“Modern ADHD Epidemic is Fiction” – Ken Robinson

Tests Factory Model

“This is the modern epidemic, the plague of ADHD, and it’s fictitious. Don’t mistake me; I don’t mean to say there is no such thing as Attention-Deficit Disorder… What I do know for a fact is it’s not an epidemic. These kids are being medicated as routinely as we had our tonsils taken out, and on the same whimsical basis and for the same reason: medical fashion.

Our children are living in the most intensive stimulating period in the history of the earth. They’re being besieged with information and coerced for attention from every platform: computers, from iPhones, from advertising hoardings, from hundreds of television channels. And we’re penalizing them now for getting distracted. From what? Boring stuff.

At school, for the most part. It seems to me not a coincidence, totally, that the instance of ADHD has risen in parallel with the growth of the standardized testing. Now these kids are being given Ritalin and Aderol and all manner of things, often quite dangerous drugs, to get them focused and calm them down… It’s a fictitious epidemic.

If you think of it, the arts, and I don’t say this exclusively to the arts, I think it’s also true of science and of maths, but I say about arts particularly because they are the victims of this mentality currently, particularly. The arts especially address the idea of aesthetic experience. An aesthetic experience is one in which your senses are operating at their peak, when you are present in the current moment, when you are resonating with the excitement of this thing that you’re experiencing, when you are fully alive.

An anesthetic is when you shut your senses off and deaden yourself to what’s happening. And a lot of these drugs are that. We are getting our children through education by anesthetizing them. And I think we should be doing the exact opposite. We shouldn’t be putting them to sleep, we should be waking them up to what they have inside of themselves!

But the model we have is this: I believe we have a system of education that is modeled on the interests of industrialism and in the image of it. I’ll give you a couple of examples. Schools are still pretty much organized on factory lines: ringing bells, separate facilities, specialized into separate subjects. We still educate children by batches, you know, we put them through the system by age group.

Why do we do that? Why is there this assumption that the most important thing kids have in common is how old they are? You know, it’s like the most important thing about them is their date of manufacture. Well, I know some kids who are are much better than other kids at the same age in different disciplines, or at different times of the day, or better in smaller groups than large groups, or sometimes they want to be on their own.

If you’re interested in the model of learning you don’t start from this production line mentality. It’s essentially about conformity and it’s increasingly about that as you look at the growth of standardized testing and standardized curricula. And it’s about standardization.”

~Ken Robinson~

Excerpt from “Changing Education Paradigms

Image at top, students in China taking exams outdoors to limit cheating


About Christopher Chase

Co-creator and Admin of the Facebook pages "Tao & Zen" "Art of Learning" & "Creative Systems Thinking." Majored in Studio Art at SUNY, Oneonta. Graduated in 1993 from the Child & Adolescent Development program at Stanford University's School of Education. Since 1994, have been teaching at Seinan Gakuin University, in Fukuoka, Japan.
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9 Responses to “Modern ADHD Epidemic is Fiction” – Ken Robinson

  1. Anonymous says:

    I’ve grown up with ADHD and, although you’re very much correct in saying that it shuts of emotions, Ritalin helps you concentrate when you need to. I’m lucky that now at age 22 I can concentrate much better and am no longer on medication, but I wouldn’t be where I am now without it. Even now I find it hard to sit through an hours meeting, but I’ve learnt while taking Ritalin growing up how to deal with it.

    • Lyndal says:

      Totally agree- the positive effects on learners in my class far out-weigh the negative.
      Their world has opened up and starts to make sense to them. Quite spectacular in most cases.

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  5. Anonymous says:

    John Wheeler also said “We had this old idea, that there was a universe out there, and here is a man, the observer safely protected from the universe. Now we learn from the quantum world that even to observe an object as small as an electron we have to shatter that plate glass in the lab, we have to reach in there…..so the old word observer simply has to be crossed off the books, and we must put in the word participator.”

  6. Anonymous says:

    While teachers are expected to take control of around 30 students on their own, nothing is going to change. This ridiculous notion that class size does not matter needs to be smashed.

  7. samah says:

    Robinson findings let me think deeply about my current son situation who is on Ritlan. How truly help my son in this point as Ritlan is a necessity . Is there any way to give them the true help they need in their educational life . As parents how we can fine the solutions and help our sons , we dont know as only we followed what specialists said to us even if we dont convinced about these medications. Any body can help or suggest any how to raise those kids and provide them with heir needs.

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