Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Students and Medication

Even though I cultivate a significant distance from my students and do not believe in being buddy-buddy with them, students tend to feel very comfortable in my classes. We have a lot of group activities in which I participate, so even in a big classroom we get to know each other quite well. So they share things they might not have otherwise revealed to other "adults." (Yes, they actually refer to themselves as "kids" and to me as "an adult." Which sounds especially funny when the "kid" in question is a 6 foot 5 football player. Besides, quite a few of the "kids" in my classes have actual kids of their own.) 

Once I asked students what they did to prepare for exams. I'm very naive in many respects, which I'm always ready to confess. All I know about hard drugs is what I've seen on television. I have no idea which drug is supposed to be sniffed, injected, smoked or eaten. As for prescription medication, unless I'm so sick that I'm being carted into the ER, I'm not going to take any. I don't even take Tylenol or have it at home. So my question to the students was aimed at eliciting information as to whether they prepare for exams by going over their notes alone or get together in groups to help each other. Innocent things like that.

Imagine my surprise when in response I got a list of medications that students routinely take to help them concentrate and stay awake while they are preparing. Turns out there is a tradition of taking ADD medication as part of preparing for exams. There are also "coffee pills" and other things whose names I didn't even manage to remember. Students just kept rattling them off like it was the most natural thing in the world. When I recoiled in horror, the students found that funny. Now they must think I'm some hopelessly ancient fuddy-duddy. 

Since that conversation, I stopped giving cumulative final exams because I don't want to drive my students to a drug addiction. It's sad, though, that these young people have such a cavalier attitude to drugs. It's also quite shocking that they believe - for some unfathomable reason - that their own young brains are insufficient to carry them through the finals week. When I was an undergrad, I never took less than 6 courses per semester (I was in the Honors program). I also worked while going to school. Sometimes, I wouldn't get enough sleep and felt tired. But I managed to do very well in the program without even thinking about medication. Today, however, my experiences are seen as outdated by the new generation of students. 


eric said...

Just to think...I got by the old-fashioned way: coffee and cigarettes. To think I even made it through grad school on that!

Clarissa said...

I asked a friend who was addicted to ADD medication why he needed it.

"If I don't take these pills," he said, "it's hard for me to concentrate on studying. This must mean I have ADD."

"I have a newsflash for you, my friend," I said. "It's difficult for everybody."

Anonymous said...

You're an outlier among students -- professors usually are, that's how they get the idea to go to grad school, which means you're probably not as stupid when sleep deprived as most students are.

Did you never down multiple cups of coffee or caffeinated soda? That, to me, counts as chemical help.

As for me, I never made a habit of using coffee pills. The one time I did, it completely backfired on me because I was jittery, my heart raced, and I could only sit for 15 minutes out of 2 hours alotted for an exam. I am also markedly stupider when sleep deprived than most people.

Of course, I was, at best, a middling student.

eric said...

"Did you never down multiple cups of coffee or caffeinated soda? That, to me, counts as chemical help."

Not to me. It was just breakfast, along with a cube of ramen or toast.

Rimi said...

Here's an anecdote.

My first semester in America, the really comfy graduate student's lounge. Lots of students are assiduously tapping away at their laptops or reading thick tomes. I have a pounding headache from staying up all night to finish TWO papers that were due that morning.

"Jesus, this headache just keeps getting worse by the bloody minute", I finally bite out, rubbing at my temples, "Does anybody..." and then I stop abruptly, because no less than five people are holding out tin foil strips of what looks like tablets to me.

"What are those for?" I ask, astonished.

"Don't you have a headache?" asks one of my kind cohorts, completely confused.

It was news to me, Clarissa, *news*, that people took painkillers for headaches. That sentence that I broke off was going to end with, "Does anyone else want some tea?", because I was going to get myself a big mug of hot tea, 'cause THAT is what we do for headaches.

And then, at someone else's place, I discovered the American bathroom cabinet. I couldn't imagine why an impeccably fit man would need a cabinet overflowing with pills, but apparently that is what bathroom cabinets look like.

Then there were the 'flu shots. I didn't know they existed. In India we take light colds twice a year as an indication that our body is calibrating to weather changes. We even call it "the season change".

And because I turned up at the hospital with swollen tonsils from an mild infection, the doctor refused to prescribe me a short course of antibiotics (usually an eight day course that my doctor in India does), but felt free to tell me I could take upto six Tylenol tablets a day to combat the pain, upto eight if I was "very uncomfortable".

I'm sure I appeared just as strange to my American friends as they appeared to me, but given this, when I first heard my student "confess" she took these 'concentration pills', I think I had my first experience of surrealism.

Rimi said...

And, yes, I did very well all through my academic career and at my worst, I drank five cups of tea on days I didn't sleep at all. That was my "chemical help". Christ, I was so drug-dependent.

Kyle said...

At the risk of sounding a little draconian: have you considered referring those students taking medication to university counseling? The effects of Ritalin and other medications are both seriously dangerous (to those who don't actually have ADD) and illegal (given that those students need a prescription for them). Large doses of caffeine can also be dangerous, but nowhere near as dangerous as doses of Ritalin or Adderall is to the body that doesn't need those pills. (I can easily see the argument against referring such students, but it's worth considering.)

At the very least, you shouldn't have to choose against cumulative exams (or lower standards in any way, if you do think that you are lowering your standards) because of students injuring themselves while breaking the law.

David said...

The only time I ever took anything close to drugs was when I downed some energy drinks to stay awake after getting a bad night's sleep before an exam.

Energy drinks would also be my friend after pulling an all nighter on a programming assignment.

Despite this, I was actually surprised to hear from other students (when I was at college) that they would take prescription medication to study. To me at least, there's a big gulf between coffee and caffeinated soda - and "coffee pills", adhd medication, etc.

Personally I think its a minority of students that do it, but I have no way of possibly knowing.

Clarissa said...

"And then, at someone else's place, I discovered the American bathroom cabinet. I couldn't imagine why an impeccably fit man would need a cabinet overflowing with pills, but apparently that is what bathroom cabinets look like."

-I know!! "Where is your medicine cabinet?" people who visit me keep asking. And then they get shocked that I don't have one. :-) :-)