University was a disappointment

Whose fault is it anyway?

I went to University to study Physics and my ADHD troubles began! No self-discipline, I missed most lectures and labs.

I really was so, so bored by those physics lectures, with 70 year-old professors, teaching 70 students in a large auditorium – without any interaction at all. I couldn’t grasp this form of study, so passive, lonely, self-disciplined and protracted but my profound love of learning surpasses most.

In a subsidiary course on the “History of Education”, I wrote a quite maverick essay in praise of Jean Piaget’s theories on education, he believed in children learning without assessment and in cooperation with teachers. I was in profound despair about the rigid, dull education I was being offered.

Memorise this...

So much of current education assessment is memory based. In an early lecture, we were asked to commit an equation to memory. I put up my hand and first asked for an explanation or derivation, only to be answered: “we will study this next year!”

My mind went into meltdown, that’s not how I learn. I have to understand at the core, how ideas and information fit together, why they work. I don’t memorise independent blobs of information, that’s why I’m hopeless with names and dates. I learn concepts not facts.

Educational failings

I understand much better nowadays how I learn, and the problems that came with my ADHD. But my university (and many others like it) must share responsibility for my problems. The degree was a dreary, unimaginative course without insight, interest or any support. University left me unmotivated, unemployed and depressed. I passed the degree with resits, and recovered the career damage over the next decade. The emotional damage has lasted far longer.

If at first you don’t succeed…

Decades later I tried again, taking an Open University Psychology degree. I did well and averaged 82% for the first six essays. I started each essay the day before deadline, timed it well and kept my interest by being controversial in my writing.

Six months later there was an exam based on new topics. I procrastinated very badly indeed.

 I started to study the entire term’s worth of material from 7pm the night before the exam, until around 1am. The next morning I took and passed the exam, with 56%. Not bad for a total of 4 hours work. But not the mark I would have received with only a little study!

Even worse I missed the small print. The Open University course would take the lower of the two marks (82% / 56%) to give 56% as my year end result. I abandoned my second degree having rapidly lost interest.

I still don’t know my times table

Because I am ADHD, I never learnt my times tables, despite always getting straight A’s in maths for years. My short term memory just couldn’t hold all those numbers. I had to figure out an alternate way that worked for me without the hard work of committing it all to memory.

To this day I use the same method. I use a mix of memory and in-head multiplication. I remember the lower times-tables to around 5x. So to work out 7 x 8, I convert to to 7*4*2. I recall that 7*4 is 28, and multiply by 2 to get 56. A simple and quick ADHD strategy. A few clients have adopted similar approaches to mine.
Times table

I learn differently from others

After figuring out my ADHD, I also figured out a lot about what when wrong for me in education. Like most people with ADHD, I learn very well empirically, by doing and experiencing. Since we are right-brained we learn from the patterns we observe and the connections we make. But usually we have a greater, more profound thirst for knowledge and information than those around us. After all, learning can be constant novelty to a thirsty ADHD mind.

I’m mainly reconciled with my educational past, but continue to see many of the failings of modern education in the experience of the ADHD university students that I coach.

We need to seriously update how we teach

Education remains far to focused on memory and rote. With the internet, immediate access to information is guaranteed, yet we expect students to remember dates of battles? It’s not that far away in the future that we will see memory implants, making the value of “I can remember lot’s of pointless information” a little redundant.

We should turn education towards analysis and presentation skills, to teamwork, creativity and independent thought. The skills supposedly in demand by business today. ADHD traits are valuable, they should be developed, refined and most of all encouraged. Please credit us for having the new ideas, solutions and unexpected perspectives.

Still today in 2016, I remain profoundly disappointed by the education offered in most western democracies – autocratic, memory based, unimaginative and narrow. I think today’s education really sucks.

I hope that technology, online education and AI will help us find a way out from the drudgery of education for so many and to open up a brighter educational future for those of us who are a little memory constrained. A system that values ADHD skills – our ideas, solutions, creativity, perspectives, imagination and drive – as much or more than the ability to memorise a list of dates or a quote from a long dead king.
ADHD Coach, Andrew Lewis

Andrew Lewis

Andrew Lewis is an ADHD Coach, writer and founder of SimplyWellbeing. He has over 10,000 hours and 15 years of experience in coaching hundreds of ADHD executives, business professionals and creatives, and previously running a large ADHD support group and an ADHD diagnostic clinic. His business expertise comes from a twenty years career in software, from programming, through marketing, sales and running a few start-ups. His ADHD insight is personal, with decades understanding his own ADHD experience and in bringing up his ADHD daughter. He has published his writing primarily via this website, with interactive ADHD courses in development.


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