The world may not have ended last weekend but according to a story I read, life as we know it may well be seriously endangered.
It appears that a girl in Scotland has been granted permission to listen to an iPod while taking her final school exams because she isn’t able to concentrate unless she is listening to music.
The article says that she is in the final year of high school, which would put her in her late teens.
The key points of the story are:
- She can’t concentrate unless she’s listening to music so she wants to listen to music while sitting for final exams
- The school said too bad
- The parents appealed to the examination board
- The board said too bad
- So far, so good, other than one wonders about the parents
- The parents threatened to sue (no need to wonder about the parents any more)
- The school authorities caved because lawyers warned that they may be guilty of “discrimination” under the Equalities Act because the girl “often struggles to pay attention in class” (apparently that is a disability that you can’t discriminate against)
- The school authorities are “bracing for a flood of similar claims”
- The iPod has to be loaded by the examination staff to make sure it doesn’t have anything that might give her an advantage on the exams–but the songs on it must be the ones she wants to listen to
- The exam staff are angry because they now have additional work in the form of loading the iPod
- School authorities are worried about how they are going to get the staff to load up additional iPods when the “flood of similar claims” (which will clearly all have merit) starts
I don’t know about you, but I’m very confused. My dictionary defines concentration as “to bring or direct toward a common center or objective; to direct attention to a single object; focus. The girl has trouble doing this. As the article says, she “often struggles to pay attention in class.”
Well I’m a bit of an expert on this topic. Because just about every teacher I ever had (and a few bosses) said that about me at one time or another. And in my capacity as an expert, I can tell you that sensory bombardment (i.e., music delivered via earphones) does not aid and abet “directing attention to a single object,” in this case the test questions.
I remember a math teacher telling me that my attempt to simultaneously listen to him and read a comic book was the equivalent of trying to focus on two separate things with each eye. And it couldn’t be done. He was right about that—but he was mistaken that I was actually trying to listen to him.
And that might be something for the school authorities (and parents) to think about. Sitting in class is a passive activity and when you are passive it’s easy for your mind to wander. But taking an exam requires a modicum of engagement that you would imagine would help one to focus. Writing your name on the paper involves some degree of focussed attention, if only to manage to get it on the right line. How come the people responsible for delivering education don’t know that? After all, by reinforcing this kind of behaviour they have sort of severely limited the number of careers this girl can pursue. I can’t see her being an airline pilot, lawyer, doctor, beautician, call center attendant, check out clerk, waitress, cop, teacher, actress, singer. Do I need to go on? She probably can’t get any job because she has to wear her iPod in order to concentrate and one assumes she would need to concentrate at a job interview.
Forgive me for sounding politically incorrect, but this girl doesn’t have a disability. If anything, she is a victim—of her parents’ laziness and the cowardice of the school authorities. I am all for making allowances and accommodating students who have a genuine disability, but it’s worrisome when some people consider themselves victims if they are inconvenienced when asked to conform with basic norms of human behaviour. And it’s even more unfortunate when people in leadership positions won’t make tough decisions because they are afraid of a lawsuit.
If I were running that school, I’d say, “So sue me.” And if the parents did, I’d limit my legal costs to taking out a full page ad in the local paper explaining the suit and listing all the school programs that will have to be cut because of legal expenses or reallocation of resources from normal teaching to loading iPods, etc. I bet that (a) I’d get a lot of contributions to my legal fund and (b) the suit might well go away.
In retrospect, I’m kind of happy that my math teacher confiscated my comic book. Not because I learned any math, but because I learned about priorities and self discipline and, again in retrospect, that has been a very good thing.
The girl has probably never heard her parents say the word “no.” Or if she has, she has learned that they are only too happy to take the easy way out and oblige her every demand. It may be unfair of me to make rash assumptions, but I bet that this girl has pretty much iTuned out of the world for a while. She is no different that the scores of teenagers I’ve seen sitting in restaurants with their parents, earphones stuck in their ears and looks of cosmic pain on their faces at being forced to interact in some small way with the real world. I can understand the parents being perfectly happy to have the kid quiet and tractable and iSedated all the time, but then what’s the point of having kids?