Technology and Diversity

Reflections on TV, Regents, and AD(H)D

by Andrew Mitchell

In today's society, there is a push for tolerance, and with this focus, a parallel push for everyone to fit into the same mold. This reality is ironic, paradoxical, and true.

Try the following simple experiment: Watch a half-hour popular comedy or drama on TV tonight. As you watch the show and the commercials, pretend you are one of the following people:
  • A gay man or lesbian woman
  • A religious Christian
  • Any other "outsider" social group
You will be amazed at the frequency of attacks against these various lifestyles, once you start looking for them! Unless you fit Hollywood's carbon copy vision of the ideal American, you will find a disturbing pattern of intolerance against any group of people outside the mainstream. Television is a primary medium for drawing individuals out of the melting pot and into the cookie cutter.

The New York State Board of Regents now requires all incoming students to pass a series of Regents exams to graduate from high school. I am a schoolteacher and all for pushing students to do their best, but I know that Regents-level courses are not for everyone. Again, the idea of tolerance and fair play has led to the very inflexible attitude that every child should fit a certain mold. You will be interested to note that NYS has built into its accountability system the assumption that up to 10% of students will not be able to meet the new standards. Where do these students go? Either special education or directly into the workforce as dropouts. There is no longer the option to pursue a local diploma available to those students who prefer a general level education, rather than a college track.

My brother has ADHD. My father was never diagnosed, but probably has ADHD. For some reason, ADHD has become a dirty word, and I'd like to explain to you why.

Imagine that you have just exited the Mayflower. The voyage was gruesome, the food spoiled, and after over a month at sea, you have landed on the outer banks of Provincetown, utterly exhausted. You'd better have some passengers with the characteristics of a person with ADHD!

These people will have the energy to build cabins, hunt and capture game, plant and harvest food. Until quite recently, those hearty souls who "move continuously, as if driven by a motor," (an item from an ADHD checklist), would be some of the most highly valued in American society.

Not until the technological innovations of the twentieth century shifted the focus of everyday life from agricultural survival to the creation of goods, services, and intellectual property, did ADHD shift from a positive characteristic to a clinical diagnosis.

In short, until recently, ADHD was a desirable trait in human beings. Historically, ADHD could not exist until formal education required children to participate in learning activities for 6 hours a day in a classroom.

The question which faces us now is whether it is humane or inhumane, justified or unjustified, to prescribe medication to help children better suited for life 200 years ago concentrate and succeed in today's academic environment. It is a difficult question with no simple answers. What do you think?

In each of these contemporary scenarios, there is pressure to fit a particular mold. Rather than increasing diversity, technological innovations are creating an environment ripe for a real life Animal Farm.

Don't get me wrong. I am grateful for how technology and innovation have made my life easier and more convenient. But in terms of social health, the consequences of this lack of variety are overwhelmingly negative.

This article was written in August 2000 and posted here in November 2004.

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