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Jewish World Review August 18, 2000 /17 Menachen-Av, 5760

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell
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Consumer Reports

Wake up, parents! -- ONE of the scariest stories in the news is receiving very little attention. According to USA Today, parents are being put under pressure by schools and by courts to have their children drugged with Ritalin. Some parents have been threatened with charges of child neglect or abuse -- and having the child taken awayby the authorities -- if they do not give their children Ritalin.

All it takes to have Ritalin prescribed is a label of "attention deficit hyperactivity disorder" (ADHD). And there are lots of little tin gods in the schools who are ready to put this label on children who are bored and fretful at the uninteresting and unchallenging material presented to them.

Very bright children are particularly likely to be frustrated and acting out.

Some parents have seen almost miraculous improvements in their children's interest and behavior, just by finding a more interesting teacher or a more interesting school. But now that judges are willing to threaten to take children away unless parents knuckle under to school shrinks and social workers who want the child drugged, that option may not be available in time.

It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong. Know-it-alls in the school system do not lose one dime or one hour's sleep if their bright ideas turn out to be all wrong, or even disastrous, for the child. It is parents and children who pay the price.

There is not even a record kept as to how often the education bureaucrats have been wrong. How often are the schools' diagnoses of various conditions wrong? I could rattle off a dozen examples just from casual observation. There are kids who were put into classes for retarded children who later turned out to have IQs way above the national average.

A professor of neurosciences at the University of Massachusetts has examined numerous diagnoses of children for numerous conditions. She says that three quarters of the case histories she has seen have at least one diagnosis that is "completely off the mark."

What is even scarier than the error rate and the recklessness with diagnoses are made in the school system -- often by people with neither an M.D. nor a Ph.D. -- are the sheep-like parents who simply go along with whatever the "experts" say. Now the law is threatening to come down hard on parents who refuse to be sheep.

This is not just an isolated problem. It is part of a widespread erosion of parents' rights to raise their own children. Moreover, there is a whole ideology favoring government takeovers of parents' role. This ideology has been promoted for decades by people like Hillary Rodham Clinton and organizations like the so-called Children's Defense Fund.

Schools have already taken over the decision as to when and in what manner your child will be introduced to sex. Some schools are teaching various techniques of homosexual acts and some have gay activists visiting the schools, passing out cards giving the addresses of local homosexual hangouts.

The question is not whether the decisions made by the schools are wise decisions. The more fundamental question is why they have a right to take over such decisions from parents in the first place. Still more basic is the question: Why do we let them get away with it?

This is still a democracy, after all. If parents started voting against politicians and judges who have been taking away their rights as parents, it would have to stop. If legislatures started impeaching judges who punish parents for refusing to drug their children, that would come to a halt as well.

There is no great mystery as to why people want more power over other people. There have always been despots, large and small, throughout thousands of years of recorded history. For at least the past two centuries, there have also been ideologies that argued for government takeovers of parents' role in the raising of children. There is nothing original in Hillary Clinton's notion that "it takes a village to raise a child" -- whether the parents want their child raised by a village or not.

Claims that "studies prove" the need for Ritalin are far less convincing when you realize how often studies have "proven" one thing, only to have later studies prove the opposite. Parents and voters need to wake up to the dangerous extension of government despotism into the family.

JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author, most recently, of The Quest for Cosmic Justice.


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© 2000, Creators Syndicate