Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Chemical Shackles in Public Schools

ADD Or Not, Pills Prescribed In Schools:
CANTON, Ga. — When Dr. Michael Anderson hears about his low-income patients struggling in elementary school, he usually gives them a taste of some powerful medicine: Adderall.

The pills boost focus and impulse control in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Although A.D.H.D is the diagnosis Dr. Anderson makes, he calls the disorder “made up” and “an excuse” to prescribe the pills to treat what he considers the children’s true ill — poor academic performance in inadequate schools. 

“I don’t have a whole lot of choice,” said Dr. Anderson, a pediatrician for many poor families in Cherokee County, north of Atlanta. “We’ve decided as a society that it’s too expensive to modify the kid’s environment. So we have to modify the kid.” 

Dr. Anderson is one of the more outspoken proponents of an idea that is gaining interest among some physicians. They are prescribing stimulants to struggling students in schools starved of extra money — not to treat A.D.H.D., necessarily, but to boost their academic performance.

In other words, since the rich kids are using these drugs to cheat, let's give the low-income kids a fair shot at cheating too.

Someone should ask this doofus how this differs from performance enhancing drugs (PED's) in athletics. Because frankly, there is none.

So what's really going on here?
“We as a society have been unwilling to invest in very effective nonpharmaceutical interventions for these children and their families,” said Dr. Ramesh Raghavan, a child mental-health services researcher at Washington University in St. Louis and an expert in prescription drug use among low-income children. “We are effectively forcing local community psychiatrists to use the only tool at their disposal, which is psychotropic medications.” 

Dr. Nancy Rappaport, a child psychiatrist in Cambridge, Mass., who works primarily with lower-income children and their schools, added: “We are seeing this more and more. We are using a chemical straitjacket instead of doing things that are just as important to also do, sometimes more.” 
Chemical straightjacket, perhaps, but I prefer Chemical Shackles, because this has nothing to do with enhancing performance in school and everything to do with drugging the next generation of kids into complacency.
Dr. Anderson’s instinct, he said, is that of a “social justice thinker” who is “evening the scales a little bit.” He said that the children he sees with academic problems are essentially “mismatched with their environment” — square pegs chafing the round holes of public education. Because their families can rarely afford behavior-based therapies like tutoring and family counseling, he said, medication becomes the most reliable and pragmatic way to redirect the student toward success. 

“People who are getting A’s and B’s, I won’t give it to them,” he said. For some parents the pills provide great relief. Jacqueline Williams said she can’t thank Dr. Anderson enough for diagnosing A.D.H.D. in her children — Eric, 15; Chekiara, 14; and Shamya, 11 — and prescribing Concerta, a long-acting stimulant, for them all. She said each was having trouble listening to instructions and concentrating on schoolwork.
Perhaps I'm being too harsh in judging Anderson's thinking. He does, after all, admit that Big Pharmaceutical-created disorders like ADHD are "fake"and completely lacking in scientific validity. His desire to "even the scales" a bit is also appealing.

But trading a bit of Hell for infinite Hell does nothing to address the long-term implication of drugging these kids towards a better academic performance. We ban things like this in sports. Why no such outrage when it comes to something as important as academics? And why are so many in education afraid to speak out?
Several educators contacted for this article considered the subject of A.D.H.D. so controversial — the diagnosis was misused at times, they said, but for many children it is a serious learning disability — that they declined to comment. The superintendent of one major school district in California, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, noted that diagnosis rates of A.D.H.D. have risen as sharply as school funding has declined. 

“It’s scary to think that this is what we’ve come to; how not funding public education to meet the needs of all kids has led to this,” said the superintendent, referring to the use of stimulants in children without classic A.D.H.D. “I don’t know, but it could be happening right here. Maybe not as knowingly, but it could be a consequence of a doctor who sees a kid failing in overcrowded classes with 42 other kids and the frustrated parents asking what they can do. The doctor says, ‘Maybe it’s A.D.H.D., let’s give this a try.’ ” 
Awesome. Another legacy of the ideologically-driven budget cuts still being enacted today. The recession has been over for, how long, three years or so? And as states continue to cut education, increase class size, increase welfare for charter schools, and create more disruptions, here comes Big Pharma to the rescue. "Bigger class size and more disruptive kids? No problem, take this, kid, and STFU."

And surprise, surprise, look at the relationships between Big Pharma, Democratic and Republican Governors, and cuts in education. Shocking, I know.

Shocking, but at the end of the day, not surprising. We are allowing clowns in the statehouse to destroy public education while Big Pharma nets billions by drugging children into complacency and (magically) claiming to boost "test scores."

Welcome to public education in the 21st century: drugged automatons choking on meds and standardized test scores, while teachers are demonized and marginalized, and Big Pharma, like Jerry Sandusky or any other big, lumbering pedophile, grooms the next generation of pill poppers.

UPDATE: SocProf at Global Sociology tried to make me mad, and succeeded. Bravo, ASA!

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