained and reinforced to operate in a global, reactive and perpetually shifting and broadening manner. Creatively, this is a tremendously liberating ability. Academically and structurally, it has become challenging to distinguish a distraction from another opportunity for engagement. How our educational systems are able to interpret the former from the latter will be pivotal in how and when we embrace the new technological tools at our disposal and how we distinguish, diagnose and treat our growing lack of attention.