Runs in the family.

Please read all the heartfelt comments in this thread: many teachers and parents reached out with amazing resources, love, and ideas.

Last night my younger son, Daniel, who’s 23, was hanging out with me, and I asked him how reading The Hobbit was going. He had mentioned he was reading it because, well, he never had, and thought he’d go through Tolkien’s books. He said he hadn’t made it through the first chapter. He said with ADHD, he has to read paragraphs repeatedly, and he just gives up. I asked how that made him feel in school, like everyone knew some secret magic that he was left out of, and his body language and face, his deflated posture, broke my heart. Yes, he confirmed. And it made him feel ashamed. School was a place that took a bright, funny, smart,* laughing little boy and turned him into someone who’s had to fight hard to find his own path. Like every other kid out there. He’s not special. His generation has never gone to a public school building without testing from kindergarten through their senior years, and drilled skill after skill, without little experience or joy knowing what those skills were for. Reading logs and extrinsic motivations, academic achievement, meetings with the principal and band director because the band director was going to flunk him because we needed to go on a family trip for personal reasons. Time and again, the cruelty was the point. My older son followed all the rules and fit their mold. Daniel did not. Nothing I did or didn’t do. And yet these two beautiful sons of mine taught me so much about how horrible a place school can be.

But why does this have to be this way? Why does school have to be a place that most of us ends up hating? We end up resenting?

I told him during the pandemic, this past year, I’ve struggled to read. My escape of novels and fiction just isn’t there. Friends posting book after book on Goodreads while I languish. I find myself reading the same paragraphs, too. I just started reading Stephen Graham Jones’ The Only Good Indians and am embarrassed to admit I am going to have to start over again for the third time because I don’t understand what happens in the first chapter. Is that an elk? A fight? A fight with an elk? And please don’t step in and explain it to me. I’ll get it. About all my brain can handle right now is watching old episodes of Inkmaster and

My dad, who’s 79, tells a story with some trace of bitterness, how one teacher told him his fate would probably be jail. I don’t know what my dad did or said that prompted this reaction from his high school teacher. My dad was a middle child of three boys, all close in age, with two parents who worked outside the home. And I guess he was mischievous, a troublemaker? Prone to staying out late, maybe? I don’t know details of my father’s high school years. I do know my dad is one of the sweetest, funniest men I know.

My own troublemaker self was almost kicked out of kindergarten, and often sent to the corner or hallway many times for talking in first and second grades. The teachers simply did not understand that I was trying to help others near me understand the material. But those corners of the room smell like tooth-fairy breath and shame. And I didn’t learn a damn thing about staying quiet, except that when I do share ideas and thoughts, it comes with anxiety and sometimes pain.

Okay, enough of this. We have a family history of ADHD, this seems pretty clear. Now what? Whenever I am overwhelmed, I make a list. Here are some of my initial thoughts, and many of these were echoed on Twitter. I promise I was not ‘workshopping’ anything — what a breathtaking community you are. I love you, my teacher out there — ready to jump in, share ideas, with love, compassion, and without hesitation.

  1. Reading is not just print on paper. It’s audio, acting, movement, illustrative, and beyond. Let’s embrace a culture of reading.
  2. Love of stories must come first, and remain, the goal.
  3. I want Dr. Gholdy Muhammad to head up change in our education system with her ideas on Cultivating Genius.
  4. Burning questions (allow students to co-construct their units of study with teachers and shifting classrooms– this is a seed of an idea I have)
  5. More money for better early reading instruction that extends throughout all grade levels
  6. All teachers have a partnership with specialists
  7. Art at every grade
  8. Music at every grade
  9. Physical movement without ableism
  10. Multi-modal essays and collaborative work
  11. Sketchnoting, and other interactive ideas to express glorious passages of the ‘grand conversations’

There is so much more, and we’ll keep talking adding, and thinking.

My son will probably finish The Hobbit someday. Right now he’s switched to Recording Unhinged by Sylvia Massey because he’s been playing a lot of music lately with his dad, (who does not have ADHD), going to school, and working. I’ll finish my books, too, and figure out what that elk is doing.

And please follow Nicole Biscotti, M.Ed:

Some books folks recommended, on my reading list:

I Can Learn When I’m Moving By Nicole Biscotti, M. Ed.

ADHD and Me: What I Learned from Lighting Fires at the Dinner Table by Blake ES Taylor

*He’s still funny and smart. And very darn cute.

2 Comments

  1. Sharon Clarke

    Honestly, I have always found Tolkien hard to read. His ideas are genius. His prose is a slog. The movies are good substitutes. I get what you mean, though. We need to stop making reading conventionally the only acceptable way. Humans listened to stories for millions of years before books were invented.

    1. blog0rama

      Yes — it’s the idea that he was made to feel he was missing out. I feel that way too now. We can’t do that anymore.

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