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Mental Illness and Public Education
Matt Walsh has written an important article about the recent meteoric rise in the number of ADHD diagnoses in school-aged children. Children are being diagnosed — and consequently prescribed powerful psychiatric medications — at ever higher rates and at ever younger ages. On what basis are these diagnoses being made? Walsh has a hypothesis:
Well, the National Institute of Mental Health offers a clue (emphasis mine):
People who have ADHD have combinations of these symptoms:
-Overlook or miss details, make careless mistakes in schoolwork, at work, or during other activities
-Fail to not follow through on instructions, fail to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace, or start tasks but quickly lose focus and get easily sidetracked
-Avoid or dislike tasks that require sustained mental effort, such as schoolwork or homework, or for teens and older adults, preparing reports, completing forms, or reviewing lengthy papers
-Lose things necessary for tasks or activities, such as school supplies, pencils, books, tools, wallets, keys, paperwork, eyeglasses, and cell phones
Indeed, it seems that to a large extent we are drugging our children because they behave like children and not like adult scholars. As Walsh argues:
Even if you accept just for a moment that brain chemistry determines everything about a person, that still wouldn’t prove that any particular personality, like the ADHD personality, is disordered. It doesn’t prove, in other words, that a person isn’t supposed to be that way.
We have decided that kids aren’t supposed to be that way. We have decreed it from on high, like gods, and then set out to chemically eliminate every sort of human disposition that gets in the way of our societal goals.
In other words, if a child is not suited to our current system of mass-produced public education, the problem is automatically assumed to be with the child, and the solution is automatically assumed to be pharmaceutical.
But what if the problem isn’t with the child at all? What if the problem is actually with our educational system, which, as mentioned previously, is a historic aberration of enormous proportions? Walsh argues that this is indeed the case:
I submit this counter suggestion: a child is supposed to be a child, and act like one. If the schools cannot handle kids without drugging millions of them, then the schools are disordered. The real illness can be found in an educational system which requires children, starting at a very young age, to sit still for seven hours a day, five days a week, nine months a year, and regurgitate often very useless information onto various forms and sheets and Scantrons. A child is not sick if he struggles in that dull, claustrophobic environment. The environment is sick.
And perhaps that sickness causes more than just ADHD. Perhaps the extreme levels of psychiatric illnesses being reported all across our society — chiefly anxiety and depression — might have something to do with our habit of ripping children away from their parents at young ages, and then immersing them in an environment increasingly characterized by widespread alienation on the one hand, and intense social pressure to conform on the other?
But the sad truth is that the sickness runs even deeper: the sickness is not merely psychiatric, but above all spiritual. Actress Sam Sorbo recently put it quite bluntly: “Right now we’re teaching children that life doesn’t matter… The religious instruction that children are getting in public schools is secular humanism. It is absolutely the religious instruction they are getting in school.” If that sounds familiar, it is probably because what she said is an almost exact echo of the Fr. Peter Heers’ lecture which I discussed last week.
And when Hollywood actresses and Russian Orthodox priests are saying the same thing, there might be something to it.