Thomas Sowell

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.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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