Tag Archives: education

Fidget Cubes Won’t Solve the American Recess Crisis

When I was in high school, my attention problems were so bad that I once spent a math class covering my entire body in those little paper circles you use to repair the holes in loose leaf paper. Needless to say, I was kicked out of class. Another time, I drew so much on my left arm that by the end of class, I was completely blue from my wrist to my shoulder. Then I got prescribed ADHD medication. It helped me concentrate, but it also made me feel terrible, interfered with my sleep, disordered my eating patterns, and it was addictive to boot. When I got off of my meds, I went through a year-long withdrawal.

I can't help but wonder if a fidget toy would have done the trick instead.

Fidget toys are so simple in concept that it's amazing they weren't popularized years or even decades ago. They vary in construction, but nearly all are hand-held cubes or circles that you can push, click, squeeze, or spin to give yourself something to do while focusing on a given task, whether it's reading, typing at a computer, or sitting in math class (rather than giving yourself ink poisoning, for example).

Three Fidget Cubes in a commercial from Antsy Labs, the company behind the original viral Fidget Cube Kickstarter campaign.

And judging by sales, there's been a pent-up demand for them. A fidget cube on Kickstarter with six different actions—click, glide, flip, stroke, roll, spin—has raised nearly $6,500,000 since August 2016 (they are set to ship to backers this month). The massive success of that project may have inspired a full-fledged fidget cube craze. After manufacturing delays plagued the original, knockoffs rushed to sites like Amazon, as well as real-world stores like bodegas, where 24-year-old writer and activist Larissa Pham found hers for $4.

"I love it," she said. "It helps me block out stimuli and gives my hands something to do when I'm trying to do complicated stuff. I got it for my office, but now I wish I had one with me all the time."

Pham doesn't have ADHD, but she said her attention span has been shot by the internet and her multitasking work environment. And that raises a big question about the popularity of fidget toys: Are they a solution for fidgeters, or a sign that these days, people—and especially kids—are being asked to sit still and stare at screens for too long with too little movement?

The company behind the Kickstarter fidget cube marketed it as a solution for people who have trouble staying still. A lot of science backs up their claim. Several studies have shown that kids with ADHD perform better on tasks, can sit still for longer, and tend to be less moody when they're given regular exercise. One study from the University of Central Florida found that kids with ADHD performed "significantly better" on memory tests when they were moving around, rather than sitting still.

John Ratey, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, said that movement, even simple fidgeting, can help solidify the neural pathways that affect attention and impulse control.

"We have so much data now that shows when we move, we use a lot of our brain, which helps sustain attention," Ratey said. "It's an old idea though—people used to knit to keep focused."

Fidgeting while learning is far from novel either, whether it's doodling, making paper airplanes, or something less orthodox. Niran Al-Agba, a pediatrician in Washington State who specializes in ADHD, says she's made tubes out of a fuzzy faux fur material that her son and his classmates could keep under their desk and rub.

"It can be really helpful, that, or sitting on a balance ball," she said. "Any way you can fit in more physical activity seems to help kids."

"Kids still spend more time than ever sitting to do homework. That lack of playtime has coincided with skyrocketing diagnoses of ADHD in kids in the US."

Fidget cubes would certainly seem to fit the bill, and while child care experts have used various stimulatory toys to help kids focus for years, they've blown up on blogs and forums for teachers since August all the same. But some have lashed out against their popularity, claiming the only thing they help kids focus on are the toys themselves. And that means they may be masking a larger problem—the veritable crisis of attention issues in American schools, which many believe stem from a lack of movement.

"I can't last in a meeting for 25 minutes without feeling like I need to move around, and we're asking kids to sit still for six or seven hours a day," said Steve Boyle, the CEO of the National Association of Physical Literacy, which trains schools on how to incorporate physical activity into schooldays. "Of course kids need to move. We wouldn't have a need for things like fidget toys if they were moving enough."

