Education and the Environment


So, I’ve been sitting here wondering what I might have that would be interesting to write about when it occurred to me that the big thing going on in my life might be relevant to lots of people.

18 years ago my daughter was born 4 months (yes, months!) early.  Who knows why my body had such problems, but I know many women my age and younger have had a lot of issues with pregnancy.  I never took drugs or drank, nor was it a genetic problem.  That probably leaves environment…have you heard that we have so many toxins in our systems that breast milk can often be classified as toxic waste?  But I don’t want to go there today.  I want to talk about my little girl, who was so tiny and fragile when she was born that the doctors couldn’t promise she’d survive, and warned us that she could have all sorts of problems like cerebral palsy.  They did tell me that if she survived, she would be a fighter and to be ready! 🙂

Truly, one miracle after another later, our Peanut survived and eventually, thrived.  Thank God.  She does, however, have some learning disabilities, and I want to share with you what I’ve learned about this.

In school their response was to just keep passing her along, telling us it was all ok, maybe we should buy her shoes with velcro and put her on meds for ADD.  WELL!  By 8th grade graduation, she had virtually zero math skills, could not write legibly, and had endured years of shaming from teachers and cruelty from her peers.  I listened carefully at parent-teacher conferences and read whatever I could find, but the general “wisdom” said that the brain was hard-wired by a very young age and our very bright little girl was looking at a very dim future.

All along, though, I felt this was wrong.  My gut told me the brain can create new neural pathways even when they weren’t formed through normal development.  I kept reading, kept searching, and just a couple of weeks ago I found a book called, “The Woman Who Changed Her Brain”, by Barbara Arrowsmith-Young.  This woman suffered terrible anguish all through school because of a number of cognitive deficits.  She went on to study the brain, and began to find that there is plasticity in it’s function.  She could trace different learning disabilities to specific areas of the brain, and she figured that exercises could be developed that would activate that area.  She tried it, systematically, on herself.  The book is a thrilling read for anyone whose child struggles to learn because she describes how the fog lifted for her and never came back.  She has developed the Arrowsmith School in Toronto.  Every year teachers attend workshops so that her methods can be implemented in schools all over the US.

If you know anyone whose child has been diagnosed with ADD, LD, or a variety of other problems, let them know there is real help.  If you know or are a teacher, please consider how you treat students who may seem to be problems.  Please know that a harsh note written in red on their assignments hurts way more than you think.

Published by melissabluefineart

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19 thoughts on “Education and the Environment

  1. Thank you for sharing this. As both a teacher and a parent of a child who struggled with school, it’s a good reminder that each child deserves to be treated fairly and with respect. The book you mentioned sounds interesting. I will certainly check it out!

    1. I should also say that we were blessed with compassionate teachers along the way, too. I’m excited about the new research being done, because I know it is hard on a teacher to see a problem and not have a way of reaching through the disability to the mind stuck behind it. I hope you enjoy the book as much as I did!

  2. This is excellent! Thanks for sharing the information, Melissa. I too had a special needs child and am highly aware of the effects of the school environment. I read about Barbara Arrowsmith-Young in a book titled, The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, MD. Norman’s book is full of stories and the science to back it up. He has a website you may want to check out as well. Anyway, this is inspiring stuff Melissa. Beautiful painting, Melissa. I love the colors. Thanks for sharing.

    1. So good to hear from you, Marianne. This is exciting information, isn’t it? I’m sorry to hear your child also had struggles with school. I will definitely check out his website. Thank you so much! Melissa


  3. I have not heard of this book, but lately I’ve taken a great interest in education in the west, because of reading a book which I chanced upon just out of curiosity. I myself was a college professor for some 30 years. I believe the key to education is respect, both on the part of students and the teacher. Unfortunately, education in the west has suffered a severe crisis. I’ve written about it recently, and will continue on the subject. But I think that in cases like the one of your child, the biggest problem is that the school has become sort of a factory, in which each individual is treated as just another cipher. There aren’t enough resources to give special attention to the individual. I am happy for your daughter that she had parents who were willing and able to look out for her welfare.

    1. Greetings, Shimon,
      It is true that respect has left the halls of learning here. In fact, I see disrespect everywhere I look. It is painfully obvious to me since I am a fan of old movies, where even the bad guys seem to have a line they won’t cross! You are right about the crisis. Parents, teachers, and school administrators don’t trust each other. More and more of the parents I know are deciding to homeschool their kids. Somehow a healing and constructive dialogue is going to have to be started.
      As for my wonderful daughter, I feel so blessed to have her! Help from Heaven…

  4. Great piece! I’ve been covering a lot of education issues lately for the weekly I write for and this is so relevant. Fortunately, some educators are starting to realize the old traditional education system of duality is not a good one for today’s kids. By the way, my son was also a preemie. Not as early as yours’, but I can related to how scary it is. He’s 30 now and doing fine.

    1. It is really great to hear that educators are beginning to see that some things need to change. I’m so delighted to hear that your son is 30 and doing great. Isn’t it a relief when you can look at them and not be holding your breath! whew…. then you can get down to the business of enjoying them!

  5. That’s so sad that your daughter had such a rough time at school. Anything about learning and brain function really interests me! Based on your description, this isn’t something we get too old for, so I hope you guys will try out some of the exercises. I could use that myself and I wonder if any of it helps with memory?

  6. Thank you so much for sharing this, Melissa! Your precious daughter should never have had such an awful educational experience in a system that should be designed to protect and nurture her. How lucky she is to have been blessed with a loving mother like yourself. My sister-in-law’s first child was born at just 6 months gestation too and he has had a number of issues at school (mostly, according to my SIL, the teachers who are overworked, underpaid and impatient with her son) Just this year he was finally diagnosed with autism (high functioning) and it has brought a new clarity, and (thankfully) a whole new group of educators and health care providers forward that have helped immensely. We expect that next year, with their help, he will be able to enter the traditional system again, successfully. My sister in law found blog posts and the personal sharing of people like you so very very helpful and comforting when she felt so alone and helpless. Thank you for posting, and cheers to you and your lovely daughter. xo

  7. I appreciate the post and your paintings. As a mother of an ADD child, a teacher and a therapist, I was in the unfortunate position of seeing our education system up close. There were some great teachers, whose greatness was not necessarily in teaching methods, but in making my son feel that he was loved. Many others were just burnt out. I don’t blame them, the system is so flawed that, at least here, in Los Angeles, teachers are afraid to discipline because of law suits. However, this is only one reason the school system is so bad.

    I know about brain research but the book you mentioned was not on my list. Will buy it today!

    1. Oh, I agree~ there are so many problems intertwined in our schools it will be hard to sort them out. I hope the book is useful to you! My hope is that this new information will give our burned out teachers some hope, not to mention all of our students, like your’s and mine, who are struggling. Maybe one by one our schools will come on board with this and some of the problems will ease.

      I’m so glad you visited, because now I’ve found your site. You have a great way of writing about politics~ informed and witty.

  8. I really get made when I hear about the school system that takes so lightly on problems like ADD. The research of Barbara Arrowsmith-Young seems very interesting. Thanks for sharing. And by the way the picture brings me in such a happy mood – quite contrary to the story you told.

  9. Hi Melissa, I was interested to read your thoughts on the Arrowsmith program. Did your daughter end up participating in the training and if so, was it of benefit?

      1. yes, we have been shortlisted for a program with our daughter and are looking for people who may have been involved to find out about its success -it seems controversial

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