I wrote a happy ending to this piece and filed it to my editor. Julia Lurie, author, in the July/August 2017 Issue of Mother Jones.
When I read that, I knew what was coming. The article, Children of the Opioid Epidemic Are Flooding Foster Homes. America Is Turning a Blind Eye, focused on one mother and her two children as they tried to come to terms with the mother’s addiction to heroin after neck surgery and her subsequent addiction to OxyContin. The opioid crisis had hit home for one middle-class family in Ashtabula County, Ohio.
You know what comes next in the article too, don’t you? Relapse. Then, as her caseworker says to her, “Try again, try again, try again.”
If you’re from New Hampshire, you probably know of a family going through this hell right now. It’s heartbreaking…heartbreaking. Today, it’s not just poor inner-city and jobless rural people caught up in this disaster, it’s all of us. Money, education, upbringing have no influence on whether someone does or does not get addicted. Whether you are prescribed a painkiller is a more likely determinant.
I’m taking this time in my blog series to talk about this, because within the article, and then as a sidebar, there is the story, also by Julia Lurie, about Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, as a pediatrician who founded Bayview Center for Youth Wellness in San Francisco.
Ms. Lurie interviewed the doctor about “developmental and physiological effects one might expect to see among the children of the opioid epidemic—and what doctors can do about it.” She learned about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and Executive Functions, things we’ve been talking about here. And she learned that the brains of children are much more affected, and in more different ways, by the toxic stresses an addicted parent can put on a child.
And, unfortunately, we at New England Tutors are seeing more and more of this problem as well. But it’s not just the opioid crisis that can cause ACEs and create poor executive functioning. The changes happening in society and their pressures on families are greater than ever. And the consequences are showing up in classrooms, social activities, and among our tutoring families.
But let me back up for a moment. A while ago I was talking to a colleague about this issue and he told me of his own experience in elementary school. His 5th Grade teacher, at a teacher/parent conference, told his mother that some days he seemed to be completely distracted: couldn’t concentrate, didn’t participate in class, and couldn’t finish classroom assignments. She was wondering what was happening. It was then that his mother confided to the teacher that his father was a binge alcoholic and several times during the year he would cause havoc around the house. These binges coincided with my colleague’s problem days at school. All too familiar today with the opioid crisis. So, we’ve known about home problems being a problem in school for years.
Then he told me about an article he had read in The Chronicle of Higher Education: The Distracted Classroom by James M. Lang. Dr. Lang, a professor of English at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, in this article is talking about the distractions that cell phones, laptops, and other electronic devices cause among his and other students from middle school to college.
Also in the article, the author refers to The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World (MIT, 2016) by Gazzaley and Rosen. They say that our brains are not equipped for “multitasking”, and instead just switch back and forth from one task to another. It’s biological, and our brains haven’t caught up with technology yet. (By the way, Dr. Lang thinks this book should be required reading for all teachers…and probably all humans!)
I know I’ve given you a lot of links to refer to, but what strikes me is that this whole distraction, opioid epidemic, societal unrest…you name it…is having serious negative consequences in the classrooms of the country.
As I said, we see it firsthand. Everyday.
Now I’m not saying that every child needs to be tutored by New England Tutors. What I am saying is that we all should be paying attention to the world around us as it relates to our students, our children, our fellow-citizens. For some, this definitely means individualized learning platforms and one-on-one instruction. But in some of the school systems we serve, this is completely unfeasible. All too much of a teacher’s day is taken up with social worker activities, not teaching. In others, there is the support structure that can cope with it.
So, then what are we to do? I’m reminded of the book Hillary Clinton wrote in 1996 when she was First Lady, It Takes a Village. As she said then, our society has grown so large and complex that it is hard for individual families to raise their kids. And now, as we see intrusions on our lives from every corner of our world, it is all the more important that we do more to pay attention.
What are your thoughts on this?
I certainly don’t have all (or even a lot) of answers, but personally, I decided to become a CASA Advocate. CASA, as you probably know, is an organization in New Hampshire that “strives to protect the rights of our state’s most vulnerable children to live, learn and grow in the embrace of a loving family.” That’s how I’ve decided to pay attention in my own way.
But I wanted to start a conversation with you about our society’s pressures on us and our children. I’m not saying you should volunteer for CASA, but I’m saying you, and I, cannot go along as we have been while our kids are facing difficult situations every day. I’ll leave it at that for now.
I look forward to your comments. Any light you can shed here will be a tremendous help to us all. And you will help us further our motto of “Success with Every Student.”