Value Added Doping: Teacher’s Little Class II Controlled Helper

Among my new 11th-grade students in English is one who cannot be still. I recently assigned some reading in class, and within a very short time he got up and started walking around the classroom, book in hand. When I looked at him with raised eyebrows, he said he read better when he could walk around. “Go ahead,” I said, “I like to pace too,” and then continued my teacherly pacing around the room. I have the same student in Theory of Knowledge, where during a class not long ago we took a walk in order to examine a nearby architectural curiosity, a kind of picture-gallery of ambient space inserted by the architect within the more traditionally functional remainder of the building. The students’ job was to try and explain why the architect had made the “gallery.” The wiggle-worm was wired with excitement at the chance to have a class in which he could stroll, peer, stand on tiptoes, look at the views. In both classes I have the students arrange their desks and chairs into work groups or a circle or back into rows at need. I think this student likes this part of the class better than the rest.

There are conditions of teaching that allow me to indulge my fidgety student’s need for motion. The classes are relatively small; I teach in a part of the world whose culture deeply respects education and teachers and therefore funds and otherwise supports both; the students have been successfully brought up with good work habits and generally disciplined personal habits; the students’ desks are fitted with casters & brakes, making rearrangement relatively simple and non-destructive to floors.

Many people recognize that these conditions are imperfectly available in the United States, but not everyone is thinking successfully about what their absence means for education. It is in this vacuum of understanding that we find an increasing reliance on the terrible expedient of medicating students in order to try and counteract the deficiency of their educational environment. As one doctor put it, “We’ve decided as a society that it’s too expensive to modify the kid’s environment. So we have to modify the kid.” Hence the dispensing of prescriptions comprising Class II controlled substances[1] to eleven-year-olds not to relieve an illness—for none has been diagnosed in many cases—but to improve their performance on schoolwork and tests.

It is chilling to think that administrators  and teachers could find themselves under pressure to work for the use of drugs on their students, not for medical reasons, but because they have a personal stake in the students’ test scores if the scores are tied to evaluations of a school and its teachers. Donald Campbell predicted that it would happen[2], and he appears to have been right. All a teacher has to do is describe the “right symptoms” on a referral survey, and in a few short weeks the student is doing better on tests, including the one that determines the teacher’s value-added rating. If doctors can think along these lines, why not teachers? The doctor quoted above thinks it is already happening.

[1] I believe one of them is called Addle All®.

[2] In Campbell’s Law: “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures, and the more apt it will be to distort or corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”


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