According to the latest School Health Policies and Programs Study, kids only get an average of 26.9 minutes of recess each day, and the number of schools that provide it is shrinking. Average recess time dropped significantly in the mid-2000s as schools were pressured to improve test scores by No Child Left Behind. Though it's recovered slightly, kids still spend more time than ever sitting to do homework. That lack of playtime has coincided with skyrocketing diagnoses of ADHD in kids in the US. Compare that to a country like Finland, where law mandates that kids get 15 minute breaks every 45 minutes, and ADHD diagnoses are about 1/100 of what they are here. That, of course, is due to a wide confluence of factors—everything from prescription drug marketing to differences in medical education—but some say a lot of it comes down to an underappreciation of movement in the US, especially among kids.

WATCH: Stoned Kids

"Fidget toys are a kind of substitute that shows kids need to be moving around more," said Sanford Newmark, the director of clinical programs and head of the pediatric integrative neurodevelopmental program at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at UCSF. "We're still just trying to get them to sit still and not move enough."

That seems to be slowly changing as schools reintroduce longer recesses and build in movement to classroom instruction.

"As teachers have become more aware of the importance of movement, we've given them more autonomy to build it into their classrooms—little breaks, a little bit of extra recess, things like that," said Brian Gatens, the superintendent of the Emerson Public School system in New Jersey.

That's a philosophy that works for people like me. I exercise regularly, and make sure to take regular breaks from work—but I also live a life based around my attention issues. I'm a freelance writer, and I believe holding down a normal office job would be nearly impossible for me, given my ADHD. Still, knowing how important movement is has in many ways replaced my need for medication. I run, I bike, I walk a lot. It's vital. And after reporting this story, I went on Amazon and ordered a fidget toy, too.

Follow Peter Moskowitz on Twitter.

The VICE Morning Bulletin

Everything you need to know about the world this morning, curated by VICE.

US News

Top House Committee Members Clash Over Trump Intelligence
Representative Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat in the House intelligence committee, claims to have seen "more than circumstantial evidence" of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. Schiff also voiced "grave concerns" about committee chairman Devin Nunes, who told the public (and the White House) that Trump's transition team had been caught up in "incidental" collection of information by US intelligence agencies. The behavior of the top committee members was described as "bizarre" by Senator John McCain, who called for an independent inquiry of the Russia scandal.—NBC News/The Hill

Koch Brothers to Fund Republicans Who Vote Against Healthcare Bill
Conservative groups led by high-profile donors Charles and David Koch have pledged to create a 2018 reelection fund for Republicans who vote against the American Health Care Act. Tim Phillips, president of the Republican group Americans for Prosperity, said they would support "champions who stand strong" against a bill "that keeps Obamacare intact."—CNN

AT&T and Johnson & Johnson Join YouTube Boycott
AT&T and Johnson & Johnson have both pulled their ads on YouTube over concerns about extremist videos. AT&T said it feared ads had appeared alongside "content promoting terrorism and hate." Other major companies, including Volkswagen and Toyota, pulled ads earlier this week. Google, which owns YouTube, said it wanted to give advertisers "more control" over where their ads appear.—The New York Times

Four Killed in Wisconsin Shootings
A police officer and three others are dead after a series of shootings in Rothschild, Wisconsin. The violence was apparently sparked by a domestic issue at a bank. After shots were fired there, police pursued a suspect from a law firm to an apartment complex. The suspect was ultimately apprehended and taken into custody.—CBS/AP

International News

British Police Arrest Eight After Attack at Parliament
In the UK, eight people have been arrested during police raids in connection to Wednesday's attack at the Houses of Parliament. Police raided homes in London and Birmingham as part of the investigation into the apparent attacker, a British-born man who was on the radar of police and intelligence services as a possible extremist. The suspect drove into a crowd of pedestrians on Westminster Bridge and stabbed a policeman at the gates of Parliament before being shot dead. The policeman and two of the pedestrians were killed. Seven of those wounded were still in critical condition, and 29 others had been treated for their injuries.—BBC News

South Korean Ferry Raised Three Years After Disaster
Salvagers in South Korea have excavated a ferry that sank off the coast nearly three years ago, killing more than 300 people, most of whom were children on a school outing. The victims' families had wanted the Sewol ferry recovered as part of an investigation into the disaster, and hope to locate nine bodies that were never recovered.—AP

