Jewish World Review August 23, 2001 /4 Elul, 5761

Thomas Sowell

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Consumer Reports

Drugging children -- THE motto used to be: "Boys will be boys." Today, the motto seems to be: "Boys will be medicated."

Of nearly 20 million prescriptions written last year for drugs to treat "attention deficit hyperactivity disorder," most were for children and most of those children were boys. This is part of a growing tendency to treat boyhood as a pathological condition that requires a new three R's -- repression, re-education and Ritalin.

Some schools have gone to such extremes as banning recess, since boys tend to be boisterous at recess. Competitive sports are likewise banned or made non-competitive, sometimes by banning winning and losing. An aptly titled book, "The War Against Boys" by Christina Hoff Sommers, catalogs the amazing array of things that schools do to keep boys from being boys.

Some of this is being pushed by propaganda from radical feminists who want boys to be like girls. Their dogmas declare that the behavior usually seen in boys is a result of society's indoctrinating them with a male role stereotype. The answer? "We need to raise boys like we raise girls," according to Gloria Steinem. Gloria Allred is more specific, "we need to socialize boys at an earlier age, perhaps to be playing with dolls." Some schools have followed such advice, even to the point of encouraging boys to wear dresses.

Despite the radical feminist dogma that sex differences are created by society, and that maleness in particular needs to be changed by society, a growing body of scientific evidence shows that boys and girls differ from day one, beginning in the womb, before society has had anything to do with them. The radical feminist response to such evidence? They say such research should be banned! Even without such bans, their mindless dogmas prevail over scientific evidence and pervade the education establishment.

Meanwhile, there are drug companies making well over a hundred million dollars a year each by selling drugs for "attention deficit hyperactivity disorder." Knowing a good thing, they are now not only advertising these drugs to doctors and school officials, but are also trying to gain more widespread acceptance from parents by running ads aimed at mothers through such outlets as the Ladies Home Journal and 30-second TV commercials.

Yet how does "attention deficit hyperactivity disorder" differ from just being bored and restless with the mindless stuff being served up in school? The question is not simply how does it differ in principle when diagnosed by high-level specialists, but how does it differ in practice when the term is applied by lower-level people in the local schools?

A large body of research shows that high-IQ students are often bored and alienated from school. These include Einstein and India's self-taught mathematical genius Ramanujan. Fortunately, there was no Ritalin around when they were children, to drug them into passivity -- and perhaps into mediocrity.

No doubt life is easier for teachers when everyone sits around quietly, not making any waves. But schools do not exist to make teaching easy. Moreover, some of the brightest youngsters have some of the strongest reactions to what they see and hear.

According to a study of gifted children by Professor Ellen Winner of Boston College: "These children have been reported to show unusually intense reactions to noise, pain, and frustration." Biographies of some famous people show the same pattern. Einstein, for example, had tantrums until he was seven years old. In one outburst, he threw a stool at his tutor, who fled and was never seen again. According to a biography of the great pianist Arthur Rubinstein, he became fixated on his family's piano as a toddler and, whenever he was asked to leave the room where it was kept, he screamed and wept. When his father bought him a violin to play, he reacted by smashing it.

Too many parents have gone along when schools have wanted their children drugged. When some parents have objected, they have been threatened with charges of child neglect for not letting drugs be used to control their youngster's behavior.

Belatedly, in response to many revelations of the widespread use of Ritalin and other drugs in schools, some states have begun to pass laws restricting what school personnel and social workers can push parents to do. A new law in Connecticut will limit such medical advice to doctors. It's about time. That common sense restriction should be nationwide. Schools have too many busybodies posing as "experts."

JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of several books, including his latest, Basic Economics: A Citizen's Guide to the Economy.


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© 2001, Creators Syndicate