Don’t drug those kids: ADHD can be a gift

Stop drugging ADHD kids — and start teaching them to use their gifts, writes Peter Shankman, founder of FasterThanNormal, in the New York Post.

Parents and teachers may be “drugging the creativity out of our next generation of leaders,” writes Shankman.

As a New York City public-school kid, Shankman had trouble paying attention, but wasn’t medicated.

Diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, he became “a best-selling author, an entrepreneur who’s started and successfully sold three companies and a corporate keynote speaker,” he writes. “It’s because of my ADHD, not in spite of it, that I’m as successful as I am today.”

It’s time to stop looking at ADHD as a negative, and start understanding the positives and incredible benefits of being gifted with a brain that runs a thousand times faster than normal. Teachers need to understand that a student with a faster brain doesn’t automatically equate to “difficult to teach,” but rather, that much more interested and able to learn, if the information is presented in a way that reaches that student.“

Instead of giving them a pill, let’s give them an hour to run around outside.

Tell then “their differences are their greatest gifts,” Shankman concludes.

Is ADHD the same as having a “faster brain?”

Raising a creative child — not a gifted sheep

To raise a creative child, parents need to back off, writes Adam Grant in the New York Times. A professor of management and psychology at Penn’s Wharton School, he’s the author of Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World.

“Practice makes perfect, but it doesn’t make new,” writes Grant. Tiger Moms and Lombardi Dads raise their prodigies to become “excellent sheep” who crave the approval of their parents and teachers.

“The gifted learn to play magnificent Mozart melodies, but rarely compose their own original scores. They focus their energy on consuming existing scientific knowledge, not producing new insights.”

“Only a fraction of gifted children eventually become revolutionary adult creators,” writes psychologist Ellen Winner.

Parents of highly creative children set few rules, instead stressing moral values, one study found.

When the psychologist Benjamin Bloom led a study of the early roots of world-class musicians, artists, athletes and scientists, he learned that their parents didn’t dream of raising superstar kids. . . . They responded to the intrinsic motivation of their children.

Nobel Prize-winning scientists aren’t single-minded, Grant writes. Compared to other scientists, they’re “22 times more likely to perform as actors, dancers or magicians; 12 times more likely to write poetry, plays or novels; seven times more likely to dabble in arts and crafts; and twice as likely to play an instrument or compose music.”

We’re not Chinese

Chinese “super-schools” are a myth, writes Diane Ravitch in a New York Times review of Yong Zhao’s Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Why China Has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan, President Obama and legislators want to be like the Chinese, Ravitch writes.

Why should we be number twenty-nine in the world in mathematics when Shanghai is number one? Why are our scores below those of Estonia, Poland, Ireland, and so many other nations? Duncan was sure that the scores on international tests were proof that we were falling behind the rest of the world and that they predicted economic disaster for the United States. What Duncan could not admit was that, after a dozen years, the Bush–Obama strategy of testing and punishing teachers and schools had failed.

China can’t maintain its economic growth without innovation, argues Zhao. That won’t “unless it abandons its test-based education system, now controlled by gaokao, the all-important college entrance exams.”

Zhao “does a wonderful job of challenging the lazy nostrums peddled by those suffused with China envy,” writes Rick Hess.

The Chinese education system is “an effective machine to instill what the government wants students to learn,” Zhao writes. Students excel because of “families’ high expectations” and students’ “hard work and diligence.”

Chinese immigrant workers’ children study in Shanghai. Photo: Nir Elias / Reuters / Corbis

It’s true that the U.S. has been a world leader despite mediocre scores on international tests, writes Neerav Kingsland on relinquishment. And “rote learning and high-pressure cultures” are nothing to emulate. However, Ravitch presents no evidence that testing reduces innovation and creativity, he writes.

If China isn’t innovative, is it the testing? “It’s more plausible that China’s rote learning and testing regimes are manifestations of their culture,” writes Kingsland.

While Ravitch argues against top-down reforms, she thinks her vision of schooling “will be good for everyone,” he writes. Ravitch and Zhao call for:

schools where students produce books, videos, and art, where they are encouraged to explore and experiment … the individual strengths of every student are developed, not under pressure, but by their intrinsic motivation … schools where the highest value is creativity, where students are encouraged to be … confident, curious, and creative.

Not every family sees creativity as the highest value, responds Kingsland. While innovation, creativity, originality and invention are “core values of our nation,” so is liberty.

