Our Fight for Young Souls:
The Moral Equivalent of Ritalin
by John Breeding
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About 100 years ago, William James, appalled at the blatant chauvinism he saw fueling the savagery of war, challenged mankind to find a "moral equivalent of war," to somehow reclaim the goodness and purity of such noble virtues as devotion, duty, honor, courage, and self-sacrifice. In this decade, Theodore Roszak challenges us to search for a "moral equivalent to wretched excess," suggesting that even blatantly frivolous materialistic consumption meets pure and important human psychological needs, a distorted and tragically unsatisfactory version of virtues so noble as freedom, dignity, individuality, uniqueness and autonomy. Today, I challenge readers to consider a moral equivalent of drugging our children.

The facts are that an estimated 4,000,000 take Ritalin, a drug which our DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) classified in Class II, along with morphine, barbiturates, and other prescription drugs that have a high potential for addiction or abuse. The so-called "side effects" of Ritalin include sadness, depression, social withdrawal, flattened emotions and loss of energy. Long-term use tends to create the very same problems that Ritalin is supposed to combat - "attention disturbances," "memory problems," irritability," "hyper activity." I consider this to be a national shame and disgrace, an utter failure of our responsibility as adults to nurture healthy wholehearted development of our children.

Yet I see clearly the abundance of glorious virtues bound in this action. I see caring and committed adults, parents, teachers, school administrators, counselors, psychologists, and medical doctors... sincerely doing their best to respond to what they see and experience as the desperate plight of young boys failing in school.

It is a mistake to consider morality in a narrow scope. To get some light on the reality of this incredible situation where we invest fantastic energy into a "war on drugs" at the same time that we drug millions of school age youngsters (mostly boys), it is necessary to look at a big picture. The phenomenon of blaming children for failures in school is a tradition equally long standing as our tradition of compulsory age-segregated education.

As this type of education began in a time when theology held greater sway than science as our guiding world view, it is not surprising that these boys were seen as sinful, wicked, incorrigible. Simply put, they were bad boys deserving of punishment and rejection. Much gratitude has been expressed that science has usurped theology as our guiding ideology. I propose, however, that what's really going on is that children are still being blamed for our failures to meet their needs.

To the extent that we no longer judge young boys as sinful I applaud. To replace this judgment with one which views them as biologically and/or genetically defective may even be worse. At least before they were soulful humans. The mental health system model called Bio Psychiatry reduces humans to a soulless existence. And it acts as a powerful deterrent to our moral accountability as adults in responding to the needs of our developing young boys.

As long as adults are deluded into believing that the reason boys have problems in school is because they have a biogenetic neurological disease which is corrected by drugs, these same adults are absolved from responsibility to look further to find out what is really going on. I understand that the fact that many boys appear to "respond well" to Ritalin makes this conclusion even more powerfully seductive. My response is to remember that a major effect of amphetamines is to narrow focus of attention; most any user can attest to the greater ability to focus on detailed tasks. Also remember that America loves stimulants: coffee for adult workers, amphetamines for our boys.

I haven't space here to further discuss the harmful effects of Ritalin (call 1-800-572-2905 for information), only to very briefly offer some thoughts on a "moral equivalency." This equivalency would naturally embrace the same values already present in those who choose to work in the helping professions of education and mental health, and, of course, those who choose to become parents, society's most important, most challenging, and tragically most unsupported job. These virtues are caring, commitment, devotion, dedication, nurturance, sacrifice, etc., etc... They must also include an eternal vigilance, courage and independence of thought that will always watch and guard against any tendency to unquestioningly accept authority.

I want to conclude by proposing an alternative to both theology and science as a guiding motif in shaping the way we view and respond to the needs of our children. It is extremely simple, yet incredibly profound.

We need to fully embrace the truth of our nature as human beings. We are inherently good, intelligent, zestful and cooperative. When these qualities are not evident in our children, it is because they are in distress. They clearly need attention, but the so-called "attention deficit" will never be found in their biology. The moral challenge is to look at the kind and amount of really excellent attention they're getting from us adults.

How much of these qualities of caring concern, commitment, intelligence, encouragement and confidence are they getting from us? I guarantee it is not found in TV, video, junk food, school desks, or mandated curricula. I double-your-money-back guarantee that it is not in Ritalin.