TEACHING THE RESTLESS: One School's Remarkable No-Ritalin Approach to Helping Children Learn and Succeed
Mercogliano (Making It Up As We Go Along ) has 30 years of experience in a "privately funded, freedom-based inner-city" alternative school for children ages two to 14 in Albany, N.Y. Half of the 50 students have had behavioral problems in their previous schools, for which medications such as Ritalin have been prescribed or recommended. The Free School doesn't use drugs, asserting that every child is unique, and that the school must be run as a true community with the emotional health—not the test scores—of each child paramount. At the Free School, children choose what they want to learn and where in the school to spend their time. Freedom works: "kids learn faster and more easily when the motivation comes from inside them [and] behave better when they are expected to be responsible for themselves and for each other." This is especially true for children with a history of oppositional behavior. When a child disrupts a class or disrespects another student, anyone in the school community can convene a "Council Meeting" of the entire school to handle the problem. While teachers, parents and professionals work surreptitiously to address more fundamental problems—e.g., absent parents, harsh disciplinary styles at home, etc.—the school community teaches children that behavior has very real consequences. This laid-back approach to academics, where teachers wait for the right "mental weather" rather than push children to read or do math before they're ready, may be hard for some parents to accept, but Mercogliano makes a strong case against medicating these children into submission. (Jan.)
Forecast: While Mercogliano is describing experiences at one particular school, parents all over will find his critique of contemporary education provocative. Beacon plans a national publicity campaign and ads in education media.