“Educators should be able to develop . . . different types of schools that meet the different needs of the millions of children in our country,” he concludes. Some schools will have creativity as the highest value. Others may not.

Unpacking epiphany

What “big ideas” do people discuss at ideas festivals? At this year’s Aspen Ideas Festival (which runs through tomorrow), some people are discussing how to measure imagination and creativity. According to Scott Barry Kaufman, director of the Imagination Institute, we are  failing to identify creative students; some get labeled as learning disabled.

Before continuing, I must admit to two things: serious doubt that “big ideas” ultimately carry the day (I generally favor medium-sized ideas, though I consider the quality of an idea more important than its size), and occasional fascination with some of them. Overall, I favor pursuing these ideas but not jumping to conclusions about their applications and implications.

For instance, this passage (from an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education) struck me as interesting, though not revelatory, since it meshes with my own experience:

Meanwhile, Mark Beeman wants to unpack epiphany. One thing Beeman, a cognitive neuroscientist at Northwestern University, has found is that, before a sudden insight, people show increased activity in several parts of the brain including an area known as the anterior cingulate cortex. Also, before an insight, people tend to be focused on something other than the problem they’re trying to solve, like playing with their kids or taking a shower.

But I would be wary of a pedagogical approach that involved steering students onto another topic in order to produce an insight about the topic left behind. “Ok, everyone, stop what you’re doing and draw a tree!”

Identifying creative students is a worthy goal, but creativity comes in many forms, and I doubt one test, or even a “battery” of tests, could detect them all. The Chronicle article notes the limitations of current creativity tests:

The tools that we now have to measure creativity are fairly crude. A researcher might ask someone to list alternate uses for a bowl and then count the number of ideas he or she comes up with. That’s interesting, but it doesn’t get at the deep creativity necessary to become a brilliant physicist or a mind-blowing sculptor. Something else is going on there, and it’s worth figuring out what it is.

Amen. Too often I have seen creativity equated with brainstorming, and they are not the same.

One possibility–not mentioned in the article–is that “deep creativity” has something to do with deep involvement in a particular subject or medium. That is, you aren’t “creative” in a vacuum; it’s your relation to the subject that draws your creativity out. Also, there’s a doggedness that goes with creativity. It isn’t a static trait.

Thus, even if we had better creativity tests, there’s still a good chance that people would get mislabeled. It’s one thing to show some traits that are generally associated with creativity; it’s another to do something with them.

There’s much more to say on this subject–but since I’m traveling today, I’ll leave it at that.

Genius is in the doing

We’re paying too much attention to child geniuses, argues Jordan Ellenberg, a former prodigy who’s now a math professor and writer.

I started reading at 2. I could multiply two-digit numbers in my head when I was 5. One of my earliest memories is working out a way to generate Pythagorean triples. In third grade, I commuted to the local junior high to take geometry.

. . . Many advocates for gifted education are similarly delighted by kids like me, seeing us as a kind of natural resource, one we risk squandering as surely as we do fossil fuels. . . . “These are the people who are going to figure out all the riddles,” the Vanderbilt University psychologist David Lubinski said in a recent interview. “Schizophrenia, cancer—they’re going to fight terrorism, they’re going to create patents and the scientific innovations that drive our economy. But they are not given a lot of opportunities in schools that are designed for typically developing kids.”

Most child prodigies grow up to be highly successful adults, Ellenberg writes. But “most highly successful people weren’t child prodigies.” Don’t expect the geniuses to solve all the riddles, he writes. The other 99 percent will have to do most of the work.

The cult of genius tends to undervalue hard work and the productive persistence that psychologists nowadays like to call “grit” — not to mention creativity, perspective and taste, without which all those other virtues may be wasted on pointless projects.

His math students believe that it’s not worth doing math unless you’re the best, one of the “special few,” complains Ellenberg, who teaches at the University of Wisconsin. If you’re not a genius, you’re chopped liver. “Genius is a thing that happens, not a kind of person,” he concludes.

U.S. teens are above average at problem solving

PISA Problem SolvingU.S. 15-year-olds score just above the world average on PISA’s “creative problem-solving” exam, but below students in Asia, Canada, Australia, Finland, Britain and other European countries.   

“Students might be asked to identify the cheapest lines of furniture in a catalog showing different brands,” reports the New York Times. “At a more advanced level, students could be asked to develop a process for figuring out why a particular electronic device was not working properly.

