We’re not ADD, we’re just not listening.

I ran across an image of a t-shirt on the Web that said,

“I’m not ADD, I’m just not listening.”

I had been researching how kids uses of new technologies have been impacting how they learn. And all of a sudden, it hit me. Maybe the reason that so many kids are being diagnosed with learning disabilities, mental illnesses, and other “disorders” is that we need a reason to explain why so many of them aren’t thriving in school. After we explain their failure by labeling it as some kind of disorder or disease, we medicate them in an attempt to make the problem go away. And then we shove them back into the same 19th century learning environments. But what if it’s not a problem within the child, but rather with the culture and structure of most schools?

I don’t deny that learning disabilities and mental illness are real. I have a child with bipolar disorder. But I am more and more convinced that the rise in the diagnosis and treatment of various learning disabilities and mental illnesses, combined with the growing dropout rates call for serious discussion not only about how kids learn but also about the design and delivery of public education.

The science and technology education advocacy group Project Tomorrow has done a revealing annual poll since 2003 that has tracked technology use among youth, as well as attitudes about the role of technology in school and out from the youth and their teachers. (Check out http://www.tomorrow.org) Their Speak Out poll has painted a vivid picture of the growing digital divide between kids, who have been dubbed “digital natives” by Marc Prensky (http://www.marcprensky.com), and most of their teachers, parents and administrators who are “digital immigrants.” One of the most striking findings is that despite the growing availability of technology in schools, students complain that the rules imposed on the use of these technologies is depriving them of not only the tools they use outside of school to network and acquire information but also is depriving them of developing the skills that they know they will need to be successful in their professional and personal lives.

Let’s get some of these digital natives to help us immigrants understand how schools should be structured to enable them to become the leaders, entrepreneurs and engaged citizens of the future.

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