Underfunding Schools Leads to Ritalin

by Sandra VanderVen My American Dream is that our country will value education enough to properly fund it. That way, no matter how much money a kid’s parents have, they have the same shot at success as everyone else.

What is your American Dream?

young boy writing with a pencil

Last weekend, there were 1,500 meetings all over the country to determine what We The People want the American Dream to look like, and how to make it a reality.  It is just what our country needs, and I’m excited to be a part of it.

Chatting with one of the meeting hosts, I mentioned that I’m disappointed that I have to push my son to succeed in school to a degree that I consider unbalanced and unhealthy, because I’ve realized that the more scholarship money he can get, the less crushing his debts will be after college.

It turned out we were both unhappily turning our backs on our own values because of the economic conditions we find ourselves in.

The choice before my new acquaintance, as a parent of a kid with Attention Deficit Disorder, was whether or not to give her child Ritalin. This drug is addictive. It lowers a child’s appetite, sometimes impeding growth. One can imagine that in general, parents would prefer not to use it.

She ended up deciding to give her child Ritalin, and here’s why. The public schools where she lives have been limping along, chronically underfunded, for decades. There are just not enough adults in the room to give each kid access to a robust education.

It’s even harder for what teachers they have left if the kids aren’t all marching to the same beat.

She decided that even though she doesn’t know what the long term effects will be (No one knows. Ritalin hasn’t been around long enough to find out), the situation was urgent. Her son was failing. His future was in jeopardy.

Schools with more resources offer an environment that allows kids to flourish.  Without these resources, kids who don’t have a fall-back will end up with more disciplinary referrals and lower achievement, and more of them will end up medicated.  Our schools rely on taxes, and when greedy corporations aren’t paying enough, our kids suffer.

I told a child psychologist I know about this conversation, and asked for his take on it.  He told me that if you are rich, you can hire a tutor, you can enroll your kid in a costly program with smaller class sizes, you can do all sorts of things that help the situation, possibly preventing you from having to medicate your kid.

With the cuts in education funding we’re seeing in Washington State right now, kids with ADD that come from poorer families are going to end up in trouble more and medicated more than their classmates whose parents can afford tutors and other interventions. That’s not right.

Now I’m embarrassed that I even mentioned having to push my son more than I’d like to.  It is nothing compared to drugging your kid as a path to academic success.

Standing alone, the choices look stark: failure or drugs.  If we stand together and push our legislators to close tax loopholes for the rich and end subsidies for greedy corporations, we can expand our choices, gaining the ability to make real decisions about what is best for our kids: Staffing levels for public schools that give every kid a chance to thrive.