American students did well at “interactive” tasks that required them to find some of the information needed to solve the problem. “This suggests that students in the United States are open to novelty, tolerate doubt and uncertainty, and dare to use intuition to initiate a solution,” the O.E.C.D. said in a statement.

But Asian students — who typically do best in math and science exams — also outperformed the U.S. students on “interactive” problems. 

“To understand how to navigate a complex problem and exercise abstract reasoning is actually a very strong point for the Asian countries,” said Francesco Avvisati, an analyst. 

The results don’t support the U.S. reputation for creativity, writes Joy Resmovits in the Huffington Post. 

Critics say the top-performing Asian countries “aren’t teaching kids to think creatively and problem-solve,” author Amanda Ripley said. “Well, now we have a test that gets closer to measuring those skills than any other — and they are killing it. Again.”

Here are some sample questions.

Hard working, high scoring — and creative

“Let others have the higher test scores” on international exams, says anti-reformer Diane Ravitch. “I prefer to bet on the creative, can-do spirit of the American people.” 

It’s a false tradeoff, argues Brandon Wright on Flypaper. Those hard-working, high-scoring Koreans and Japanese could be just as innovative as Americans.  

Bloomberg News lists the most innovative countries in the world based on factors including R&D intensity, productivity, high-tech density and percentage of researchers. The U.S. is third, but look at who’s number one.

  1. South Korea (score: 92.10)
  2. Sweden (score: 90.80)
  3. United States (score: 90.69)
  4. Japan (score: 90.41)
  5. Germany (score: 88.23)

Yes, it’s those cram-schooled, stress-crazed Koreans who’ve built a thriving economy out of the ruins of war.

South Korea — often ridiculed for working its students too hard and robbing them of creative, independent thought — might be the most innovative country in the world. Japan, subject to similar derision, slides in comfortably at number four.

“Rigid” Germany — one of only three countries whose PISA math and equity scores have improved since 2003 — is number five on Bloomberg’s list.

“No trade-offs between academic performance and innovation are obvious,” Wright concludes.

LEGO kid builds cheap Braille printer

The Braigo, a low-cost Braille print, was built out of a $350 set of LEGO MINDSTORMS.A California seventh grader has built a low-cost Braille printer out of LEGOs, reports the New York Daily News.

Shubham Banerjee, 12, used a $350 LEGO Mindstorms set, modifying a robot model to make a “Braigo” printer. Basic Braille printers retail for about $2,000 online.

“This is so easy, even my little sister can do it,” Shubham says in a YouTube video.

When his family received an appeal to help the blind, Banerjee decided to get creative. He plans to be an engineer, scientist or surgeon.

The Lego Movie is awesome

The Lego Movie, like its theme song, is awesome, writes Boris Zelkin on PJ Media.  It’s “a paean to individual liberty” and creativity — and to “the value of collective effort.”

Emmet, our everyman mini-fig,  lives in a world where Everything is Awesome, even drinking overpriced coffee. Yet he discovers an underground resistance.

In this seeming utopia, people’s individuality exists within a very narrow framework; namely the instruction book. This book, a Lego instruction manual, clearly and vividly, through the use of simple pictograms, lays out out the required steps necessary to live a good and productive life as a citizen.  Deviation from the instruction booklet is illegal.

The society is presided over by President Business, a charismatic politician and owner of the only business in the Lego world. In our LegoTopia, it turns out that the corporation and the government are, in fact, one in the same.

The creative but quarrelsome “master builders” need to unite to fight for freedom. 

China discovers Waldorf

China’s growing middle class has discovered Waldorf Education, writes Ian Johnson in the New Yorker. In the past 10 years, 200 Waldorf kindergartens and 30 elementary schools have opened. “The movement is quickly becoming one of the most influential countercultures in a country that is still searching for its national identity,” writes Johnson.

China’s state-run schools rely on rigorous, highly competitive exams, while Waldorf schools stress play, creativity and independence.

(A father) said that it was admirable that Waldorf granted children a lot of freedom, but that certain basic norms, such as common courtesy and viewing others as equals, had to be instilled first. He thought that this didn’t occur in Chinese homes, partly because the single-child policy has created a generation of ‘little emperors,’ doted on by two parents and four grandparents.

Chinese parents “don’t even know if their children will get a proper degree that will allow them to enter college, but they’re willing to risk that, because they don’t want a state education,” Nana Göbel told Johnson.