Addicted to Adderall…Or just to Slacking?

Here's my very first guest post, written by Liz Willen, esteemed educational blogger, who focuses on the NY public schools.  She has had a very neurotic year: First, the SAT canceled her eleventh grader's SAT score because he happened to be one of the dozens of unlucky kids who ended up in a room with an incompetent proctor at the Packer School in Brooklyn.  Then, Liz read Alan Schwarz's scary NYT piece about rampant use of Adderall as a study drug. But all turned out well:  Her senior was indeed focused, but not on studying for APUSH.

Here's the column:

I read Alan Schwartz's frightening front page New York Times piece on the kind of Sunday night when I could have used a performance boost myself – something I'm sure lots of working parents feel in the waning weekend hours.

Oh, for a rush of adrenaline to finish unwanted chores in full efficiency mode, instead of a lazy desire to watch the Mad Men season finale curled up with a glass of wine.

Yet here it was, nearly midnight, and I still had stories to edit, laundry to fold, school lunches to make and those endless permission slips and end-of-the-year forms to fill out.

Nearby, one of my two high-schoolers was allegedly finishing a paper that should have been done earlier. He was focusing so intently, I wondered for a moment if he'd gotten his hands on one of the stimulants described in The Times piece as being so popular among high school students.

Why wouldn't an overstressed teenager who doesn't regularly take such medication and might not know better want to snort one of these? After all, as the story noted, "Just one pill can jolt them with the energy and focus to push through all-night homework binges and stay awake during exams afterward."

As my son stared at the computer screen and clicked away, I wondered: Had he suddenly gotten a hold of an ADHD drug and morphed into the kind of ambitious, competitive college-bound college junior who loads up on easily obtained stimulants along with Advanced Placement courses and a daunting resume of accomplishments?

Did a crushing pressure to get into the right college fuel a need for illicit performance enhancements that I had not been aware of?

Was it fostered, as Judith Warner noted in a column on the topic, by "an adult-stoked environment of extreme competition and near-hysteria over the perceived super-humanness required to gain entry to a prestigious college?"

Before I could wonder if I had become the kind of mom who pushes her child to extremes and views parenting as a competitive sport, I decided to do a little investigative reporting.

I tiptoed over to my son and glanced at his computer screen, suspicious of finding an unusually brilliant essay, fueled, perhaps, by a drug enhanced ambition and hyperfocus.

At first, I saw what looked like a lot of new vocabulary words (wow, I thought, he's also studying for the SAT!)

This was a bit of a shock, since he has been in a rage since his last scores were cancelled due to problems at the test site and had refused to do more studying.

Still, I saw impressive vocabulary words I had never encountered before, like "Spiritualized,'' and "Chromatics,'' and "Ekstasis.''

Then I noticed the computer was bookmarked at Pitchfork, the website filled with reviews of the latest bands and albums. To the side of the computer, a long list of personal chats from friends filled the screen.

"What's going on?'' I asked. "What about that paper?"

"Oh, it's not due until Wednesday,'' came the reply, followed by a yawn. "I'm going to sleep."

I didn't really care any more when that paper was due, or how much time had just been wasted on Facebook, social media sites and music reviews.

I welcomed that yawn and embraced the slacking attitude. I asked not a question about what other homework might be due, or what the rest of week looked like.

Then I shut down all the computers and said good night.



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