Managing self. It’s a Key Competency in the New Zealand Curriculum. I sat in a meeting recently that left me in a state of hysteria – quite literally – complete failure to manage myself. The battle to ensure young people focus, manage their time, ideas, thoughts, emotions, bodies. To fit into the expected regimes of performance, presentation, and to stay inside the lines at all times. But where battle lines of power are drawn there is resistance. Break-away and rogue moments of irony.
This was a particularly intriguing intra-active moment. The diffractive medium was Attention Deficit Disorder and its pharmaceutical solution, Ritalin. There was concern some students were accessing medication they should not have, while others were not able to access it. Evidence was produced that some needed it and that dosages might need increasing. Parents were contacted to address the potential harm of taking it, not taking it, not taking enough of it. Medical authority, school authority, parent authority making decisions on behalf of young people, talked about and not to. Contexts and relational meaning, making way for the grand narratives of individual responsibility, harm and expert knowledge. Juridicial and biopower teaming up. Discipline decided, doctors diagnose and dispense, docile bodies must be fully engaged.
And at the end of the week a bunch of us went for self-medication for ADD – Adult Disillusion Disorder at the pub. Where our conversation bounced all over the place, attention was lost in moments of distraction until more medication was needed.
Throwing money at schools to provide more support for students with unique functioning says something about a profound discomfort in schools with any form of diversity beyond culture. When writing about the ‘cost’ of providing support for disabled students the needs of the majority of students who ‘might miss out on teachers time’ are privileged. The threat to the normative learning environment is what is represented when it comes to promoting increased funding and my concern is this moves schools further away from inclusive and more toward exclusive concepts of special needs. One of the reasons I think is a general dis-ease with any form of emotional, social, physical difference. The need to manage diversity by erasing undersirable outward expressions of uniqueness means schools have lost one of their most powerful functions, to provide young people with experiences with others who may ‘be’ un-like them to allow this unsettling to play an role in forging a genuine appreciation of the vast range of humanbeingness. Maybe this has something to do with the insanity behind assessment driven pedagogy, I’m not sure, but the dominant concerns indicate this might be part of the reason.
Another pressure point is the growing parental entitlement creeping into education. I don’t begrudge parents wanting the ‘best for their children’. However neoliberal forces seem to have condensed and concentrated this into a drive to demand that schools remove all barriers to their child achieving their best. It seems as though ‘accessibility’ has been hijacked as an idea to some degree. If litigation or media exposure is threatened, Principals can be backed into a corner to preserve their brand. These are some of the contextual influences skipped over by media in a bid to focus on economies of identity – financial bottom lines and the ever growing business management approach to education and pedagogy.
A concept I find increasingly needed but missing in schools is de-expertising. That is, you can actually ask young people themselves what they need! And be careful to allow for some space to just them to be teenagers, de-pathologising youth in general would be a good start. Getting frustrated, angry, emotional and struggling to communicate feelings is not uncommon for teachers…or young people. Let’s remember that and get back to basics – the 3 r’s – 1: Are assumptions disabling students more than their actual disabilities, 2: Are young people consulted when developing IEP’s? (especially year 11 and beyond but even before this), 3: Are the needs of the many really that different to the needs of the few?
Having said all this however I am acutely aware that parents are covering the costs of teacher aids and shouldn’t be. I’m also grateful for the work RTLB’s and TA’s do, an often invisible and underappreciated part of the fabric of teaching. To the Ministry Of Education, put your money where your mouth is but don’t let it suffocate a wider discussion of inclusion, belonging and feeling valued by everyday practices in schools.