About 400,000 Afghan Children to Miss Out on School, NGO Says
The international NGO Save the Children has warned that the number Afghan children unable to attend school this year will spike by 400,000. The NGO said fears over security threats will cause more dropouts, and the forced return of refugees from Pakistan will add to the number of kids unable or unwilling to go to school.—Reuters

Kenya Charges Alleged Hacker with $40 Million Theft
Kenya's state prosecutor has charged an alleged hacker with stealing just shy of $40 million from the the national tax authority's computer system. Alex Mutunga Mutuku, 28, pleaded not guilty, but is accused of working with a wider group of hackers trying to steal funds from local companies and organizations.—Al Jazeera

Everything Else

Suge Knight Reportedly Hospitalized in LA
Death Row Records founder Marion "Suge" Knight has reportedly been taken from jail to a hospital in Los Angeles for treatment of an illness involving blood clots. Knight, who's been accused of killing Terry Carter, still faces trial for murder.—Pitchfork

Drake Gets Sade Tattoo
Drake has revealed a new tattoo of Sade, the British soul singer he claims as one of his greatest inspirations. Swedish tattooist Niki Norberg, who has inked the artist twice in the past, posted a photo of the new tat on Instagram.—Billboard

Bumble Bee Species Now Officially Endangered
The rusty patched bumble bee has been classified as an endangered species by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and will now receive federal protection. The National Resources Defense Council had sued the Trump administration for delaying the protection listing process.—TIME

Canada to Invest $2 Billion in a Climate Disaster Fund
The Canadian government has earmarked $2 billion for a Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund in its 2017 budget, which was released Wednesday. The funding comes after wildfires tore through western Canada last year and hit the town of Fort McMurray in Alberta especially hard.—Motherboard

Solange and Gucci Mane to Headline Red Bull Music Festival NYC
Solange and Gucci Mane are among the headliners at this year's Red Bull Music Academy Festival in New York City. Solange will stage a multimedia dance performance at the Guggenheim, while Gucci Mane will take part in a piano concert.—i-D

How Schools Are Trying to Make Undocumented Kids and Their Parents Feel Safe

On Tuesday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that America's largest public school system will prohibit federal immigration agents from entering their buildings without a warrant signed by a judge. While there have been no reports of Immigration and Customs Enforcement ( ICE) agents rounding up kids at school, de Blasio was echoing similar shows of support for immigrant children made over the past several months by mayors and school officials across the United States. 

In November, Pew Research Center reported that about 3.9 million kindergarten through 12th grade students in US public and private schools were children of undocumented immigrants, and 725,000 K-12 students were undocumented themselves. Even before President Trump took office, the feds were known to apprehend some of these students and their parents on their way to school. And now, under a White House that has already begun to dramatically reshape immigration policy, undocumented people and their advocates say the simple act of taking a kid to school has become a terrifying ordeal.

"Parents are fearful of dropping their kids off at school, and kids are concerned while they are at school that they'll come home and their parents might not be there," said Laura Vazquez, the program manager with the National Council of La Raza's Immigration Initiatives.

In 2011, then-President Obama's Department of Homeland Security issued a memo instructing ICE agents to generally avoid enforcing federal immigration policy in so-called "sensitive locations" such as schools and churches. While President Trump has abandoned many of Obama's policies restricting immigration enforcement, he has, so far, kept the rule about schools and churches in place. But that's been little consolation for the millions of families who have witnessed immigration raids in their communities, as well as the political empowerment of conservatives who take a hardline on deportation. And given Trump's repeated condemnations of so-called sanctuary cities, how long the president will be willing to tolerate the quasi-sanctuary status of schools remains a serious question. 

Schools have been proactive in hopes of alleviating the anxiety of immigrant children, emphasizing that they remain open to everyone. For example, Chicago Public Schools, the nation's third-largest school district, released a memo in December affirming that it would remain a "safe and welcoming" environment for all students and staff. And in February, CPS announced guidelines for principals should agents arrive on school grounds.

