Thursday, April 19, 2012

ADDitions to Teaching, Parenting, Learning and Caring

ADDitions to Teaching, Parenting, Learning and Caring.

What if we took some of Albert Einstein's words to heart and as more than a cool quote or a greeting card: Specifically I am referring to his having allegedly said that it was not so much that he was he was so brilliant per se, but more importantly he possessed a fierce combination of curiosity and a passion. In fact, those who invent, who thrive intellectually and often, in work and play, have a persistent curiosity; they are inspired and they are motivated.

I learned of my own ADD only in 2006, which made more sense of my quest to understand, keen capacity for intuition and empathy, as well as a fair dose of oppositionalism and sensitivity to rejection as well. It was also a turning point as I found respect for my own non-linear and at times dancing mind, my own styles of discovering.

Our being tuned on to discover and to collaborate and to learn and to invent, is seriously compromised by both the uber distracting cultural influences and by quickly changing standards and an often cruelly competitive bent. The standards come and go so quickly, one can hardly keep up and many of us don't -- we numb ourselves to the likes of our ADD friends or selves, we rush into the one focus or cause only, losing track of the connection that may be a buzzword but often stays in that status.

We are inundated by the voices telling us to just do it, by positive psychology saying that puff! if we change our attitudes we can change our conditions, and with our politicians telling many of us that if we are poor and suffering, there must be something wrong with us. We have a host of mental health practitioners claiming to "know" as they get clients hooked on mantras that deny their insides and outer realities.

People with ADD are known for being oppositional but frequently (and I suggest is the case with the rest of us too) there is perfectionism lurking around the corner -- from parents and teachers -- and from within. Procrastination can be a side effect of distraction and dizziness but it can also defend against a perfectionism that can be brutal, depleting and discouraging even of the motivation to try. Without a sense of possible exit or better outcome, hope goes away.

An approach especially effective in teaching and parenting ADD kids, is to help them accept and even embrace mistakes as inevitable to real learning. We have to be wrong, and the likelihood of being right is only temporary, as odds are we will get new information or new perceptions that will help us see our mistakes. Now, that is if we allow ourselves to see mistakes, to grow from them and to sometimes apologize for them.

If we instead learn that to blame others is the national sport of our time, under the banner of shouting that we should never as a nation apologize for our country's flaws, or seek to shift our way of considering problems, we will be in a bind typical to those who have ADD and are stuck in a defensive grandiosity.

One of the things I have found most helpful in my own practice with children and families, is to help harness the very oppositionalism we usually see as a hindrance. Recently in talking with a sixteen year old boy and his mom, I hypothetically suggested he help me on a piece about what was wrong with the curriculum at his own school. He jumped up from his position of reclining -- nothing to do with Passover, my last piece -- and said, "Here it is, it's not that I can't write or even don't like it. I just hate to be forced and I hate when the topic makes no sense."

Apropos of religion, only because my own ADD mind shifting to the late mythologist Joseph Campbell who said that religions needed to be relevant if they were to serve real people's needs, it appears the same is true for education and in parenting. We aren't educating about parenting in a vacuum but in a context of real and diverse (temperamentally and otherwise) particular needs. When allowed and welcomed, our children can challenge not our rationale and our approach. Yes they can con us -- sometimes. However, do we dare give them credit for their ADDitions (pun intended), and seek out their opinions and collaboration?

Recently I met with a family, parents and a 9 year old girl talking about the pointlessness of homework. Her mother suggested they google studies on the subject later, and the dad loved it ... The girl looked shocked: were they really going to listen, and look up her complaint? We agreed to try ways of working with the teacher to make it more interesting.

We have millions of children languishing, some with ADD, some because they are in overcrowded chaotic, understaffed, underfunded schools, and some closeted in their perfectionism, procrastination, and behaviors of self-defeat. We find over and again that when kids are pulled into creative ways of learning where they can be heard and seen, the motivation becomes amazingly higher.

Of course, if we dare involve our kids, ADD and not, poor and not, we are in for a great many surprises. We will have critical thinkers who are only sometimes irrational and grandiose. Some of the time they will hit the bulls eye with their questions, and their suggestions, and we will need guidance and patience to adjust to a deeper sense of mutuality. If we teach our kids that questions are as important as answers, we will need help adapting, waking up from our own distraction. However, with a little bit of shifting and practice, we might "get" it, hopefully feeling more motivated and better able to give support in turn, to neighbors (figuratively and literally) in need.


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