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The Myth of the Normal Curve

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Edited By Curt Dudley-Marling and Alex Gurn

It is generally taken for granted that human behavior distributes along the lines of a bell-shaped, normal curve. This idea underpins much educational theory, research, and practice. There is, however, a considerable body of research demonstrating that the normal curve grossly misrepresents the human experience. Yet the acceptance of the normal curve continues to be used to pathologize children and adults with disabilities by positioning them as abnormal. Collectively, the contributors to this volume critique the ideology of the normal curve. Some explicitly challenge the assumptions that underpin the normal curve. Others indirectly critique notions of normality by examining the impact of normal curve thinking on educational policies and practices. Many contributors go beyond critiquing the normal curve to propose alternative ways to imagine human differences. All contributors agree that the hegemony of the normal curve has had a devastating effect on those presumed to live on the boundaries of normal.

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7 “Requires Medication to Progress Academically”: The Discursive Pathways of ADHD - Rebecca Rogers & Michael Mancini 87

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Introduction Evan Treader (pseudonym) is eleven years old and in fourth grade. He shows excitement about reading and writing. He proudly shows certificates that name him as “student of the week” and student with the “biggest smile.” June, his mother, hangs his near perfect spelling tests on the refrigerator. The following statement is found on Evan’s individualized education program (IEP): “Evan is a healthy boy. He does have fine motor difficulties and takes medication for atten- tion deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). He requires medication to progress academically.” This statement foreshadows only one of the contradictions em- bedded in labeling Evan with ADHD. That is, this statement contradicts research indicating that, while stimulant medication such as Methylphenidate (i.e., Ritalin) can be effective in reducing the symptoms of ADHD, there is a lack of strong evidence that it improves academic performance in the moderate or long term, particularly with children who have been diagnosed with a co-occurring learning disability (LD) such as Evan (Carlson & Bunner, 1993; Conners, 2002; Snider, Frankenberger, & Aspenson, 2000). During a visit to his house for data collection, Evan and I read a book to- gether called Stars in the Darkness, a story about a young boy who comes up with a plan with his mother to save his brother from gang life and organize his neigh- bors to stand in peace. In response to the book, Evan shares the first time he saw a shooting, at six years old. SEVEN “Requires Medication to Progress Academically...

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