Even in districts that aren't taking pains to make immigrants feel safe, US law already provides a fair number of protections for undocumented students. In addition to the DHS memo still on the books, in 1982 the US Supreme Court ruled in Plyer v. Doe that no public school could deny children access to an education based on their immigration status. Subsequent court decisions reaffirmed this principle, barring schools from enacting policies that could significantly interfere with student enrollment. For example, in 2012, a federal appeals court unanimously struck down an Alabama law requiring public schools to check the immigration and citizenship status of new students.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a federal law preventing schools from sharing confidential student information, also serves as a bulwark for undocumented students. While schools can share confidential information under limited circumstances, sharing with ICE agents is not considered such an exception. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act also creates obligations for schools to prevent discrimination based on race or immigration status. And the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable search and seizure, requires ICE agents to obtain judicial warrants to enter schools, not just the administrative warrants they generally use to make public arrests.

In light of the precedents favoring their cause, the National Immigration Law Center has been pushing school districts nationwide to adopt "Campus Safe Zone" policies, which mostly affirm existing policies while expressing strong support for undocumented students. (A Department of Education spokesperson told VICE that the agency has not released any statements or new guidance for schools concerning the president's immigration policies.)

Watch the VICE News Tonight segment on displaced Syrian families:

For his part, Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a conservative think tank, told me that school leaders speaking up about undocumented students "are intentionally lying in order to gin up panic and opposition," adding that "it's a ridiculous idea" that an ICE agent would ever go into a school. 

But even if schools may be safe spaces right now, getting there remains a real challenge—immigration experts say there are few legal options available to protect undocumented students and parents who are en route to "sensitive locations" like school or church. For example, in Los Angeles in late February, ICE agents arrested Rómulo Avelica-González, an undocumented Mexican immigrant, right after he dropped off one of his daughters at school. Avelica-González, a father of four who has lived in the US for nearly a quarter century, was apprehended a block away from the school. The ICE agents were in unmarked cars, and wore jackets that said "police."

Such arrests don't technically violate federal policy, even if they come right up to the line. And it's important to bear in mind that raids targeting people en route to school were reported last year, after the Obama administration ordered agents to arrest, detain, and deport undocumented immigrants from Central America. Most of these arrests involved entering homes and picking people up off the streets, but some students were also detained by immigration officials on their way to school. Public school teachers at the time said the ramped-up enforcement  had a chilling effect on other students, leading to increased absences and general classroom stress.

David Hausman, a Skadden Fellow at the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project, says it's more important than ever to inform students that protections remain in place for them—that even if getting there is a heavy lift, some places really are safe. "Although we've seen disturbing incidents near schools, we have not at least yet seen any enforcement actions within schools themselves," he said. 

The White House did not respond to a request for comment on possible changes to ICE protocol Wednesday afternoon, but that agency did confirm the 2011 policy on avoiding sensitive locations remains active. Meanwhile, conservatives like Krikorian insist it's "not a legitimate concern" for schools to talk to parents about possibly facing arrest when picking up their children.

"You don't get a free pass to break the law just because you have children," he said.

Follow Rachel M. Cohen on Twitter.

I Went to a Painting Class for Stoners

Not to break too huge a story or anything, but artists occasionally do drugs to tap into their creative sides. Whether slamming 100 bags of heroin a day to manifest abstract masterpieces like Jean-Michel Basquiat or simply getting drunk to help yourself shit out an endless stream of soulless kitsch like Thomas Kinkade, artists from across the spectrum have been turning to mind-altering substances to aid in their work since the first cave painter chomped down sun-fermented fruit. 

Unfortunately, the time, resources, and encouragement to explore creativity are luxuries far too few of us get to enjoy. With the National Endowment of the Arts fully defunded under Trump's budget proposal and already underfunded school districts dropping arts programs left and right, America's relationship with art is about to be more strained than ever. 

One company, Cannabis Tours, is offering a class called Puff, Pass, and Paint that uses the recent legalization of recreational cannabis in a number of states as a springboard to help average adults in those areas harness their unexplored creative talents. Cannabis Tours also offers similar classes that combine weed with a variety of other relaxing hobbies like cooking, pottery, and knitting. I went to a recent Puff, Pass, and Paint session in Las Vegas to see where the Pollocks and Warhols of tomorrow might first discover their talents.  

As state governments are still more persnickety about cannabis than they are with booze, my class was not held in a strip mall retail space like those wine and painting classes PP&P is clearly drawing from. Instead, we puffed, passed, and painted in a house the company had rented in a south Vegas suburb. Ironically enough, the red tape still surrounding cannabis has pushed it into family neighborhoods, at least for the sake of my class. 

All photos by author/pre-masterpiece

Inside, host and PP&P co-founder, Heidi Keyes, sorted me out with some wine and a bowl of Blue Dream, a hybrid strain meant to facilitate "gentle cerebral invigoration." Keyes seated me at my station amid a table of fellow PP&P first timers and a guy who was already back for his fourth class, using his newfound love of painting as a way to stay away from alcohol. I was given a paper plate full of bright acrylic dollops, three brushes varying in size, and a blank canvas on which to paint my masterpiece.

Cassini's example paintings

While PP&P had told me beforehand that it couldn't guarantee pot would be available to all attendees and encouraged students to bring their own stuff, I showed up empty handed and was still offered bowls, joints, and blunts from both the hosts and my classmates.

Once everyone had settled in and was starting to feel their high, Mike Cassini, our painting instructor, revealed the example we'd be emulating: rolling hills of mushrooms. Cassini gave relatively barebones instructions, mostly keeping people on pace to complete their painting within the two hours allotted for class rather than offering brush stroke pointers.

We dove in on the background sky and, immediately, a variety of styles began to emerge on the class's canvases. Keyes walked around the room offering the ever-positive and nurturing encouragement of a kindergarten teacher to each station she popped by. "Hey, I love those brush strokes! Wow, I really like how you went darker up there! What a great idea to add a sun up there!"

Most of my table didn't feel comfortable being interviewed or photographed for this article due to the stigma still surrounding cannabis, but the couple to my right, Brandon and Ryan, visiting from Detroit and Inglewood respectively, had no qualms about opening up. "Bae came to me talking 'bout, 'We're gonna go smoke and paint,' so here I am smoking and painting," Brandon told me when I asked how he wound up in the class. He later revealed that this was his first time ever putting paint on canvas, and it's not likely something he would have ever tried without enrolling in the class. 

As class progressed, the uniqueness of each painting became more and more defined. Inhibition was discouraged by the hosts, and students were told to just go with their guts, resulting in some getting mega abstract and others abandoning the mushroom suggestion entirely in lieu of humans or tigers.

While Brandon and I chatted about the semiotics of our respective pieces of art, chef Kristal Chamblee emerged from the house's kitchen to inform the class that a medley of cookies, brownies, and other baked goods were available in the next room. At the end of our chat, we went to the kitchen only to find the baked goods spread had been picked clean by our classmates. I spun the disappointing news by informing him that since we'd officially starved for the sake of our works, we were truly artists.

Brandon and Ryan and their paintings

The class ended with everyone shuffling around to stonily laud one another's work and clean up. As I cleaned up and hunted down the last remaining cookie, I asked Keyes about how her classes might help in a future where art is under attack.

She told me that she finds the proposed NEA defunding "extremely alarming" as she believes in "the calming power of art, both as an activity and in adding to the beauty of our existence."

Beyond their goal of destigmatizing cannabis, Keyes hopes that every painter from her classes "walks away feeling relaxed and inspired, having laughed and smoked and made new friends, even if they didn't create a painting they deem a masterpiece." She noted that "Puff, Pass, & Paint isn't about making a perfect piece of art, it's about the experience of being able to legally consume cannabis while tapping into one's creative side."

More art

I had fun getting high and painting, and it seems that the rest of my class did as well. For those who've never taken a stab at art and are maybe too perfectionist to allow themselves the freedom to play around in an unfamiliar medium, a cannabis painting class might be just what the doctor ordered to remove some of those inhibitions. As great as the experience provided by Keyes and Cassini was, I just hope it's not the only training America's future great artists will be afforded.

Follow Justin Caffier on Twitter.